Speculative Fiction

I work for Hell. See, a lot of humans think Hell is just the entire ‘fire and brimstone’ part but there are a lot of people who make sure that it’s well regulated. There are a lot of different departments down here. I don’t deal with torture, that’d be the folks a couple layers down. I work in the more bureaucratic departments. I work in one of the very first levels of the afterlife, dealing with petty disputes over morality. I decide who goes up to heaven and who gets dragged down to hell. Most decisions are automated now but a few more complicated ones come my way. You know that hypothetical with the trolleys? Is it moral to pull a lever and kill fewer people. That’s my job. I know the morally correct outcome to that one by the way. I’m not telling. That takes all the fun out of it.

I was in my office sorting through my paperwork for the day. The standard stuff it wasn't anything I hadn't seen before.

Hit someone drunk driving. Bad Person, off to hell. 

Shot their abusive significant other. Morally just, I let it slide. 

Schizophrenic thought their therapist was poisoning them and smashed a chair against their head? Grey area, I was in a good mood so I let it slide.

For once I had actually finished all my paperwork. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before so I decided to try and knock out a few that had been lying at the bottom of my desk for a while. See if we can’t decide where you lie on this whole morality thing we just mostly keep them in purgatory until we eventually get around to the file. It might seem immoral but there’s no sense of time in purgatory. Or a sense of self for that matter. Or colour either, I always found that one weird. They're essentially just on standby. It's not unpleasant for them; they're still conscious just not as you understand it.

This file is pretty well known in my department, I’ve been working here for the longest so it was passed down the line to me as I tend to be the most decisive with these things. See this scientist had made this incredible advancement in their field, one that could spell destruction for the human race. We get a lot that start like these: Alfred Nobel, Richard Gatling, Robert Oppenheimer (the first two were fine, Oppenheimer not so much), but we can’t judge this on the same basis as most others. To start, this scientist never put their discovery into action. We deemed Gatling okay for example as his invention, the Gatling gun, was a far more humane way of death when compared to the cannons that came before it. However, this scientist had hidden it. For whatever reason, they burnt their notes. We can’t judge it on the impact it had on the world as it never left the laboratory so we have to speculate on what could've been done with it. Of course, this isn’t the root of the problem, we have many people who almost did something that didn’t. Yet this case would’ve had such an impact that we still have to judge it. 

This invention would’ve indiscriminately killed a small percentage of the population however these deaths would’ve caused a huge ecological upturn that would almost certainly rectify much of the harm done to the world. Do you remember the trolly problem I mentioned earlier? This is our version of that.

Now in my department causing death is generally agreed to be bad. In our department, any sort of environmental preservation is generally considered to be good. A very big modifier to morality is the idea of intention. While we love to brag about our otherworldly knowledge, yes I can see you reading this and might I say that you look lovely today, we can’t tell what people are thinking. We base our choices on what their actions suggest. Sold weapons in mass, greed. Donated money to charity could be either selfless or prideful based on if anyone is watching. We really couldn’t tell if this scientist burned their notes if they didn’t want to take away any human life or if they were too scared of the possibility of themself being one of the few killed. We don’t even know if they understood what their notes told them. For all we know, they could’ve just not wanted someone smarter than them to steal their work. 

We had many meetings over this folder as it began to evade agreement among my team. 

Two cubicles to the left of me argued that it was moral. This scientist refused to cause any harm to innocent people and thus put his morals before engaging in science they might not even understand. 

However, the cubicle to my right reposed that perhaps he just didn't want the weight of the deaths on his shoulders even if it would create a greater good. 

The cubical opposite mine argued that they willingly destroyed information that would’ve allowed the human race to live comfortably for thousands of more years if not prevented their entire extinction.

The cubicle opposite him then added that as humans, they were obligated to rectify the damage they had done to their planet no matter the cost and there was no price too high to do so. 

Three cubicles to my right then pointed out that if they had created this ecological reconstruction then it would only be destroyed again and those who wrecked it in the first place would become even more powerful and likely do even worse damage than before. It wasn't worth killing if the good that came of it would only lead to more destruction.

The cubical opposite to cubicle three cubicles to my right debated that because of these people who would only destroy the planet further had they repaired the environment, it would’ve been moral for him to alter his findings for it to kill even more people so that these groups would no longer become a problem. Not only would it be moral to do it as many people in power would’ve been killed and the killings would have certainly disrupted but they should’ve killed more people with it.

Most of us agreed with the cubical three to my right and we started to think we had our answer, be it somewhat in a grey area. Then someone raised a point we had forgotten. It was generally accepted that killing people was bad. We were back at square one. 

I flicked through the person's information on the file. A childhood fascination with mushrooms had evolved into their job. They'd been unknowingly working towards the discovery for a while, some years in fact. This almost certainly wasn’t what they had intended to find. Some accident they stumbled into. This was near the end of their career so they retired not soon after. Despite their true passion for the field, they never touched a mushroom again. They died a decade later of natural causes. Now they’re in purgatory, they’re nothing. A shapeless collection of cells and data for us to process at a later date.

After reacquainting myself with the details I slid it back into the drawer and tried to put it out of my mind.

July 07, 2022 07:18

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