DECISIONS

David Nichols nervously watched the hairpin turns ahead of his SUV as the onboard computer tapped the brakes and angled easily into a sharp right turn. The mountain rising above him was already darkened in late afternoon shadow, reflecting his own mood.

He glanced briefly at the destination timer on his dashboard GPS counting off the minutes that he had left to live. Since leaving the campsite he had occupied for the better part of the weekend, his resolve had only wavered once, when the vehicle’s traction control buzzed to life in order to prevent a skid on the narrow gravel road.

His desperate search for options during several long walks on the trails around his favorite reservoir had come up empty, and now he was sure that he could never return meaning to his life and vanquish the guilt that was eating his soul. Like a die thrown in a global game of chance, the consequences of his actions were determined and unstoppable: many people would perish, and by any rational and practical measure he was their executioner.

In his mind’s eye, he reviewed the e-mail he had sent before leaving which described his crimes and why he deserved to die for them. Although others shared his blame, only he could atone for his contribution, and it was substantial enough to warrant punishment for the rest.

The GPS beeped a five-minute warning. On its map, the sinuous path now included the waypoint that marked his final destination. He reached for the switch that would disable the vehicle’s autonomous control and safety override. This last leg of the trip would have to be driven manually because the computer could never allow the irrational change in direction at the end.

“Are you sure?” the computer’s voice responded when he flipped the switch. “Yes,” he verbally acknowledged, and realized it was the last word he would ever say.

The steering felt more sluggish than he expected. Maintaining speed, he resisted the urge to slam into the boulders to his left because the last thing he wanted was to cause another fatality by blocking the road with his wreckage. The trees and rocks on the other side reminded him that only clear path that could keep others safe was the one he had identified on the trip up to the reservoir.

His hands began to sweat as the minutes counted down and he marveled at how odd it was that fear would strike him now. To gather courage, he recalled the final phrase of his message, the one that summarized everything that troubled him: Reality is dying, and we killed it. His adrenaline surged to a peak as the unobstructed drop-off came into view, and suddenly the answer he had sought burst into his mind. I am part of that reality, and to kill myself is just as wrong.

With relief bordering on ecstasy, he switched the computer back on so he could focus on what to do next. When it announced it was back in control, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, but the fear returned with a jolt as he felt the SUV shake and swerve. Snapping his eyes open, he spent a precious second searching the rear camera screen for the obstruction the computer must have avoided, such as a boulder or an animal. In the next second he felt weightless, and ahead saw the most beautiful view of his life.

© Copyright 2015 Bradley W. Jarvis. All rights reserved.