There was quite a shouting match but they couldn’t shake my resolve. This felt right to the same depth that the Level 5 program had felt wrong. It was right there with my core beliefs. In the Bible it talks of being a good slave; of making no excuses based on situational ethics and of continuing to try to be a better person regardless of where you find yourself. I think I learned to accept that God put you in situations to learn. I explored the boundaries of what it meant to be a slave. I may have been a slave in my situation but I wasn't a slave to my situation; physically I was bound but my spirit was free.
But now I was free in almost every sense and with that freedom came additional responsibilities. My friend, a man who had risked a great deal to help me secure that freedom, was in a sense a slave. He was a slave to the injuries he sustained, to the reality of being human. I had faith that he just needed time, time to heal and be free. But I also knew Donovan well enough to be certain, like me, he wasn’t willing to put the lives of others at risk to get that time.
The Major asked, “Chapman, do you have a death wish?!”
Others added their objections. It took too long to convince them. I was losing my patience. “Look, it’s my life and my choice. I’m of sound mind and body. I’m not asking you to understand why, I’m just telling you to accept it. My choice has already been made.”
I suppose they could have knocked me out and loaded me into one of the vehicles but they didn’t. I hope it was a form of respect. Major Harper pulled me aside and asked, “Chapman are you and Donovan romantically attached?”
I was stunned and gave her a very big negative to that but at least it prepared me because Chandler and Marshall asked me the same thing and that time I had to laugh. “I don’t even know why anyone would think that much less you two. The best I can say is that Donovan is a friend … a buddy … but it’s not friendship that drove my decision.”
“Then what? You may tell the others that they don’t need to understand but don’t tell us that.”
Trying to find the words I fell back on the tried and true, “Because it’s right.”
In the end they had no more choice than I did if they were going to do what was right. The Major ordered some rearranging of supplies. She left the portion of the food originally assigned for Donovan and I, as well as a few other things. Chandler pulled me aside and showed me a two seater half-track. It wasn’t in the greatest shape, it had been one of the original vehicles used by the salvagers, but it moved and it had a few modifications like a heavy duty wench and a trailer bed rather than a personnel hauler. Laine showed me how to take care of Donovan’s wounds to avoid infection and how to watch for other potential problems.
Donovan’s supervisor showed me how to load and care for Donovan’s personal weapons and made sure I had a supply of ammunition, one of the few things that had remained in abundance within the bunker. “Pray that you don’t have to fire one of these but maintain them and be prepared as if you will.”
And then they were gone. They day was still, cold, and gray; we hadn’t seen the sun since Impact Day. Day was a kind of bright and night was black as a bottomless pit. I couldn’t watch them drive off towards the horizon unless I wanted to freeze. I’m from Florida and until the asteroid had hit I’d never been anywhere near snow. I really only experienced it when the convoys started to leave. As Convoy eight drove off that was the first time I had actually stepped outside in nearly two years and stood in the nasty stuff.
One of the last things the Major told me was, “Chapman, cold is the enemy. Hunger and thirst you can hold at bay for a while but cold will kill you real quick. Tattoo that on your forehead if you have to but never forget it.”
You didn’t have to tell me that; standing outside for just those few moments before manually closing the bunker doors was enough to generate an instinctive reaction to the danger. The enormity of my choice, despite feeling its rightness, added to my shivers as I returned to the tent that had been set up beside the half track.
Donovan was inside on a cot and the tent was only moderately warmer than the frosty warehouse, but at least it was warmer. I thawed out a little bit then climbed back out and started loading the half-track. First I made sure that the extra fuel tank and hose were just right. Then I started loading stuff around the tank as a kind of insulation. I lined the inside of the half-track’s cab with blankets and sleeping bags as another layer of insulation.
When I wasn’t doing that I was sleeping or taking care of Donovan. The afternoon of the third day he regained consciousness long enough for me to explain things to him. He lost consciousness in the middle of several comments on my sanity. It didn’t have quite the impact he meant it to have since it ended on a yawn and then a snore. Four days after that he was finally able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, primarily because he stopped letting anger eat up his energy.
“Emma, why? Why would you do this insane thing?! It would have been so much easier if you had simply let the Major do what had to be done.”
“Because what’s easy isn’t always what's right.”
“What’s right?! How right is it for me to take you down with me? You want me to live what little bit of my life I have left dealing with that kind of guilt?”
“Get it through you thick skull man, you aren’t taking me anywhere. I made this choice and I made it because it was, it is, right.”
“You idiot girl; you have your whole life ahead of you. Now you’re throwing it away. You’re going to die.”
“How do you know that? How can you say that with absolute certainty? And stop calling me girl. You're what? Maybe ten years older than me?”
“Are you kidding?! Stop avoiding reality. Look at me! How am I supposed to protect you?”
I couldn’t help it, I laughed; but when I saw the look on his face I felt bad. “Donovan … Donovan … come on, I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not laughing at you I’m just …” I stopped at a loss for words.
“Donovan, I never asked or expected you to protect me when I made my choice.”
Donovan’s answer was to chuckle cynically as ask, “So you think you’re going to protect me?”
“No. That never even entered my mind, not really.”
He looked at me and when he realized I was serious he shouted in an exasperated voice, “Then what?!”
“I believe that if you do your best to do what’s right things will turn out all right. That isn’t to say all candy colored rainbows and unicorn farts but … just right; the way things are supposed to turn out.”
“Karma? What goes around comes around? Is that the bag you’re into?”
“Emma …” Then he saw my Bible sticking up out of my backpack. I was sure that I had put it away but there it was in plain sight. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me. You can’t be. You’re a Bible thumper?! No way. I would have seen it before now.”
For the first time I became uncomfortable. It didn’t reflect on me all that well that it was such a surprise to Donovan that I am a Christian, still sometimes you just have to be public about your beliefs. “Where do you think my core beliefs, my absolutes, come from?”
He shut me out and went back to sleep, in that order and rather abruptly. I went off to do some heavy thinking.
Several hours later I brought him a mug of soup. I could have stayed away longer but that would have been cowardly and I’d already decided that maybe I had been a lot more cowardly than I had ever meant to be. He was awake but his face was pretty forbidding so I set the mug down and turned to leave the tent.
“So what’s the plan?”
“Are you just going to sit back and let the angels save you?” he asked snidely.
I sighed and turned to leave again and he reached for me with his good arm, “Emma … stay. We need a real plan.”
“We’ve got one.”
He snorted. “If ‘we’ do, when were you going to filll me in on what it is?”
“When you felt up to it.”
It was his turn to sigh, “Feeling up to it is irrelevant. I need to know what the plan is. Then it is my turn to make a choice.”