The Masters of Triage
by Evan Appelman
Table of Contents
Part 1 and Part 2
appeared in issue 256.
|part 3 of 5|
Lucien Orr is a perceptive and sympathetic psychologist and marriage counselor. It appears, however, that marital counseling is only his day job and is actually a cover for a much more mysterious and portentous activity. Lucien’s world starts to unravel when he becomes involved with the attractive Sybil Malantis, and he is ultimately forced to make an agonizing choice. However, as Lucien’s boss cautions him, not everything may be quite what it seems.
The Council assembled. The assembly was nowhere in space and nowhere in time. It simply was. Nor were the Councilors present as corporeal entities. They were bare essences, identified by their mental signatures and the characteristic auras that surrounded them: Michael’s golden glow, the sky blue of Raphael, the verdant green of Gabriel, and Lucien’s scarlet flame. There was no speech. Communication proceeded through waves of energy from their disembodied minds. As yet the Chief was not in evidence.
“Hullo, Luce,” greeted Gabriel cheerfully. “Long time no see. How’re you doing with the going to and fro and walking up and down?”
Lucien laughed mirthlessly, but he played his part. “I only see how humanity plagues itself. The little earth-godling is still of the same old ilk, and he’s just as much an oddball as he was on the day of creation.”
Gabriel shook his head. “What a strange, mocking fellow you are, Luce.”
“Good old Luce,” Raphael chimed in. “Cheerful as ever. Can’t you ever look at the bright side of things?”
“Tell me about it,” Lucien replied with a grimness. “You’re the ones who insisted on giving humanity free will and intelligence without the wherewithal to use either sensibly. Now I get the privilege of watching every day as they make a hash of it. Thank you very much.”
“OK,” interrupted Michael, “Let’s not get into all that again. We’re assembled for the particular purpose of dealing with a request that Luce is making. As soon as the Chief gets here...”
“I am here.” The Chief’s pure white aura glowed brightly, diminishing to insignificance the auras of the other Council members. The banter halted abruptly. “I understand that Luce is asking to be relieved of his duties on Earth. Is that correct, Luce?”
“Yes, sir,” Lucien replied quietly, his bluster gone. “I’ve been at this an awfully long time, and, to be frank, I think I’m about burned out.”
“You’ve been doing a very good job for us,” the Chief observed. “I can’t think of anyone else who could do it as well.”
“But at the end of the day just what do I have to show for it? All I’m doing is applying Band-Aids. So I save a bunch of lives here and a bunch of lives there. I can’t change human nature. God only knows I’ve tried. You’ve given man just a glimpse of something higher than himself. The poor devil calls it reason, and he uses it to make himself more bestial than any beast. He just can’t handle it!”
Lucien had intended to make a calm, dispassionate statement. But he felt his anger rising, and he realized that he no longer cared what effect his words might have. He went on, in ever greater agitation. “I told you back then that this would happen, that if you gave man anything at all it would have to be more than this. And I could have given him just that little bit more and taught him to use it, taught him to control and make the most of his capabilities.
“But oh, no, you wouldn’t stand for it. You were too much afraid that once he knew what he could do, he might dare to challenge your oh-so-sacred authority! So now I’m stuck with trying to pick up the pieces, and I’ve about had it.”
Lucien knew that this would be more than Mike would be able to let pass, and he wasn’t disappointed. Mike’s aura blazed with indignation as he retorted, “I thought we’d settled all this a long time ago. Have you forgotten that you were beaten, Cousin Luce? Maybe Cousin Luce needs a little reminder.”
Lucien sidestepped the provocation. “I will not deny that we were vanquished in that conflict; yet our great undertaking was not lacking in nobility.”
“Very grand,” Michael replied acidly, “But it doesn’t alter the situation.”
Lucien persisted. “I challenge any of you to look at the mess humanity is in today and say that I was wrong and you were right!”
The Chief intervened. “Michael is right. This has been settled, for better or worse, and there is no going back. I’ve often tried to explain to you that we are not entirely free agents ourselves. Our dealings with humanity are subject to constraints of which even I am only dimly aware. What we did was, in fact, the best we could do. What Luce wanted, reasonable though it sounded, was simply not within our power to accomplish.
“But we’re getting sidetracked here. Luce, I think you are underestimating the importance of your work. We all know that each individual life constitutes a universe in itself. You yourself are well aware that even very small changes in the probability matrices can have enormous repercussions. None of us can even begin to calculate the effect of all the lives that have been spared or ameliorated by your efforts.”
“That may be true, sir,” Lucien admitted, “But the work has been more stressful than I could ever have imagined, and now I just want out. It’s not as though things can’t go on without me. BZ and his crew have gotten very competent in working the matrices; they hardly need any supervision at all. And the maintenance work really isn’t rocket science. I’ll be happy to break someone in on it before I go. I’m sure there are people in the lower ranks who would have an aptitude for this sort of thing. Maybe Uriel or Zephon.”
“Are you sure you’re giving us the real reason you want out, Cousin Luce?” Rafael asked slyly. “Could there maybe be something else — like a woman?”
If it had been possible for a disembodied intellect to blush, Lucien would have done so. How the hell could they have found out? Or was it just a lucky guess? The pulsing of his aura betrayed his emotional distress.
“Don’t tell me Cousin Luce is in love!” chimed in Gabriel. “Who’d a thought it? And at his age. I’m really shocked.”
Lucien had no choice. He had to brazen it out. “I am not obliged to justify myself to any of you. I’ve put in my time at this damned job. Now let someone else take over.”
“Aren’t you forgetting just why you were given that job, Cousin Luce?” asked Michael icily. “You copped a plea, remember? After we put down that pathetic rebellion of yours, we had every right to snuff you out, along with BZ and the rest of your miserable bunch of co-conspirators. We gave you a break, and in return you agreed to take on the management of humanity. What makes you think you have any right to back out of the deal now?”
“Just hold on, Mike,” Lucien responded. “Let’s not get carried away. ‘Snuff us out’? You know there was no way you could have done it. Sure you beat us and humiliated us, and you could have done much worse. But if you had, we’d have been aching for revenge, and you’d all have had to watch your backs for the rest of eternity. The truce was to the advantage of everyone, including that wretched humanity you profess to think so highly of. Anyhow, my ‘co-conspirators’ and I, as you call us, have kept our part of the bargain. We’ve paid our dues, and so far as I know, BZ and the others are willing to keep at it. But I’ve had enough.”
Michael turned to the other Council members. “He can say what he wants, but the fact is he accepted the agreement, and he can’t unilaterally abrogate it. He can ask to be relieved of his duties, but it’s up to us to decide whether to allow it. And I, for one, don’t think he has earned the right to be let off.”
“‘Earned the right’? Who are you to say what I have or haven’t earned? How long do you think any of you would last in this job? But I appeal to the Chief. Whatever he decides, I’ll accept.”
The assembly fell silent. The Chief’s aura expanded until it enveloped all four of the contending archangels, soothing and calming them. When he spoke, his mental voice permeated all of their minds, softening the edges of their dispute and creating in each a passionate longing for a harmonious resolution.
This had always been his role, Lucien thought. When Mike and his forces had won the day, and Lucien and his minions lay defeated, Mike was ready to press his advantage to the bitter end. Only through the Chief’s intervention was a truce achieved.
“Luce is right,” the Chief began. “No penance can last forever. And Luce has carried out his task in exemplary fashion for long enough that he is entitled to ask for a respite.
“But that is by no means the whole story, Luce. There was indeed an element of penance in your assignment. But the real reason you were given this job was that you were simply the only one who could have taken it on and accomplished as much as you have.
“I know, and I think the rest of you do also, that Luce’s rebellion was not undertaken for selfish motives, but because he honestly and passionately felt that we were treating humanity unfairly — that if we were to raise man above the animals, we could not stop halfway — we had to give him an angel’s ability to rule himself.
“Unfortunately, Luce was never able to come to terms with the constraints under which we operated. The result was the rebellion, and we had no choice but to put it down by force. But the whole tragic experience left Luce with a sympathy for humanity that none of the rest of us really possesses.
“Yes, of course we could find someone else to do Luce’s job. None of us is absolutely indispensable. Even if I were not here, the Ancient Ones would find a way to accomplish what was needed.”
The archangels murmured in surprise. It was one thing to refer elliptically to “constraints,” but quite something else to speak of the Ancient Ones by name.
The Chief continued, “But the simple fact, Luce, is that no one else could do the job anywhere near as effectively as you’ve been doing it. Of course, BZ and his crew are competent. But that’s because you’ve made them competent and continue to oversee their work. Without you they’ll carry on, but it will never be the same. And have you thought what it will mean to them for you to pull out?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, but went on, “I’m not going to pressure you, Luce. Any debt you owe us has long ago been paid in full. If you want to resign from your task, you are free to do so. The choice is yours. But you might want to keep in mind that not everything may be quite what it seems.
“I declare this Council session adjourned sine die.”
* * *
The choice was his, but there was no choice. He knew he couldn’t go through with it. He wasn’t about to leave mankind to the tender mercies of Mike and his buddies. And the Chief was right. He hadn’t given much thought to the effect on BZ and the others. They would carry on, of course, but they’d feel betrayed — and rightly so. No, he was trapped. He simply couldn’t resign. He did wonder briefly what the Chief had meant about everything not being quite what it seemed.
Anyhow, he thought, that took care of Alternative Four. So it’s back to Alternatives One to Three. And Two and Three remained as unacceptable as ever. He could neither conceal things from Sybil indefinitely nor confide in her. The only thing left was to break it off. He’d have to come up with some way to tell her it had all been a mistake — that they just weren’t suited for each other. He could avoid going into detail. It would be awful for her, after weathering one breakup, to be hit so soon with another, but it couldn’t be helped. He’d write a letter.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves...
Lucien reached for paper and a pen and began to write: “Dear Sybil, This is a hard letter for me to write, and I am afraid it will be even harder for you to read...”
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
He stopped. No, he thought, it wouldn’t be fair to write. That much of a cad he wasn’t! He’d have to go see her and tell her. It would be hell, but it was the only way. He crumpled the paper and lobbed it into a nearby wastebasket.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Well, he thought bitterly, at least he would wield the sword in person.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Evan Appelman