By Toni Fuhrman
Mose, Chairman Judd’s most trusted aide, stood before Chairman Judd’s enormous desk in the long windowless Council Room and told him it had taken another Ablution to get rid of Kublenski’s followers. Kublenski himself was missing. Chairman Judd was dismayed by the strength of the movement.
“Couldn’t you capture him without eliminating the entire Getto?” he said to Mose.
“Someone alerted him, and our infiltrators told us the Getto members had pledged their lives,” said Mose.
“What an abominable waste,” said Chairman Judd. “We needed that Labor Unit. Did you see the latest Sustenance Report? Our crops won’t feed us unless we step up our labor force.”
“That is so,” said Mose.
“Well,” said Chairman Judd, “What do you propose we do about it?”
“It has been surprisingly difficult to wipe out the Dissenters,” said Mose. He sat down across from Chairman Judd and crossed one long leg over the other.
Chairman Judd, whose hefty thighs prohibited him from crossing his legs, looked at Mose in disgust.
“You must find a way,” he said. “We can’t defeat them by wiping them out. We need them. We need their hands and their shoulders and their backs. Limigration has done its job well. We can’t go backwards.”
“That is so,” said Mose.
Well?” said Chairman Judd. His ruddy complexion became even ruddier. His aide’s unvarying aplomb was a source of continuing frustration to him. He found it hard to hide his emotions, whereas Mose never revealed what he felt.
“We may lose United Regions’ Annual Ascendancy Award,” said Mose with utter calm.
“Lose it?” shouted Chairman Judd, heaving himself out of his chair so that he towered over Mose. “Lose it?” He clenched his fists and waited until Mose tilted his head back to look up at him, an advantage that was only possible when Mose was sitting and he was standing. “Are you mad? The Dissenters have always been in the minority in Region One. We’re talking about small pockets of rebellion, here and in a few other Getto locales. The population has been whittled down to manageable proportions.”
Mose looked away. Chairman Judd went on excitedly.
“Every poll Supramedia has taken recently shows positive results for Region One. Our Youngtenders are rigorously monitored, tested at every level. The Politicos are securely in our pockets. The Select Voting Machine has been completely overhauled. Why, we’re the region that launched the Cash-Free Country Campaign! Thanks to us, every region can trace every purchase through Adsorb. And our Employee Incentive Plan is off the charts. Agent Pyuto told me we’re up to two Employee Tradeins per new hire per year. How can we lose?”
Mose shrugged. “I have detained a Getto member to consider that question.”
“You’ve done what?” said Chairman Judd. “You know this is a Contamination-Free Zone. You know I haven’t been exposed to a Dissenter in—in—”
Mose smiled. It was a very little smile, and most of it was not visible to Chairman Judd.
“The detainee is relatively harmless. She is not yet seventeen.”
“She? She?” Chairman Judd sat down abruptly.
Earlier that day, Chairman Judd had been elated. Reports indicated that Employee Tradeins that year in Region One topped all previous numbers and placed Chairman Judd at the pinnacle of the six chaired regions.
With the United Regions census holding steady at 500 million since the Great 2021 Ablution, Employee Tradeins topped the list as the most effective form of overall population control. Limigration was holding steady as well. The Sterilization Program (known as Elevenses) had proven itself time and time again with the young female segment.
But nothing matched the Employee Tradein concept, with its intricate Incentive and Rewards Plan. That had been Chairman Judd’s creation from beginning to end. He was poised to take his place among the Global Elite.
Against his will, Chairman Judd’s mind traveled back twenty years as his eyes wandered around the colorless expanse of the Council Room.
She had been so young when he first knew her—as young as this girl, this detainee. And he—he had been young as well.
His eyes darted back to Mose, who was watching him intently.
Chairman Judd cleared his throat.
“Is she sterilized?”
“I think not,” said Mose.
“You think—” Chairman Judd banged five pudgy fingers on his desk. “Hasn’t she been through Elevenses?”
“Apparently not,” said Mose.
Chairman Judd curved his fingers, drummed on the desk. He said nothing for a full minute. Mose sat still and waited.
“I will see her,” said Chairman Judd. He raised his hand to his round ruddy face and rubbed the coarse stubble on his cheeks and chin. “I will see her,” he said again.
Mose nodded, stood up, and left the Council Room. A few minutes later he reappeared with the girl.
As they crossed the long, almost empty room and approached his desk, Chairman Judd felt his heart pounding. The possibility of contamination terrified him. But Mose’s presence reassured him. Mose seemed calm, unafraid.
“What is your name and number?” said Chairman Judd, when they were seated on the opposite side of his large imposing desk.
What is your name? he had said when he saw her leaving the Modification Facility in Region Six. Tell me your name. He had no reason to question her. She was just walking past him. He only knew he wanted to stop her before she was gone, out of his sight.
“Lena Upjohn,” said the girl sitting across from him. “I have no number.”
“That is impossible,” said Chairman Judd. He repeated her name into the Screenpad in front of him. The Screenpad requested a number. “We cannot trace you without a Corresponding Number.”
“I have no number,” the girl repeated.
“Identify your Parentage,” said Chairman Judd gruffly. He glanced at Mose, who sat still and expressionless.
“My mother was killed in last year’s Ablution,” said the girl. “My father was traded in when I was five.”
“Identify them,” said Chairman Judd.
“My mother was called Letitia. My father was Nathan Upjohn.”
“Your father’s CN?”
Chairman Judd repeated the number, then waited for the Screenpad to respond. After a moment, the Screen flashed with life.
“I see he was traded in almost twelve years ago,” said Chairman Judd, scanning the dense report. “I do not, however, see any mention of a wife or daughter.” He looked at the girl. but she did not speak.
The girl sighed. Her chest lifted. Chairman Judd felt a slight quickening.
I am Pamuya, she had said to him. And the sound of her voice filled him with a sort of bliss. My name is Pamuya.
“Well?” he said again.
“Neither my mother nor I have a number,” the girl said quietly.
“How is that possible?” He turned and looked at Mose. “How is that possible?”
Mose shrugged. “These things happen. The System is—somewhat flawed.”
Chairman Judd struck his fist against the desk. The Screenpad jumped, then settled again, slightly askew.
“How could you be enrolled in a Getto Modification Facility without a number?”
“I was home schooled.”
“Home schooled?” said Chairman Judd. “Home schooled? I never heard of such a thing.”
He looked at Mose, who nodded, almost imperceptibly. Chairman Judd frowned. Clearly, his advisor was enjoying himself. How much was Mose keeping from him?
Chairman Judd felt, along with the quickening sensation the girl had aroused, a sudden, uncomfortable vulnerability. He was tempted to send Mose away, but he realized it would do no good. Mose could easily watch him from one of the monitors. The desire to be alone was so unfamiliar that he shifted in his chair, rearranging his belly and his genitals inside his tight pants.
Her hair had been black. When he sat behind her in their rumpled bed and brushed it for her, it crackled, like fire. Her skin was dusky. Coffee with cream, he said to her. Your skin is like coffee with cream.
“What were you taught—in your ‘home school’?” said Chairman Judd.
He tried to ignore Mose, which forced him to look closely at the girl. It had been a long time since he had been Inspector at the Modification Facilities. He remembered how peculiarly attractive some adolescent girls could be, like feral young animals. This girl was like a fawn, all soft brown, big-eyed and hesitant. Her movements were unconsciously graceful. His own two daughters, though the same age or somewhat older, were heavy, lumbering, aggressively hostile. They seemed to resent their resemblance to him. He avoided them, and their mother, as much as he could.
“I was taught how to read. How to write. How to do sums.”
Chairman Judd nodded approvingly. “Anything else?”
“What’s this? What history? Whose philosophy? Those aren’t approved Modification Units.”
“Languages,” the girl continued, ignoring his questions.
Chairman Judd leaned forward, eyes bulging. “We have only one language.”
“Life sciences,” said the girl.
“A Restricted Modification Unit,” said Chairman Judd.
“Literature,” the girl shot back.
“Old World nonsense,” said Chairman Judd.
The girl did not respond.
“How well do you know Kublenski?” said Chairman Judd.
The girl’s eyes widened with fright, or the recollection of fright. She shuddered and looked away.
“He’s our leader,” the girl murmured, after a long pause.
“That’s not what I asked.”
There was another long pause. Then the girl said, in her quiet way, “He’s my friend.”
“Where is he?” said Chairman Judd. “Where is Kublenski?”
“I don’t know,” said the girl.
Chairman Judd touched his Screenpad and Agent Pyuto slid open the door immediately. He stood in the doorway, waiting.
“Take her to Lab One,” said Chairman Judd. “Full battery of tests. Bring her back with your report in one hour.”
Agent Pyuto crossed the long room and tapped the girl lightly on the wrist with his Faserod. The girl stood up, unresisting. He led her away.
After the door closed behind them, Chairman Judd said to Mose, “What do you make of her?”
“She is what we call a Resistant Strain,” said Mose.
“Can she be Incorporated?”
Mose shook his head once.
Mose shook his head again. “It’s too late for the Thought Cleansing Process. There is the danger of Residue in one of her years.”
Chairman Judd looked at him in disgust.
“Leave me,” he said.
Almost before he knew it, Mose had crossed the room. The door opened and slid shut noiselessly behind him.
Chairman Judd slumped in his chair, his chin resting on his massive chest. Even though he knew the monitors were trained on him, he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He positioned his left elbow on the arm of his chair and covered his face with his hand. It would look as though he were taking a nap. A brief nap was Acceptable Behavior.
He had been twenty-two. He had just been given his first command, traveling throughout the six regions as Inspector of the Modification Facilities. He was proud, ambitious, cocksure—until he knew her. She came to him so willingly.
Why do you want me? he said to her.
I am called Water Moon by my people, said Pamuya. You, with your round face, you are the moon. I am your reflection on the water. Don’t you see? You make me real. You keep me from dissolving into nothingness.
What am I to do with you? he said. I can’t acknowledge you. I can’t know you.
You will protect me or destroy me. I leave it to you. We are a peaceful people.
Your people do not exist for us except as unskilled labor. You are Getto.
You will do what you must do. I accept that.
When Agent Pyuto knocked on the door and entered, Chairman Judd was ready for him. The report, in its transportable translucent case, seemed to glow with a life of its own as Pyuto approached the desk. He placed it carefully in front of Chairman Judd, turned it so that it lined up with the Screenpad, nodded, and left the room.
Chairman Judd touched the report, then studied the Screenpad for several minutes before he called Agent Pyuto. He told Pyuto to bring in the girl. She came back into the room just as she had left it, quietly, with no visible resistance. He nodded. Pyuto withdrew.
“Your life is not worth the price of a Netherland pass,” said Chairman Judd. “You are deeply implicated in the Kublenski movement.”
The girl did not respond.
“You are sexually active,” said Chairman Judd. “We have only to do a DNA on the semen found on your person to confirm that your SP is Kublenski.”
“My—what?” said the girl.
“Your Sexual Partner.”
“Oh,” said the girl.
Chairman Judd thought a smile crossed her face, but he could not be sure.
“What was your relationship with Kublenski?” said Chairman Judd.
“You have just told me,” said the girl.
“Any ‘colored’ remark is punishable by Faserod.”
The girl did not respond.
“I do not keep score,” said Chairman Judd. “Your responses are scored and rewarded—or punished—by NPs monitoring us and trained to score interviews.”
“NPs?” said the girl.
This time the girl did smile.
“I went to a party once,” she said.
Chairman Judd opened his mouth to respond, then clapped it shut. His training kicked in. It said, ‘Let her talk. Talking is the best tripwire.’
“I was nine,” said the girl. “There was a cake. With candles burning on it. We let them burn right down to the frosting before we blew them out.”
“What was the occasion?”
“I don’t remember.”
“How long did you know Kublenski?”
“I don’t remember.”
Chairman Judd smiled his most avuncular smile.
“My child,” he said, “I am here to help you. Think what you are saying.”
“You don’t want me to think. You want me to confess.”
“We don’t use such EC words,” he said. “You had best avoid them.”
“Don’t tell me,” said the girl eagerly. “You mean words that are Emotionally Charged. Right?”
Chairman Judd thought with dismay of Mose sitting at one of the monitors, grinning. At least when he was sitting across from him he could not mock him so openly. He called Agent Pyuto, told him to send in Mose.
“I am here to help you,” Chairman Judd repeated. “I have many duties. My time with you is limited. Do not waste it.”
The girl folded her arms beneath her small breasts and looked defiantly at Chairman Judd. Just then, Mose slid open the door. He crossed the room without a sound and sat next to the girl. She did not move or turn her head.
“Our time on this planet is limited,” she said. “Both yours and mine. I have the right to know. What is my crime?”
“Crime?” said Chairman Judd. “Crime?” He glanced at Mose, then bellowed, “Where did you come up with such a word? There is no such word. It is not in our Approved Vocabulary.”
“Then why am I here?” said the girl. Her arms were still planted beneath her breasts. Chairman Judd found it difficult not to look at the roundness rising above the white arms.
“Tell me what I have done wrong,” said the girl.
“Your expressions are unacceptable,” said Chairman Judd. “I cannot respond to the word ‘wrong.’”
The girl sighed, released her arms, turned her palms up. “Just tell me why I am here.”
“You are contaminated,” said Chairman Judd.
“Are you saying I’m ill?” said the girl.
Chairman Judd tried not to look at Mose, but a slight movement as Mose recrossed his legs and passed a hand over his long chin was enough to indicate his aide’s amusement.
“Where is Kublenski?” said Chairman Judd.
The girl shrugged. She said, as though she were repeating something she had carefully memorized, “He’s everywhere. He’s locked away in the minds and hearts of every individual alive. Even yours. Your Faserods won’t kill him. Your drugs won’t erase him from our thoughts. He’s indestructible.”
Chairman Judd felt his face growing hot and prickly, but he held himself in check. He called Pyuto, who appeared at once, Faserod in hand.
“Take her away,” said Chairman Judd. “I’ll let you know if I want to see her again. Do not Faserod her. Do not administer Meds. Is that clear?”
Pyuto nodded as he led the girl away.
“What is your recommendation?” said Chairman Judd, without looking at Mose.
“Immediate elimination,” said Mose.
“Couldn’t she provide us with important information?”
“Either she has no information to give, or she is too clever for us.”
Chairman Judd eyed Mose, but he saw no indication of disrespect, only his usual watchful expression.
“You may leave for the day.”
Mose nodded and left, his footsteps noiseless on the tiled floor.
Chairman Judd shuddered involuntarily, looked around the room. The monitors were hidden but they were everywhere. Again, he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Even more, he wanted to sit under a tree, watch the spackled sunlight brush against the leaves. He wanted to feel the heat of a still summer afternoon. He wanted—he wanted—
The heat that last day with her had been like a heavy weight on his shoulders, pushing him down into the soft earth. He couldn’t bear the soaring temperatures of Region Six. He missed the cold bite and snarl of Region One. It was hard to lift his head and hold it high against the force of the heat as he told her he was leaving the next day.
How can I make you understand? he said. It’s my work, my path. Your life is here, in this dying culture, in this Getto. You belong to the past. I don’t believe in the past. I must go forward.
It doesn’t matter, said Pamuya, because when you leave me you will change, become someone I cannot continue to love. That will be my comfort.
What will be my comfort, he said?
He shook his head to clear it, then shut down his Screenpad. Mose was right. The girl, though seemingly harmless, was a threat. Her very existence threatened the System. But, oh, not to look at her again—
What would happen if he were to drive out to the Netherland, sit under a tree? He could say, if asked, that he was checking the laborers, the crops, in Real Time. It had not been among his duties for many years, but he could justify it. Couldn’t he? It was summer. Wasn’t it?
He thought about the girl. Could he take her with him? How pretty she would look in the sunshine. ‘Pretty.’ It was a Getto word, a Charged word. He was remembering it from—from—
You will have no comfort, Pamuya had said to him on that last day. You will always regret me.
He stood up and walked across the room to the door. He was struck by the room’s barren emptiness. Why were there no windows, no pictures punctuating the long walls? Only artificial light, monitors, the bland pattern of the tiles under his shoes, which made a scrunching sound as he approached the door. Why was it Mose made no sound when he entered and left? Where was he now? Had he left, as ordered, or was he still watching him? How much did Mose know about him?
Mose was clever in a way that Chairman Judd could not hope to be. Thus far, however, Chairman Judd had stayed ahead of him. Mose was clever but he, Chairman Judd, was ruthless. Or had been until—until—
He touched the door. It slid open. He stood in the doorway for just a moment, seeing a shaft of sunlight, yellow-green leaves dancing with light. Then he walked through the outer office, past Agent Pyuto.
“The girl,” said Chairman Judd.
“Yes?” Agent Pyuto replied.
Toni Fuhrman is a novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist. The print edition of her novel, One Who Loves (New Libri Press), will be published in March, 2017. Toni grew up in a small town near Lake Erie. She spent much of her life in the Midwestern area, including Ann Arbor—the setting for One Who Loves. Her work has appeared in Eclipse: A Literary Journal, Third Wednesday, and Live Oak Review, among others. Toni has a Master’s degree in English Literature. She lives in Los Angeles. She publishes personal essays on writing and reading at http://awindlessplace.wordpress.com.