With Great Power

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: End your story with somebody stepping out into the sunshine.... view prompt

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Speculative

Note: This is the second part to ‘For the Greater Good’. I’m not sure it stands on its own so if you’re confused but intrigued, you might want to give that a read! 

CW: mentions of suicide attempt and sexual assault 

It was the last day before the solstice. The last day of my father’s trial. The last chance to decide his fate.

The past ten days had been like falling through the vent of the tallest volcano. Whatever happens now, I can’t skip away unscathed. Bubbling lava awaits at the bottom and it’s within reach. 

Maybe the nightmare started when the End Day was announced and I spent Wednesdays peering through the observation room window in the desperate hope my mom and brother would stroll into the interview room on the other side of the glass. Or maybe it started when I realized the sun, in all its celestial anger, was no villain compared to the one seated a few feet away from me. He was a specter of his former self. Or he was back to whoever he was before he donned that prideful garb of false authority. Before he became the conduit for the failures of the old world to creep into the new. But an aura of corruption that dense can’t just be shaken away.  

I’m not even sure he feels remorse. I know he’s surprised at how quickly the people he considered his “subjects” - most of whom had to convince him of their worth before being allowed into the Compound - raised their hands to testify of his misdeeds. Perhaps it was the informality of the impeachment process that got people talking. Or perhaps it was the extremely limited window of opportunity to mete out the punishment they all felt he deserved. A decision had to be made before the summer solstice raised temperatures on earth to a handful of degrees above habitable and the bunker doors were sealed.

He sauntered in on the first day of his trial, cocooned by his belief that an esteemed leader of his calibre was unimpeachable. After all, the word itself barely meant anything to our leaders. It was simply an option they thought the community would never resort to - there for the figment of democracy when we didn’t even have a courtroom to hold his trial. The day after Clara messaged me about my dad’s impeachment was spent by the leaders on figuring out how exactly that would proceed. They’d initially said the trial would start the following week but announced that evening that it would commence the next day in the Sports Room.

On normal days, our underground community - bustling between five blocks of residences, workspaces and every amenity you might think of enjoying - seems small. But on that Friday we were numerous enough to fill a room that houses a half-mile track. The leaders had occupied a Supreme-Court-like bench lining the wall where the digging stopped. Think of the Compound as this massive rectangle. The blocks ran its lengths and in the middle, were the common facilities. The Sports Room is at the very end, where the builders decided they’d made enough space, and instead of laying down another block, they squeezed in an endless series of multipurpose courts and gym equipment. It’s so large that if you’re dribbling a basketball on one end you can’t hear the frustrated cries of the tennis player on the other. When the leaders asked for a show of hands, those who had something to say rose up like a hundred pelicans on an ocean that stretched from wall to wall. 

Clara’s mom went first. I had known Mrs. Molina nearly all my time in the Compound but I had never known the fury she was capable of radiating.

“My name is Constanza Molina. Most of you would’ve seen me around the college where my husband and I teach physics. Our students frequently tell us we’re the kindest professors they’ve had. That’s just how we like to live. How we’ve raised our daughter to live,” she gazes fondly at Clara. “And we thought that same goodness was what the Compound was about when we came here years ago. But lately, my husband had noticed that something was wrong. One of his students had opened up to him about her mother: a single parent who had got pregnant at 16. She didn’t have the usual qualifications but she was a people person and Mark let her in. As she grew older, the girl noticed how Mark visited her home far more than any of her friends’. And like clockwork, after each visit, her usually-cheerful mother would be unable to get out of bed for days. She’d lie there, immobile, crying. And then the End Day was announced and we were waiting for some sort of statement about how there would be more Interview Days or the guidelines would be laxed and we’d let in more people. But no announcement came. That man -” and she points at my father like her finger’s a wand and she’s cast a kill spell, “- just continued sending people to their deaths. Families. Children. So Roberto formed a group to discuss reforms. And the day they were going to the leaders, Roberto gets a message from Mark and rushes out of the apartment. And we haven’t seen him since. My husband disappeared - no, was killed by Mark Keller.” 

When she sat, I reached across Clara and put my hand on her knee, squeezing my support into her bones. At the same time, Leonard Sullivan’s voice boomed from the leaders’ bench, “That’s preposterous! You can’t actually be accusing him of murder without any proof?!” 

But the tsunami of boos washed away his complaints and the people made clear they didn’t need evidence to believe her. Clara laughed in disbelief and suddenly turned to me, wearing a face of worry, “Dee? Hello, earth to Dee?! Diana! The leaders have announced their verdict.”

She’s shaking my shoulder violently when I intelligently choke out, “Wait, what?”

“Dee, I’m worried about you. You look like you haven’t slept in forever.” 

“The dark circles are hereditary,” I point out.

“Oh stop. I’ll get to the bottom of that later. For now, Diana, they’re taking him to the entrance. I’m sorry.” I look to the front of the room where my father struggles against the grip of a man twice his size. For the final day of my dad’s trial, only those connected to the case were let in, whether you testified to his corrupt tendencies or shared his genes. Some had already filed out to start the long walk to the other end of the Compound, where my father would be left out to face his death sentence. It was clear now why the leaders had chosen the Sports Room. To get to the doors, we’d walk the length of the Compound. He’d see all he’s losing out on and everyone else would rejoice in what they’re being rid of.

We exit the Sports Room to face Block 5 where just a few weeks ago, I had dropped my father’s latest (at the time) victims. I knew the moment I heard Mrs. Molina’s testimony that my dad had a similarly revolting arrangement with Athena (of course, that was confirmed when she testified herself a few days later). 

“I’m Athena Kaligaris. I was promised my son and I wouldn’t face any consequences for my testimony. My interview was a few weeks ago and seconds in, I was certain I was going to be rejected. My son has suffered from asthma for two years now, which has only been exacerbated by the skyrocketing pollution he was exposed to as an infant. And I was horrified to find that alone was grounds for our rejection from the Compound. But I was even more horrified to discover what exactly I was being forced into to ensure my son’s survival. Everyone here already heard about Professor Molina’s student. And I know her mom and I are not the only ones.”

I turned to Leonard Sullivan, convinced that he was about to jump up and yell, “Uh, objection! Speculation! The witness has been called on to relate only the facts she is in possession of.” But there were tears in his eyes. And he said nothing. 

No other woman stepped forward. But countless raised their hands in memory of their relatives and friends who’d been mercilessly disposed of for committing the sin of suffering from a chronic illness. A boy talked of the mildly osteoporotic mother he left behind. A woman cried for her husband with Lyme disease. Every day of the trial, I sat at the fountain that marks Block 5 and thought of them, too. 

“Hey, be careful!” Nurse Levin shouts a little too late. I knock into the cart where Ryan Miller’s lunch tray is waiting to be dragged back to the cafeteria. She rolls her eyes and I chalk up her frustration to more than my clumsiness. She’s never had a patient stay in the infirmary as long as Ryan. Most of the time, the tiny room’s one bed is unoccupied but Ryan’s been there for the five days since his testimony. 

“Hi, I’m Ryan Miller. Um, I was almost rejected until Mark heard about my military experience. And then, I remember him asking me if I’d do anything for the greater good. I had no clue what he meant by that but I was just so happy to be let in until a few days later, when Mark, um, well h-he -” he holds his head in his hands for a moment. “There’s no easy way to say this but Mark ordered me to kill Roberto Molina. He kept telling me that since he had the power to let me in, he could just as easily let me out. And so...I did it.” His face looks as though it’s about to be waved around by a matador. His bowed head glances at Mrs. Molina as he chokes out, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” 

His friend found him later that night with a thready pulse and an empty bottle of Aspirin. 

I peer in as we pass the infirmary door. Clara shoots me a vexed glance. She’s convinced Ryan was only trying to escape the same fate my dad’s currently walking towards. I’m convinced he would’ve beat him there if his friend didn’t check in and I make a mental note to visit. It was my dear father, after all, who made him a murderer. And I know just how unpleasant the infirmary can be. 

When the fifth day of trial closed without me raising my hand, the leaders asked if I had anything to add. I can’t - or don’t want to - remember what followed. I just know that at arguably the most important moment of my life, all I had to offer was some helpless stammering and enough sweat to flood the whole room. And then I woke up in the infirmary with Clara by my side. It was small enough to feel like my personal hospital room, dusty enough to resemble a desert home and sparse enough to reflect the leaders’ disregard for healthcare. There was barely anything in there to get rid of my headache. The nurse was probably having to experiment with voodoo to help Ryan at all. I mean, the Compound was made for the cream of the crop and wouldn’t you know, they don’t get sick. 

The group’s pace slows out of habit as we approach the mural. We’ve reached the end of the row of amenities and are about to pass Block 1 on our right, where the largest apartments and the first families reside. The Courtyard joins East and West Avenues and was constructed to be the picturesque, utopian cover of all of the Compound’s advertising material. The stage lights hit the stained glass mural in the angles calculated to maximize its glow and you look at it and think of God. You look and think there’s no darkness here when in fact, he was the gatekeeper. 

But everyone’s gaze was transfixed on the bronze plaque at the bottom of the mural. Not just because this trial spat in the face of all the guidelines and ideals written there. But because the mural had another purpose: it was a distraction. Passersby always admired the plaque at the distance from which they could take in the whole mural. They rarely got close enough to notice how the ‘for’ in ‘for the greater good’ (no points for guessing who wrote that line of the charter) protruded more than the other words. They certainly never pressed it to see the plaque slide to the right, unveiling a descending staircase. 

We were three days and nearly seventy testimonies into the trial when Leonard Sullivan raised his hand. His fellow leaders turned to him, bewildered, but their expressions soon morphed into horror as he started to speak. 

“There’s a secret section of the Compound: a lower level almost the mirror image of this one,” he paused to allow for initial reactions before continuing. “It was built for when our population inevitably grew as our children and grandchildren had families of their own. But based on what I’ve been hearing for the past three days, I say screw that. Let’s bring as many people out there inside before the planet becomes an oven.”

This time, his words were met with deafening cheers. Since then, everyone who’d camped outside was resettled in the lower level. Masses that had given up hope and moved into nearby towns and lakesides for a more comfortable death made the journey to the bunker for a second time. I had even taken to their new apartment a family, the Guptas, who had driven from Chicago. I delivered the usual spiel, resisting at every millisecond of silence to ask if they perchance knew my mom and brother. 

Turns out they did. I found out the next day when I was greeting another new family in the Courtyard and heard a familiar voice shout, “Prachi, you made it! I’m so glad!” She was dusty, exhausted and broken like the rest of them but what child can’t recognize her own mother’s voice? It was the first thing of this world that I knew. 

I ran to her but fear stopped my feet less than a meter away as I panicked she wouldn’t recognize me after all this time. My mind evaluated a million possible greetings when a second voice spoke, “Diana?”

I looked up and my gaze met my brother’s eyes. They rested on a longer face that ended at least half a foot higher than it did the last time I saw him but those were the same eyes that crinkled at my horrible jokes and mispronunciations and seared terror into the boy that kept pushing me off the swing. Clara insisted they stay in her apartment like I had since the impeachment started. 

So as we pass by Block 1 to our right (odd-numbered blocks line East Avenue and even line West), I’m only thinking about them. The dread that must’ve filled them when they discovered my father left them behind, not once but twice. You can imagine they haven’t been too surprised when I updated them on each episode of “Just How Awful is This Man?”. They weren’t even strangers to his mafioso-like kill orders, carried out by his own gang of enslaved enforcers. 

Callum MacPherson used to be my dad’s go-to. When one of his victims was about to approach the leaders, it was Callum who took her for a walk out of the Compound from which she conveniently couldn’t find her way back. That is until a few days ago, when she walked into the Sports Room with the abandoned German Shepherd she ran into a few towns away. Needless to say, my father’s expression was inimitable. 

But when Callum was ordered by his Don Corleone to take out the man’s own wife, his conscience overrode his sense of obligation. When he was a police officer a whole lifetime ago, he’d seen far too many cases of spousal homicide. But what sort of man would leave to fend for himself a teenage diabetic, carrying a hoard of life-saving drugs that no small number of people would kill for? He left them outside the Compound, untouched but traumatized, and disappeared from my father’s life. Until my dad requested Callum’s “help” with Roberto Molina, he not-so-politely declined and I witnessed their little interview room altercation. That pretty much brings us up to speed. On the walk as well. 

We’ve just walked by the ghastly interview room that my mom hopes will be turned into a mini-spa. It was where most of my father’s crimes originated - hiring killers, entrapping victims, denying the hope of life - so it’s fitting that it’s where his tyranny ends. When we stop by the vault-like bunker door a few meters and an airlock ahead, Leonard Sullivan reads out solemnly: 

“Mark Keller, for having organized the murders of at least four persons, engaging in the sexual assault of six others, and honestly, playing god with the lives of countless more, your citizenship in this community has been revoked.” 

The Arnold Schwarzenegger doppelganger who’d dragged my father thus far has twisted the wheel to open the six-inch door. A wave of dust, red and heat rushes in and everyone collectively grimaces at their taste of the unavoidable punishment Mark Keller will face at the mercy of the Sun. Right before I look down, I catch Leonard shooting me an apologetic glance.

My eyes close and so does the door.  

June 25, 2021 20:22

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6 comments

Beth Connor
15:59 Jun 30, 2021

Natania- I'm so glad you wrote a sequel to this one, and I hope you write more, I'm hooked!

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N K
06:38 Jul 05, 2021

Thank you so much, Beth! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Unknown User
20:58 Jul 05, 2021

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N K
11:56 Jul 11, 2021

Thank you so much for the feedback! I can't tell you how grateful I am that you took out the time to read both parts. I completely agree with your critiques. I've had a busier week so I couldn't respond earlier but I wanted to tell you that I had actually just opened up the 'How to Master the 'Show, Don't Tell' Rule' course on Reedsy and am about to start that but thank you so much for your feedback. I've been feeling for a while like I have a tendency to rely on the character's narration rather than experience and the way you explained that...

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Unknown User
18:48 Jul 11, 2021

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N K
07:40 Jul 12, 2021

Aaah I see. Looking forward to reading more!

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