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Black & White
Hank does his duty. Everyone does. They have no choice. They all chose to have no choice. Read the rest below, on Kindle (, or PDF ( ______________________________ The line extends around the corner. People huddle under umbrellas and jackets against the unrelenting rain. A few of them talk. Most stand in silence, eyes downcast and unwilling to meet the gaze of those who have finished walking past with tears streaming down their faces. The wet pavement is far more inviting a view than the looks of abject horror and loss. The looks that will plaster the faces of each person waiting as soon as they’ve completed their obligation this Tuesday. Hank risks a glance back. The officers pace the length of the line. One has just stepped around the corner. Her colleague won’t be in view for several seconds. If he wanted to run, this would be the time. He might make it. He might get across the empty street and into a doorway or alley before anyone could stop him. But then what? Hank considered the choice. He thought about it too long. What would happen would be inevitable. They would know. Even if he wasn’t caught immediately, they could see that he hadn’t participated by checking the DNA records. They would hunt him. They would find him. Without participation he couldn’t use any money, get any transportation, or find any way out of the country. They made sure that everyone did their duty. There was no escape. When she walked by, Hank barely recognized her. Every line in her face screamed, but her voice was silenced. She wailed wordlessly as she wept impotent tears. Her head bared to the rain, hair sticking to her face, thrown back in agony as if the gray skies would hear the pain she could not utter. She stumbled and nearly fell. Hank instinctively reached out to steady her, but she pulled back from his touch. When their eyes met he saw her, Marie. They’d worked together for just under a year. The flirtation had started slowly as they each tested the safety. Their first date had been two months ago. She laughed at his jokes. He asked questions about her cat. They were a cliche and happy. Marie stared at Hank with unseeing eyes, unable to resolve humanity amidst her pain. “Marie?” Slowly she squinted and dashed the tears from her eyes. Hank fought the urge to embrace her and protect her from whatever horror dwelt within. But as he stepped out of line the officer approaching from behind cleared his throat. Hank froze. Marie began to shake. “She’ll be alright,” the officer barked, “Leave her be. It’ll pass shortly.” Hank glared fiercely at the ground between the officer’s feet and nodded. The chill of the rain disappeared in the heat of his fury. Yet the line pushed him inexorably forward toward his civic duty. He looked at the stranger who had replaced Marie as she shambled off. The officer stepped up to block his view. Hank looked at him. His face held a permanent frown that extended downward into the proto-jowls of a late-middle-aged man. His bushy salt and pepper eyebrows weighed down his forehead into a permanent scowl beneath the EI helmet all officers wore. If Hank stepped out of line the officer would draw his weapon and the helmet would activate automatically. Every emotion would disappear and the officer would make a cold, rational choice. Hank had no doubt that choice would end in his own death. Mortality coiled itself at the base of his spine and kept him motionless. Hank looked away, the officer grunted, and then moved on in his patrol. Marie’s terror fought a losing battle with Hank’s desire to survive. He stepped forward in the line. Soon enough it was his turn. Hank extended his hand and the attendant placed it inside her machine. Something pricked his finger inside the flat, gray box. The disinterested woman holding it stared at the screen before her. Hank looked anywhere else. The water stains on the old drop ceiling tiles seemed to take up more space than the unstained area. The harsh, white lights illuminated too much after the pale sunlight diffused through clouds and rain. Around him others were submitting to the same DNA scanning to prove their identities and their compliance. Another year of faithful service. Soon the EI helmet was strapped to Hank’s head. Not unlike the one the officer wore in function, the helmet immediately started humming as it switched on. The officer’s EI helmet triggered when he drew his weapon, this one started as soon as it was placed on a head. Deep, magnetic pulses at first probed and then changed Hank’s brain. While the helmet began acclimating to his specific neural pathways, the attendant pushed him toward the closest booth. He shuffled forward. One pulse took his motor control for a second until the helmet ruled out that brain region. Another made his vision blur. Another sent a twinge through his guts. Finally the light on the back of the helmet switched from red to green and the door of the booth mirrored it. When the helmet finally calibrated, the door of the booth opened and Hank stepped inside. He looked around the interior of the booth as the door slid shut behind him. It would not open until he completed his duty. Hank put his palm on the screen in front of him and it verified his identity. At the same moment his choices appeared on the screen, the EI helmet fully activated. Emotion fled under the onslaught of deep magnetic stimulation, Marie’s tears disappeared from his mind. The spartan booth was no longer intimidating or overwhelming, it was simply a booth with dark brown walls, about a meter square with a small terminal in the middle displaying his options. He looked at them dispassionately. Each choice would determine his future. Each vote would create the laws that governed society. He carefully read the first proposition. It was always the first one and he always voted yes. Today was no different. He voted to keep the Emotional Inhibitor voting system in place. It was the only reasonable thing to do. Logic dictated that the removal of emotions from the political process would yield the best results. So he assented yet again. Each choice faced the same scrutiny and the same logic. Without emotions Hank could do nothing else. He chose what was best, what made the most sense, what would benefit the most people. When it was over and the last choice entered, Hank placed his hand on the screen for scanning yet again. The second verification ensured no one had coerced his choices, locked in the votes, and disengaged the EI helmet. So, for a brief moment, Hank saw all of his votes displayed on the screen while his emotions flooded back. Then the screen went blank and the door opened behind him. Hank stumbled backward. The first feeling was always fear. It’s the most primal, animalistic impulse. The suppressed emotions vied for his full attention, overwhelming him. The attendant removed the helmet and ushered him out the door into the falling rain. Was it darker out now? Hank squinted up at the ubiquitous pall that covered the city. Rain mixed with tears and fell unchecked down his face as Hank wandered off in search of some solace for his broken soul?