Thursday, July 5, 2012

7/5/12

Obsolescent
By J. Scott Kunkle


Alone, I waited.

I could hear the sirens down the block. I lay huddled beneath the blankets, too scared to move and unable to sleep for what seemed like the third night in a row.

They were doing sweeps, random checks of all the living quarters in a specific section. Preventive law enforcement, they called it. Prove either you were who you said you were or it was off to the detention center, or even worse. I had checked my own papers earlier in the evening, in case they hit my block. I was not spending time in a detention center. I was the most law-abiding citizen on record. I did nothing wrong, nothing out of the ordinary. I conformed on every point, strictly to state policy. Surely, they would know that.

Harsh orders blared out over a loudspeaker and the sirens grew steadily closer. I was sweating beneath my sheets, hands shaky. For one brief moment, all was silent, and then came the loud blare of the siren once again, almost directly outside of my window. The orders blasted over the loud speakers, as well as piped in to every room of the building through Central. I shuddered and almost wet the bed.

“This building is being checked at random. All residents have the proper paperwork ready. This building is now in lockdown.”

From all around the building came the sound of steel windows slamming shut. I jumped nearly a foot off the bed as my own windows slammed shut. The emergency lights went on immediately. Quaking in fear, I stood, picked up my papers and went to the door.

The panel beside the door was flashing as I put my hand against it, causing the light to change from red to yellow. The door slid open and I could see the emergency lights flashing from the hallway. I could hear a few loud, angry voices shouting down the hall, but I was not looking out in the hall. That would mean lifting my hand from the panel, and that was something I was not prepared to do any time soon.

The distinct sound of heavy footsteps sounded in the hall. Seconds later, the armored form of a Patrolman glided into the doorway. The mechanical voice was harsh and brief.

“Papers, citizen.”

I showed my papers and the robotic cop scanned them briefly, lights flashing. I expected it to take no more than a few seconds, as it had countless times before. After thirty seconds passed, I became uncomfortable. At one minute, I was petrified and barely able to keep standing. I was in trouble, but for what? I had done nothing, no infractions, no run-ins with the law. I was clean, I had to be clean.

After what felt like an eternity to me, the light winked off. I relaxed for an instant.

“You are to report to Dr. Hope, Building Four, Central, at noon tomorrow. Do you understand?”

“But,” I stammered, my heart in the pit of my stomach. “What did I do? What is this about?”

“You have your orders. Proceed.”

The armored patrol officer whizzed away and my door once again slid shut. I turned away from the blank wall, my mind racing. I had never heard of this Dr. Hope, but I knew where Central was and I figured I could find Building Four, but what could they want of me? Was I sick? No, the medical offices were located in a different District. This was Central.

Fighting the feeling of dread, I forced myself back to bed, and to my surprise, I was able to fall asleep with relative ease. I awoke early, ate my usual breakfast and then left to meet with Dr. Hope. My anxiety increased steadily the closer I got to Central and by the time I arrived at the appointed location, I was a bundle of nerves.

I waited in a large room with several other men, none of which I knew. As I waited, each of the other men were called into the main office. They entered through the main door and as far as I could tell, they did not come out of the room. At least, not through the waiting area. I digested this news in silence as I awaited my turn.

My name sounded over the loudspeaker a moment later and I rose to my feet. The receptionist pointed to the door and I slowly walked to it, pushed it open and stepped through into a long hallway. There was only one door, at the end of the hall, and I pushed it open and stepped into a huge amphitheater filled to capacity with people. On the far side of the immense room sat a smallish man at an even smaller table. A chair sat opposite him. I walked slowly to the chair, sat down and waited.

The man lowered the sheaf of papers he was reading and looked at me with dead eyes. “You are Joseph David?”

“I am.”

“Your designation is carpenter?”

“It is.”

“Central has determined that there are no trees left on any of the planets in this system. Wood and all wood by-products are now being manufactured. Carpentry is no longer a required field.” The man glanced down at his papers. “You have no other designation?”

My throat was dry, a barren desert as I answered him in no more than a whisper. “No, I do not.”

“You have been recorded as obsolescent. You are marked for termination. Please report to Room Six.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, though I knew only too well.

“You no longer serve a purpose. You have nothing left to contribute. You know the Law. There are no exceptions.”

“But I am only twenty-four!”

“Obsolescent. Proceed.”

Alone, I died.


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J. Scott Kunkle served in the Army for 10 years before returning to his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. His short stories have appeared online at sites such as Bewildering Stories, Flashes in the Dark, Powder Burn Flash, Static Movement, Weird Year and The Fringe.


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