(( This is another story that's part of a wider world. I've never really known what to do with these stories because they are very dark and a bit scattered, but I'm going to start trying to stitch them together again until I find them. Expect to see more of Tom and Wes. Find links to more of their stories here. ))
They sat and looked at their work. Not critically, or with much interest at all. It was the quiet after the storm, still and unsettlingly peaceful.
“There’s a train,” Tom said finally. It was unbearable sometimes. He could read most anyone like a book, but he couldn’t read his own best friend. “It’s bearing down on five people, only they don’t know it. You’re far away, and the only thing you can do to save them is to flip a switch. If you flip that switch, the train will switch to a different track. Only if the train switches to a different track, it kills one person. Do you flip the switch?”
“I know this thought experiment,” Wes replied, leaning his head back against the rough bricks. “It’s stupid.”
“You can’t just play along?”
“Why can’t they hear the train? Why don’t they just move their own damn selves?”
“Because it’s a thought experiment.” Tom sighed, turning the gun over in his hands. “Just answer the question.”
Wes was silent for a time, but when he spoke again, he said, “I can’t do it. It’s too stupid.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Fine. It’s a magic train. It’s completely silent.”
“Well, that’s stupid, too.”
“Just answer the damn question.”
“Of course I’d flip the switch. I’d even push the fat man,” Wes snapped. “At that point, it’s all math.”
“I didn’t even get to that part yet.”
“You didn’t have to. I know where the trolley problem goes.”
“It’s not math, though. If you push the fat man. That’s something else.”
“It’s still math. You’re just not as removed.”
Tom looked down the barrel of the gun. He turned it again and looked at the trigger. He had never really looked at the trigger of a gun before but he looked now. “I think I’d push the fat man, too,” he said.
“No, you wouldn’t. You’d jump in front of the train.”
“No. No, I wouldn’t. I’d definitely push the fat man.” Tom looked away from the gun to his friend. “And I don’t think you’d push the fat man. I think you’d push yourself.”
Wes arched a brow at him. Moonlight caught and held in his pale green eyes, turning them silver. Tom looked away. “I would do what was necessary,” Wes said. When he reached over and took the gun, Tom let him. “How’d you get this far without killing anyone, anyway?”
“I’ve killed before.”
“Monsters. They barely count.” Wes set the gun down on the cement floor at his side. “At worst, that’s like putting down a rabid animal.”
“I’m not- Well, this isn’t what I did before.”
Wes’ expression softened. “I should’ve brought Angel. Or Lena.”
“No,” Tom said sharply. “If this is what this means… Well, I have to be here if I want to be a part of it. And you can’t trust either of them.”
“I can’t trust you if you’re going to freeze.”
“I’m not gonna freeze.”
“I could’ve brought Robert.”
Tom thought of the man, tall and willowy, fifteen or twenty years their senior at least and almost fatherly with them. “Robert’s not a killer.”
“You don’t know him.” Wes gave a low grunt and closed his eyes, and took away one way Tom could know what he was thinking. “Though I suppose he’s not as good at this close up stuff. He’s the sort of person you put on the switch. I guess I could’ve brought Jo.”
“No.” Tom surprised himself with how suddenly he spoke the world.
“There’s a train. It’s going to kill five people. You’re at a switch, and if you flip the switch, it will only kill one person. And that one person is a person you know,” Wes said.
Tom banged his head back against the wall and said, “Shut up.”
“I texted her,” he said. “She’s on her way.”
Tom banged his head again. “It’s stupid. I know that she’s- And I know that this is your job and she does it with you. But I don’t like to think that she ever had to- to feel this.”
Wes knocked him gently on the shoulder. “Dude, if it helps, I don’t think she ever did. She’s not like us.”
The words didn’t register until they did. A minute or two had passed in silence before Tom looked suddenly to Wes. Not like us. Wes just smiled a faint, humorless, companionable smile and shrugged. “It was him or us. That’s how it’s supposed to work. So the guilt doesn’t have to live in you forever.”
“Does it anyway?”
It was unsettling, this peaceful moment after the violence of a storm. That his best friend could knock him in the shoulder again, like they did all the time in any other situation when one of them teased the other or said something funny, and it didn’t matter what he said. Whatever he said would help. Superficially, but it helped him move his line of thought to the superficial and rooted it there. For now. “I don’t think so. But I’m still workin’ it out,” Wes said. Then he yawned and said, “I should text Lena and tell her to order us a pizza.”
“That one with the green peppers and the pepperoni and the ham.”
“No fungus, though,” Wes said decisively. He handed Tom’s gun back before he took out his phone.
“Weirdo.” Tom took the gun, and only looked at it a moment longer before he slid it into its holster.
“Fungus is the worst. Have you ever seen pictures of cordyceps?”
“You know, people do eat cordyceps.”
“Yeah, and some people are cannibals but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna give human meat a try. Gross.”
“Does she have to come here?”
Wes arched a brow again. “Hmm?”
“Yeah. She’s got my truck.”
They would have to get rid of their work. Tom hadn’t thought that far ahead.
Wes nudged him with his shoulder. “You can drive.”
The calm after the storm was breaking. Things were beginning to move again, and Tom wasn’t sure he was ready for it. Wes said, “We’ve still got a few minutes at least."
Tom nodded. After a moment, he asked, “Do you flip the switch? If it’s someone you know?”
“I do if it’s that guy,” Wes said, jutting his chin toward the body across the warehouse.
Tom nodded again. He didn’t signal his agreement with words. The proof was there already.