What Almost Was

We’ve taken refuge in an unoccupied corner of the local ruins for the night. The water here seems clean enough for drinking, and I even jumped in myself for a bit, once I was sure the area was safe.

Sam’s not doing so well. They’re suffering from the sickness – growing weak, losing hair. My parents told me that that didn’t really happen before the end – that people got sick, but you could usually figure out the source; that there were vast buildings and dedicated, brilliant healers who could help you. But for Sam all we can do is get them some extra water and let them rest a bit more. I don’t know how much longer we can keep them with us, though, if we want to keep moving.

I heard a story – I’m not sure if it’s true – but I heard a story of a man from the east named Stanislav Petrov, who said that he could have stopped it all from happening. There was a country called Russia, one of the two great powers that ended the world, and they had appointed the man to watch for incoming attacks. The thinking, at the time, was that if each power threatened to destroy the world if attacked, everyone would be completely safe.

(I’m not sure I can believe all these stories. What kind of civilization would have vast structures dedicated solely to healing people *and* have their greatest powers decide that destroying the world is a way to stay safe?)

And Stanislav saw what could have been an attack, using the runes and powers afforded him. And it was his sworn duty to report what he saw, so that the rulers could make good on their promise to end the world in the name of safety. He says, I’m told, he now says that he considered keeping the information to himself, to report that he had seen no attack and that everything should just continue on as before – but that he ultimately could not disobey the orders he had sworn to follow. He comforted himself with the thought that he had only done what he promised, what was right, and that whatever happened next would be someone else’s fault. And so the era of the civilizations ended, and lives beyond measure were lost.

I wonder, sometimes, what life would have been like if he hadn’t done that. If he simply lied to his superiors about the runes, so that the world could continue. I wonder what it would be like i there were still whole buildings full knowledgeable healers, and clean water that could manifest inside your home. If the people of that world would ever realize that their continued dream-like existence was enabled by this one man’s lie. If they learned of it, how would they celebrate it?

As I dream, I imagine a solemn day of silence, for what almost was. Or perhaps a day of reflection on the importance of defiance when it *really* matters. Or maybe just a day of celebrating their ongoing, charmed existence.

I don’t dream too long though. The days are getting shorter, and we have to make the most use of the light we have left. For that is the reality we live in, and not the dream world that almost was.

(Happy Stanislav Petrov Day)

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