Chapter 8

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  "Is one van really worth your life?" Connor asks as he rubs at his swollen ankle. The rattle of tires over the run-down highway almost drowns out his voice. There are eight of us crammed into the back of the APC: me, Father, Connor and Cale (I found out earlier that they're father and son), June and Jennifer (who both look like badass action movie heroines), Doctor Sandy (real name Sandeep) and this old First Nations guy who goes by Rusty.

            "Life doesn't have a fixed value," Father says, replying for me. Everyone in the back of the APC looks over at him, startled. They'd all assumed he was asleep. "Life as an idea should be held as sacred, yes. It must go on. But a life, a singular life, is just a mass of cells, a complex organism with temporary awareness. Its occupation of time and space is not permanent. Why would I weep over one death, when I have not shed a tear for the billions who have gone before me?"

            Everyone stares at him.

            "Is he always this maudlin?" Cale whispers to me. I nod.

            "We're taught that all life is sacred," Connor replies, folding his arms.

            "If you truly believed that, the League would have slaughtered you," Father says. "You placed a higher value on your own life. That's instinct."

            "I'm asking why this vehicle is so important that you would risk yourself," Connor explains. "I don't care that you're an atheist with absolutely no morality."

            Father laughs. "That's only half-true. You perceive me as immoral because you struggle to understand me. Just understand this: if we hold humanity as truly sacred, if we carry on like we did before the Doom, placing ourselves on a pedestal above every other living thing, assuming that we have something special that makes us different: consciousness, a soul, whatever you want to call it...then we are destined to repeat our mistakes."

            "You believe the same as us, sounds like," Rusty says, scratching at his grey stubble.

            "No, you misunderstand me. Humans believe they are special just because they have consciousness, empathy and reason. Chimps are self-aware. Dolphins have empathy. Crows can reason. You see yourselves as shepherds of the natural world, but it's a hierarchy that manages itself. The rabbit doesn't concern itself with a population explosion. That's the predator's job, but if the carnivore was removed, the rabbit would go on making babies until every last piece of lettuce in Farmer Brown's garden was gone and they all starved."

            Connor stares at me. Who's Farmer Brown? He mouths. I shrug and try to indicate that I'll explain later.

            "The rabbit doesn't have a sense of responsibility," Sandy counters.

            "And what does ours do for us?" Father asks. "Tell me this: if the world was overpopulated and on the brink of collapse from, say...massive famine, could you pull the trigger? Kill off enough people so that the rest could survive? We know what's best for the world, but we still behave according to our instincts. The man cheats on his wife with a beautiful woman because his hormones urge him to do so, increasing the chances of producing a successful offspring. The businessman makes a decision that will render thousands destitute, because the corporation must survive. The politician is responsible for a higher-than-average fatality rate in her country because the gun lobbyists line her pockets. I have a sense of responsibility, but we are just a collection of egos. We can't control the herd...no matter how we've tried throughout history."

            There's a morose silence following Father's words. He usually has that effect on people. I stare out the window slats at the world beyond, wondering if the Doom was as much a blessing for the planet as it had been a bane for humanity. Dilapidated highway-side buildings pass us by: a gas station long-looted, blackberry bramble and Scotch broom encroaching like a shroud of vines. A trio of deer, grazing placidly in a field, flee at the sight of a wild dog pack. Long-dead traffic lights remind me of the world that was: a world of rules and money and progress.

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