Following Orders

BY BILL WANG

This story received First Place in the Writing – Preclinical section of The Auricle’s 2020 Annual Writing Competition. 

Foreword

I had originally planned to write a different story but with the recent events occurring
around the world and the seeming apathy of all my friends and family I wanted to convey a different message. When learning about Nazi Germany I was always impressed at the ease with which the ordinary citizen can grow to accept and even turn a blind eye to atrocities happening around them. As future doctors, we will have a position that brings us respect and the ability to advocate on important social issues to the community at large. For us to say nothing in times of injustice or strife is to effectively lend our support to injustice through silence. Regardless of your wishes, people will be listening to what you do or don’t say.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have
done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required
of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your
department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood,
perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and
you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart
breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.”

– They Who Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45

Following Orders

The air is stifling in the holding chamber. I can barely breathe, every fibre of my being
twisting and shifting in fear as I listen to the muffled proceedings filtering down from above. Two guards stand at the one exit, waiting silently for their cue to bring me up to the stand, faces impassive and blank. I try to run through my planned defence in my mind again but it is no use, my thoughts are jumbled and the words fall away even as I try to reach for them.

Faintly I hear the rowdy applause emanating slowly down from the chamber. Another death sentence – the snake slowly tightening around my inside seems to move another notch in.

The guards’ motion for me to follow them, falling in step by my side as I slowly make my
way up the stairs.
Along the way I pass the Director of Security being led towards the execution chambers. His face is white and pale, the fury and rage that had underlined all his speeches replaced with abject terror. Good riddance.

That however does not solve my problem. The list of people on stand today so far have only been the worst of the worst, the architects and executioners of the hell-machine that tore our country and much of the world apart. The Asian delegation is out for vengeance and the European and Oceanic delegates have also suffered far too much to contemplate mercy.
Now that I think about it, why am I also being trialled today? I hadn’t done anything on that scale. Surely, they would realise I was just a single insignificant cog – just one doctor out of thousands also recruited to assist in the relocation of people.

A last desperate sweep of my thoughts to see if anything is particularly useful and then I’m pushed into the blinding light shining down on the stand.

Please state your name and occupation.

‘My name is John Pes and I am a doctor.’

Dr Pes, please describe your role to the tribune.

It began in the midst of the Kharsa pandemic…

*

There was a knock at the door at 11pm. I waited a few seconds, uncertain as to whether I
should answer, until the knock came again.

‘Dr Pes we wish to speak to you briefly.’

At the door was a federal agent, half occupied with some message or another on his data-
pad as he acknowledged my presence.

‘Apologies for the late call. As you may have heard last night, the President authorised the creation of an emergency task force for coordinating the continued quarantine efforts of Kharsa infection. We would like you on the team in light of all your infection control research.’

*

‘Of course I accepted. How was I to know the darker motive behind the taskforce?’
I can’t see the individual members of the tribunal through the blinding light, only the
occasional murmur and rustle of papers. My throat scratches against my tongue as I try to coax a slow dry swallow.

Describe what you did as your role in this task force.

*

The supervisor was a jovial fellow from out of state – a direct representative from the CDC, or so he was reported to be. The instructions were simple.

Every day quarantine officers would pick people up from the streets exhibiting signs of
Kharsa and bring them to our processing centres. We were to then make the diagnosis and either send them to the isolation camps for recovery or clear them of their health.
Occasionally we would be required to make a special decision regarding patients. If our
scanner revealed any link to the protests, we should send them to isolation as a
preventative measure because they were at greater risk of contracting Kharsa.

*

Do you know what happened to these so-called ‘special decisions’, Dr Pes?

The question I was fearing.

I reached down for the glass of water and drank, taking the opportunity to close my eyes
away from the dazzling gaze of the lights. I needed to think of something – anything.  What was that one Nazi that got away all the way back in Nuremberg a century ago? Something Albert. What did he say?

I decide to go with a form of honesty.

‘Well, not really…’ I begin. The European delegate interrupts with laughter – ‘Yeah right, just about everyone involved was briefed on the exact nature of these camps once the war was clearly lost.’

Quickly I backpedal. ‘Yes, I guess so if you mean at the end when it was too late for me to do anything.’

‘The reality was I was too focused on my job to ask questions – and for that I recognize I am just as complicit as those who directly ordered the process. I’m sorry for my own failure to find out.’

We have one last question for you. Documents obtained showed that you visited one of
these camps at the start of the war. How can you claim you knew nothing of what was
occurring?

*

The isolation camp loomed in the distance through the train window, a squat grey smudge that stood out amongst the rolling green hills of the countryside.

‘Whatever you do, don’t get off the train. We will bring the people you need to interview
onto the train for you.’ Reiterated the officer.

As the train pulled to a screaming halt just outside the gates, I noted a small line of people by the side of the tracks – small and terrified. I had been briefed on a list of names I would have to send back for further processing due to persistent Kharsa superinfection and the list of names who could go on to the rehabilitation camps.

With a start I realised the first person I was seeing was my former colleague and friend Dr Stantine.

He looks terrible, malnourished and broken in more ways than physical. He was one of the few who spoke up against the quarantine initiative – vanishing after he also supposedly contracted the infection.

‘Look at me in the eye Pes,’ he managed to cough out, ‘How much will it take for you to
make a stand? To protest?’

‘I don’t know what you are talking about,’ my heart racing with fear that they will over hear this conversation. ‘The Kharsa infection has clearly affected your mental state as well.’

‘I know what you are waiting for – for a single explosive moment that will finally ignite the apathetic masses to revolt. Bad news, Pes. There is never one moment, it’s always a series of small insignificant steps. Step C is only a little bit more worse than step B, if you didn’t protest then why would you protest now. And so, they move onto step D.’

*

I don’t know why I am relaying this conversation to the tribunal. Even as the words leave my mouth and I can hear them objectively – I somehow cannot stop the rebellion of my lips and tongue. They have surely signed a death warrant for me.

I guess I have finally made my stand, several years too late. At least I will go as having
denounced the madness that had occurred in the States.

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