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.”


“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?”


“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.


“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?”


“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?”


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.”


“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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.



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?”


“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.”


“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.


“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.”


“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)

The Betrayal (NaNoWriMo #5)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: Every Subject’s Soul is His Own (Chapter 4)

“You,” I said.

Her name was Dottie Farrell and I had once loved her with all my heart. It was the kind of love where you made homemade chicken soup when she was sick, cooked three-course meals when she wasn’t, felt that you could share every skeleton kicking up dust in your closet, woke up every morning to ensure that the now luxurious whiff of coffee curled into every stray corner of our shared tome-lined apartment, held her in your arms when she had doubts about her career and America’s then waning legacy, negotiated detentes between pugnacious family members, and gave every bead of sweat and then some to hold onto a marvelous woman you only wanted to love deeper and grow old with.

When the Great Turnover had been more of a joke rather than a fearsome political reality, I had taken Dottie’s hand, sashayed the two of us into a cab as the racist driver yammered on about the Muslim ban (and we both gritted our then chattering progressive teeth), and escorted her up the steps near the edge of Fifth Avenue into the Met’s roomy, always reliable sanctuary. This had all gone down just six months before the new regime decided to incinerate this great museum (and all the art within it). But we could not know then that the jihad against art, which had then been little more than a deranged thought experiment from the far-right Republicans who were becoming the new normal, would actually be carried out. We could not possibly foresee that the idea of New York as the art capital of the world, with its free museum days and its eccentric tapestry trade, would so easily slip from our happy quotidian grasp. We sauntered past a bust of Alexander Pope and took the elevator to the rooftop garden, ignoring Adrián Villar Rojas’s ribald sculptures to take in the glorious green view of Central Park. It was a crisp day in early autumn, back in the days when we still had autumns and the earth hadn’t yet shifted to a stark two season year. The high winds lapped at Dottie’s blonde curls, pushing them into an intoxicating whirl, with the sun somehow brightening her eyes as if they were delicate porcelain in dire need of a fine light. Dottie and I had been together for five blissful years. There had been more ups than downs. Our friends said we were meant to be together as our hair turned gray and the crow’s feet crinkled against the corners of our lively eyes. The perfect couple that gave everybody hope as we all suffered through the hellish nonstop headlines.

We moved in together after nine months of dating, renting out a near palatial apartment in Jackson Heights. Two years later, we made the bold choice of wedding our books, somehow believing in the permanence of love as the world came closer to burning, selling off the remaining dupes to the now firebombed Strand and spending the loot on a lavish low-key dinner of pork rillettes and shimmering scallops and a bottle and a half of fine claret. A year passed and I took her to the same place again when it became more dangerous to leave the house and you needed fixers to get you from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The candles glowed and her olive cheeks deepened and the brisk beauty and sharp wit that I had known in the day and night of a more hopeful time somehow persuaded me, as all of us were then still struggling and then still polarized with disbelief, that love could indeed conquer all. I dropped to my knee and opened the case and asked her to marry me as a costly trio of violinists hired on short notice played Sara Bareilles’s “I Choose You.” Dottie said yes and we made love three times that night.

Six months later, as the court system was being dismantled and I was doing everything I could to preserve due process when the Ruler declared martial law, she had called the police to drag me out of our apartment. I escaped being cremated in the camps only because I had a few surprisingly loyal friends in high places that I knew from the weekend basketball game. People who still felt pity for a former civil liberties lawyer who was now down and out. People who somehow knew that even a cynical man like me might rise like a phoenix, if not to save the day then to at least preserve some small scrap of a world that had once prided itself on bonhomie and camaraderie.

Our phones were then being hooked up to the ratings matrix. We were being asked to turn over our driver’s licenses and burn our social security cards. It was impossible to walk through the streets of Brooklyn without smelling the burning corpses of people who had been shot by well-groomed thugs after daring to say no. The Great Turnover took us all by storm. We would no longer be able to vote, but we could make democratic choices against our neighbors. We no longer had the Fourth Estate, but we did have social networks, although anyone who dared to talk about politics quickly disappeared. As the world fell apart and the last of the resistance was marched to the camps, Dottie prioritized surviving over the enduring independent power of our love, as so many people did.

And now Dottie had somehow found me in a sector of the city that I might have recognized only four years before if the Ruler hadn’t razed the buildings and massacred entire neighborhoods. She was doing very well. She was looking very sharp. And the man in the peaked cap was malleable clay within her exacting fascist fingers. The limosuine’s door was open. I had thirty minutes to get to work. I had no other choice but to step inside the car. What other option did one have in New Amagaca?

Next: Bumper to Bumper (Chapter 6)

7874 / 50000 words. 16% done!

Every Subject’s Soul is His Own (NaNoWriMo #4)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: We’ll Always Have Brunch (Chapter 3)

Grace never told me where she worked or what she did or whether she liked her English muffin lightly toasted or extra crispy, but no one ever chased these harmless subjects anymore. “What do you do?” — once the darling question of small talk that tied the room together — had lost its meaning not long after the Virginia Massacre and the subsequent race riots and the purges and the Congressional assassinations had forced the government to roll into every city with humvees, assigning us our new vocational roles at gunpoint, the social contract extending into free-form fucking (even though most of us managed this quite well on our own before the Great Turnover). Grace and I agreed to meet again. She even reconsidered learning backgammon.

We exchanged numbers just before she clipped on her cubic zirconia earrings, smiling her finest Duchenne before the inspection camera to verify her singlehood, and we rated and reviewed each other for the quality assurance elite (“Five stars. Expert at reverse cowgirl. Attentive to cock. I’d do her again,” read my vulgar and now far too common lie). I left the singles housing unit wearing the previous day’s threads, wondering if my martinet manager would notice that my beige jacket was the same as yesterday’s. There was a good chance he wouldn’t. His paperwork never stopped.

I had taken a slight risk wearing beige to work. Beige wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it was mildly rebellious given that we had been asked to adorn our starved bodies with loud and bright hues to promote universal pleasure. Beige was my answer to the final movement in Shostakovich’s fifth symphony, not that any New Amagacan knew about classical music. Under the Ruler, you were lucky if you heard someone deliver an especially famous Shakespeare quote. The great secret of his autocratic success was to tire us out, insinuating that any work of art which stimulated the mind was akin to eating one’s cultural vegetables, so that, in our collective fatigue, we would never remember any significant artistic achievement from the time before. Culture had not been banned. The First Privilege had guaranteed us some remaining rights. But if you hoped to stop the population from caring or thinking about anything substantive, you had to create a climate in which the beauty of a baroque quatrain was as unappetizing during one’s spare time as a gratuitous backbreaking task.

I ambled along the sidewalk, which was being hosed down with exacting fury by two moribund men with hardscrabble cigarettes sticking from their lips like toxic lollipops. My phone revealed that they were both single and both twos and that neither had hooked up in quite some time (it was never easy for twos), which accounted for why they had been assigned to sweep the streets. One had to be careful with twos. They were more prone to crime, which could not be entirely eliminated by the Ruler even with his zero tolerance policy. But very often, a two’s infractions were never severe enough to warrant public execution. The expense of trucking away a two to a reeducation camp was too risky in a fragile economy. I suppose, if we had unlimited resources, the Ruler would have pushed harder. But it was also important to give every able mind a chance at redemption. Sometimes when you went out to brunch — and everyone went out to brunch, especially after the Ruler had reminded us — you would see a four obliging a two. (Giving spare credits to an under three was punishable by death under Protocol 47.) Then you would go to church and see the same four standing on the dais, without the two in sight, being extolled for being a good Amagacan. The next weekend, you would see the four with another two and the ritual would repeat and, very soon, the four would become a five, getting an item placed in the news feed and an assignment in charge of some vital municipal task. Meanwhile, the twos would disappear, sometimes becoming ones and leaving themselves vulnerable to a swifter daily seven selection. I knew that life as a two was difficult, but this was one of those problems that we never talked about. Status warfare was the cost of a greater New Amagaca, much as we had been blind about class warfare in the days before the Ruler. The last journalist who dared to write about this topic had been shot by the producer on the nightly news, with the bonanza ratings from the live stream rapidly superseding anything he had to say.

The two twos toodle-ooed me as I stared down at my malfunctioning GPS, hoping that the network would clear up so that I could find the swiftest subway to work. The street sweepers probably knew the city better than I did, but, when it came to consorting with citizens who were two stars beneath you, you really had to give rather than take. That was the way it worked. Ask only of others in your rank. If you dared to ask a favor of a two, you would have to hookup more frequently to sustain your four rating. Because talking with someone beneath you was considered an act of weakness, even when the propaganda dictated that everybody was worthy of a good pleasurable life under the Ruler.

Grace’s neighborhood was devoid of street signs and my GPS still didn’t work — even though I could make out the mile-high Burj Amagacana glistening in the distance. Which meant that I was very far away from work, unless I could find a subway that could take me there fast. I had thirty minutes to report to my auditor job or get downranked to a three. There had once been a time in which you could hail a shared vehicle, but such conveniences were now a month’s salary and largely belonged to the fives. Two years before, I had gone to a specialist to repair my status rating. And it had taken me a good year to climb to a four.

There was the option to use a sick day, but calling in sick would mean doctors taking me to a sybarite facility, where medical professionals would force me to hookup with six sick strangers a day until I got well. I would actually have to fuck these people — for there was no privacy for the infirm. The Ruler has bought into the anti-vaccination argument that had proven popular before the Great Turnover and believed only in hookups as the secret to good health. So you would have cancer patients locking lips with old citizens suffering from dementia. I often wondered if this had been a callous and crafty way of letting the sick die. This was the only healthcare we had. Bona-fide doctors were reserved for the fives. Still, a few popular pornographic stars had emerged from the sybarites. As the New Amagacan regime carried on, you learned that there was a kinky niche for everything.

There was also the matter of my caseload, which I really didn’t want to fall in the hands of Greta Zioto, an adjuster who was far more ruthless with my cases than I could ever be. Despite her very high deportation approval rate, she still found the time to plan fiestas for the office. It was almost as if the parties inspired Greta to be more heartless. The people who asked for our help always seemed to get in Greta’s way and she much preferred spending her afternoons going to the Consumer Center, justifying lavish budget allotments, and spending far too many government-issued credits on party supplies. Until Greta came along, our barebones office was a place where we all hung down our heads and did the best we could to save lives. But Greta, who was well connected with the fives, made parties happen twice a week. The abrogation unit, which had repealed many ones and twos and gave them a second chance, soon spent more of its time putting on a blindfold, growing cheerier as they swatted around at a swinging piñata, leaving Greta to reassign dozens of cases to the death camps. But some of us still took our duties quite seriously.

So I had to get to work. There was more on the line here than an unwanted fuckfest. If I got to work at a timely hour, there was a good chance that I could repeal a few cases and stop at least some of them from being selected for the daily seven. This was what I did twelve hours each day and why I couldn’t sleep. I ended my day at the cafe across from the daily seven because I needed to be reminded why I slept only four hours a night and how increasingly rare it was for anyone to weep.

“Mister Schuld?”

“That’s me.”

The voice came from a smiling man wearing a peaked cap.

“Did you go straying from your sector again?”

The man elbowed me on the side and winked.

“Yeah, you might say that.”

“Well, we don’t want you to be late for work! Do we?”

“Uh, I can’t pay for this.”

“It’s all taken care of, Mister Schuld. Don’t you worry!”

“By whom?”

“Me,” said a very familiar voice that I had not heard since the rough and tumble days rebuilding my status history. “Hello, Alex.”

Next: The Betrayal (Chapter 5)

6874 / 50000 words. 14% done!

We’ll Always Have Brunch (NaNoWriMo #3)

[Table of Contents]
Start at the Beginning: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1)
Previously: A Pot of Tea (Chapter 2)

If you opened your eyes early enough, just before the government blinded you with the glum flares of glammy displays roasting all walls to a patriotic crisp and the cheap sequenced trumpets picked your hopeful pockets with flat notes pricking deep into your weary ears like a blind acupuncturist who can’t find your back and the rah rah rahs presaging the stertorous Ruler’s calls for fervor and greatness and unity, you could sometimes hear the sounds of what the world was like before. The Ruler had besmirched nearly every human virtue, but he had no control over the birds cooing soothing threnodies just as the sun cracked the dark of a dim unpromising billet. He could not halt the white spill that lingered around for a small buoyant moment while all were asleep. The Ruler could not prevent the cats and dogs from curling into our beds and staring lovingly at us, even after we had devolved into violent sadistic obedients. The animals, of course, were blind to our indiscretions. But the dogs still fetched our papers (there was only one now) and listened to our sob stories with a wet panting tongue. The cats still sauntered around our quarters with an upward vee curling against the last fleshy dregs of our authentic intimacy. If you woke up early enough, you were reminded of the way that the earth could always trump any great man with its joy and its grandeur and its possibility. Sure, we could erect all the brutalist buildings and crass cathedrals and despotic domes we wanted, but we too would eventually be dust with the dinosaurs. Maybe we belonged in the wilderness too, running naked and feral with all other creatures, screaming primal hymns and ripping our rotting teeth into any meat that remained. But, for a brief moment, in that fleeting crepuscular period between dreams and the bitter real, you could remember that you were alive. We had slipped so swiftly from human grace, but I wondered if the reason that I still wept over the beaten boy had something to do with my knack for waking up early.

“Alex,” cooed Grace. “What time is it?”

“Before the Ruler’s stir.”

“But you have stirred me. Go back to sleep.”

“No. I want to enjoy this. You should too. It’s the magic hour. The time when we’re allowed to feel human.”

She loosened a quiet yawn.

“How many hours do you sleep?”

“Four hours each night.”

“That’s not enough.”

“I am often fatigued. But if I didn’t have the morning, I really couldn’t deal.”

She stretched her left arm and her soft hand briefly skirted against my bare shoulder. I glanced at her scar again and wished silently for the seventh time that I could track down the beast who made that.

“What have they assigned you to do?”

“I’m an auditor.”


“A small time abrogator.”

She emerged from the duvet, rising up from bed and letting it spill to her legs. She had not covered herself. I looked away from her breasts.

“You could report me.”

“I won’t.”

“Look at me, Alexander Schuld.”

It was so easy for all of us to play these roles. But I wouldn’t.

“I can’t and I won’t. And I don’t report people. I don’t work in that department.”

“Why do you loiter around the cafe near the daily seven? A sense of guilt?”

“I just enjoy playing backgammon, that’s all.”


“One of humanity’s oldest games. I could teach you how to play sometime. It goes as far back as 3,000 B.C.”

“I don’t play games.”

“Aren’t our lives games now?”

But before Grace could tell me more, the billet erupted in the wretched daily warble guaranteed to stir even the deepest sleeper, followed by the hiss of static, and the Ruler’s triumphant music polluting every square inch of space.

“We’ll have to pick this up later.”

The Ruler’s detestable presence was projected everywhere. Even if you closed his eyes, you would still see his fat face and his seedy corpulent presence. In the early days, the Ruler would appear on camera, speaking directly to the people much in the manner that the Presidents used to address the American people whenever the nation declared war for the most trifling and inconsequential reason. But these days, the Ruler was more of a bargain basement avatar: a large frozen head for the citizens to admire as it slowly rotated over New Age music like some poorly rendered polygon on an old screen saver.


The words were accompanied by what sounded like canned applause, although we could hear our neighbors cheering the speech through the thin walls.

“God, I hate brunch.”

“We should at least have breakfast.”


The Ruler’s words trailed off at this point. He was never very good at endings.

“Come on,” said Grace, “you have to go to work.”

“And so do you.”

5296 / 50000 words. 11% done!

Next: Every Subject’s Soul is His Own (Chapter 4)

A Pot of Tea (NaNoWriMo #2)

[Table of Contents]
Previously: The Daily Seven (Chapter 1).

Her name was Grace, but she told me later that she was far from amazing and never attended church and showed me that she was not that graceful, starting with the way she wore her nubbed olive sweater inside out and carrying on lately with her clumsy gait, in which one foot seemed to be slightly more infirm than the other as she dragged her heels through the streets with a slight hobble, with the anemic pace now much louder on her billet’s hardwood floors, almost as if she had an undiagnosed case of Meniere’s, which seemed plausible given how loud the world had become, but I liked this about her, along with the fact that she didn’t wear makeup and she did not appear to give two fucks about keeping up appearances in the horrorshow real now known as New Amagaca.

She had a bold look in a city in which there was a significant gender imbalance favoring men. Most female singles latched onto the nearest gormless potbelly and, if they couldn’t land that, they would swipe their cards in gauche boutiques for pointless merch and hope that they wouldn’t be tagged and blipped by a bored and vengeful TSA man looking to blow up a human head when not molesting passengers who had the credits and the brazen audacity to travel in this hard new world. Her brown hair swooped in a sloppy beehive with stray graying strands dangling past her hanging earlobes, bedecked with the mandatory cubic zirconia earrings that all single women now had to don. Her crisp blue eyes had not entirely hardened, but these orbs were well on their way into turning cold and sociopathic like everyone else. Maybe she had collided into me because the universe that the Ruler could not kill still favored those who longed to carry on some compassionate legacy of what had once been lived before, before the American dream, or the unsustainable myth that passed for it, had been extinguished by the Ruler in favor of the new order.

She was five years younger than me, an age gap that neatly aligned with the government’s exacting seventy-two page pamphlet on how and who to copulate with. But the disparity in years had merely been a coincidence, much as a series of unlikely events had caused a bunch of white supremacist yahoos to firebomb the White House, followed by the Virginia Massacre that had killed ten thousand and the insurgency that had butchered countless more and the new front erecting tall lumbering spires and sinister checkpoints on every block in every city and the division of the populace by political taxonomy, some of us pushed into camps and others executed and still others dreading the day that they would surely be selected by the daily seven algorithm. Grace and I held hands only because we knew we’d be arrested by the pleasure police if we didn’t. We held each other from a more sincere place of common empathy because we instinctively felt that we were the only two souls who seemed to care about that poor orphaned boy beaten to a pulp by the bloodthirsty crowd.

As I wiped her dry thin lips of vomit with my soiled polka dot handkerchief, and as the bright Amagacan floodlights shot hard pink and lavender into the sky, I told Grace that I was a desert father and asked if she knew what that meant and she said that she did and she smiled a rare smile in this hellscape we had been complicit in allowing to happen and now had little choice but to live through and carry on, even though carrying on was akin to binging through the worst Netflix sitcom imaginable. Many sitcoms had been put into production under the Ruler (he believed that television was the cornerstone of Amagacan life), given sixty episode runs for the year instead of the former twenty-six so that singles had plenty of content to watch to get down with the chilling business to produce a steady stream of innocent babies who would grow up in this hellish new normal, most infants named after the Ruler and various sitcom characters because the government had done everything it could to destroy our collective imagination.

“Would you like some tea?” she said.

“Tea is hard to come by these days.”

“I have good Indian tea. It’s impossible to get tea from China. But I do have sugar and even milk smuggled from a Kansas dairy farm hording some of the remaining cattle. Please don’t report me.”

“I won’t.”

“Builder’s tea.”

“Isn’t that a tribute to the nightmare across the ocean?”

“It’s worse over there than here. Maybe this is the coldest spot in hell. Across the Pond, we used to say.”

“Not that either of us could visit there. You’d use your rations on me? You barely know me.”

“You’re not like the other singles. If you wanted to Netflix and chill, you would have made your move by now.”

“And if you wanted that, you would have turned on the stream and let the algorithm decide what sitcom we needed to watch so that we could get in the mood. So that makes two of us who still believe in something else.”

“I don’t want to love you.”

“I know.”

“I don’t know if I believe in love anymore.”

“Maybe all the hookups have killed the instinct.”

“I have some friends who have found love.”

“Yeah, but can you really love anyone anymore? When everyone is so cruel?”

“Not everyone. We should be careful.”

“You’re right.”

The two of us stripped down to our underwear just in case the pleasure police decided to conduct a raid on this section. The thin walls could not disguise the mechanical grunts and woeful moans of other singles in other billets memorializing the binge of a sitcom season, ensuring that their personal ratings would remain somewhere between four and five stars. In those days, you could still rate your neighbors. The government was initially more understanding of singles who could not find a hookup every night. The policy had been very bold and very new and everyone was still working out how and how often to fuck in order to placate the Ruler. Sometimes, Denise and I pretended to copulate after a game of backgammon just to nab a few peripheral ratings from neighbors, who often planted their ears to walls if they could not hookup that night. This provided more documentation that we could provide to the police and the magistrates if we were ever caught living in a friends without benefits manner. In the early days, two of my closest friends had been rounded up for being friends without fucking. And I knew that I was living dangerously in actually getting to know another single of the opposite gender, respecting her in the ancient three date way or the mature manner in which you cultivated a friendship with someone you didn’t hit it off with or, more daringly (and more frequently in my case), never viewed her as a sexual object at all but as a dependable compadre.

“What’s that scar?” I asked, pointing to the ruddy encrusted trail on her left shoulder.

“A previous hookup. He got a little wild with a knife.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’ve had worse. But the others didn’t leave permanent marks.”

The kettle hissed with a blissful whistle and she poured the water and the milk and the sugar into two mugs, with the dangling string from the teabags leaving a cracked matted line against the porcelain. She placed the two mugs on the white government-issue plastic table common to all single billets.

“This is nice,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Thank you for not asking me to Netflix and chill.”

“Do you remember when they singled out men who had abused women? That had been in the last days. Film producers, famous actors.”

“But not politicians. Not the President.”


“We directed our energies towards entertainment rather than politics. Some men in power suffered, but the real men in power triumphed and helped make this happen.”

“And we lost that last election.”

“Are you okay talking about this?”

“Honestly, after what I saw today.”

“It now happens every day.”

“That doesn’t mean it disgusts me any less.”

“Do you want to live?”

“There are some days that I don’t.”

“Do you think it will pass?”

“I don’t know. But humankind survived the Middle Ages. So I suppose anything is possible.”

“It’s nice talking like this. Reminds me of the old times.”

“Shouldn’t we get down to business?”

“I suppose so. Would you like to pretend or be real?”

“I’d rather pretend because you seem very nice.”

We knew when our neighbors pretended to fuck and we were careful to rate them even when we didn’t like them or their performances were weak. We needed to rate our conquests to help the daily seven algorithm because you would get docked one star if you failed to rate a hookup within twenty-four hours. And it was important to hookup on a somewhat regular basis to ensure that you had a somewhat regular rating. You could usually get by on one hookup every two weeks. That would keep you hovering around 3.5, a fairly safe rating that would usually keep you from not being selected for the daily seven, but this assumed that your partner wasn’t sour or vengeful and was understanding with you even if neither of you had any physical chemistry together. This listlessness in matters of the flesh was happening more and more these days as fucking became more regular and soulless and people couldn’t find pleasure even when they were told about crops and rope and handcuffs and blindfolds. We were sent daily seduction tips, often featuring interactive maps outlining directions to the clitoris with sultry hip-hop music playing beneath the alluring graphics, to ensure that all would be satisfied in New Amagaca. Some citizens had been profiled in the news feeds as studs and sluts. A small number had become pornographic stars, singled out for their athletic contributions that the tastemakers had liked and favorited on the social networks. This was one way you could survive under the new regime if you didn’t want to work the assigned labor. YouTube now only enabled monetization for singles who were willing to confess to the world how they were fucking. So the system was rigged to favor the prolific and more adventurous hookup practitioners. But you couldn’t live like this forever. Because as you grew older and your looks faded, your life could be derailed and your rating might falter if you didn’t find a partner and go to city hall and get the stamp from the alderman and the notary formally memorializing how you had switched from single to married status, although this was by no means guaranteed and it was useful to make sure that your partner was pregnant. If you were not heteronormative, which was the orientation that the Ruler tended to publicize, you could be one of those singles playing the hookup game well into your forties and fifties, although that was more difficult. If you were not heternormative, you could, in theory, adopt one of the many children who had been left by a daily seven single parent. But the government only granted you non-heternormative marriage if you were willing to take in a minimum of six orphans. And it was hard enough to survive with the average 2.2 children. Because of this, the algorithm often selected orphans for the daily seven. Because the algorithm knew best and could often detect if an orphaned child had no prospects, not even among the non-heteronormative types. And you could not talk about any of this because it happened swiftly and it was all deleted from the search engine results even quicker and you had only your fallible memory to rely upon.

“What’s your name again?” asked Grace.


“Alex, let’s pretend.”

“Okay. We should probably move to your bed.”

“I chose a bedroom without any windows.”

“Smart. I know drones that fly outside windows to corroborate hookups.”

And the two of us scampered underneath the white duvet. It was getting cold and I saw goosebumps sprout on Grace’s bare arms and I made sure she was covered. And we lay next to each other, snickering a little bit to ourselves, and we began to howl and fake our orgasms. We had taken the batteries outside of our phones and placed them in the freezer so that the government would not capture any AV, but, when we turned our phones back on after our performance, we heard the blips of favorable five star approvals from our neighbors, who had rated us strictly on our sounds. And the two of us laughed and high-fived over our convincing performance and we soon fell fast asleep, hoping to survive another wretched tomorrow. And I began to like Grace a little more.

4245 / 50000 words. 8% done!

Next: We’ll Always Have Brunch (Chapter 3)

The Daily Seven (NaNoWriMo #1)

[Table of Contents]

They pushed seven people into the death house just as they always did at seven o’clock. We were accustomed to the screams by now. Sometimes the cries for clemency and the plaintive declarations that life was unfair comforted you when you played backgammon.

I wasn’t playing backgammon that Thursday evening. My partner Denise said that she had a last minute appointment, which was perfectly legal if you had the supportive documentation, although some people were now executed for what had once been called ghosting. I think she preferred to play backgammon in our assigned quarters because she didn’t want to deal with the smell of charred flesh burrowing into her nose as she slid smooth checkers across white and tan diamonds. I hadn’t seen Denise in weeks, but she did text me the mandatory pictures of herself in languorous poses to avoid any excess taxes. We were in the clear. And I knew that I would play backgammon with her again sometime very soon.

“Is everybody having a good time?” boomed the alderman through the purple megaphone across the street, which was now thickening with strangers waving pitchforks. His words barraged us through the cafe’s open windows, causing a man who had stayed very quiet during the last few hours to rise from his laptop, thrust his long gangly arm in the air in appropriate salute to the Ruler, and shout, “Fuck yeah! Let the heathens die!” The Ruler had always insisted on fun and happy colors and this cafe was no exception: the browns of the table had been reinforced by garish blues and greens that never quite sailed out of your peripheral vision. But the government-mandated decor couldn’t quite extinguish the bleakness of the ceremony. Still, the death house cheerleaders were, at the time the alderman announced these words, forming themselves into a near perfect human pyramid, with the crowd giving them space to perform their celebratory ablutions.

The alderman was a short and pudgy man with a lengthy beard and a harsh nasal voice. He stood just above the rickety parapet across the street, where you could see the daily seven being trotted out high above us for fierce jeers and ideal Instagram angles. Nobody liked the alderman. He was one of the first who turned with the new order, when there was still a climate to theoretically resist. But, of course, you couldn’t say this. You couldn’t say much anymore. They monitored everything, but they didn’t need to. Enough people had become loyal minions to the Ruler. Every social network served as its own built-in informer force. And if the rats didn’t call you out for offending anyone, there was a good chance that the algorithm would spot you and push you near the top of the list and you might be one of the daily seven drawn in your city that day. So it was best to keep your head down and attempt normalcy.

I drained the last of my café au lait, heard the bold deafening roar of fire and electricity being initiated for the executions, and watched the seven people shivering high on the platform above us. There were three women, two men, and two small children who couldn’t be more than twelve. In the earlier days of the death houses, the daily seven’s charges and transgressions against society would be announced along with the names. But when the last of the protesters caviled against this (and were swiftly put to death), this part of the ceremony was abandoned. This had shortened the ceremony to about twenty minutes, which really needed to be done. The longer the ceremony carried out, the more likely people were to ask questions about it. And we no longer lived in a world in which questions were part of contemporary life. The brute force of blunt declarations, whether true or false, carried us through the day.

“These are the criminals who stand against a better tomorrow,” cried the alderman. His words were accompanied by a lush and loud orchestra stationed near the death pit, but the notes they poured into the open air were drowned out by the flickers of orange and blue raging against the shelled out colonial style ruins of the death house, which stood tall and proud and obscene with the maws of its hollowed out mansards waiting to taste the fresh new seven.

The daily seven protocol had been initiated as a punitive measure in the two hundred most populous cities captured by the Amagaca Front and the government was doing its best to address the declining population count by banning contraception and forcing many of the remaining singles to hook up by force if they wouldn’t Netflix and chill by choice. Denise and I preferred to talk and play backgammon, which we did half-naked. That way, if the pleasure police ever knocked on your door, you could shift to a lecherous snog to avoid arrest.

I wasn’t especially macabre in temperament, certainly no more than anybody else, but I had always been a man of routine. Routine helped me to cope, even as I had watched my younger brother, who had been a journalist before flattery measures kicked in, get hauled away by the police and omitted from the search engine results. The last three years had been difficult for everyone and you hoped that they never called you when they rounded up the daily seven, which was always announced in a bright cheerful tone, along with the sports scores and the winning lotto numbers, on the displays that nobody could ever turn off.

I left the cafe with my battered blue rucksack and saddled up with the serried spectators craning their necks near the velvet rope, who were rubbing their hands with glee as the death house bellowed, anxiously awaiting the seven new criminals. The death house’s cacophony was often so loud that one required earplugs, which were sold by the enterprising vendors who had erected tables just outside the death house. Free trade, after all, was encouraged in any form by the Ruler. The vendors also sold T-shirts, pierogies, miniature models of the death house (a fun birthday gift for the kids), and large photos of the Ruler that could be nailed up on any blank wall that had somehow escaped the Ruler’s now ubiquitous mug.

The daily seven ritual, which had been thrust and instituted upon us so quickly that there seemed little hope of ever overturning it, was undeniably hypnotic and entertaining. It emerged, like much of the Ruler’s plans, from a crazed and instinctive sense of showmanship. It was grand mortal theatre ignited by one man’s narcissism, which quickly became addictive to everyone. The daily seven always drew a large audience. Some who worked the night shift requested time off work to attend the ceremonies. Because the daily seven was never quite the same if you watched it on your phone. It had to experienced live, when at all possible. All wondered if they might recognize one of the daily seven who had been declared evil. And you would often hear them muttering their theories about those rounded up to die:

Oh, I always had a bad feeling about him.
She never smiled at the company picnic. It was a potluck and she showed up with a bag of chips that she poured into a bowl. She had some nerve! The rest of us went to so much effort!
He kept to himself too much.
She attempted suicide. I can’t think of a more pathetic plea for attention. She wasn’t really suffering. It was all part of her plan.
I saw her looking at porn on her phone. This when her baby was fast asleep!

Etcetera, etcetera.

People were sometimes summoned if you fed a name to human resources, which had been unified across all companies and centralized by government edict. In the earlier days, you might have had a face-to-face meeting to clear up a dispute. But when the death house became a mainstay of life under the Ruler, the meetings stopped and the algorithm had a larger pool of names to draw on. The general dread of being accused and picked was why so many people no longer talked to each other aside from the unavoidable shorthand of ordering a coffee or asking a salesman for the price of a new suit. You couldn’t even haggle anymore, for free trade always favored the seller. If you were defrauded by a seller, there was no longer any recourse to sue. You still had the option buy nothing, although this was often risky, especially during the holidays. Any citizen who was not accumulating items at a reasonable regular rate to support the economy could be sent to the consumer camps, where you would either be reeducated or put to death, as determined by the state. My sister, once a prominent freegan who had been profiled in a few magazines, had been sent to a consumer camp and the walls of her billet had become a tapestry for boy band memorabilia. She now swiped her card liberally and she was never the same.

Every so often, you’d see one of the seven picks attempt an escape. And that’s when some underpaid yutz in an airport would press a button. Some people simply had no knowledge that their names had been called for the daily seven and they would often fail to show up. About six months before, I had been sitting in an auditorium, trying my best not to nod off during a work-related PowerPoint presentation delivered by a humorless woman in a gabardine blazer. Just as she advanced to her penultimate slide, coming to the peroration of her dreadful speech, we were all surprised when her head exploded just as she was set to sell us on how to raise our dynamic potential. Apparently, her words in favor of the Ruler were not enough to escape being selected by the daily seven algorithm.

None of us could entirely remember what the world had been like before, but there had been the faint sense that it was better, even though the government had destroyed all evidence of what we once documented in droves. We would often talk in Faraday rooms, but I did know of a few citizens who had been selected for the daily seven despite our precautions. The finder’s fee that came if you reported someone to the hotline and the name came up when they selected the daily seven was simply too lucrative for some people to pass up.

We were coming to the big finish of the daily seven ceremony. The orchestra became louder as the daily seven started to whimper. It was important to make sure that we could never hear their suffering, but of course you could always could. I watched one of the two kids piss his pants. Then the other kid panicked and cried and leaped off the platform without warning. I quietly hoped that he might accidentally fall into the death house. Because that was better than the alternative. But he wasn’t so lucky. He was caught by the crowd and they all clawed into him, stabbing their pitchforks into him like a turkey ready to be carved up at Thanksgiving. If the spectators didn’t have implements, they kicked into this frightened kid in the areas of his body that their augmented reality headwear had designated “Please direct physical violence without impediments here to avoid injury.” The kid’s life swiftly left him and he became nothing more than a bloody and unidentifiable pulp. The crowd roared.

“Well, that’s one for the crowd and six for the house!” cried the alderman.

The remaining daily six ambled silently along the platform, but the look in their eyes, which you could still see fifty feet below, told us that they were ready to leave this mad world, a world that we still had to live in. They fell one by one into the death house. You could hear their screams from half a block away.

I looked for one of the designated regurgitation areas and threw up. I ended up meeting a woman there who was similarly repulsed by the ceremony. We held each other and agreed to go to her billet once we heard the rosy sirens of the pleasure police looking for loners to round up.

Next: A Pot of Tea (Chapter 2)

2071 / 50000 words. 4% done!