Miranda led AJ towards Jed and the slowly forming line. AJ noticed that everyone was joining. Entire families were in line, including children.
"Wait," AJ said, "the kids too. They're not exempt?"
"No one is exempt," Miranda said, "not the scientists, not Jed, not the children."
AJ shook his head trying to process.
"The brutality of the world is only matched by its beauty," Miranda said.
AJ made his way up in the line and took a token. Its match was dropped in a container.
It seemed like forever until the last person took a token. Then the lid was placed on the container and it was shaken.
Round and round, over and over, the contents were mixed. Everyone waited on baited breath, AJ perhaps most of all. Finally, the box was righted and the top removed.
"Alright," Jed said, reaching into the box.
"Wait," AJ asked, "Jed chooses? That doesn't seem fair. He could always not choose his own!"
"No," Miranda said, "Just watch."
"The immunity token is," Jed continued and pulled a token from the box, "Gold 46."
Across the crowd, a loud sigh was heard followed by muted nervously laughter.
"Terry," Jed said with a smile, "Come on up."
"What's the immunity for?" AJ asks.
"Jed chooses a token," Miranda explains, "then that person chooses the subject. Their token is out of the box so, they have 'immunity'."
The person identified as Terry walks to the front of the crowd. They stood nervously next to Jed.
"Well, don't keep everyone waiting, Terry," Jed chastised, "pick one."
Terry reaches into the box. Tears start to fall from Terry's eyes.
He pulls out a blue token. He sighs again and looks over towards his family. They all have gold tokens. He knows they are safe.
Jed takes the token, "Blue 17," he calls out, "Blue one seven".
A woman shrieks. Everyone's attention turns towards her.
In her arms is a child, no older than four, he keeps offering the chip to his mother, confused at why she is crying and clutching him so hard.
"Jimmy DuFour," Jed said solemnly, "I'm so sorry Rachel."
The man next to her pipes up, "No Jed, I'll take his place. I'll volunteer."
"John," Jed said, "Are you sure? If you do, you're in and you can't change your mind."
"I won't put my son at risk," John answers, tears begin streaming down his face. He leans over and kisses the boy on the head, "I volunteer."
"What's happening," AJ asks Miranda.
"We choose by lottery," Miranda explains, "but a volunteer can take the chosen person's place. John just took his son's place so John is now chosen."
"He's going to volunteer to be the subject?" AJ asked.
"It was his son or a volunteer," Miranda said, "so he volunteered."
"But," AJ stammered, "if it doesn't work, that kid will grow up without a father."
"Five kids," Miranda corrected, "five kids will grow up without a father. But these are the rules. By living here, you agree."
AJ looked over at the man hugging his family. All of their eyes were shrink-wrapped in tears, overflowing and running down their cheeks.
"No," AJ said, almost to himself "no. That can't happen."
"What?" Miranda asked, but AJ didn't hear her. He was pressing through the crowd.
"I'll do it," AJ shouted, "Jed, I'll take his place."
John turned suddenly to find the source of the voice. AJ pushed out of the crowd and towards the table. John finally saw him.
Damien's voice rose above the rabble, "AJ, no, don't do this."
Miranda joined him, "We need you AJ. We need you in the lab."
"You don't have to do that son," John scolded, "I knew the rules and the risk. I'll do it."
"No," AJ stopped him, "I can't take that risk. I'll do it."
Jed looked at both of them before settling on AJ.
"You can't take this back Dr. Kapour," Jed warned, "if you volunteer, you go to the chair."
"I know," AJ continued, "I developed it. I believe in it. I'm the one who should take the risk. I can't have that on my conscience either way."
"Alright," Jed said morosely, shaking his head, "Unless there's another volunteer..."
"NO," AJ interrupted, "No one will take my place. It's done."
"Alright," Jed continued, "the test will be at noon tomorrow. Everyone enjoy your night."
The crowd began to break up, small groups formed to discuss what had just occurred. AJ looked over towards Damien, trying to come up with an explanation.
Just then, a pair of arms wrapped around his waist. He turned and saw the crying mother, still crying, and holding on to him.
"Thank you," she kept repeating, "thank you. Thank you."
She was joined by her entire family, even the father, in a group hug. AJ exchanged looks with the father, who seemed to be crying harder now, but no words were exchanged.
The mother took the chosen child from his father and introduced him to AJ. AJ crouched slightly until he was eye to eye with the boy.
"I need you to make me a promise," AJ said.
The boy shook his head.
"Promise me you will grow up big and strong, that you will be a good boy and look out for your family, and you'll do something great when you grow up."
The boy shook his head vigorously. He reached out and AJ took him into his arms. They shared a long, strong hug before AJ handed him back. Then AJ nodded to John and his wife and turned to leave.
He saw Damien and Miranda waiting for him and walked over. They were both visibly upset.
"Please," AJ begged before he even reached them, "don't."
Neither said anything, they just wrapped him up in a hug. AJ finally broke down and cried with them.
Eventually, the hug broke. Damien was the first to speak.
"Well," he said, "let's get you nice and drunk huh?"
"That," AJ chuckled, "I can agree with."
YOU ARE READING
The Chair: A Story of SurvivalScience Fiction
A legend - a Victorian-style chair with red upholstery and mahogany wood sitting on top of a small rise. But this is more than a chair: its a life preserver. In a world gone amuck, this chair means salvation; it means safety; it means a cure. But on...