“God save us all.”
These were the only words spoken by General Michael Kenmore as the President gave the last number of the nuclear launch codes over the black telephone located in the command center. Michael knew that, while it may be warranted and necessary, this marked the end of life as he knew it. Yes, life would continue, but nothing would ever be the same.
The walk to the small red button underneath a glass case was the longest walk he had ever made. The 100 foot walk felt like it was a hundred miles, each step more of a burden than the last. The whole world’s fate rested on his fingertips, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Sure, he could refuse to click the red button under the dusty glass case, but they’d get someone else to do it anyway. If there was one thing Michael had learned in his life, it was that free will is something aspired to, but never actually gained. Theoretically, he could do whatever he wanted to, but there is always someone influencing the decision and working their metaphorical fingers in your brain, twisting and morphing your thoughts into thinking they’re your own when they truly are set there by someone else. And when you do have your own thoughts, the someone who’s always more powerful decides that you need to think another way, and you do. You always do.
Michael didn’t want to press the button. He didn’t want to watch the news the next day to see that the bomb he sent off wiped out a whole society, ending of the lives of every good, bad, and insignificant person there. But, years in the army turned Michael, a once compassionate, thoughtful person into a cold, bitter veteran who obeyed orders and didn’t care enough about his own life, let alone someone else’s.
But this. This was different. He couldn’t put his finger on it, having called in many missile strikes and many bombing runs. But something was tugging on his subconscious this time, and he couldn’t realize what. This made the walk even more unbearable, knowing that a part of him was trying to redeem him, but all the other parts suppressing the feeling.
And so, Michael finally reached the button. As he looked down on the dusty glass case, all he could see was his reflection. A reflection of a once celebrated hero, but now blurred by the old dust and fingerprints that have been collecting for years. His unshaven, unkempt facial hair and the sunken look in his eyes were visible in the smudged reflection, but everything else was covered. The only other thing he could make out was the small frown growing bigger the longer her stared.
He put his hand on the glass case covering the button, and for a mere moment, an infinitesimal amount of time in the length of his life, he remembered Garrett. Garrett Kenmore, Michael’s little brother. He was a ray of sunshine in a windowless room, a light at the end of the tunnel, a hope in a hopeless world. He was always Michael’s favorite person, someone who he aspired to be like. For Garrett was kinder than all, more caring than all and more understanding than all. He always thought the best of everyone and brought out the good of everyone he ever met.
But Garrett died during spring break of his freshman year at college. Died of complications during a kidney transplant. He decided to donate a kidney to a 7 year old girl he babysat during high school. He heard around town what she was going through and decided he needed to help. He went to the parent’s house to give his thoughts and find anyway to help.
After being told by her parents that there was too long a waiting list for them to get the surgery before her kidneys failed completely on her, Garrett decided he needed to help. Garrett went immediately to the hospital and got an examination, and was told he was fit to donate. Everyone told him he was too young and that there must have been another way, but he knew that there wasn’t.
Garrett died saving a little girl that he owed nothing, because he knew that she deserved to have a life. He didn’t know going into the surgery if something bad would happen, but he knew there was a risk and he was willing to take it. His death was soon after the operation. Michael was called by the hospital and drove as fast as he could to see his brother during his final minutes. When Michael got into the room, the nurse told him that final thing his brother said was that he was happy to have given life, no matter the cost.
And his death consumed Michael for years. As Michael was significantly older and already lost his compassion and kindness, he was destroyed inside to learn that the only glimmer of hope he had to retain it, for something beautiful to be around in the shadows, was now gone. His main thought was “why him?” Why could someone sweet and innocent die, but someone who gets paychecks firing bullets at people live? Michael couldn’t even cry at the funeral. To him, Garrett was the redeemable quality Michael always dreamt of retaining. And with the end of Garrett came the end of all hope. Michael was cold and bitter before, but after that moment he became a shell of a human being, acquiring perhaps the most damaging quality someone could have: lack of empathy. Lack of empathy in everyone, everything, and even himself. With complete callous in life, he did what he was supposed to do and didn’t care whether or not anyone was hurt and didn’t care what he did, he just did what he was told.
This was the last thought fleeting through his mind as he flipped the case open and put his index finger on the button. But there was still hope. He imagined a world where Garrett still lived and everything was okay. Michael was happy again, life was good, and the meaningless fight between two different societies never occurred, and the bomb to end that meaningless fight didn’t murder millions of people.
The thought was gone as the muscles in his hand pushed his finger down and the red bulb above it lit up like a firework. The sirens blared, and the missile could be heard launching off of its pad.
Michael went back to his desk. He sat down and put his head in his arms. The phone rang, but Michael didn’t answer. Instead, he fumbled around in the top desk drawer. He didn’t know why, but he realized it as soon as he felt the steel of his handgun touch his palm.
“God save us all… but not me.” He pulled out his handgun and closed the desk drawer.
Credit: Dylan Clay