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Canaan’s request hung like a ball in the air. And in the interstitial space, Agnet tried to wrap her mind around this new complication. A brand new experience, someone asking to die. But he was asking the wrong people. Medics dealt with the dying, and Central, in its infinite wisdom, had failed to provide them with a medic.

“Would be a kindness,” the old man added.

She needed to stall. “That’s a big request, sir. Give us a private moment to consider.”

“You seem to be a nice lady, and I’m sorry to vex you. I’d do the job myself, if my God allowed it. But he’s provided for me by guiding you here . And he chose my visitors wisely, goblin hunters, no doubt carrying weaponry. And killing me won’t stain your souls, since you ain’t believers.”

Canaan folded his hands and bent his head. Praying, Agnet supposed. The team exchanged glances and moved out of earshot, toward the settlement’s edge, where saplings exuberantly strove to reclaim clearing for forest.

Jemin, blinking scared-rabbit-style behind his face shield, grabbed her elbow. “You can’t be considering—”

“Why not?” asked Brandt. “The man’s out here alone, starving. And starving’s a painful way to go. Instead of his stomach twisting like a neck in a noose for weeks, after one clean shot, he’d be gone. Back with his family on their special afterlife planet, or whatever.”

Jemin shot Brandt a withering look. “We should ignore his wishes and take him back to the farm, feed him, and make him comfortable. Because it’s the right thing to do. If he still wants to die, he can die legally, under medical supervision.”

“Sure but, he’s already refused your invite. If he prefers to die at home, then he stays. Can’t force him, can we?” said Philip. “He’s out here lawfully, since code cedes uninhabitable land to ferals. Sort of slow suicide anyway, living out here. They know the risks.”

“So you’re eager to put a bullet through his brain?” Jemin clenched his gloved hands.

Philip drew back his chin, looking both disgusted and prissy. “I abhor physical violence. But also, murder is risky for perceivers; it leaves us open to…psychological problems.”

Brandt interjected. “Whoa, bro. We aren’t talking murder. We’re talking mercy killing. Big difference. It’s obvious you’re no killer. But I’ve been on the border and’ve seen bad times. Times when death is the best outcome. So I’m happy to oblige. Look at the guy, a pile of rags topped by a dried apple. Like he said, it’d be a kindness.”

Pile of rags topped by a dried apple? For the love of Pete. She set her jaw, refusing to laugh, no matter how hard it’d struck her perverse funny bone. This was no time for levity. The situation was dire. Everyone looked so sincere. The moment passed; she could safely speak. “It’s only a mercy killing if performed by medical personnel. Laws clear on that point. If we help him along, it falls in a dead zone—pun unintended—between homicide and suicide. And if Central sees an advantage in calling it homicide, it’ll be called homicide.” She could think of a few people would be glad to pin a murder on her.

Jemin stared at Brandt, horror writ large on his face. But he took a step toward the considerably less muscular Philip. “So you’d abandon him? Leave him to starve?”

Philip took a step toward Jemin. “I say allow him to choose, which differs from abandoning him. So tell me, how does forcing him to come with us differ from kidnapping?”

“You just don’t want him slowing us down.”

“You just want to feed off his life story.”

Now they stood visor to visor. It might be interesting to watch two low testosterone types, one who “abhorred violence,” duke it out in containment suits. But they didn’t have the time. “Stand down, guys. Everybody has a valid point. Yes, that ancient man shouldn’t starve alone in the forest, but we can’t drag him down the mountain, and shooting him leaves us open to charges. So give me a minute to think.”

She folded her arms and turned to face into the breeze racing along the ridgeline. The trees swayed, the rustling of their branches resembling murmuring and whispers.

Choose.

High time to make a call. And whatever call she made; she was screwed because, if headquarters wanted her out, it wouldn’t matter what she did. Once you’re marginal, anything you said or did was the wrong choice. And this situation practically screamed for a wrong choice. No wonder she had the jitters.

The brave Choose. And you are Brave.

Brave she was, alright, or maybe foolhardy, but the choices here, in this moment, in the remains of a decaying village in the middle of nowhere, were lousy. How do right by the elderly man and best protect her team from discord? And fast—they needed to get a move on.

Let the Old Man choose. He is also Brave.

Not a bad idea. But how would he do the deed without violating his religion? They could rig a gun to shoot him, but Property would badger her to the grave if she “lost” a weapon.

Pills.

What about drugs? One of these fragile chip heads probably carried high-powered medication and could spare enough to euthanize one skinny octogenarian. They could mix it with food and set up a random serving of the big sleep.

Agnet held up a hand. “Philip and Jemin, I appreciate both your views. And thanks Brandt, for—um—volunteering, but we’re not all on the same page. And, given our differences, any definitive action might leave bad feelings which could interfere with the mission. Now, because of his philosophy, Mr. Canaan can’t act on his own. So here’s a compromise. We set up an ‘accident’ and let chance pull the trigger, so to speak. Can anybody contribute, and no judgement, a suicide kit or any…um…substance that’s lethal in high dose?”

She’d bet on Philip. He must be taking antidepressants or antianxiety meds. And Jemin, fresh from implantation, must have chip-rejection pills, but curiously, the person who raised their hand was Orl.

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About the author

stellajo

Bio: Writing about unusual people in unusual situations with works falling somewhere between science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Author of Harmony Lost and Discord and Harmony, available direct from website or multiple ebook retailers.

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