“There isn’t enough food, is there?” Mei asked quietly. The angry expression had faded, replaced by one of concern, and Liang knew she was worried not just about the decrease in the food supply, but also about him.
“No, there isn’t,” he admitted. In a way, it was a relief to unburden himself at last. He felt lighter for not having to conceal the knowledge any longer, but rather than making him feel better, this made him feel worse. How could he be relieved to know that his sister would now have to be as burdened by the awful knowledge as he was?
Mei picked up her napkin and toyed with it, winding it around her fingers. “I suspected as much. I’ve been doing calculations, and I knew the numbers weren’t adding up.”
Liang paused in his pacing and smiled ruefully at his sister. “I should have known you’d start calculating.”
“I’ve also been calculating the yield from the hydroponics, and I know those numbers don’t add up either. So what next?”
Righting his chair, Liang dropped into it, suddenly exhausted. “We step up production on the domes and activate them ahead of schedule.”
He sat quietly, watching the emotions play over his sister’s face as she worked out what this meant. It seemed she, like him, was trying to reject what was becoming apparent.
“So, that means…” she began, but her voice faltered. She bit her lower lip, and tears welled in her eyes.
“It means that the leadership team has to do an evaluation of all our Contributors. It means we have to place every last one of them on a scale, from necessary to dispensable,” he said, the words bitter on his tongue.
His sister stifled a sob and turned her head away from him. He looked away as well, unable to bear her pain. It reminded him too much of his own.
“But…but how… What are you going to say to people?” she finally asked, breaking the heavy silence.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. There will be no announcement to the public of what we’re doing. Instead, people will be moved into the domes in stages and, after the last stage, the domes will be sealed. And I’ll have to live with the knowledge that I condemned thousands of people to death without saying a word to them.”
“You can’t be serious! The Job Creators can’t just keep people in the dark like that!” Mei cried, rising from her seat.
“Think about what would happen if we told them.” He softened his voice, trying to get her to calm down. Her shoulders tensed and then collapsed, and she sank into her chair.
“But it’s not fair.” Her protest was a mere whisper, and Liang responded to it with a bitter laugh.
“Not fair? It’s cruel, is what you mean. We’re leading people to believe we’re conducting more dome tests and then, when the doors are permanently sealed and the realization of what’s happening to them sinks in, those of us who were lucky enough to have a ticket to the inside will go about our business as if millions of people aren’t dying right outside our doors.”
Mei sobbed, and Liang was stricken that he’d spoken so baldly. He had desperately wanted to protect his sister, then he had given her the truth in such harsh terms. But was there any gentle way of delivering such news?
They sat silently for a long time, their food untouched—which only served to make Liang feel even guiltier. Here they were, the world on the brink of a famine that would kill billions, and he was wasting food because he didn’t feel like eating. The thought made him sick to his stomach and he doubled over, wrapping his arms around his midsection.
“You know, I used to be so jealous of you,” Mei said softly, her voice startling him out of his miserable reverie. “I used to wish that I was the oldest, that I could be the CEO of Zhang Agritech. But now…now that I know what’s going on, Li, I…I don’t even know what to say. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in the position you’re in, least of all you.”
“Someone has to make the decisions,” Liang said, clutching his stomach.
“That’s the really horrible part, isn’t it?”