a short story about an island evacuation, a reactor gone nuclear, and a dropship numbers game

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Numbers Game

a short story about an island evacuation, a reactor gone nuclear, and a dropship numbers game

I count the dropships humming toward us, as weightless as the ash rising from the far end of the island. That’s 5 evacuation craft so far.

It’s a math problem. A numbers game. 500 people at this facility. Each dropship fits 25. Still 15 dropships short. The island shudders as they load “essential” personnel first. They’re going by the book. This isn't the first incident, you see. They have protocols now. A manual. They denied my request for an additional cooling tower last month. “We determined the current facilities should suffice.” They never showed their math on that decision. It’s showing now.

That makes 8 dropships. 12 to go. It costs a lot to fly evac craft to these remote islands. Even more to overdrive engines and get out before things blow. So they don't send a seat for every worker. Let x represent those killed by the initial blast. Let y die in the stampede to the airfield. What are you left with?

That’s 10 dropships come and gone. We gather to wait for the next, but I know. 10 ships x 25 people = 250. They saved half of us. Enough to show they tried. After that, fuel is more expensive than sending cheques to grieving families.

Dropship thrusters flare like a sunrise and vanish past the horizon. My fellow castaways fall to their knees, weeping. I join them. The reactor blooms with light, enveloping us in a hot and endless dawn. As I join the drifting ash, I realize this will all be reduced to a column in a spreadsheet. A footnote in a manual. These aren’t accidents and we aren’t casualties. We’re fuel for a machine that was designed to run this way. It’s nothing personal, just a math problem. A numbers game.


Short story written by Peter Chiykowski

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Story prompt taken from a photo by Yosh Ginsu

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