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What would you do if you knew that the world was ending?
What would you do if there was something you could do to stop it?
What if you only had two options?
Either save yourself and everyone you cared about, or save the whole world and sacrifice yourself?
Is this an easy choice? To some, yes, but what would happen if we threw in a kicker?
Let’s say that you’re not from that world. Let’s say that you had run away from your own world, and that you’re now being hunted. You’ve been on the run for years, and you’ve left dozens of destroyed planets in your wake as you’ve been hunted.
Would this new world be any different?
The answer would be yes. This world is the world that you’ve always dreamed of; this is the life that you’ve always dreamed of.
What option would you choose?
Save yourself and everyone you’ve come to love and treasure, and allow that world to join all the other worlds you’ve visited?
Or would you finally stop running? Would you finally allow yourself to be captured, to be killed for a crime that you didn’t commit? All so that one little world, out of billions of others, would be saved?
What would you do?
When your world is about to end, there’s usually nothing you can do. Sometimes though, even if you can’t do anything, there is someone out there who can. That someone has been me seventeen times. Seventeen times I could have saved a world, and seventeen times I didn’t. Each time I choose to put my own humanity above all others. I am responsible for so many deaths, but still I run.
I come from a world were life means nothing. There is no jail, only death. There are no juries or lawyers to plead and contemplate your case. There is only the judge and executioner. In my world, you can be put to death for merely shop-lifting a bar of chocolate.
This is how my world has been for a million years. To some we are considered a utopia because of our small crime-rate, but everyone is just too afraid to commit a crime.
I had a good life on that world. I was a historian from a good family. My life was as near-perfect as it could get, and I loved it. It all changed though the day a fellow historian accused me of stealing an artifact from his office. The artifact was found in my desk, and I couldn’t explain how it got there.
There was no trial; I was sentenced to die the next day at dawn. That night, I was freed by a friend of mine who I had known since I was five.
His name was Kurt and he was an Officer. He was one of the ones responsible for sending people to their deaths, all but me. He took me to an abandoned space port where a ship was ready and waiting to take me away.
Leave now, he said. I cannot watch my friend die, not when he is innocent. Kurt told me that a security camera had caught my colleague planting the artifact in my desk. You would think that this would mean that I was free, right? Wrong. On Attora, once you’re sentenced there are no take-backs. Once you are sentenced, you will die.
As my craft left the planet’s surface, several squad cars showed up and surrounded Kurt. I wasn’t able to see what happened, but I know in my heart that my life-long is dead, all because of me. That was to be the first death of many because of me.
Since then I have never stopped running, always doing my best to keep alive this life that my friend died for. They’ve always managed to find me though, the Officers from my world. Once they have established that I am on the planet, they destroy it. They don’t care about all the lives that will be destroyed, they only care about making sure that the person who was sentenced to die, dies. Even after I’ve left the planet, they still destroy it. Just to make sure that there is one more planet that I can’t hide on ever again.
I’ve tried to hide better. I try not to get close to people; I try not to create waves. I keep hoping that I won’t be discovered, so that no one else has to die, but it never works out like that. They always find me in the end.
Now I have arrived here on Earth, number eighteen. A planet with six billion more people to add to the body count I started. This time I had planned on staying only long enough until the Officers were in the same solar system, then leaving before they could find me.
At least that was the plan, the plan before I met her.
Her name was Ann Marie, a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’d been masquerading as a homeless person, just trying to stay in the shadows, the night she found me.
Ann Maria was on her way home that night with her daughter Elizabeth. It was raining and I was sitting on the sidewalk, without anything that would keep the rain off of me. I kept my eyes down low, not looking up as the duo walked towards me. Suddenly I couldn’t feel the pound of the rain on my skin. Looking up, I saw that a blue umbrella was blocking the rain.
“What are you doing out here in the rain? Don’t you have somewhere where you can go?” Ann Maria had asked as she knelt in front of me. I only shook my head no, still refusing to meet her eyes.
“He can come stay with us!” Elizabeth had cried out as she danced in the rain, her yellow raincoat already glistening with raindrops.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea. What do you think? Will you come home with us?” Ann Marie’s voice was soft and gentle as she asked her question, it was the kind of voice you could trust immediately and feel safe in your decision. I almost said yes.
Instead I shook my head once again, not trusting my voice. Ann Marie didn’t seem to like my answer. Her smile vanished as she sighed and stood up. I thought that she was leaving, I was wrong. Instead she grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. For a woman she was quite strong.
“You’re coming home with us whether you like or not. There’s no reason for you to stay here in the freezing rain.” Her eyes turned into an icy glare as she talked. I noticed then that she had to look up to me; she only came up to my shoulders. I sighed in defeat; why not spend the night at her house? It was better than sitting in a puddle.
She smiled as she saw I had given in. “Good, I’m Ann Marie, welcome.” I didn’t know at the time why she told me welcome. Later on she told me that she could tell that I wasn’t from around there. She’d welcomed me to my new home.
“Thank you,” I replied as we began walking, Ann Maria and I under one umbrella and Elizabeth running in front of us, only a yellow blur at times. “I’m Caius.” That was the first time I’d ever told anyone my real name since leaving Attora. Usually I just used an alias, making it harder for the Officers to find me, but with Ann Maria, I knew a lie just wouldn’t do. She deserved my name, my real one, and I didn’t know why.
After that first night, I thought I’d leave the next morning. I couldn’t though; Ann Marie just wouldn’t let me. She gave me a whole list of chores to do the next morning, payment for staying the night she’d said. She wouldn’t let me leave until they were all done. I never did finish that list of chores. Every time I’d get one finished, Ann Marie would just tack on another chore to the list, usually smiling as she did so.
It wasn’t long before I didn’t want to leave. I felt safe and secure there, there in that small blue house with a white picket fence around it. Ann Marie and Elizabeth treated as part of their family. I think that in their eyes, I was, ever since they’d first picked me up off the street.
I stayed for two years. They were the best two years of my life, and not only because of Ann Maria and Elizabeth. I had become good friends with the other people in our small town; I’d even managed to get a job. It was a job in construction, but it was fun. It was different from my job as a historian. I didn’t just sit behind a desk and catalogue different artifacts. No, I actually worked as part of a team and watched as we made something, usually a building that other people would use. Without even realizing it, I’d made more waves there than I’d ever made before.
The Officers in the past had always located me within a few months of my arrival at a new planet. This longer time span had lulled me into thinking that I’d lost them. I hadn’t. One day I saw them, they were just standing at the edge of a woods. Just watching, and waiting. They were waiting for me to make a choice.
Would I run and hide like I’d done before? Would I let all the people that I cared about die? Even if I could get all the people that I cared about to safety somehow, what about all the people that I hadn’t met? What about all the people who you heard about on the news making a name for themselves, or the ones who had yet to make one? What about all the children who wouldn’t get a chance to grow up, to experience what life had to offer? What would happen to Elizabeth?
As I sat on the porch that night, contemplating my choices, I watched the stars. They were the same stars that I’d seen from every world I’d ever visited. They were the same stars that so many others looked up at every night. The same stars that so many others wouldn’t have the chance to see ever again.
Not this time.
Standing up, I nodded to the figures standing silently at the edge of the woods. Ann Marie and Elizabeth were both asleep when I went to say my good byes. As I kissed Elizabeth lightly on the head, I left my necklace wrapped up her hand. I’d had the necklace since I’d left Attora, and Elizabeth had loved it. The necklace was only a silver chain with a gemstone hanging from it. This stone glowed in the dark though, and Elizabeth always said that it glowed to lead the way back home.
I left Ann Marie a letter. The letter told her everything. It told her my past, my present, and my future. I left the letter on her nightstand, and knelt down next to her, gazing at her as she slept, committing her face to my memory.
The last thing I did before I left was to call and leave a message on my boss’s answering machine. I told him that I was leaving town and couldn’t come into work the next day. I couldn’t tell him that I would never come back.
With all my good byes done, I left. I walked straight into the woods, not allowing myself to look back at that small, blue house with the white picket fence. I was immediately surrounded by a whole slew of Officers. I was cuffed in metal bracelets and ushered into their ship. I was taken back to Attora, tried as a fugitive, and once again sentenced to die.
As I lay on the cold, metal table waiting for the injection that would end my life, I had one comfort. Kurt, my friend who had helped me to escape all those years ago, was the one who pushed the button, the button that sent the drugs into my system. As the drugs took affect and I felt my body shut down, I had one last thought. There were six billion and one more people who would see the stars that night.
Caius Marcus died of lethal injection October 27th, 2009. Many people on Attora believe that he shouldn’t have died. His case was the first of its kind in five hundred years. The first time someone had been proven innocent, and was still sentenced to die.
A movement to change Attora’s justice system was put into motion the day after Caius’s execution. It was led by Kurt Krusher. The day that Caius escaped, his co-workers had assumed that Kurt had been there to stop Caius not help him. It was because of Kurt’s work in the Officer community, that Caius was able to enjoy his two years of freedom on Earth.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Ann Marie Marcus is the only one who knows of Caius’s sacrifice. She still lives in that small blue house with a white picket fence, raising her son and daughter, Caius and Elizabeth.
Even though he wasn’t her real father, Caius Sr. was the closet thing young Elizabeth had ever had. She still wears the necklace he’d left her, believing that it will lead Caius home one day. In the meantime, she dreams of finding Attora. She wants to see the world where her father came from, and to show her brother that world as well.
Caius Jr. dreams of the man everyone says is father was. When he looks up at the stars, he imagines all the worlds that his father visited, all the worlds that father made some sort of difference on. He knows his father’s story, he’d read the letter. His mother didn’t that he’d read it, but he was glad that he did. Caius Jr. does his best to follow in his footsteps, minus of course blowing up planets.