"The current ruling is undeniably unjust; there are currently many languishing in prison for the 'crime' of trying to save a human life. The expectation of inhumane apathy must end, starting with the liberation of those wrongfully condemned!".
The speaker was a short man who appeared to be balding. Matt recognised him but couldn't put a name to him. He was older than most Change advocates, many of whom were young and, in Matt's opinion, too immature to think through the consequences thoroughly.
"Gallery, we have heard this all before." Matt declared, getting to his feet. "It is not a question of not saving lives, but not endangering them. The gentleman here knows this as well as I do - he does not have a solution to the risks involved. Not one proponent of advocacy for life has proposed a way to circumvent a disaster on a global scale.".
There was murmuring through the Gallery, some supportive, others aggravated. Across the room, Matt could see his mother frowning at him. She wasn't exactly opposing him; she believed it was a 'complicated situation with no clear answer'. She hadn't - as far as Matt knew - ever been rushing off to save someone herself. But she'd long thought he was too harsh, unwilling to consider the arguments for Change, and mainly wasn't empathetic enough towards those who would die without intervention.
This particularly angered Matt. He had visions just like she did, like everyone in this room, in fact. But at every annual gathering, he was abruptly reminded that most of his peers believed him to be incompassionate and unaffected.
"Quite frankly, it is ridiculous to suggest a high level of risk is involved here.". A younger woman had now stood up. She had on a sharp suit. Probably to make her look wiser, Matt mused. "We know that, since 1438, 10 lives have been saved per year on average, and we know most experts consider this an underestimate. None of these has led to wide-scale disasters. To throw countless lives away due to a small risk is a complete failure of humanity."
"And tell me, what makes you start counting at 1438?" She scowled at Matt, but he was unbothered by her disdain. Completely sidestepping the point like that, she should be embarrassed.
"You know full well why but that is not..."
"No, really, tell me, what happened in 1438?"
"Well, obviously, there was a serious of large earthquakes but..."
"And how many people died?"
"And why did that happen?" She pursed her lips at him, but he stared back unperturbed.
"There is no absolute proof, but it is widely believed our ancestors caused it by interfering too often with the course of life. But, as I was saying, the risk is small..."
"But nothing!" Another woman had stood up now. "It is almost absolute that our intervention has caused tumultuous earthquakes several times now. We have no idea where the threshold is and what we could do to prevent this. Any interference based on our visions could be the tipping point. It is not for us to decide to swap one person's life for others."
"No one is trying to find out any of this either! I'm not saying we need to completely throw caution to the wind overnight, but the extreme block on ever saving a life with no end in sight is barbaric! And we should be trying to build a more compassionate world, starting with ending the punishment for simple kindness!".
"No one is trying to find out because there's nowhere to start." Matt just about refrained from calling the newest speaker an idiot. "If you have any bright ideas on how to proceed in figuring out how to prevent a disaster, we'd be happy to hear them."
"Maybe it is for us to decide to swap one person's life for others." A third man entered the debate. "We were given these visions; maybe we are supposed to use them."
It was getting progressively harder to refrain from rolling his eyes. It always came down to this with the advocates for Change. Some kind of fate, "for a reason", "we have a purpose", and so on. Matt didn't claim to know why a small portion of humanity had visions like these, but it certainly couldn't be "meant to be" if they caused sudden and deadly earthquakes.
Most in the Gallery were showing distaste towards him.
However, when it came to the vote, it ended as it always did; a large majority in favour of keeping the rules as they were. Spineless, thought Matt. He and a few others were among the only ones willing to say it was better to let people die. But they all thought it, those who kept quiet with a sour face. The truth was that they themselves would be at risk in the event of a reoccurrence of the earthquakes, and they weren't about to endanger their own lives any time soon. But they still left all the hard conversations to others.
When he got home, his wife had already made dinner. When they sat down, she even popped open a bottle of prosecco.
"What's the occasion?" he asked.
"Well, I've been asked to give the presentation next week!" she gushed, clearly having been waiting to tell him this.
Sasha was a data analyst for a charity specialising in heart disease. She was very ambitious, only thirty but already making considerable headway within the company. Matt grinned. She had always wanted to be more on the front lines of spreading their message.
"That's amazing. Well done!".
"I know it's a bit silly to celebrate like this, but..."
"Don't be daft. It's more than a worthy cause." It was actually one of the things he loved most about her; she always liked to celebrate an achievement properly. And she achieved a lot, meaning many celebratory dinners.
Her chatter was more than enough to take his mind off the grievances of the Gallery. By the time he went to bed, he was in decent spirits.
As he got into the taxi, his mind was a blur. He wasn't sure where they were going or what they'd been taking, but his head was spinning too much to object. In the distance, the street sign was visible: St James' Street. He was pretty sure it was already light out or was that the headlights?
The next thing he knew, he was lying on a couch, he could just about hear music and laughter, but it all sounded far away.
He fluttered back and forth, thinking the laughter sounded more like screaming now. Still very far away. Someone was trying to move him.
Suddenly he wasn't the boy anymore; he was looking down at the boy's body - the boy's dead body, he realised, taking in the heart monitor showing a flat line. A girl with curly brown hair was sobbing in the room, clutching the window frame to hold herself up.
Matt awoke with a start.
Dizzy, he leaned on the bedside table to lift himself up. He made his way downstairs almost robotically. He'd had these visions so many times he had a steady routine.
The young lad was about to die, he knew. He looked over at the clock: 2:14 am. Likely, they were already at the club. St James' Street... he remembered seeing the street name clear as day. Those were his own eyes that he saw through, not the boys - he could barely see the girl next to him. But no matter the context, in every vision he'd ever had, the location was always made visible. We were given these visions; maybe we are supposed to use them. The voice came back to his head impromptu.
Not if it causes natural disasters, he told himself firmly.
Matt returned to bed with a cup of tea, where Sasha had already woken up.
"Another vision?" she asked.
"Yeah." he sighed, leaning back against the headboard.
"You wanna tell me about it?" she sat up and kissed his forehead softly.
And so he did, the whole tale of the boy and the taxi. He even discussed how, despite his objections, he felt compelled to act.
Sasha said nothing; it was her custom when her husband had doubts. When all was said and done, she didn't know how she would feel if it was her choice. But she maintained that it was Matt's choice and didn't like to sway him one way or another.
Matt lay awake for most of the night; he never slept well after being woken in such a way. He could not help but wonder where the kid was now, occasionally looking to see if the sun was rising yet, knowing he would leave the club roughly at that point.
He must have dozed off at some point as he was rudely awoken again by his alarm.
He was exhausted by the time he got to work. He worked as a writer for a magazine, although he was hoping to get to novel writing eventually. It was pretty typical for his peers to be in similar roles. His mother had often said it was a consequence of seeing through others' eyes frequently; it gave you an impulse to display the whole world's emotions.
"Bro." Stewart, the editor of the sports column, was leaning over. "You should totally make a move on Annabelle. She's so into you, it's obvious" Matt rolled his eyes.
"Firstly, I'm married. Secondly, she's about 20."
"20 is legal. And what the wives don't know won't hurt them, am I right?" He raised his hand for a high-five. Matt looked at him with a fair amount of disdain.
"Not right." As usual, Stewart just laughed. He was always trying to "bond" with Matt over being one of the few men working in the office. His idea of bonding time mostly involved chatting about which women in the office they most wanted to get off with, but no matter Matt's objections, he always seemed to take it as a joke.
At lunchtime, he went over to the coffee machine for a much-needed pick-me-up, where he saw Annabelle herself, also getting coffee.
"Long weekend for you too?" she asked with a smile. I hope she isn't actually coming onto me, he thought but smiled back nonetheless.
"Sort of. Get up to anything nice?"
"I went up to the lake district with my boyfriend. It was great! We only drove back last night, though, and got in at midnight. Shattered now." Boyfriend, huh? He tried not to laugh outwardly at how off-the-mark Stewart always was.
Back at his desk, he flipped through a stack of papers he needed to look through. The words were starting to blur as he struggled to keep his eyes open.
The street was busy with people as he rushed down, late back for work. He nearly collided with someone as he turned left onto Brunswick Street.
They seemed to take forever to turn, but he saw them change out the corner of his eye and stepped out.
Just for a split second, he realised they had turned to orange, not green. There was barely time to process before he got hit.
And then he wasn't in her head anymore but looking down at a body, killed immediately on impact. Sasha's eyes stared at him but didn't see him.
When he jerked awake for a second, he sat frozen. He could hear Steward making some joke about sleeping in the office, but he didn't care. He didn't think twice before grabbing his jacket and running out.
He tried calling her twice, but she didn't pick up. Matt was growing more and more frantic. She was returning to work, so it must have been her lunch break. What time does she break for lunch? It had to be soon.
He had to look up where Brunswick Street was. A good fifteen minutes away, he thought. He set off at a run, still trying to call her.
She's never going to look at her phone; she's concentrated on that presentation, he thought sadly. She will have been looking things up on her break; that's why she's late back.
When he got to Brunswick Street, he thought he might have a heart attack; there were no less than three sets of traffic lights, all too far from each other to see the people at them.
Desperately, he tried to remember more about the location.
I saw the street sign as she turned left; he thought, where are the street signs? He walked fast up the road, looking for the signs while keeping an eye on the lights that he could see.
By the third set of lights, he could see a street sign. He looked up, trying to see anything else he could place there. There was a pharmacy just behind him. Was there a pharmacy in the vision? It was bright green, and surely it would have stood out. He was just contemplating this when he saw an orange van starting up the road in the distance. That's what hit her, he remembered suddenly.
He ran as fast as he could.
There, just by the middle set of lights, he saw her distinct blonde hair on the other side of the street. Why didn't I cross over?
"Sasha!" he yelled. She didn't seem to hear him.
On the third try, she looked up to see who was shouting to her.
It was just enough - as Matt continued towards to lights, he saw the orange van drive past with no impending collision.
He felt like he could breathe for the first time since the vision. Sasha approached with a confused frown.
"Sasha!" he embraced her so hard he nearly picked her up. "That van hit you." he tried to explain.
"I mean, it hasn't... but it did.. if I hadn't come..." she looked shocked as she caught on. Matt had never had a vision of someone he knew before.
"You mean like.. you saw it?" he just nodded in response. She hugged him back, still stunned.
They hadn't even processed what had happened when the ground started to shake beneath them.
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I'm feeling 'The Lottery' opener, but set in a time with a larger discussion. The writing is clear and has nice pacing. :clap'n
The fact that they have to let people die to stop there being a catastrophe sounds like Cabin in the Woods. Cruel but awesome idea that there’s a number that they can save but they do t know how many.