The Limits of Moral Depravity (NaNoWriMo #9)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: The Intake (Chapter 8)

Six years before, Dottie and I were sitting on the black leather couch as the television blared and the anchors tried to make incantatory sense of the madness the world was welcoming. There had been another mass shooting. The worst in American history. Just like the others had been the worst in American history. 426 people had been shot in Atlanta over the course of three hours. It had been three white men this time. The lone gunmen were learning that they didn’t have to be so alone. Even after this, and many other deadly sprees, the calls for gun control had fallen upon deaf opportunistic ears. Atlanta had seemed the tipping point, the one awful tragedy that would finally get America to wake up. This was all before the Virginia Massacre turned such discussions into reductio ad absurdum.

“Even children,” she said. “Innocent children.”

“We have to stop this.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Electing the right people. Holding them accountable.”

“That didn’t work. We tried. And they won. And they will go on winning.”

“Don’t be so cynical. It won’t continue like this. People have limits.”

“Do they?”

“Maybe there’s a certain point where people will put their feet down. I mean, you couldn’t kill anyone, right?”

“No. And neither could you.”

“Or could we?”

“What?”

“Under certain circumstances, we could kill.”

“But neither of us believe in the death penalty.”

“When a soldier returns from war, he is considered a hero. Nobody asks him how many men he’s killed. His service is honored, even though he has committed murder that most people would overlook. Because the murder occurs beneath the shadow of warfare.”

“That’s different. Most soldiers know what they sign on for. They die. They sacrifice their bodies for us if they’re lucky to live.”

“Yes, and we leave the vets in the cold. But let’s say every vet had a number attached to his name. A number that reflected just how many men that he killed in battle.”

“Come on. That could never happen.”

“Just hear me out. I mean, we are shifting to a more quantified world. Would a number appended to the name of a vet change your opinion about him? Would you give Joseph Richter 4 a more preferential treatment than Herbert West 17?”

“But that could never happen.”

“Let’s say that it did.”

“I’d probably be bothered a little by it. Or maybe I’d do my best to ignore the number.”

“But you can’t. Let’s say that the vets have to walk around with the number affixed to their foreheads. So you would see just how many men they have killed. It would be a little bit like The Scarlet Letter, but you’d have to see these men buy their groceries, work out in the gym, or on the subway.”

“It would be unnerving at first. But maybe I could get used to it. Even though I’d try to stay away from the vets with the largest number.”

“But could you actually visualize these deaths? It’s not unlike going to the meat market. You walk into the store. You get your meat wrapped up in plastic. But you have no idea how the animals were slaughtered or what their pain might have been because you’re too busy marinating the meat for a tasty dinner.”

“Come on, Alex. My rack of lamb was pretty damn good.”

“And so was the taste for blood among some of these men. They might have butchered children for all you know. Is a child’s death worse than a man’s?”

She turned off the television just as two pundits were screaming at the top of their lungs, very close to getting into a fistfight.

“Yes.”

“But it’s still a whole number. A child’s death is tallied without weight onto the vet’s forehead.”

“You know, I’ve had about enough of this. I know that Atlanta is depressing and I know that we need to watch just to stay informed. But can’t we just switch off?”

“What if one of the men that a vet killed was your brother? Or the love of your life?”

“Alex.”

“And you ran into the vet with the number on his forehead. It would be more than a whole number, wouldn’t it?”

“But this would never happen.”

“Don’t you think a few people might have said that right before the Middle Ages?”

“It’s not over, Alex. We could still get them to listen.”

“Or maybe we could move to Canada or New Zealand.”

“We have to fight this. We must fight this. I mean, we’re never going to turn into animals, are we?”

“No.”

14002 / 50000 words. 28% done!

The Intake (NaNoWriMo #8)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: Elevator Romp (Chapter 7)

It was bad form to mutter the first name of a new intake. I had neither seen nor heard from Denise in two weeks and had thought she had merely needed a backgammon break. It turned out that she needed a hiatus from New Amagaca.

She could still spill about us. I knew that she had been a former Black Lives Matter activist, which I admired, although the will to resist had been knocked out of both of us long before. If she fessed the deets of our faux hookups to the thugs who had taken her in, then the department would not have assigned me to conduct the preinquest. There were no cuts or bruises on her face, which typically happened when an intake slandered an abrogator even with solid proof. The volunteers rounding up anti-pleasure detractors were quite sensitive to anyone who besmirched the Ruler’s good name and proud cockamamie principles.

It was my role to lay out the deets of her fail, to learn why she sidestepped the daily seven and why the algorithm had somehow believed in her by not choosing her and why she had been transferred to the Abrogation Department as a candidate for reentry into society. My review be the first word on whether she would be sent to the camps or executed in the wastelands. And regardless of how I felt about her, I would have to be tough and follow the law to the letter.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t meet you yesterday.”

I wished she would stop. I didn’t want to use the implements, all cleaned and delicately arranged on the silver salver prepped at my cedar station.

“Be quiet. I have never seen you before in my life.”

“Alex.”

“If you want to live, you must abide by protocol.”

She tried to reach out to me with her hands, but the manacles mired her arms to the cold swampy surface of the stainless steel table. She was shivering on the stool. New intakes were not allowed garb. They had to earn it by showing that they could change. Ben had cranked up the air to help get her changing and the goosebumps shot across every inch of her naked body.

“I’m cold. Please, please stop it, Alex.”

I paced across Chamber 22, which was somewhat smaller than the others on our expansive floor, took the seat across from her, deposited the dossier upon the blotting paper and began poring through the file. The file said that she had been picked up the previous night for crying. I took out a fresh intake form and the inkwell and began filling it out with my quill.

“Alex.”

“You will refer to me as Abrogator Schuld. How did you know my first name? Are you an augment? A double agent? Protocol dictates that you must confess your allegiance, if you have any.”

She sniffed. And she stopped crying.

“Good. That’s a start.”

“Oh. I get it.”

“You don’t. You were crying in public.”

“And I’m trying not to cry now. Can I…can I have a tissue?”

“No. Crying is forbidden. You will have to live with the tears that you sow. Haven’t you been able to find pleasure?”

It was tough playing the stern pedant, but I knew they were watching. Every intake was taped and all the data was fed into the computers, cross-referenced against other behavior so that we would all become better pleasure seekers and offering tips to abrogators on how to correct pleasure apathy in those who rejected it.

“Alex. Please. Come on. I’m sorry.”

Abrogator Schuld. That is how you will refer to me if you wish to reform.”

I can’t say that I was enjoying this. The booming fans grew louder. There was the sizzle of static from the speaker system above us.

“Is everything all right in there, Alex?”

“Fine, Ben.”

“How does she know your name?”

“I don’t know yet. Give me time.”

“No problem, Captain.”

The fuzz faded out.

“You know how I know your name.”

I leaned up to her ear and whispered, “Do you want to live? You’d better stop knowing me.”

“I don’t care!” she screamed.

Later I would wonder if it was Ben who sold me out. It was easy to latch onto an abrogator’s feed, to put one’s eyes into another for as long as you needed to. This was how they got Harris two months before. He was a good abrogator, but he refused to hook up and had made the mistake of going a month without a fuck. His success rate with the intakes had not been enough to overturn his disappearance. Unlike other municipal positions, abrogators were required to wear networked contacts, although this was not so tightly enforced because the saline supply was short and it seemed too much of a burden to pound the iron fist so long as the abrogators could ensure that the government could save lives and resources. My contacts were still in my billet, which I hadn’t seen in two days. It was wise to put on the contacts intermittently. You were supposed to work hard and play harder. You were supposed to find time for pleasure even when the paperwork was tall and vertiginous. So the eyes in the sky looked the other way provided they could track your GPS location and the ratings continued to pour in from the citizens.

“Why are you here?” I asked Denise.

“I didn’t come here willingly.”

“You made the choice to cry.”

“I didn’t, Al…er…Abrogator Schuld.”

“Why did you cry then?”

“Because I’m pregnant!”

There was a pause. And she continued to sob some more.

I looked at the places in the wall where they had hidden the cameras. You didn’t get too many pregnant intakes. So I knew that Denise’s tale was being captured and streamed for the highlights reel projected during Friday happy hour. Pregnancy was supposed to be reported upon discovery. You didn’t have to report the hookup who knocked you up, but the government did need to know you were expecting so that it could provide fertility measures for a new citizen building a better tomorrow. The data was always reliable in anticipating who was pregnant. Morning sickness, mood swings, and faintness before detecting a missed period were always discoverable in the reviews and what you confessed to the social networks.

“I don’t want it. I don’t want a child. Even if I did want a child, I can’t have a child grow up in a world like this.”

“Then why didn’t you honor Scott Baio’s memory and go to a designated suicide zone?”

Before Baio had sacrificed himself at the Virginia Massacre, he had gone off the deep end and said that he would personally go to Virginia and deal with the troublemakers. In a desperate bid for attention, Baio had spouted a tirade on what was then known as Twitter about how women needed to shut up and listen to men and reproduce without question. And then came his sacrifice and his disgraceful lionization. The Ruler believed in television and nostalgia and he had whimsically renamed a prominent bridge in his name to “be down with the kids,” who often shambled down the streets of Williamsburg wearing ironic Napoleon Dynamite T-shirts and not really understanding what was going on, even with the rise of riverfront monstrosities, until it was too late. They had once been called hipsters and their detached attitude proved instrumental in helping to make the Great Turnover happen.

Denise looked at me with desperation. I wanted to save her. But I also needed to save myself.

“Fuck you, Alex. I will tell them EVERYTHING!”

“Wh…what are you talking about?”

“Our backgammon games. Our fake hookups.”

There was the rustle of static.

“Alex?” boomed Ben. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t make us send you to the camps. You can be a citizen!”

“I’ve run out of fucks to give. Execute me. Execute this kid growing up in my stomach. You told me you cared.”

More static.

“Alex, is this true?”

“Denise, don’t.”

“Or you’ll do what? Don’t paint yourself as a hero. You’re just as bad as all the other men. And I will NOT be silenced.”

“I understand that you are under duress.”

“I never liked backgammon. And I never liked you. I was lonely and I was tired of hooking up. But I had to anyway. And now I have this….this wretched thing kicking inside me.”

As an abrogator, you could never let an intake belittle your authority. Sure enough, there were beeps on my phone. Downvotes from Ben and the abrogators who were watching.

“You have one minute to retract.”

“No.”

My rating had dipped to 4.1. I couldn’t go back to being a three.

I grabbed the gun on the implement tray and shot her in the head. Denise’s blood stained my beige coat. I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to see the dead look in her eyes, even though the dead look was quite present in everyone who was alive. This was an unorthodox move, given that abrogators were supposed to preserve lives. I didn’t know how this would play out. Applause erupted over the speaker system.

“Niiiiiiiiiiiice.”

I knocked on the chamber entrance. My rating had climbed back up to 4.2. A cleanup team arrived to remove Denise’s corpse.

Ben was the first to congratulate me in the hall, slapping me on the shoulder.

“Dude, we didn’t know you had it in you!”

Samantha was there with him. She was beaming. But I think she was more flush from her romp with Huld.

“That was great, Alex! She really seemed to think she knew you.”

My stomach had twisted into nauseating knots. I had never killed anyone before. This was against everything that I stood for. I had become just as bloodthirsty, just as willing to save my own skin, as the starving mobs who gathered outside the death house every day at seven o’clock. Maybe Dottie had known me better than I realized. Maybe she really did remember the five years we had together and knew how I’d change if the world went mad. In hindsight, it had been naive to think that I would not be violent when killing had become the new norm.

“I need to take the rest of the day off,” I said.

“Dude, you earned it!”

“I hope you’re not feeling sick.”

“No,” i said, thinking of the ward where I would have to fuck six people each day. “Not sick. Personal time.”

“Wow, Alex, you never take personal time.”

“Well,” said Samantha, “if you ask me, it’s long overdue! Alexander Schuld is one of the best abrogators we have in this department. And if you’d like to go somewhere right now…”

It was rare to be asked to hookup outside of the digital. And you couldn’t turn down a Vice President without suffering severe downranking.

“Sure.”

The office cheered Samantha grabbed my hand and took me into her office, where I performed as well as I could under the circumstances.

Next: The Limits of Moral Depravity (Chapter 9)

13220 / 50000 words. 26% done!

Elevator Romp (NaNoWriMo #7)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: Bumper to Bumper (Chapter 6)
(Image: Daniel Lin)

“Car…three…to your right.”

The grating automatic voice burrowed into my skull like a hand drill boring into wood. I was still wrapping my head around what Dottie had become, repulsed by how casually she had stubbed out lives for my convenience and nearly forgetting that I had a twelve hour day ahead of me. But I had to do it. Even if I didn’t know if I could take up my perch across from the death house at seven o’clock. But I would still it. Bigger men than me had turned with the Ruler and I wondered if my number would ever come up. Bearing witness to our nightmare was the only way to figure out how to fight it. It kept what was left of my heart alive, although I felt like the most frivolous impostor for playing backgammon, for daring to connect, for finding my own entertainment outside the hookups and the violence. In some ways, I was just as culpable as the murderous rabble.

I stepped across the long stretch of the chartreuse laminate floor that had just replaced the neon orange granite, which in turn had uprooted the gold-tinted limestone installed and drilled out only months before, and entered the elevator that every worker had downvoted in a rare act of passive-aggressive solidarity. The world had hardened so much that you had to be grateful for even the smallest acts of resistance. It was a minor affront to the myth of zero tolerance, a New Amagacan policy that could only be upheld when death was as cheap as flour. The rattling building was always under construction, always aflutter with relentless aesthetic tinkering to get closer to the Pure Pleasure ideal. We would spare no expense in erecting a pleasure friendly infrastructure. The government had deep pockets from the wealth it extracted from the daily seven victims, who were denied even basic inheritance rights as the death house growled for their lives. It was important for New Amagaca to be a sustainable nation, preserving and redistributing resources to any fine corrupted mind who was prepared to carry out the Ruler’s edicts. We had somehow enacted billet transfer programs for the widowed and the orphaned, but if these souls didn’t grieve within a month or display the appropriate gratitude for the many “thoughts and prayers” that the aldermen had announced on the social networks, they would be sent to the camps for emotional recalibration.

I had been able to justify most of my repeals simply by filing reports to the hard-hearted bean counters showing why and how it would be cheaper for my cases to use their talents for the world rather than getting trucked off to the camps. If I had to, I would painstakingly coach a near lost cause on how to act and eat at brunch. I wanted people to survive. If enough people lived, perhaps there would come a day in which the daily seven would stop.

The smart elevators were not as intuitive as the government believed. When the Ruler had banned all up and down buttons, he had believed, as many New Amagacans did, that tech was the infallible path forward. But in halting those accidental run-ins with people on different floors, the Ruler had deracinated the more natural connections between strangers. The jokes joking about the latest news. The friendly chatter about the weather. We were meant to hookup because it was vital for the government to log every social interaction. Even before the Great Turnover, we had surrendered all our personal information to the social networks, giving our most intimate feelings away for an opportunity to find love or to move animated bits of candy around on a pulsating screen. When you train a populace to surrender the tenderest knickers for nothing, it is easy to push them into behaving for much less.

The climb to the 427th floor was always a long one, but that had not stopped two hookups from going at it behind me. The elevator romps had grown more popular in recent months as people scrambled to preserve their status ratings. They had replaced the morning quickie as a fast way of earning an upvote. They were working us harder and some of us didn’t have the energy to hookup as much as we like. I straightened my tie as I noticed Samantha Lowry, Vice President of Claims Review, against the elevator wall, arching her legs around Cliff Huld’s alabaster torso. I didn’t like Huld very much. He was smug and pompous and always delivered these interminable and uninteresting tales whenever you replenished your coffee. He had a nurse named Leni who often followed him around as he moved from chamber to chamber leading his case load on, never granting repeal and always boasting about how he had become the ping-pong champion in Sector 52. But I didn’t downvote him. I tried not to downvote anybody, even the most deplorable souls screaming obscenities in the streets. But Huld really liked being a four and had to hookup more frequently than the rest of us to preserve his precarious status. That Samantha had taken pity on him was something of a surprise, given that she was less than a tenth away from being a five.

“Ohhhh, ugh, ohhhh — oh, hi, Alex — yes! yes, that’s it! Hit me right there — ugh, ugh — did you have a nice Thursday?”

Small talk was always difficult when you saw a colleague thrusting his hips into someone who you had delivered a report to only two days before, but it was not impossible.

“It was okay.”

Huld didn’t say hello at all. But Samantha was enjoying herself so much that this hardly mattered. She shrieked with want at the top of her lungs as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open.

“YESSSSSSSSSS!!! That’s great, Alex…oh yeah, keep going, Cliff! Ohhhh….see you at the lunch meeting?…oh, yes, yes, YESSSSSSSSS!! I think I’m going to come! Ohhhhhhhhh!”

“Yeah. See you there.”

I walked into the receptionist area. The elevator doors closed behind me. Ben was there with a big smile. He handed me the morning dispatches.

“You may want to call the building. It looks like they’re going to have a mess to clean up in the elevator.”

“I already have, Mister Schuld!”

“How many cases do I have today?”

“Just one this morning. I cleared up your schedule so you could finish your paperwork….or….get lucky. I’ve noticed your rating has taken a minor dip.”

“Thanks, Ben. I appreciate it.”

“You’re looking a little pale.”

“Rough morning commute, that’s all,” I said, flipping through the new reports.

“Well, if you want to get an early start, the attendants have prepared Chamber 22 for your intake.”

“Thanks.”

I skipped the morning coffee routine and passed up the Casual Friday bagels. People often got so excited about bagels that you would often see scenes that resembled something out of that old Pasolini film, Salo, as you spread your schmear. I decided to head to Chamber 22 and get the new case intake out of the way. I opened the doors and saw a woman handcuffed to the stainless steel table. She was crying.

“Alex?”

“Denise.”

Now I knew why she couldn’t meet me for backgammon.

Next: The Intake (Chapter 8)

11357 / 50000 words. 23% done!

Bumper to Bumper (NaNoWriMo #6)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: The Betrayal (Chapter 5)

The door closed with a sealed shudder and the air gelled to a creepy still. We had only the smooth purr of the town car’s motor and the gentle hiss of the air jockeying for some modal answer to white noise. I tossed my beige bulk onto the plush Corinthian leather seat across from Dottie. I could feel her breathing and beaming, her eyes on me like a lackadaisical meat inspector, but I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want to be reminded me that sitting before me was the residue of the woman I had once loved and lost. But I did glance up and I met her eyes and the joy was gone. She was one of those people who walked the earth with a dead sardonic look. But in New Amagaca, that was pretty much all of us.

“Are you here to ruin me again?”

She smiled. A smile that once flowed with natural charm, but that now steered you to look into her eyes even if you were glancing out the window.

“Show some gratitude for a lift, Alex.”

“How did you find me?”

“I was canvassing this sector for a retrofit and my phone blipped. It said you were in the neighborhood.”

“So I’m still bookmarked.”

“Oh, I didn’t bookmark you. That was an accident. But the matrix is automated to remind us of loved ones. Or former loved ones. Reconciliation is prized, although, in your case, I forgot to remove you from my contacts. But I figured that since you were probably still working in Midtown and we were both heading in the same direction…”

“Spare me your charity. You broke my heart.”

She smoothed her hands on her bright golden skirt and shifted upward in her seat.

“Now, Alex, we’re supposed to stick together. That’s the Amagacan way.”

“The way you sold out Sheila. The way you led a status downgrade campaign against me.”

“I could downrank you now if I wanted. Have you thought about that?”

I lowered my head. I looked out the window. We were rolling across what had once been called the Williamsburg Bridge, now christened the Scott Baio Memorial Bridge in honor of his service and sacrifice at the Virginia Massacre. The pedestrian walkways above us were still painted pink. That was one of the few parts of New York they still hadn’t painted over. Several people who couldn’t deal with a life of constant pleasure were leaping to their deaths in the designated suicide zone.

“I was about to call in sick.”

“Now that I would have liked to see. But you got in the car, Alex. It was your choice.” She leaned in. Only a few inches, but it felt like she was right next to me, the very inverse of five years of intimacy. “It was always your choice, Alex. That’s why I had to call the police.”

There was a striped leather portfolio on her lap. The Ruler’s crass insignia — an ankh crammed between the two Chinese symbols for joy — was stitched into the polyurethane.

“For what it’s worth,” she said, “I’m glad you’re still alive.”

“You certainly didn’t make it easy.”

I checked her profile on my phone. Not that I needed to.

“I see you’re a five now,” I said.

“And you’re still toiling in the Abrogation Department?”

“Yeah.”

“How many repeals?”

I was still gazing into the addictive light of my phone even though I didn’t need to, given that I knew that the government only distributed these bright spiffy portfolios to the fives. I guess I needed some statistical confirmation of just how much Dottie had changed. The data provided more comfort than the face in front of me. As a lawyer and now an abrogator, I had always been committed to the evidence. Facts always triangulated between the hurt you were feeling in your heart and the pain you were willing to bear in the future. There was only one conclusion that I could ever form from the supportive material: Dottie had once been the most compassionate soul that I ever knew. She’d stop and buy a sandwich if she ever saw a homeless man. She’d surprise me with dinner if I arrived home late after a long day of writing briefs, just to prove that she wasn’t the only one in our flat who knew how to dazzle in the kitch. We were going to honeymoon in Goa and spend part of our time building shelters in Bihar. Maybe we’d both fallen into that neoliberal middle-class trap of being globetrotting do-gooders. The kind that Thomas Friedman used to extol before he was assassinated during a pubic lecture when he claimed that the Virginia Massacre was just a passing phase of capitalism. They sliced the part of his skin where his mustache rested above his dead lips and the barbarians nailed it to a stick and paraded it along Broadway during the time that the anti-intellectual mobs had formed. When the Great Turnover came, the centrists were the first to surrender their principles to save their own skin, much as they’d severely underestimated the rabid American id that led to all the assassinations. And Dottie had been among the first to change.

“More than I’d care to report. How did you land the five star treatment?”

“I earned it. Just as you climbed back to four.”

“You didn’t help.”

“Sometimes we need to fall down to rise up.”

“Tell that to the folks we just passed on the Baio Bridge.”

“Bootstrap capitalism! It’s not as bad as you think. Here, let me show you something.”

She pulled out a tablet from her portfolio and spun the screen around so I can see the screen. It was an Excel spreadsheet:

You saw many good people shift to such a life, but to see her hookups tabulated like this was too much for me to bear.

“You were always a good data aggregator,” I croaked, fighting back tears. You really couldn’t cry in a climate devoted to pleasure. Crying was forbidden, although you could find a grief hookup if you were careful with the phrases you typed into the search engine.

“Come on, Alex. You asked the question.”

“You didn’t have to do it that way.”

“Are you trying to slut shame me?”

“No. Your life is your life.”

“I’m trying to help!” she said with a freakish enthusiasm. “I was only trying to encourage you! You’re a smart man and you deserve to be a success! I want you to be a five!”

The hell of it was that she really meant this. She really believed that the cold presentation of her dalliances somehow justified her life. It was almost as if she had no memory of the status downgrade. Even the best of us couldn’t always remember the past. We were doomed with the deficiency of our collective memory.

“I’d like to get out of the car.”

“But we’re only ten minutes away. You don’t want to get sick, do you?”

I didn’t, but my stomach was in torrid knots. I was doing everything in my power not to throw up. I didn’t want to fuck anyone after seeing that list. She had known every part of me for five years. We had shared words together that had been burned like the old NYPL catalog. Part of me wondered if my full tabulated essence was memorialized in some way on that tablet.

“Okay,” I said. “Just so long as I’m not cramping your style.”

“Not at all. You know I couldn’t see you when you were a three.”

“You couldn’t love me when the ratings matrix kicked in.”

“Now, Alex, do I have to downvote you? I’m giving you a ride so you can earn your credits! You know we can’t talk about the time before. You’re lucky I didn’t invoke my executive privilege when you started asking your questions. As the Ruler says, ‘Questions are a millstone to progress. Answers are no substitute for pleasure.'”

I was still feeling reckless. Why wasn’t I there with the hopeless cases on the Baio Bridge? Because I had lives to save, that’s why.

“Do you really like being a citizen of New Amagaca?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, Alex, but, yes, it’s been treating me very well.”

“I’m sure.”

“Why can’t you have fun like everybody else? I’ve felt so liberated ever since I changed my focus!”

“What about love?”

“What about love?”

“What about what we had?”

“Alex,” she whispered in a very worried tone. “You know there’s a heavy status fine if you even consider romance.”

“Alright. Romance is dead. Revoked by Ruler decree. So what are you doing these days?”

“They now have me working on the new city grid. Speaking of which…”

She knocked on the window separating us from the driver in the peaked cap.

“Petey?” She turned to me. “You’re near the Citadel, yes?”

“Two blocks away. Near 48th.”

We were stuck in traffic. I was going to be late. The partition slid down.

“Petey, is there any way that we can speed things up?”

“I’m afraid not, Miss Farrell. Bumper to bumper.”

“Oh dear.”

“I’m going to be late.”

She opened her portfolio and took out a military-grade Toughbook. One of those rugged beasts designed to withstand an EMP.

“You’re not going to be late.”

“How?”

“Well, I shouldn’t be telling you this. On the other hand, I could sentence you to death if you spill. So here goes! The Ruler has been developing a new strategic defense grid in every Amagacan city. But we had an infrastructure in place before the Great Turnover. Do you remember the eye in the sky?”

“The elaborate surveillance system that the NYPD had put into effect. They had added audio sensors.”

“It was in the early stages of being weaponized! Watch this!”

I couldn’t really see what she was doing, but, from my vantage point, it looked like she was logging into a shell account. I looked out the window, watching two men paste a new poster of the Ruler onto a fraying billboard.

“This is like that Don DeLillo novel.”

“Don who?”

“Come on. I wasn’t the biggest fan and he wasn’t all that of a favorite. And this wasn’t one of his better novels. Cosmopolis. You remember that one?”

“I don’t know who Don DeLillo is.”

“The only thing missing in this limo is the floor of Carrara marble. And you know damn well who DeLillo is.”

“No, I don’t. Quiet. I’m concentrating.”

I had five minutes to get to the Abrogation Department. There was a chance I could get out and huff it. But as I was considering my plan to be timely, there was a giant rumble outside the car. A gray drone, roughly the size of a storefront, was hovering in the sky outside.

“Aha! It worked!”

“You summoned that?”

“Watch this!”

The drone flew in front of us. I looked ahead and saw that two trucks were tying up traffic.

“Let me check.”

The tapping of keys.

“Nope. Non-essential goods.”

“What do you me….?”

The drone fired a rapid burst of bright purple lasers into the two trucks, targeting the fuel tanks. There was an explosion. The trucks burst into flames. I watched one of the truckers dive out the melting frame of his door, howling at the top of his lungs as the flames charred his body. From one of the spires above us, a sniper locked his rifle on the trucker and put him down with a swift head shot.

“Jesus!”

“Don’t you love new technology? Now let’s see if this works!”

The drone then fired a white spray. The window was cracked and the air around us smelled antiseptic. Some of the cars pulled over, not wishing to be victims of the drone. The spray subsumed the ruined trucks with a fast foam. The drone then hovered above the truck. Two robotic impediments looking like outsize claws designed by a sociopathic MIT genius hopped up on one too many James Cameron movies pushed from the drone, rapidly flattened the truck into scrap metal, and proceeded to lift these resources with it up into the air, where the loud roar dissipated as it flew to who the hell knows where.

Petey put the pedal to the metal.

“It worked!” shrieked Dottie. “We’re going to get you to work on time!”

“You just killed two people.”

“Well, Alex, you’ll probably save two people today when you’re taking in your case load. So it all evens out! I can’t wait until the IT people hear about this.”

What the hell did death mean anymore if everyone was a potential experiment for new tech?

The limo rolled up to my building.

“Dottie, can you do me a favor?”

“Aren’t you going to say thank you?”

“Thank you. I say that only because I have to. Can you do me a favor?”

“Anything for you, four star Alex!”

“If you ever see me wandering around a sector you’re canvassing, please don’t contact me again.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh. It was nice knowing you, Dottie.”

I left the limo. I had two minutes to get to my office. As the limo rolled off, I stumbled into the alley where I smoked cigarettes and took deep pulls from my flask after learning that a repeal I had painstakingly tried to make happen did not go through. I threw up, found the polka dot handkerchief already soiled with Grace’s Thursday upset, straightened my tie, and scanned my retina at the security booth for another long day at work.

Next: Elevator Romp (Chapter 7)

10150 / 50000 words. 20% done!

The Daily Seven: A NaNoWriMo Novel — Table of Contents

I had absolutely no intention of writing a NaNoWriMo novel in real time. And yet, on the morning of November 1, 2017, I ended up imagining a death house in which seven people were selected by a computer algorithm to die each day in the near future, in which a fascist government named New Amagaca had replaced America. Four days later, I have now written 8,000 words of a crazy and hastily written novel that I am now calling The Daily Seven. I don’t know if I will go through with this or not, but here is a table of contents for readers wishing to follow along:

Chapter 1: The Daily Seven (November 1, 2017)
Chapter 2: A Pot of Tea (November 2, 2017)
Chapter 3: We’ll Always Have Brunch (November 3, 2017)
Chapter 4: Every Subject’s Soul is His Own (November 4, 2017)
Chapter 5: The Betrayal (November 4, 2017)
Chapter 6: Bumper to Bumper (November 5, 2017)
Chapter 7: Elevator Romp (November 6, 2017)
Chapter 8: The Intake (November 7, 2017)
Chapter 9: The Limits of Moral Depravity (November 7, 2017)