Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Lesson Not Learned

I lived in an underground city, my living quarters just off the hall leading to our work place which was a large 'workstation' that dealt with managing the inner workings of the rest of the complex. My area of involvement was just one of many many others. My view of the overall picture was limited. I worked with the same people each day, maybe 5 or 6 main people and occasionally I had cause to chat with a few dozen others. But that was about it. I had little knowledge or interest with what went on beyond my area.

But there were rumors circulating. Some people from other complexes in far away areas said they felt sorry for us, that our latest development was built on unstable ground, that we were in danger. But I shrugged these rumors off. There were always naysayers. Like that guy in the other building who was always spouting off about dangers. Sure he was intelligent, in many ways a genius really. He knew all about the machinery and inner workings of things. When there was a complex problem, he was the one to fix it. But sadly, his personality was lacking. He just didn't know how to talk to people right, so they would understand, so they would listen. And he was always frustrated about something. After a while, nobody wanted to listen. You can't spend your whole life living in fear. At some point, you just have to get over it and move on.

And that was what I was doing as I quietly ate lunch in the communal eating room where food was always available. We selected and ate from a buffet area according to our tastes. Lunch was always a pleasant and relaxing experience. The area was spacious and never crowded. We didn't believe in inconvenience when it came to eating and we always had plenty of time. We were expected to do our work, but rarely to watch the clock unless there was an official meeting, although there was some social pressure to show up within reasonable time frames each morning in order to get work done, and not to stay out too late for other things. But overall, we all worked and ate on our own time.

Me, I was a night owl and often did much of my work late at night. And so was that genius guy down the hall, which is probably why I ended up talking to him more than most. Oh well, he wasn't a bad guy after all, just misunderstood. And he worked hard, that was good. Everyone respected him for that at least.

Then one day, I was in the hall and calamity struck. The floor lurched violently. I had a vision in my mind of what looked like a vast area of boiling mud. I don't know where or what that means, but at the time this information was significant and very very bad. It was worst case scenario.

We all ran. We had to get to the escape hatches. Many of us made it because we were so organized. We knew what to do, but all our of machines and materials and supplies were lost which was also a calamity, a huge setback. We could never get those things back now. Supplies and even some of us people were left behind. But only a few of us died, a very unlucky few where were caught in the immediate destruction and instantly crushed.

With one exception. The genius man had stayed behind. Somehow, I could feel his intense sadness. He could still leave now if he wanted, but he stubbornly chose not to go. For some reason I could not understand, he wanted to stay and die there even though it didn't make any sense. He told us his decision over the visual intercom after the rest of us were all already outside. He was solemn and he was sure he wanted to stay. None of us knew what to say. Perhaps he was just too sad. Maybe he was disappointed in himself or maybe he was disappointed in us that we did not listen to him. I felt guilty for that, because I had not listened to him. But that memory was painful and not one that I wanted to linger on. Maybe it was just too hard from him to have turned out to be right. It was better for him to just be disgruntled and crabby all the time than to have turned out to be all too horribly right. Maybe he felt there was more that he should have tried to do but didn't. Now he just didn't want to go on. And so he stayed. And he died.

We all went on with our lives of course. Now living on the surface again for a while, someone from far away was asking me about our life here and our complexes. I had an image in my mind of our systems, one living complex near the surface, another just below that connected by a small tubelike pathway, and then another below that, four in all, all huge of course and each a different shape according to the geology around us.

Except the fifth one was damaged and some damage at the lower part of the fourth one as well. We had some problems, but I I was still proud of all we had. You can't win them all and sometimes there are problems, minor setbacks, but we would overcome and move on. That's why I was up here now for a while. But they would work it out, they would fix it, because they knew what they were doing. They had told us so and I believed them. Because why would I not? They had done all this much for us already, things beyond my understanding but things I respected. I would go on doing my job as always of course. And things would work out. I was proud of my job and my people and our complexes, the decisions we had made and the bravery we had shown. We were all highly organized of course, and resilient, and that was something to be proud of.

But somewhere else in my mind, far away, another consciousness realized this pride was built on lack of understanding. And that nothing had been learned from the past tragedy and horror. Nothing would improve because the same flawed system was still in place. The man who had died in the damaged complex had died for nothing. Everything would go on the same as it always had. And this truly was sad.
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