Challenge #02400-F210: From the AshessteemCreated with Sketch.

in fiction •  2 months ago 


Who comes to the aid of someone marked as "bad"? Where is the villain's hero? -- Anon Guest

Morality is not a binary switch. One does not flip from 'good' to 'evil' or vice versa. There's a sliding scale of evil that moves from refusing to tip your restaurant waitstaff through parking in disabled parking spaces to outright deciding that hungry people need to deserve to eat before one can give them food. After that comes definite evil, like not paying employees enough to live through to the next paycheque, overcharging rent, and believing genocidal actions are completely justified against anyone Not Us. Actual murder of innocent people is somewhere in there, but gradual murder[1] counts.

Nevertheless, despite the slow and insidious evils of the world, good exists. When the meteor wiped out most of New York, those good people came to the fore. Risking life and limb to rescue those in greater peril, forming human chains to remove the rubble. Forming bucket chains to put out the fires. Opening their homes to the homeless, giving their food to the hungry, loaning what small power they had to those in need, regardless of whether or not they were deserving. Many of those rescued were not.

Pauschia Danervries was among those who didn't deserve the effort it took to spit on her. She had spent a literal lifetime with an entourage taking care of her every want, and not acknowledging her needs as anything more than peripheral benefit. She was, in essence, a spoiled, rich brat who had never had a problem in her life. Now she had problems beyond counting. The meteor strike had taken out all the upper-class areas of her city. All the hotels, all the shopping emporiums. All the cute little bistros, restaurants, and coffee shops where she had spent most of her gifted existence. It had also taken out the stock exchange, all the banks, and most, if not all of the records that said she was a billionaire. It had taken out the data farms that could have verified her as an Instagram Influencer, Someone Famous, or even just Someone. Her purse, a bag big enough to carry two three-year-olds, had been lost in the wreckage, so she was without her phone, her social media accounts, and her father's credit card. In brief, she had lost everything.

Therefore, she was complaining about it. Vociferously. Not to anyone, because everyone was too busy to seem to care, but to the universe at large.

"Someone give me their phone," she demanded, not for the first time, and certainly not the last. "What even is this place? It stinks! I ordered coffee twenty minutes ago, where is it? Where's my bodyguard? Where's my father? He's going to hear about this and we will sue all of you for everything you have! I have my rights! The instant I get a phone, I'm calling my lawyers."

"The lawyers are dead," said someone in a tracksuit. They had to yell, since they were wearing a painter's mask. "You should be wearing your mask, miss, there's asbestos all over the place." Filthy hands, torn and bloodied in some places, reached out with a paper mask towards her face.

"Eeeuw, get away from me with that thing! I demand better accommodations! This is worse than a death camp! Take me to Manhattan East Saville, NOW! I have an account there."

The person in the tracksuit with the mask said, "Manhattan East Saville is a pile of rubble, miss. We dug you out of what was left of the Starbucks next door. Do you remember?"

"I don't have to remember, I have staff for that. Speaking of, where are my staff? My assistant should be getting me to my next appointment. In fact, you're ruining my entire day. Get me to my assistant or I'll sue!"

That seemed to work. Mask Tracksuit said, "Follow me, then," and lead the way to a whole bunch of body bags on the other side of a sheet wall. Many were closed, with labels attached to the corners. Many more were open, with dead faces peeking out from the black confines. "These are the other people from the Starbucks where we found you. Do you know anyone here?"

There were ranks and ranks of dead bodies. There were addresses chalked onto the tarmac, inside of boxes around the serried ranks of Manhattan's dead. One address was for the Starbucks... One was for Manhattan East Saville.

One of the bodies was her assistant. One was her groomer, one her photographer, one her fitness coach, and one... the barista who had taken her order. Her nametag had once read Pam, but now it was gone. Over at the hotel address, there was her father and his entourage. Everyone who could verify who she was had died. Everyone who catered to her had died.

She was alone in the world with nobody and nothing, and it hurt.

The coffee these people had was horrible. Black, unsweetened, and without any kind of flavour shots. The people who did talk to her were less interested in her complaints and more interested in the answers they could verify according to numerous databases that still existed. Nobody cared that she thought the vegan meal was crap. Nobody cared that her hair was a wreck with no-one to brush it for her. Nobody cared that her twelve thousand dollar bottle of designer perfume was somewhere in the wreckage.

They'd rather care for a screaming child -probably an immigrant- than her, a well-to-do celebrity on the internet.

She threw tantrum after tantrum, but people passed her by. She screamed and threatened, but nobody had any time or any effort to perform any kind of care. She howled and raged, but was ignored. Pauschia lasted for hours before she fell into a huddle on the metal frame that alleged to be a bed. Once she was sobbing quietly to herself, she allowed people to drape her over with a silver foil blanket, to hand her a cup of cheap soup, or to just exist in her sight.

Another survivor, most of their left leg wrapped up in a brace and walking with a cane, sort of fell into the metal bed beside her. They too wore a mask. They too were covered in dirt and grime. They too were a wreck of small injuries.

For the first time in her life, Pauschia was concerned about another human being. "What happened to you?"

The newcomer raised their mask and sipped at their broth. "Not a lot, I live with this leg the whole time. Just spent all day in the rubble chain. They made me come over for a rest and a meal. How about you? Internal injuries? Concussion?"

"What? No. I'm... I've had the worst day of my life. Everything's gone and I can't even call anyone because my phone's in my purse and my purse is in the rubble somewhere and nobody cares and I don't even know if this water is vegan!"

"Poor you," said the newcomer, unconvincingly. "You can walk, right?"

"...yeah? So?"

"You got two working arms, right?"

"Yeah. So what's your point?"

"I got a leg and a half on my best day and maybe two arms if I stand right. I've been helping all day. What have you done?"

"What do you mean, what have I done? I'm an important person! I have a lot of money and I could destroy your entire pathetic life if I wanted to. I have so much going for me, you can't even understand it. I don't even need to do anything, I can snap my fingers and stuff happens."

"Go on then," said the newcomer, unimpressed and sipping their broth. "Do it. Snap all this wreckage away. Snap the dead back to life. Snap people healed. Snap my leg better, I double-dog dare you."

"What? I can't do any of that..."

"Then what good are you?" The newcomer accepted a foil blanket from another passing stranger, handing off the cup their soup had once been in, and laid down on the bed. They unfurled the silver sheet with a series of flaps. "Not any, I'm thinking."

Another passer-by took the cane from the newcomer, for others who needed it, thus defeating any ideas Pauschia may have had about beating the newcomer with it. She had seen what happened to people who used their fists and decided, a little wisely, that employing her own would get her even further nowhere than attempting to use the cane as a bludgeon.

As the light faded from the sky, she realised that she was all alone for good. She could snap her fingers all she liked, but nobody was leaping to make her wishes come true. Everyone around her was a stranger. Everything she used to have was no longer at her fingertips.

Pauschia got up from the metal bed, still clutching the silver blanket around her shoulders. Made her way to a group of people who were alternately pointing at a map and pointing out to the wreckage. Cleared her throat and waited for someone's attention.

"Oh shit. It's the attention whore. What now?" said someone in a hardhat.

"Um," said Pauschia, knowing that she had been useless all day. "I... I decided I want to help..."

The people around the table stared at her. "What can you do?" said another in a safety vest. "I mean, all by yourself?"

That was more insulting than it had to be. Insulting... and unfortunately true. "I could... push a cart around? Or hand out things?"

"It's a start. Go over there and learn what you can do."

She did, and learned exactly how taxing that being useful could be.

[1] Gradual murder: Approving acts and actions that, whilst not guaranteeing cogniscent death, nevertheless lead to poor quality of life, poor quality of health, and the general shortened lifespan of those affected by said acts and actions. See also: campaigning against healthcare for all, school lunches, living wages, affordable housing, and other support infrastructure.

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / Artisticco]

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Least attempts wre being made XD

And I think the level of insulting was bang on.