This story is by Kimberly Dawn Rempel and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Panting, he stepped back into the shadow of a metal dumpster just as he heard the Overseers arrive at the alley entrance. Ethan’s heart pounded as beams of light from their flashlights speared the darkness of the alley. Would their scanners detect him? He held his breath. No alarm sounded. Then he heard their footfalls patter away. He’d lost them. Finally. With his back against the brick wall, he slid to sitting on the pavement and heaved silent sobs.
One Day Earlier…
Ethan scanned the lab results deeming yet another person Unworthy. Since the Directive was implemented only six months prior, it seemed like over half of the test subjects did not pass. Prisons had been overfull for years, forcing criminals to be released for lack of space. Overseers were routinely assaulted and killed in their efforts to maintain order. All government funding for assisting the poor, widows, orphans, and seniors, the mentally ill, or physically challenged had been exhausted years ago. Poverty, crime, and sickness had overrun the nation. Nine months before, all prisons and hospitals were liquidated. It was a genocidal task, but had to be done. Unfortunately, it did little to alleviate the national burden. Something even more drastic had to be done. Three months later tests were mandated.
The preventative tests revealed who would become drains on society in the future. These Unworthy were then arrested and detained in the Resolution Center where they were exterminated.
When President Farr had first issued the Directive to test adult civilians’ blood for Life Predictive Markers (LPMs), Ethan was surprised by his sudden change. The President had always said death wouldn’t solve the nation’s problems. Suddenly it was the only solution?
Still, with the Directive touted as a preventative measure, protecting the Worthy from criminals, Ethan became an ardent supporter. To exterminate people was a hard choice to make, but was in the best interest of the nation. Had the Directive come in just four weeks sooner, his wife and daughter would still be alive. The Unworthy wouldn’t have existed to murder them and Ethan wouldn’t be haunted by the memory of discovering them on the floor that night.
Ethan looked up at a young lab technician who hunched over his screen and ran a finger along the chain on his neck. He returned his eyes to the handful of test results.
The Directive had provoked cyber-attacks from at least two outliers; Sympathizers, helping Unworthies survive by falsifying tests, and conspiracy nuts who insisted the Directive was enforced by a corrupt leader.
“You can protect the President, Ethan,” his wife had said. “You run the place – just hide all the files related to the test algorithm and to the President. Keep them safe.”
He put a hand on his chest and felt the small computer chip beneath his shirt. He wished it had protected her too.
Ethan read the test subject’s information at the top of his lab sheet. They were testing children now. This one was only nine years old. His daughter’s age.
“Here’s another,” Ethan said, handing the chart to the hunched technician.
“Mm. K,” he said, grabbing it without bothering to look up from his screen.
They were testing and exterminating children now? Ethan returned to his station thinking the Directive was a flawed idea. Could their blood tests really foretell a person’s future health or life choices? And even if they could, was it the place of Management to decide who was Worthy and Unworthy? The more criteria changes, lab results, and subject files he saw, the more they eroded his faith in the President.
A voice over the intercom interrupted his thoughts. “Attention Lab personnel. As of this morning the Management has revised the Directive. All government staff is to submit to testing. Please report to the Cube to be assessed immediately.”
The lab technician, who had been staring at the intercom speaker, turned slowly to meet Ethan’s eyes. They locked on each other in stunned silence. Ethan’s heart turned to ice in his chest. The tests were finally aimed at them. What if he didn’t pass?
“Please report to the Cube to be assessed.” The intercom repeated.
Through the lab window they could see staff in white coats walking by in the corridor, headed to the Cube. The tech sighed heavily and joined the coats in the hall, leaving Ethan alone in the lab.
Ethan scrambled, grabbing a field test kit from a cupboard, and sat on the floor behind a counter to avoid being seen. He pricked his finger and dabbed blood on the paper strip, then inserted the strip into a test reader. Ethan peeked over the counter. Staff continued to file by. The reader beeped. There, in red letters, was Ethan’s result. Fail.
“I’m an Unworthy?” He was stunned. Years of loyal service, of managing the lab, and protecting the President, and it all didn’t matter?
“All government staff is to submit to testing. Please report to the Cube to be assessed.” The intercom repeated.
Ethan broke into a cold sweat. He had to get out of there. Staying crouched behind the counter, he waited until the corridor emptied, then left. Hopefully he could make it out before security caught on. His heart pounded in his ears as he rounded the final corner to a rear exit. Just as he reached to push the unlock button, he heard a shout.
Without looking back, Ethan bolted through the door and into the night, darting into the full parking lot. Armed Overseers gave chase, determined to haul the escapee back to the Cube.
In the alley, crumpled behind the dumpster, Ethan sobbed.
Startled, Ethan looked up. A silhouette approached from the alley entrance.
“Ethan?” the form had a male voice. “You’re hard to keep up with! Come with me.”
Dazed, Ethan followed the man out of the alley and down the street. He wasn’t sure he could trust the guy, but what choice did he have?
“I’m Rudy,” he said, “We can help each other.”
Ethan’s heart pounded and his mind filled with questions, but he thought better of asking.
Rudy led Ethan through a series of stairwells, hallways, and underground corridors, each more musty than the last, until they arrived at a red metal door. Rudy pounded with a fist twice, then knocked three times. Metallic locks clinked open on the other side and the door opened. A tall grey-haired man with a bristly beard smiled when he saw Ethan.
The large concrete room felt like both a NASA control room and a parkade. A command center with multiple screens and several operators dominated one side of the room. People milled among desks. When Ethan walked in, a few operatives stopped in their tracks. A few heads leaned together to whisper while looking at him. He thought he heard someone whisper, “But do you think he’ll do it?”
Nearby, a table stood covered with file folders. Rudy led Ethan to the files table.
“What is this?” Ethan asked, his hands wandering to the folders.
“These are populace files,” said a woman in a white coat.
Ethan drew near to examine the files. They were government files but, unlike his black and white files at the lab, these also contained photos of the subject. Family histories. Net worth statements. Social and political connections. Even social media transcripts. Why would the government need all of that? What possible use did social media data have?
Then Ethan caught sight of another file. It was his wife’s. His neck grew hot and he gripped the folder tightly. “Why do you have this?”
The grey haired man stepped toward Ethan. “What do you know about your wife and daughter’s death?”
“They were killed by some criminal who got away.”
“What else?” the man asked.
“Nothing. Some drug addict tossed my place looking for something to sell. He took a bit of jewelry, my wife’s phone—“ his voice cracked, “–and both their lives.” Hot tears stung his eyes. “He took everything!” Ethan gripped the file with one hand and clenched the other into a fist.
The grey-haired man glanced the floor, respecting the moment with silence. Raising his head again, he continued. “We found him, you know. The guy who took their lives.”
The grey-haired man raised a hand to present the silhouette emerging from the dark edges of the room. As the figure neared, his face became visible. Ethan knew him immediately. Everyone knew that face.
“President Farr? Nice try. You’re full of it!” He pointed at the grey-haired man, “Why are you doing this?”
President Farr raised his hands in front of him. “I can explain.”
Ethan folded his arms and scowled. “This better be good.”
“Remember nine months ago when the Liquidation of prisons and hospitals happened?”
Ethan stared a hole through him and did not respond.
“Everyone was baffled by my sudden change. I’d said for years that death won’t solve our nation’s problems. Suddenly I was saying it was the only solution. People were confused. But, I was in charge, so what could they do, right?”
Ethan ground his teeth and began tapping the file against his arm. “Get to the point.”
President Farr walked over to the table and removed two files. He opened one and handed it to Ethan. “This is my file.”
Ethan glanced at it. President William Farr. Photo. “So what?”
“This is not.” He handed Ethan the second file.
Ethan it. Asper Farr. Photo – Ethan gasped. The photo of William and Asper Farr was nearly identical. He scanned the biographical information for an explanation. Brother to William Farr.
“I was President. My brother and I were separated as infants – only found out about each other a couple of years ago. Ten months ago, he drugged and imprisoned me in my own home. He took on my identity and began running the nation the way he thought it should be. He initiated the Liquidation. The Directive too. Next, he was going to kill me. I barely made it out alive.”
Ethan sighed. “Let’s say I believe you. What does any of that have to do with me?!”
“Asper was the one who broke into your house. He killed your family.”
“He needed to erase me. Destroy my files. Then no one could ever know the truth.”
“Wait –“ Ethan said, raising a hand to his chest, “he was after your files? That’s why he was in my house?”
“I believe so. The lab had been searched and files deleted, but the computers indicated copies had been made. …By you.”
Ethan’s mouth parted in surprise. “But I –” He reached to the chain on his neck and pulled it out from under his shirt to reveal the data chip. “I didn’t know.” He held the chip out, and the grey-haired man eagerly took it to the command center.
“It was critical information – I just wanted to keep it safe.” Ethan said, digging a thumb nail into his finger.
“It’s here!” A console operator shouted. Everyone, including the President, collected around the bank of screens to view the files. Ethan remained where he was, rubbing his palms on his face. He had led the killer to his home. How could he have been so stupid?
William and the grey-haired man withdrew from the crowd to join Ethan.
“We’ve got it,” the grey-haired man said, “with this information, the Directive will be done. Our team can now get Asper out, and William back in.” The man smiled. “You held the proof we needed, Ethan. Our nation can right itself now. Thank you.”
William sighed and put a hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about your family, truly.”
Ethan’s eyes moistened and he nodded.
“It turns out you were right though,” the President said, “securing that information was exactly what will keep the nation safe.”