The Difficult Question

Story #3: The Fixers Series

“What are you doing in here?”

I perk up at the sound of the voice. I don’t recognize it, but I assume it must be a doctor or nurse assigned to June, the woman I’ve come back in time to… right a wrong for. I’m still dazed from the Time Mover, and I’ve decided my best bet for now is to steal the chip technology before it can be implanted in her. Without it, there will be no reason to make her cyborg either; she’ll be considered useless and let alone. She probably won’t survive the injuries otherwise, but I’m trying not to think about that part. June asked me for a favor, she asked me not to let them turn her into a machine; a false version of herself. I don’t know where my moral compass aims on chip technology, but I know when I saw the sparks fly from her tearing eyes, I owed her something.

I spin around and face a plump middle-aged woman in scrubs. She’s holding a syringe and staring at me dubiously. A fixer should never be seen. We never go so far back that physicians would not be aware of us and our intents – but it’s still best to avoid the conversation. The fewer details divulged, the less harm done to the collective consciousness. Particularly, who gets fixed and who doesn’t is a topic we like to obviate. The missions are always cloaked in mystery.

“Dr. Sasha Green. I need a moment with the patient.” I dart my eyes at the nurse, hoping she understands who I am, and leaves. But she returns no such indication.

“You can’t be in here. This is Dr. Allister’s patient.”

Gus. He’s already here, and revealing himself. Odd, but okay; I can work with that.

“Yes, I work for Dr. Allister. You can check with him. Send him in.” I turn back to face June, unconscious and bloody on the table. Plane crash – the kind from which you don’t come back.

The nurse scoots out of the room in a hurry. She doesn’t trust me, at all. When Gus arrives his face falls but it’s a face much younger than the one I’m acquainted with. Startled, I look down at June’s file. The information hits me like a truck and I realize that in my hastiness, and fear, and confusion, I punched in the date so robotically that I hadn’t fully processed it.

I’ve gone back not to September 1st of this year, but of twelve years ago.

It explains the lassitude that has taken me over. I’ve never gone back further than a few months. Some of the more experienced fixers have gone back a year or two; but twelve? This was altogether unbelievable. I was unaware the Time Mover could even pull off something of this magnitude.

Gus sees me. Really sees me. He knows exactly who I am, even though I won’t meet him for another four years.

“Are you scouting me?” I ask, immediately threatened by the idea that this man whom I have looked up to has been lying to me from the start.

He nods, hesitantly, and approaches me. In a low and frantic whisper, he asks: “did I do it? The Time Mover? It works?”

“Yes,” I answer, stepping back from his intensity. “I’m here to stop this,” I add, pointing to June.

“No. No. No, you don’t understand.” He’s flustered now.

“Understand what? You broke the oath, took bribes, exchanged money and research for a poor woman’s life.” I’m almost yelling, but I’m still short of breath, and trying to keep my calm.

Gus cuts his eyes at me and the glare sends shivers up my spine.

“I’ll have you know, Ms. Green, that it is with this donation that our precious Time Mover can be realized. Our entire operation, all the lives we’ll save. You’d compromise one for all?”

I stare at him blankly, trying to process the information. Moments pass, and I still don’t have an answer. I feel as though we’ll stare at each other, locked into this principled stand-off, forever.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Read Story #1 or Story #2

The Way Out

I stood in the middle of the room, gripping the envelope until my fingertips drained of all color. A grave silence filled the surrounding space, from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It was evening now, and the other household occupants had all headed off to the market to beg and barter for a meal. I had rushed home from work, too eager to put off this moment. And now, finally in it, I felt frozen in time; unable to move forward.

I had been one of the first people to apply for Migration. I did it before the drafting began; there had been more of those than we had expected. As the drafts came in my anticipation built, but the waiting period for applicants was much longer. Many of us had criminal histories and other ‘unsavory’ characteristics, so the Treaty Directors were being extra-thorough. If you were drafted, you had already passed the test.

I set down the envelope to compose myself. For weeks I had been imagining life on another planet; somewhere where I could have freedoms, rights, children. The planet had been being prepped for decades, made to emulate Earth as much as it could. It would be different, there was no doubt about that, but it would be something that we could all recognize. The system was going to be heavily dependent on the social contract, and life was going to be laborious. To me, that meant fulfilling.

And if I had been denied…

I looked at the clock. Josh would be home soon. It would be better to know by then; to practice my expression. If we had made the cut, I’d have to play down my excitement. Josh had always been opposed to leaving. He was convinced it meant giving up on the human race.There were a lot of anti-colonization groups that had been protesting the Migration Project since its conception, but Josh wasn’t like them. The issue was far more superficial for him. He was afraid; afraid to try something so new, so foreign. His white privilege had kept us afloat for a long time down here. We both knew it. Up there, things could be different. We’d both be the Other, and so would our potential children. It didn’t really bother me, though, it was the story of my life.

My mother had been a migrant worker when I was born. She had left Colombia as soon as she found out she was pregnant; afraid that if she put it off we’d be separated, and I’d be killed. At the time, the prospect of colonizing a new planet was real, but the details were still under wraps. Overpopulation was at its worst in Latin America and Asia at that point. North America was catching up, but many people had still been in denial about the inevitability. The American Dream still had a seductive ring to it, and in spite of everything, it still did for a lot of people – but not for me.

My stomach lurched, curling around itself, tugging at my nerves. Snakes. It felt like a hundred snakes wriggling about inside of me, trying to find a comfortable place to coil themselves. But there was no such place. There was just me, and the envelope.

I tore it open on a whim. Quick, like a Band-Aid.

My name, my age, my marital status, my partner’s name…

ACCEPTED.

I stared at the paper. It was real. It even provided a date for us to go in and have our infertility chips removed. It was real.

I read it again, and again.

ACCEPTED.

The door creaked open, snapping me back to life. I blinked, and noticed the tears streaming down my face. Josh entered, lugging a small sack of potatoes from the market. Normally I’d ask what he had bartered, always concerned I’d lose something precious. But not today. Today, I gained something precious.

Josh tried to smile. I tried not to. The silence lingered.

We finally had a way out.

A glint of hope flashed in his eyes.

Our lips met, unsure of what else to do.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Testing Day

The room is white. The room is cold. The room promises anxiety. I scrape away at my cuticles (a disgusting habit I’ve always had under pressure) and try not to shift around on the table. The paper gown against the paper on which I sit makes a sound that reminds me of where I am. I wish there was a window, or at least that the doctor would hurry back. When I finally notice the blood smeared across most of my nails I lick it all away, ashamed, and focus my attention on the pamphlets taped to the walls.

Getting Tested is the First Day of Your New Life.

Stay Healthy, Stay Happy.

The World Needs You. Get Tested Today.

Finally, the door swings open. My heart seems to quiver and I sit up straight as if concerned that my poor posture will annoy the doctor and she’ll leave again. But she doesn’t even look at me. She stares at her clipboard and makes checks and exes here and there. I try not to make a sound, try not to disturb her concentration. Mostly I just want us both to forget I’m here; to simply disappear. She is short, with thick round glasses and straight smoky grey hair. When her head springs up her chubby cheeks swing back, loose with age.

“Fertile.”

That’s all she says. Then her head bows again as she sticks her pen back in her jacket pocket, clears her throat and walks out of the room. I will never see her again. Her only job is to test the fertility of every 18 year old boy and girl in the sector, and then she disappears forever.

I slowly reach for my clothes and become suddenly aware of how drab they are. Beige pants and a grey button down shirt with my identification number plastered to the left breast pocket. That number is more important than my name; authorities know me not as Gen, but as 504576. Today, though, I will become known to them only as fertile. I am hope.

Once a young woman is determined to be fertile a sigh of relief sweeps the nation like a cool, crisp, awakening breeze. They can match me with a fertile young man now, and assign us our national duties which will include jobs based on our levels of skills and intelligence, and on the nation’s needs. As a fertile couple, we will be given five years before we must clock in to work. These five years are to be allotted to childbearing and child rearing. We will be given a house, because we are the pride and joy of the nation. We are hope. Our sector will survive because of the few who are fertile. The many who are not will work harder and longer to provide for those of us who are. They are just as important to the new system. And who am I to shame the new system? After all, things used to be worse – but somehow, that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I dress, unsteadily, one foot at a time. The buttons take forever because my fingers fumble with them through the tremors. I feel a burning sensation rising from my chest and radiating into my sinuses. To fight this from exploding into tears I hold my breath. I do this for so long that by the time I walk into the bright daylight I am dizzy. I quickly glance to the left and then right, and when I’m sure my mother is not here yet I exhale so fast and hard I cannot even recognize the sound that comes out of me. How could this happen to me? What are the odds? I haven’t taken any precautions to ensure fertility. I even live in the most toxic end of the sector. Ironically, discovering that I have been virtually unaffected by these toxins is the first thing that makes me feel as though I am truly suffocating.

Just as I prepare to embrace my sadness a car pulls up and I see my mother’s stern yet forcibly bright face in the driver’s seat. At this, I immediately pull myself together. I stand up straight and sigh, taking on again my typical expression of impassivity. She jumps out of the car with such specious excitement the car itself might still be in motion. She runs around the back of it to reach me as quickly as she can. Arms wide, she yells “So?!”

“Fertile.”

I say it and that’s when I know it’s real and has to be accepted. My mother squeezes me tight, a rare show of affection. “It’s going to be fine, Genesis,” she whispers unconvincingly. “Everything’s going to be fine.” A bromide for people who are either too afraid, or too weak to tell the truth.

I nod and shrug. Maybe it will be fine.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©