“That really hurt,” Judy said.
“I’m sorry,” Madison replied. “But I didn’t see an alternative.”
“I guess you’ve got your hand on the trolley switch now,” Judy said.
“Seems that way,” Madison agreed.
“What are you talking about?” the administrator asked.
“Our friend here sees this as fundamentally an ethics question,” Judy explained. “Do we pull the switch and let the trolley kill only a million people, or do we let nature take its course and watch billions die?”
“Ah, yes,” he replied. “The trolley problem. I suppose that is the fundamental question, isn’t it? It seems fitting that someone of your generation would make that decision for us.”
“Why do you say that?” Madison asked.
“Look around this room. Everyone here is on our way out. Most of us won’t live long enough to see the true devastation our species has set in motion. But your generation—you will live through all of it. Flood, fire, famine, and pestilence. Ultimately, it’s your choice. You can let us proceed with our plan to throw that switch, or we can let things play out on current course and speed.”
“You seem awfully calm, Malcolm,” Judy said.
“There’s time. Let’s allow the girl to think this through,” he said.
Madison noticed someone moving in her peripheral vision and shifted to get a better view of the room. “Everyone over against that wall!” she shouted. “Except you,” she said to her hostage.
The people all got up from their seats and moved to where Madison had indicated. She felt safer now. But she wasn’t sure how to proceed.
“Is Mr. Black—I mean Richard here?” she asked, scanning the people against the wall.
“I’m here,” he said, stepping into the room. “I was in the little boy’s room. Seems I missed some excitement. How are you, Miss Johnson?”
“I’m confused as fuck,” she said.
Mr. Black laughed. “I can see that! Perhaps I can help you sort this out. How much time do we have Malcolm?”
The administrator pursed his lips, “Maybe five minutes? A little less?”
“Well, then time is of the essence. Do you have some questions I can answer, my dear?”
“How bad are things, really? I mean, everyone has an agenda. The oil industry insists everything is fine, and I know they’re full of shit. But who can we trust?”
“Scientists,” he said. “Like Malcolm here. Malcolm, is global climate change real?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“And is it our doing?” Mr. Black asked.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes.”
“And will de-industrialization stop it?”
“Almost immediately. It will take, maybe forty or fifty years for the oceans to re-absorb all that carbon. The air will be cleaner almost immediately. And the global temperature will return to historical levels after a few decades. That will reduce the frequency of severe storms and should make drought relatively rare. We don’t know whether the polar ice will return, but we shouldn’t lose any more of it.”
“You’re sure?” Madison asked.
“I am completely sure,” he said. “I have never been so sure of anything in my life. I do not take what we are doing lightly. It is a serious course correction that we are making to this spaceship we call home. And I know and accept that many will die. But those numbers pale in comparison to what will happen if we do nothing.”
Madison looked at Mr. Black, who smiled and nodded. She looked at Judy, who said, “put the gun on the desk dear.”
Madison put the gun down and stepped back. Her hostage looked up at her, and with tears in her eyes, Madison nodded at her. The woman rolled her chair back to the computer terminal. The NASA administrator walked over, cracked the seal on a plastic container, and removed a strip of paper. He started reading a series of numbers and letters to the woman.
Madison walked over to Mr. Black, who took her in a warm hug. She cried into his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay, dear,” he said.
Madison pushed him away slightly. “Not to you. I’m sorry to all the people I just sentenced to death.”