Mender Brighton pretended to examine the dying man on the bed — he had to make a show of it. The man’s breathing was a wet gurgle and his face was covered with sores. Stage 2 Plague. Brighton could save the man, but he would not. Could not. His datapad told him as much.
Name: Sokolov, Alexander
D.O.B.: 22 June, 2053
Occupation: Laborer (Munitions Assembly Plant)
Residence: Tenement J-394
Cafeteria: Public Mess 19B
Allowance: 20 credits (monthly)
The ‘status’ field told him all he needed to know. There was a vaccination for the plague — and it was effective up to Stage 3 — but it was in short supply. A laborer simply wasn’t important enough to save. The people didn’t know this.
The official word was that there were two types of plague: Type A and Type B. Type A meant you would live with a simple shot. Type B meant there was no cure. The Menders were sent out to lend credence to the lie. Go to a home and make a show of examining the afflicted. Check vitals, consult your datapad, affect a look of sage concentration. Of course, there was only one type and, left untreated, the fatality rate was upwards of 95%.
Brighton looked up from the screen, his eyes briefly taking in the scene. The room was standard issue: four concrete walls, a single naked lightbulb hanging from a low ceiling, two beds, two folding metal chairs, a sink, a toilet, and a television inset in the wall, which was only activated for official broadcasts. The man’s wife and two daughters huddled in one corner. The younger child was already exhibiting early plague symptoms.
Brighton’s security detail stood at the foot of the bed, his head almost touching the ceiling, blocking the light from the single bulb and casting a dark shadow over the man on the bed. The guard was dressed in all black, from combat boot to helmet. He held a rifle with a bayonet fixed to it in his hands and his face was covered by a breathing mask. The plague was primarily transmitted by air, and although low ranking guards were considered expendable and would not receive a vaccination if sick, the Council was more than willing to take some provisions in order to preserve the ranks.
My guardian or my overseer? Brighton thought idly. He doubted his guard would be privy to such sensitive information though.
His charade was at an end. He shook his head and explained to the family in terms that they couldn’t understand that their husband and father was going to die. Type B, I’m afraid. Nothing I can do for him. The wife and younger girl began to cry. The older girl stared at the wall with empty eyes.
Mender Brighton, his black-clad guard stomping behind him, exited J-394 and walked down the long, grey hallway, the weak lights buzzing overhead.
Brighton paused outside of Tenement J so that he could consult the network and find the closest unassigned visitation. The sun shone down brightly, its light reflecting off the walls that loomed up on all sides. A biting wind cut between the buildings, so Brighton put his hood over his head and faced away from it, the wind pressing into his back as if to hurry him on his rounds.
Levitt, Harold, M-217. He was about to reserve Levitt, but a name further down on the list caught his eye. Franklin, Susan, Q-433. He felt his stomach drop. It couldn’t be her, could it? He hesitated for a moment before dropping his finger down to her name.
Brighton’s back was straight and his face was an impassive mask as he sat next to the bed. Susan’s eyes were closed and she moved fitfully under her fever. The guard loomed at the foot of the bed, silent and patient. Susan’s son sat on the other bed, a ragged blanket wrapped about him.
Expendable. Brighton stared at the status. He knew Susan. He hadn’t seen her in years, but they had gone to the same Education Center as children. They’d gone separate ways in grade 10 after Occupation Testing when Brighton had been transferred to the Mender’s Academy. He hadn’t seen her since.
“Is she going to die too?” the boy asked.
“Dad died a few weeks ago. They came and collected the body.”
Brighton assessed Susan. Only stage 1. “I’m not sure yet, just let me finish examining her.” He glanced up at the guard again, still standing like he was made of concrete. He looked at his datapad again. “Expendable” still stood out, black lettering against the white screen. Brighton swallowed in a too dry throat and decided.
“What’s your name?” He glanced back at the boy.
“I’ve got good news James. This is a clear case of Type A. All she needs is a little shot and she should make a full recovery.”
The boy’s mouth tugged up in a slight smile. Brighton could see the relief in his eyes.
Brighton took out one of the precious syringes, swabbed Susan’s arm, and inserted the needle.
The guard loomed at the foot of the bed, silent and patient, the single bulb behind his head casting a distorted shadow over Brighton.
The next day, Brighton was called to Councilman Todd’s office.
Brighton arrived promptly. Councilman Todd sat behind his desk, his fingers steepled in front of him, the glow from the monitor casting a blue pallor over his face.
Todd gestured to the seat across from him. “Sit, please, Brighton.”
Brighton sat. Todd stared.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Brighton thought he knew, but shook his head. “No.”
Todd frowned and turned his monitor around. He played a video for Brighton. It showed everything from Susan’s room the day before from the guard’s perspective. Of course they have cameras in their helmets. Why wouldn’t they?
“I knew your father, Brighton. He was a friend. That’s why I helped him when he had a third child. I shuffled some data around, signed the right forms, all so you could live. And this, this is how you repay me? Dispensing vaccinations to unauthorized civilians?” Brighton swallowed and cast his eyes down to his lap. “Don’t know what to say?”
“It- it won’t happen again.”
“It had better not. I’m willing to overlook this once, just once, for the sake of your father.” Todd leaned back in his chair and assessed Brighton. “Let me show you something.”
He led Brighton across a bridge that spanned between the Council Halls and the Network Ministry Office, and then to a door deep within. There was a keypad outside of it. Brighton waited as Todd slid a card and punched in a code, and then they entered.
The room was quite small, just a mainframe and three terminals, the screens flickering in the cold darkness.
“See this room, Brighton? Within this room reside the files of every civilian in the Republic. This room says who lives and who dies, not you.”
He entered a name into one of the terminals. Brighton, Gordon. Status: Non-Expendable.
“Three letters, Brighton, just three letters. Have I illustrated my point?”
“I understand completely.”
It was a few weeks later. Brighton had returned to his rounds, allowing more to die than he saved. Then he saw a name on the network. Franklin, James, Q-433. He paused, the wind pressing at his back. His finger dropped down on the name.
Brighton inserted the needle as Susan watched with relief and as the guard watched in silence from the foot of the bed. He stood and smiled at Susan. There were tears in her eyes. He opened his arms and she stepped into them. He slipped a piece of paper into her pocket.
Mender Brighton, his black-clad guard stomping behind him, exited Q-433 and walked down the long, grey hallway, the weak lights buzzing overhead.
It’s amazing what a letter in the right pocket and a whisper in the right ears can accomplish.
Councilman Todd stood in his office surveying the chaotic square beneath him. The crowd was too large and too determined. Just as there weren’t enough vaccinations to save everyone, there weren’t enough bullets to kill them all. The buildings around the square were on fire, and the smoke blocked out the sun.
Todd turned back to his monitor. Brighton, Gordon. Status: Deceased.
He hurled the monitor against the wall. He sat down at his desk and steepled his fingers. His guard stood silent and patient, rifle in hand. The guard’s shadow, cast by the raging fires outside the window, stretched long and dark across the Councilman.
This was a writing exercise from Terribleminds, Chuck Wendig’s blog. The challenge was to take a fairy tale, in this case the Brothers Grimm tale Godfather Death, and rewrite/reinvent it using a subgenre. I rolled the Dystopian subgenre. It was supposed to be 1000 words, but I had enough difficulty keeping it below 2000.