J. L. THURSTON
COPYRIGHT 2017 J. L. THURSTON
P E R F E C T I O N A W A I T S
A Person shall never disobey a Rule without receiving punishment by the Surveyors.
A Person shall meet Expectations set out for them by their: teachers, parents, supervisors, and Surveyors.
A Person is subject to surveillance at all times, for the safety of the Population.
A Person shall obey the Rules of the Cards.
A Person shall not cause another Person harm or grief and must be considerate of all others in the Population.
A Person is subject to Elimination the moment they become Useless or Wasteful, or display a Negative Trait.
For questions or help with understanding the Rules, lost Cards, or reporting Rule-breaking, please call Perfection Helpline by pressing the blue button on your phone.
-A Person must be at the age of 16 to apply, following a written and driving test.
-Allows a Person to receive a car.
-Allows a Person to apply for a Time Card at any facility.
-Unlocks Person’s car and allows for car battery charging away from home.
-Only applicable to a Person with a Car Card.
-For a job: Received after passing written test at chosen facility.
-For a Career: Received after graduating college from designated facility.
-Tracks predetermined time required for House Card applicability.
-A Person must be in ownership of a Time Card after graduating high school and will be given one after college or that Person is subject to Elimination for Uselessness.
-Received after a Person has passed the written test and placed into a college.
-Grants full access to all facilities and needs in college grounds including meals, books, rooming, personal needs, and medical needs.
-Received after achieving allotted time on Time Card.
-A Person must simply select a vacant house and enter their new House Card into the slot with their thumb print.
-Unlocks the house once the door has been shut.
-Can be applied for when two People consent to be married after taking marriage classes and passing the written test.
-A Marriage Card can only be applied for once.
-Can be applied for after a married couple has held their Marriage Card for five years.
-Must pass the parenting classes and the written test.
-A married couple is allowed two living children.
-A Person must have a House Card to apply.
-A Person must accumulate a maximum of 32 hours on their Time Card per week to apply.
-A Pet Card holder is subject to monthly inspection.
-Any harm, whether intentional or unintentional, to a pet can result in Elimination of the Pet Card holder.
-Any situation in which a Pet Card holder may foresee a potentially unpleasant event, that Person should inform the Survey Helpline immediately to avoid Elimination.
-The Surveyors may revoke a Pet Card at any time for any reason.
“Pleasant morning, Calvin Jones. It is six o’clock., temperatures expected to reach twenty-one degrees Celsius by noon, with a forty percent chance of rain after three. Today you are expected to be at your job at eight, and you have a personal date set on your calendar for six p.m. Perfection awaits.”
Calvin groaned only a little as he hoisted himself out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom. As he moved, the motion detectors activated and the curtains to his bedroom windows slid open. Dewy morning sunshine barraged the gloom and momentarily blinded him. His bathroom light flicked on. He avoided his reflection in the mirror this early. The toothpaste dispenser blobbed too much goo onto his brush yet again but he didn’t mind. In the automatic world of dispensaries and measurements, life was all but bare of excess and he found his abundance of toothpaste somewhat fascinating.
After quite thoroughly brushing his teeth he shaved in the shower then hopped out and ran mousse through his hair. He sang tunelessly as he played with different hair styles. The pleasant feminine voice of his house asked him if he would like music from his radio.
“Is my singing that bad? Should I whistle?”
The house did not respond but it did not ask if he wanted the radio again. He continued to spike his hair, trying to get it the way a new pop singer wore it. Oddly, he looked similar to the celebrity with his hair swooped that way and found he enjoyed the boyish charm the style gave him. However, he made sure to flatten his locks out again before he left the bathroom.
Downstairs, Calvin stood on his scale and squinted his eyes. He exhaled as much as he could as though that would help. His house spoke in a determinate voice, “89 kilograms, Calvin Jones.” He puffed a sigh and his kitchen door slid open. He hurried in as though the house would change its mind and shut him out. One more kilo and he’d be locked out again. For his height and age, he was pushing the boundaries of his weight. And with his mother’s birthday party that evening he knew the boundaries would be exceeded yet again. He decided to fry an egg white for breakfast and sip black coffee.
Feeling appallingly unsatisfied, Calvin grabbed his wallet and left the house. All was cool, sunny, and quiet outside. The children had recently left for school and their parents- for the most part- had left for work. Of all his neighbors, Calvin was the last to walk out his door. Still, he did not rush to the car. He stood on his walkway and looked around, stretching in the sunshine. The block, as with all blocks in Perfection, was full of identical houses in neat rows with orderly streets lacking curves. It was so pristine is was borderline austere. But if he really paid attention he could See. That’s what she called it. A word with a capital letter because it was important to her.
At first, he only saw what everyone saw; the same white houses, same green lawns, same black mail boxes, same distant white wall surrounding Perfection. Everyone always had the same of everything because that was fair. But she had shown him the secret. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then opened his eyes again, and suddenly the world was changed. He noticed the chipped paint on the siding two houses down revealing old blue paint beneath. A sparrow had built a nest under his roof on the east side and a cascade of poo down the wall was growing to the point of abhorrence. He gave the unsightly filth a polite nod and took his Car Card out of his wallet. The silver paint of his car distorted his reflection as he slid the Card in the slot and simultaneously pressed his thumb on the thumb reader. The Card lit up green and he removed it so the door could lift open. He threw himself in and pulled the door shut behind him.
All cars had a man’s voice that was high and upbeat. “Good morning, Calvin. Shall we go to your job today?”
He refrained from moaning out an ‘I guess…’ and simply responded, “Yes, please.”
The car reversed out of the drive and he watched out the wide rectangular window as it took him out of his residential area and into downtown. Some mornings he dozed in the car, sometimes he sang along to the radio, but this morning his head was swimming with thoughts of her. He rode by the place they watched Them demolish that old building. That was the day they saw over the wall… Calvin shook the thought from his head as the car pulled into the parking deck of his job. He couldn’t stop the sigh that escaped him. He had been working for Perfection Analysis for nearly twenty years.
His car parked and he exited, making sure he had his wallet secure before jogging to the elevator to make it to the Time Card reader before eight. At this point of his life it wasn’t about accumulating hours anymore- having earned his House Card nine years ago- it was about proving he was Useful. Punctuality, accountability, competency, and respectability were the key behaviors he had to maintain to keep his Time Card. After almost twenty years, those things that were once taught so adamantly to him now came second nature.
Calvin had taken this job in high school as soon as he had earned his Car Card. He had a mind for computers and was something of a likable young man. He felt that being a computer analyst would be a fun way to work until getting into college. Little did he know that he would never pass the college test. So, for twenty years, Calvin spent a half hour working and then seven hours trying to keep his mind busy while looking busy for his boss so he didn’t spiral into total madness. Although he had gotten very good at his job, with no education further than high school he had no chance of advancement. He was utterly stuck. Forever. Until the day he would be deemed Useless and Eliminated, that is. He was barely able to prove his Usefulness as it was, being so horribly stuck, but he tried not to think about that.
After work, he went home and spent time in the spare room upstairs. Not having married, he had decided to make the extra room across the hall a private gym. Over time he was increasingly glad he had done so especially since he had found his love of food would never go away and working out was probably the only way his house would ever continue to let him into the kitchen.
But today, like nearly every day, he pushed hard. He ran on the treadmill with his eyes shut, dreaming of worlds only described to him by a girl They had taken away for her amazing mind. He lifted and pressed heavier weights than he should so that if They were watching They would think those were not tears but only sweat.
And then he showered. Exercise always granted him an extra shower during the day. He could just stand under the water until it shut off. Twenty minutes. It was cooler water than he would have liked but it was rejuvenating. And when he was done he felt better. He could make it through the rest of the day.
Calvin’s closet was organized, as it should be. There were seven work outfits on the left, seven dress outfits on the right, and seven recreational outfits in the dresser. All were appropriate for the increasingly warm weather of summer. His mother’s favorite color was blue so he donned his blue button-up shirt and tucked it into a pair of black pleated pants. He attempted to swoosh his hair the way he did for fun in the morning but it wouldn’t stay so he flattened it again. On a last-minute thought, he had his car stop by the closest open market and he grabbed a bottle of sparkling apple juice. The sky was turning orange as his car pulled up and parked on the road across from his parents’ house. He counted the other cars. He was the last to arrive, it seemed. No surprise there.
He approached the front door and the proximity light illuminated the front step. “Good evening, Calvin Jones,” the house greeted in an identical feminine voice as every other house in Perfection.
The front door opened before Calvin could even knock. An older man, late fifties, stood grinning in the doorway. He wore a white pinstripe button-up with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He had a slender build and surprisingly had retained some of the black color in his thick hair, bearing the ever so coveted salt-and-pepper look. His blue eyes matched Calvin’s in every way except they twinkled with a liveliness of a man half his age.
“Hi, Dad,” Calvin greeted with a meek wave.
Phil Jones wrapped Calvin in his arms in a bear hug, obviously forgetting his son was indeed thirty-five and not eleven. It was hard for the doctor to see his oldest son as anything but a lost child needing a hug and they had grown accustomed to greeting each other this way.
“Your mother is in the kitchen ignoring everyone’s offers to help,” he informed, sweeping a thin arm inside, gesturing Calvin to enter.
Beyond the entryway, there was strumming instrumental music playing from the stereo in the living room where several of the youngest members of the family played dance-around-duckie and hop-hop. Calvin and Phil had to swim through the sea of family to find the kitchen. All around were shouts of “Cal!” and “Hey, man!” from relatives he had formed some sort of banter with over the years of forced interactions.
He ruffled his nephew’s hair as he walked by and allowed his own uncle to repay him in kind. In the dining room, his brother, Andrew, was fighting to maintain his balance as he stood with one foot propped up on the table while he told a very animated story. Always the life of the party, he held the attention of the room and Calvin and Phil passed through like ghosts to the kitchen door. The lock on the door was blue, allowing full access to the kitchen for the party. Calvin resisted the urge to pat his belly in anticipation of regret. His kitchen was definitely going to lock him out tomorrow. He will be well past 90 kilos after an evening of his family’s food.
Inside the kitchen, the atmosphere was strikingly colder as women cloistered around and spoke in hushed tones. The jovial grin trailed from Phil’s face. Calvin’s older cousin, Emily, was slouching in a chair and the other women were surrounding her. Her eyes were puffy and red, and her cheeks were glistening with tears. The other women, including Calvin’s mother, bore shocked expressions and some were wiping away their own tears.
Phil went to his wife’s side immediately and rubbed her shoulders. The action seemed to snap her out of her shock and she turned her eyes to him balefully.
“Judy, what’s wrong?” he asked softly.
She gave her head a small shake, took his hand in hers and kissed it in an act of dismissal. She was too broken up to say. Calvin stood awkwardly in the kitchen doorway, still clutching the perspiring bottle of sparkling apple juice. He was almost relieved when his aunt, Emily’s mother, broke the heavy silence.
“Rhonda,” Aunt Milly began, her thin lips pursed so tight they barely let out any sound. “Did not show up for school this morning.”
Calvin’s stomach knotted. He looked to his father, as he always did when he wanted to believe something wasn’t true. Childish, he knew, but he always felt that if anyone could make something untrue it was his doctor father. He could turn the tables for people about to be labeled Useless and Eliminated. He could do almost anything.
“Her boyfriend didn’t either!” Emily burst out, sobbing. A dozen hands reached out to her, rubbing her shoulders, smoothing her hair, tissues were passed out. Soft comments were made. But nothing could be said that would do any good. It was after six in the evening and Rhonda hadn’t yet been seen. She left for school and never arrived. Same as her boyfriend. The answer really was clear. Calvin stared at the floor. His sixteen-year-old second cousin had been Eliminated. Her offense was likely acting outside of receiving the Marriage Card. Rhonda and her boyfriend had probably accidentally gotten pregnant. That broke multiple layers of Card Rules which resulted in Elimination for all parties involved. It was too bad, Rhonda was a top student and had surpassed Expectations of many of her teachers. Her future had been bright. Until this morning.
Calvin felt ill. He couldn’t help but think of… her. The heavy glass in his hands had grown so slippery and his grip had loosened. It fell to the floor in a hard clank with the bottom half cracking off and golden apple juice splashed across the white kitchen floor.
Everyone jumped. The noise and the mess seemed to break the spell of mourning the women had been in. All at once there was action everywhere. Chairs were vacated, towels were grabbed, the broom was located, Calvin was shooed away.
Judy approached her son and hugged him gently. “Thanks for coming, Calvin,” she said.
“Happy birthday, Mom,” he answered, patting her back. No more would be said about Rhonda. Ever. Calvin knew that by the time Emily and her husband and their younger daughter got home from the party the Elimination Squad would have cleared their home of anything that had belonged to Rhonda. Even photographs of her would be gone. She would be completely and expeditiously Eliminated for her crime.
Phil received a phone call so Judy and Calvin stepped out of the noisy kitchen with him and joined the story telling in the dining room. Calvin migrated to the table and took a plate and began to fill it with finger foods. His stomach grumbled in anticipation, his brain grumbled in anxiety. After three mini eclairs, four cream cheese cracker sandwiches, and six pickle roll-ups he washed down two chocolate chip cookies with a glass of ice cold milk and sat happily ignoring his own regret and listening to his brother making the room laugh.
“There I was sleeping under my shrubs,” Andrew was saying. “In the suit I had worn on Friday for work, smelling like garbage-”
“What did you eat for two days?” cousin Pat asked, brows lowered. As always, he doubted the truthfulness of Andrew’s stories.
Andrew spread his arms wide as though calling ‘safe’ for a baseball game. “Nothing, Pat. Two days without my wallet, how could I? All my Cards were in there. My House Card, so I couldn’t get in the kitchen for sure. I couldn’t get in my car to drive anywhere without my Car Card.”
Pat rolled his eyes while everyone chuckled. “Why didn’t you just call the Helpline?”
“Or walk to the store to get food?” chimed little Rose, making everyone laugh at the ease of which she had found the solution to his problem.
Andrew laughed at himself and ran his hand through his thick black hair. He was slender, like his father, and carried an easy charm that had made him irresistible, even when making a fool of himself. Calvin shoved a third cookie in his mouth.
“I was twenty!” was Andrew’s explanation, causing even more laughter. “All the stores are downtown, miles away and I had only ever been ridden there before. I didn’t know anyone who had to call the Helpline. I honestly thought I’d be Eliminated for losing my wallet!”
More laughter. Calvin joined Pat in rolling his eyes, but for different reasons. Phil’s phone rang again and he answered it as he walked out. Just for an excuse to leave, Calvin followed him.
Phil walked into the vacant entryway. Calvin stayed in the living room. Aunt Milly was there with a small gathering of relatives chatting quietly. Calvin hovered in the doorway and listened in on his father’s call.
“Oh, Hi, Chuck,” he was saying. “Coral Williams? Yes, she’s been a patient of mine for years. Extremely healthy for an eighty-year-old. Just had an article written about her in the paper, you know. The Surveyors were very proud of how a Person like her can maintain her Usefulness so late in age. It’s outstanding, it’s-” He stiffened, then his shoulders bowed. Calvin nearly stepped into the entryway but stopped himself. His father’s free hand found its way to his waist and he straightened up. Calvin always called that his father’s doctor-stance. It was what he did when he had to shut off his personal connection to his patients. It meant bad news. “Okay, Chuck. Thank you for calling. No, it’s alright, I’ll call Them. I’m her primary physician, it should be me. Give her ten of roxanol until They get there. She won’t even be awake for it. Alright. Bye-bye.”
Phil hung up the phone and slid it into his back pocket, took a very solid breath and said, “Eavesdropping, Cal?”
“Coral tripped over her front step checking her mail this afternoon.”
There was a long silence. Calvin had never met Coral. He knew of her. Her two grandchildren were in Judy’s child care facility and Coral had been Phil’s patient for a long time. She was very healthy. Most people aren’t Useful for as long as she was. But her Career wasn’t physically demanding and she had maintained physical strength. The only pills she took were vitamins and she had never been hospitalized.
“She fractured her femur.”
Phil’s hand took his phone out of his pocket again. It seemed to be heavier, now. His fingers dialed a singer number and when They answered all he said was, “This is Doctor Jones. Coral Williams fractured her femur today. She is at Perfection Emergency, in bed four.” He hung up, replaced the phone in his pocket and said, “Don’t say anything to your mother tonight, Cal. Not on her birthday. She knew Coral.”
They returned to the party and a cake was produced. A song was song, loudly by Andrew, and everyone cheered as Judy blew out all her candles. She laughed and they cut off little pieces. Aunt Milly sat at the piano and began tapping out the cheesy sing-along songs they had always loved since they were girls. Someone accidentally popped a balloon right at the very end of a song, making everyone jump and Andrew threw in a girly shriek.
Before the end of the night, arrangements were made for next month. It was going to be Rose’s birthday and with the weather warm her mother requested a day at the park. Fishing, the gazebo, a place for the younger ones to play. They set the day and time and called it a plan. The more distant relatives said farewell and departed while Andrew and Calvin remained to clean up. Judy was instructed, quite strictly, to remain on the couch with her feet up. She laughed as the boys struggled to tidy properly. Andrew’s beautiful wife, Marie, rocked in the chair with their newborn son sleeping in her arms. Their older son was staying the night upstairs in the guest room. Marie murmured a lullaby to the baby and Andrew would make sure to plant a kiss on her every time he passed by.
“Calvin, you’re staring,” Phil whispered in Calvin’s ear.
Reddening from neck to forehead, Calvin turned and continued to wipe the surfaces with the dust rag.
“Regret not having any?” Phil added casually.
It wasn’t the first time he had asked but Calvin managed not to lose patience. “Well, it’s complicated, Dad. I just never found the right woman.”
Phil clapped his shoulder and gave it a tiny shake. “You’re still young! You may find her, yet.”
Calvin turned his face away before he could witness the sick look on his mother’s face every time his father spoke of those things. Calvin knew that he was a dead branch in the family tree. His job was a dead end and he would never have a Marriage Card and therefore no Family Card. Calvin only knew one other Person who had made it to his thirties without a Marriage Card and he ended up going off to work at HQ, the Surveyor building, and was never seen again. It was the most important of all Careers and though it was a highest honor, it came with the heaviest price; never being seen again. But, who knows, HQ is so massive it is like its own city inside the city. Maybe that guy met someone there, after all.
But for Calvin things looked bleak. He didn’t know if living his life as a bachelor made him Useless. He knew it certainly pushed the boundary of a Negative Trait. He also knew that working a dead-end job was flirting with Uselessness, but he was powerless against it. He was powerless against practically everything in his life. He had no choice but to follow the path of his life and try not to let it crush him.
He rode home that night feeling very crushed, indeed.
When he walked into his front door he stopped in his entryway and stared at the large plaque on his wall. In every home, in the same location in the entryway- since all homes were identical- the Rules were inscribed. Though they were burned into Calvin’s mind, he found himself studying them more and more as he got older. Was he breaking a Rule with his loner lifestyle?
He scratched his head. Well, if he was a loner it was Their fault. He knew he’d be happy if They hadn’t interfered. But she had made Them. She dared Them. She all but begged Them.
Calvin put his wallet in the bowl on his little table in the entryway. He took off his shoes and kicked them under the table. His clothes were put in the hamper and he dressed down to his boxers. On the wall by his clock was his silent calendar. His meeting tomorrow was at eight and he should be home by noon. Career people rarely ever had to work weekends, but he was a job Person. He worked or had meetings every weekend.
On his nightstand was a single object. His camera. It was very old. He knew he could never get a new one without exchanging his old one, but he could never ever give up his old one. He got himself in bed, under the covers, and turned the camera on. There were one-hundred and eight pictures of her on the camera’s memory card. He had never attempted to print them so They weren’t aware of the photos. So, when she was Eliminated, They didn’t take the camera from him. As long as he never printed the photos or uploaded them anywhere, he could keep them. They were his little secret from Them. It would have made her very proud.
He went through each picture slowly, though he had them all memorized. He made sure to remember the smell of the grass that day. The way the cool spring wind was blowing. How her jacket was too thin so he gave his to her and it was too big but she hugged it tight. She had a single little braid on one side of her head. Hidden in her locks like a secret.
“Why do you like me?” he asked her one day while they hung out after school.
She laughed. “It isn’t for your confidence, I’ll tell you that.”
“No, seriously,” he pushed. “You’re way smarter than me. What do you like about me?”
She pointed her finger at him. “That right there. You’re not smart, but you’re smart enough to admit that you aren’t and can recognize someone who is.”
Then she laughed and held his hand and he was breathless for a little while.
Calvin wiped a tear from his eye under the blankets and came to the last picture of her. He had taken it on their last day together. Her last day ever. They had hurried out of school to see the old canning factory be demolished. For miles, the streets were packed tight with onlookers so she pulled him away and they climbed up a stairwell of a mall. It was definitely not allowed but they were too excited to be over-cautious. They went all the way up to the roof. The view was incredible. They stood in such awe that they nearly jumped out of their skins when they heard a sharp, “Hey!” from right next to them.
Two older teens were standing in red vests and name tags on the roof looking out at the demolition crew in the near distance. They were pale faced with big eyes. The four of them were frozen in uncertainty. It was Angeline who broke the silence. “We won’t tell if you won’t.”
And they left each other alone.
Up that high, they could see all the way over the wall. Perfection stretched out for miles, but it wasn’t endless. All the blue houses (they hadn’t been painted white until four years after that) surrounded the central downtown buildings in all directions and surrounding that was the very tall and thick protective wall. It was unknown what was outside the wall but from what Calvin could see from the top of that roof could only be described as… messy. Perfection was clean and the roads were measured and the houses were identical and the buildings were always in tip-top shape or they were destroyed and redone. Outside the wall there was dirt. Dark, ugly dirt and something crooked that went all over. Like tree branches but lots and lots of them and they never ended but they had no leaves or trunks. Or maybe they did and Calvin just couldn’t see them from his point of view. It confused him, but he didn’t mind.
He and Angeline stared over the wall for so long they almost missed the demolition. They jumped and clutched each other when the explosion sounded and the sonic boom thundered through their bodies. They spun around and saw the wide factory collapse in on itself and crumble into dust. The crowds in the streets cheered madly, jumping and clapping and screaming with pleasure.
Calvin stared. The dust settled and there was a vision of utter chaos in a heap. A pile of ugliness in a city of control. And the people cheered for it. It felt good, fun, it felt… He searched within himself, knowing that this was important somehow but failed to come up with the correct word.
Angeline knew it. She understood. But what she didn’t understand was that she should not have said it. They can always hear. She had turned to Calvin, that wicked intelligence gleaming in her eyes, and she said, “Now if only they’d do that to HQ.”
The next day was the day they were supposed to take their college tests. But Angeline did not show up for school and Calvin worried. Everyone knew, but he refused to believe. When it came time to take the test he failed it horribly. When he never saw her again he had to admit that she was gone. She had broken an unwritten rule. She had spoken against the Surveyors. They were the ones who were in control. They made the Rules.
Angeline was all Calvin had ever cared about in high school and ever since. She was the one he would have asked to apply for a Marriage Card with. Even if he was too dumb to get a College Card and get a Career, he would have been happy to have the same old Time Card at his analyst job if it meant coming home to her every day.
Calvin did not sleep well. His stomach hurt and it had very little to do with the three cookies and the cake. His dreams were full of Angeline and of the lovely tangled branches outside of the wall. He woke often and wondered if he was sick. But not physically sick, and it was a thought that terrified him. Mind sickness was cause for Elimination, as it made a Person Useless. But he couldn’t help but wonder at the notion. Only a sick man would wonder about the chaos he had witnessed, not with disgust, but with fondness. For a while he had told himself the fondness he felt for destruction came from memories of Angeline. But he knew better. He remembered that day very well. Before she was gone, Calvin had looked over the wall and he had liked the mess beyond. He had looked down at the crumbed building and he liked it. He really liked it. He wished he had a photograph of that, as well.
When Calvin’s eyes opened in the morning he felt more or less confused. He had been awaiting the sound of his alarm to pull him from his tormenting thoughts. He finally propped himself up on his elbow and peered over at his clock. With a jolt, he realized it was seven o’clock. A full hour after his alarm should have gone off. His silent calendar was blank, as well. Had the meeting been cancelled? No, surely not. He’d worked there nearly twenty years and they’d never been canceled before.
He got out of bed and walked over to the clock, completely bemused. He tapped it a few times. Nothing happened. Gulping, he went into the bathroom and found that the toilet would not flush. His toothpaste dispenser did not activate, and he couldn’t get a drop to come out of his shower faucet.
His heart began to race and his blood ran cold. He forced his breathing to remain calm as he marched downstairs in his boxers. It was only a home malfunction. Surely. A circuit issue, or some such. Probably the whole grid was having issues. He walked by his kitchen and noticed the scale was not lit. He froze. Not that he was thinking of breakfast at a time like this, but the scale light was always on. He stood on it. Nothing. He pushed the open button on the kitchen door, it remained locked. He went into the living room. The television and radio were powerless. None of his lights turned on. The home was behaving as though it were vacant.
Now his hands were shaking. He picked up his wallet and went outside. A good handful of his neighbors, all dressed in their weekend recreational clothes, were outdoors. Some were mowing their lawns, some were playing with their kids. Many of them stared at the half-dressed Calvin with tussled hair and face stubble as he jogged to his car and stuck in the Car Card. The Card did not illuminate. He took it out, made sure his thumb was properly positioned in the thumb press and slid it into the slot again. Nothing.
He tried another ten or eleven times in quick succession.
Sheer panic took him. His house didn’t work. His Cards didn’t work. This went beyond reporting a malfunction to the Helpline. He was about to be Eliminated.
“Why? Why?” he begged out loud, racing back inside. Luckily, he had not shut his door behind him and he was not locked out in naught but his boxers. The only thing he could think of was the camera. He ran upstairs to his bedroom and took the camera from his bedside table. Had someone discovered his photos? It was possible. He turned the camera on. There she was, smiling at him with pink lip gloss and a pencil forgotten behind her ear. He had to do it. He held his breath.
Menu. Select all. Delete. Delete all? Continue.
Then they were gone. The memory card was empty. The camera was now only a useless old item he had once cherished. He let it drop to the floor. He sank down and his face fell into his hands. Sobs shook his body until his eyes ran dry. It seemed that every tear that fell contained a memory of her. He was going to lose her completely now. All that would be left of her would be the pain he felt from her absence.
That was where they found him that morning. They were silent. He jumped when he heard his name spoken and it wasn’t the soft feminine tones of his house. A rough man’s voice commanded he answer him when he spoke, “Calvin Jones.”
Calvin looked up, his head aching from crying. “Y- yes.”
There was a dull bang, something very sharp and painful hit him in the side and the world turned black.
When Calvin awoke, he was in pain. The room he was in was too bright and he was nauseous. He was lying down on a firm, narrow bed. He rolled over, spied a bucket, and grappled it just in time to vomit. He let it slide back to the floor and he caught his breath. Oddly, he felt more collected after that. His body shook uncontrollably, but his nausea was gone. He was able to sit up and look around. He was in a clean, white room. His bed had dark green covers. It was built right into the wall. There was a high window revealing blue sky above. A vase with yellow flowers was placed in the window. They brought a delicate fragrance into the room now overpowered by the smell of Calvin’s sick.
There was a radio, turned off, next to the vase. In the center of the room was a round table with a very comfortable looking computer chair, like the kind he’d have at work. At the table was a stack of papers and a cup full of pens. The room had an adjacent bathroom complete with a very small shower. There was a kitchenette with refreshments. Calvin snagged a bottle of water and drank it so fast it barely wet his lips.
He was dressed now, he realized. He was in a white cotton shirt and gray cotton pants. He lifted the shirt and saw two purple bruises around punctures in his side. He had been attacked. Then he remembered. He had been in his room, he had looked up to see five or six men dressed all in black and one of them had shot him with something. The Elimination Squad. They were frightening.
So, was this Elimination? Calvin was still shaking but now he was growing cold with fear. What was to become of him? Is this what happened to all who were Eliminated? If so, it wasn’t all that bad, really. Strange, to be sure, but it wasn’t what most people thought. Calvin always thought that the Elimination Squad just killed people. He didn’t know how, no one knows how anyone dies, aside from certain accidents, but they never are seen again after they get Eliminated. Was Angeline in a room just like this one? Could she be nearby?
Calvin knew deep down that he was wrong. This wasn’t Elimination. This was different. He walked to the table, slowly so that his shaking muscles didn’t collapse, and sat in the chair. The papers at the desk were, surprisingly, a test. The form was similar to the written test given to high schoolers to see if they were smart enough to go to college. Calvin snorted. He wasn’t smart enough fresh out of high school, he definitely wouldn’t be smart enough seventeen years later. What was going on?
But seeing as how there was nothing else that he was supposed to do, Calvin perused the test. He started to answer a few of the questions that he knew. There were a few reading sections that caught his interest and he completed those. When he grew bored he quit and got a snack or stretched out and took a nap. His shaking stopped after a while. The sky outside darkened and lights came on in his room. He took a shower and went to bed after a long while. He slept dreamlessly, still sore from his attack. When he awoke, his refreshments had been refilled and he ate. He found a clean change of clothes in the bathroom.
When he had dressed, he sat down once more and found himself more interested in the test. He began to notice a common theme with the questions. They centralized around HQ, Surveyors, Elimination Squad, Rules, and the layout of Perfection. There were other questions and factoids and learning opportunities, but they were about things Calvin had never heard of. There were things called tasers- which he assumed was used on him after reading about the physical effects- and guns. There were injections given to make a Person sleep, body disposal, underground transportation. He began to realize that he was being told secrets of Elimination operations through this test. They travelled in tunnels underground on things called trains. They have unlimited access to all homes and buildings. They live in HQ and have Tellers who dispatch them when they need to Eliminate someone. They are the arm of the Surveyors. Calvin was reading about Them as well, with utter fascination. Very little was known about the Surveyors. From what he gleaned from the test They, too, lived in HQ, but They never left the building. They watched and listened remotely through surveillance and only had close relationships to members of the Elimination Squad. They valued control for the sake of peace and safety for the Population.
When Calvin finished the test, he sat numbly in his seat, his mind whirling. He flinched when a slot in the door opened. He ran over to it and tried to see through but there was only whiteness. He waited a moment and then realized what was needed. He grabbed the test and quickly stuck it through the slot. It fit perfectly and then the slot shut. All was quiet.
When he took the college test years back it had taken three days to process. At that point in his life he had been so broken up over Angeline he couldn’t care less. Now he hoped that he didn’t have to wait three days to find out his fate. He didn’t know what that test was for, what it could mean, who was giving it to him, and why he was being trusted with secret information about the inner workings of the Survey, but he had no choice what to do.
So, he paced, and he waited. He listened to the radio. He thought about his parents and if they believed he had been Eliminated and for what reason. He wondered that himself. It was possibly for his camera. Or for having a Negative Trait. He knew that even though he was a model employee he could technically be considered Useless as he was stuck and not really doing anyone any good.
He shook his head. It would do him no good to sit in this room and fret. He had to just wait and see what happened.
He did not have to wait long.
Before the sun set, a voice sounded into the room. It was a voice like the feminine one that all the houses had except this one was male. It was still soft, somewhat elderly, and had kindness in it.
“Calvin Jones,” the voice said. Calvin stood from where he had been curled up in the bed. His head swiveled around to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. But there was nothing to see. “I am a Surveyor. You have been found Guilty of displaying a Negative Trait. You are recluse in your personal life and stuck in your professional life. This will not do. You have limited success in your life and will not be missed if removed from it.”
All Calvin could feel was cold agreement.
“The test you have taken is only given to few people. We need special people who can help us keep Perfection. Only a special Person can pass this test, but the test never really ends, Calvin. You have passed the written test to be placed in the Elimination Squad. You are physically fit, large compared to the general population, apt to following orders, and have no real attachments to other people. You are an ideal candidate. Will you accept this Career opportunity until the day you become Useless and are Eliminated?”
Calvin had gone from cold and weak, to hot and shaky. He sat on the bed and put his head between his knees. He forced his breathing to be calm. He was thirty-five. Elimination Squad members had to hunt and take down people in the Population. Sometimes people ran. Sometimes they are strong and healthy. Sometimes kids had to be Eliminated. It could be physically and emotionally taxing. Operations had to be done quietly and quickly. Calvin could have another twenty strong years in him if he took care of himself.
He thought of Angeline. A tear ran down his cheek. “I accept.”
The Surveyor was tired, but no one would know that. It was impossible to tell when They were tired until They asked to be Eliminated. They worked hard, They were vigilant. This Surveyor could work for a very long time before growing tired because His Career was more or less easy. He didn’t have to do much and He had a lot of free time to enjoy Himself. He knew almost everyone who lived in HQ and had many friends. The community was lovely and He had so many good times to reflect on while He was in the Dungeon.
The Dungeon was where He worked. He spent little time there. Maybe a few hours a day, sometimes only a few days a week. He lit the furnace, got it going nice and hot, and then He’d put the bodies in. Once they were incinerated He’d remove the ashes and the bones that don’t burn and bag them up in cotton bags. The bags go in the carts, the carts go in the train, and the Elimination Squad takes turns running the burned bodies outside of Perfection to the Dumping Grounds. Easy work, most days.
Some days were hard, and that made the Surveyor feel tired. This day was a hard day because a friend was lying on the slab, ready to be burned. He normally didn’t feel sad when a friend was Useless and had to go. Humans never really lasted long and needed constant Elimination. But this human was nice, so it seemed. He was brought in to the Elimination Squad later in his life. Thirty-five. He did exceedingly well. He had passion for the job, They had thought. He climbed the ranks fast. He wanted to impress the Surveyors, and he did. He got close to Them all. He learned things he should not have learned. He did things he should not have done. He was using the train. Suspicion for freeing those he was supposed to be Eliminating. High Treason. Unheard of.
No, what really had this Surveyor upset was the crime that got him caught and Eliminated. All those bombs planted throughout HQ. Word had it They were still finding them. Calvin Jones was going to demolish the place. All of HQ and the wall around Perfection. The plan must have taken him all of twenty years to attempt it.
In Perfection, a Person is never poor, or rich, or faced with tough decisions. All of the Population is given equal housing and opportunities. A Person can be what the Surveyors believe is best for them to be, within the Rules. Most of the time, a Person is happy. But Calvin Jones has become stuck. He failed to go to college, failed to apply for a Marriage Card, and therefore has limited success in his life. He can't help but wish that They hadn't Eliminated her for saying what she had said. He knows he would have lived a successful life if he could have lived it with her. But in Perfection a Person has no choice, no freedom, and no way out.