No amount of torture, no amount of death, can prepare you to take part in an execution—let alone witness one first hand. Especially when the damned is your mother.
I shudder as I loosen my pearl tie and undo the top two buttons of my white collared dress shirt. Beads of sweat pour down my tan cheeks and pool in the deep cuts along my neck. When I go to wipe them, my skin tingles, a result of the excess hair gel I used to hold strands of dirty blond hair out of my eyes. The wounds are still fresh—from last night, in fact—extending from one ear to the other, carved with a knife. My father didn’t sympathize with my reaction after he led me into his quarters and revealed the purpose behind today’s gathering. I don’t care if he’s the president. How did he expect me to take to the news?
He’s . . . I can barely say it . . . he’s about to kill my mother.
I pound my fist into the glass panels that wrap all sides of the train. The nanotechnology absorbs the blow and redistributes the energy straight into my ribcage. I fall down at the sudden displacement of oxygen in my lungs and shuffle backward on my hands and feet until I strike the metal nightstand beside my bed. Covered in sweat, it’s not long before I slip entirely, sinking until my right cheek is squished against the ground. I can see straight through to the glowing magnetic bars guiding the train across the high-speed rails that spiral through the mountains and hover over the ocean.
If I stare hard enough, I feel like I’m soaring across the entire coastline, with nothing protecting me from the outside. Ironic, since protection is never something I’ve had to consider in my seventeen years of existence. Not as a member of the Elite Genus and especially not here in the Union, home to the President. While the Union itself resides on an island once known as Madagascar, his reign extends from one corner of the earth to the next.
“How could you do this Father?” I whisper to myself. Above me are gray clouds, turning darker as we approach the Colosseum. They give off the feeling that I’m plummeting straight to certain death. The thought turns my stomach sour with nausea, and the smell of burnt bread coming from beyond my chambers only makes matters worse. I want to cry, but no tears come. “What did Mother do to deserve this? What did she do that was so bad?”
I asked him the same questions last night. I can still hear his response and smell the hint of iron in his breath. “If you would put down the guitar and pay attention for once, maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t be so surprised to find that your Mother has become a liability to the Union.”
Translation: There isn’t time for clarity. Her fate has been a long time coming. And if he doesn’t act swiftly, she could complicate everything the Beck family has worked so hard to build after the world destroyed itself in the early 2000s.
For any sitting President in history, especially the Becks, I can see why that would be a tough pill to swallow. They stitched the entire world back together, well, what was left of it. But for my father, he’s never quite led by the book passed down by my grandmother, my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather before them. Father has turned a blind eye to many of my mother’s illegal acts—such as delivering food and essentials to those in the Untouchable Genus, providing free health care to those who have earned it, and offering high-achieving students from across the globe a once in a lifetime chance to visit the grandeur that is the Union—and up until this point, he has justified her behavior by referencing the slogan plastered on every street sign, every sidewalk, and every bus stop.
FOR THE GOOD OF THE UNION
Whatever Mother did, Father must’ve determined that her actions no longer supported the Beck’s founding principal, transitioning from “for the good” to “at the expense of the Union.” And if that’s the case, that’d be enough to justify the event that will forever stain our family.
I just wish I knew what pushed him to the breaking point.
Sitting up, I enable the projection feature on my watch and swipe for memories that may explain the events Father may have been referencing. The 360-degree technology extends the video across the entire compartment, including the floor and ceiling, replacing any view of the coast, and the first-person perspective immerses me directly into the memory as if the past has suddenly become the present.
I flip through a series of videos I had previously favorited. With every new angle, every new action, every new word, an array of sensory details wash over me. I do my best to savor parts of my mother for the last time.
The dark blue backpack she carries with her to Giving Back Day. Her usual black blazer and high-rise boots as she conducts Genus Evaluations. The contrast between her cherry-painted lips and her olive skin tone. The energy and hope twirling around her large sea-blue eyes. The anchor-shaped tattoo sketched into the underside of her wrist. And most of all, her smile. Whether we’re racing across the ocean on the latest WaveRunner, baking an endless array of cakes and pies, hiking mountains in the Uncharted, or strumming our guitars, her smile shines brighter than any star. Even now, I can feel the energy, the hope, she was trying to instill in me all those years.
After ten minutes of exploring the maze of memories on my watch, I find nothing that explains how Father turned on her in a blink of an eye, nothing that explains how she would’ve committed treason, nothing that explains how he’ll be able to live with himself after she drops dead.
With my fingers curled into a fist, I’m about ready to turn off the projection when I stumble upon a memory dated two years ago. One marked as deleted.
I press the file.
Suddenly, I find myself standing in knee-deep mud, surrounded by towering trees with branches as wide as cement pipes. Leafy arms claw at my shoulders as I brush through dense suffocating undergrowth. Rays of sunlight pass through any miniature hole they can find and illuminate a green background across my white bedspread. The moisture is so thick I can almost feel it running through my already drenched clothes. From every direction, the hums of insects, the songs of birds, and the calls of larger animals create a symphony of nature beckoning me deeper.
Dripping in muddy sweat, I emerge from the vast jungle to find my twin brother, Mav, sitting at the edge of the chalky orange cliffside and staring out at a red horizon. The sound of the ocean lapping against the jagged rocks below eases the anxiety pumping through my veins, turning me back to a time in my life when I still felt safety and joy.
“Hey, dirtbag,” Mav says, turning around. Aside from our thick brown eyebrows, deeply set Caribbean blue eyes, and matching red training outfits, I don’t think we look much alike, and we certainly don’t act alike. He believes he’s better than me in every way and will stop at nothing to prove it. “It’s about time you showed up.” He grins. “The first task is upon us.”
I pause the memory as rays of pink light fill my train compartment. That’s when it hits me. Today is the day I tell Father that I no longer want to follow in his steps as president.
The funny thing is . . . I can’t remember why.
That’s what happens when you delete files from your Soul Card—the cartridge-based cybernetic implant used to track decision-making and store memories—they vanish from the host and remove all feelings associated with the memory. The only way to retrieve them is through the Union’s cloud database, accessible only through approved technology.
Nearly fifty years ago, my grandmother revolutionized the technology industry with the creation of the Soul Card. For the first time in humanity’s history, there was a device capable of communicating with the human brain to record the past and analyze the future. But unless you were a part of her cabinet, you never got to experience the potential of the Soul Card. That is, until my father took over as President.
Father argued that they were wasting the potential of man’s greatest creation by limiting its availability to those who upheld the Union. He believed that if he could tweak the device to not only communicate with the brain but also the Union’s AI mainframe, he could track every citizen across the entire world and vastly improve the Union’s functionality. With the help of his top scientist, he did just that.
Implanting the Soul Cards in the vertebrae at the back of every person’s neck bestowed Father with a grid of intelligence unlike any before. The classification system in which the Union uses to assign citizens based upon their behaviors when exposed to excessive amounts of fear has never been more accurate. No longer are weeks of testing and simulations required to determine which one of the four Genuses—Elite, Superior, Tolerable, or Untouchable—a person belongs to. Nowadays, with the data the mainframe collects, a quick evaluation is all that’s needed.
The downside to Father’s societal transformation . . . privacy has become utterly meaningless. At first, his cabinet was worried the population would begin to revolt. But he quickly found the answer. By gifting every man and woman, boy and girl with a watch like the one strapped around my wrist and providing them with access to their past—more importantly, the ability to delete the memories that bring them pain.
The power Father gifted the world is just hitting me. I can’t imagine my life without it. Not with everything required of us to maintain peace and stability. In fact, his top doctors have even announced that removing a memory here and there is now essential to humanity’s mental health. I can’t argue with that one. I’ve deleted countless files over the years just to stay upright. And that’s saying something for an Elite. I can’t even begin to comprehend the collection of deleted memories from an Untouchable.
All of this begs the question: do I really want to remember the day I told Father I’m removing myself from the presidency?
I hesitate. My heart is telling me there is a reason my fifteen-year-old self thought it was best to remove the memory from my consciousness. Deep down I know it has something to do with Father’s resentment toward me. I just don’t know if it’s because I refuse to honor our family’s legacy and fight to one day follow in his shadow or if I broke the law. Now with Mother’s heart on borrowed time, I question how much longer I have until he decides he’s done with me, too.
To stop my heartbeat from shaking my entire head, I take a seat on the edge of my bed and disable the projections on my watch. I realize I don’t have time for more anyway.
The train finally begins to slow and bright lights suddenly flood my chambers. That can only mean one thing. We have arrived at the heart of the Union. Our architectural innovations and technological advancements have reinvented what it means to be human. The view gets me every time.
Skyscrapers that knock on Heaven’s door. Artistic structures modeled after nature’s gifts: a crescent moon made entirely of glass, housing units that bloom like flowers above the coastline, vine-like highways stacked on top of one another, and an array of color meant to replicate the Northern Lights. Video screens casting daily news on buildings one-hundred stories tall. And finally, miles and miles of green—various trees, grasses, plants, and farms—spaced on rooftops, along the downtown streets, and in the fields and forests that extend far beyond the current horizon.
Most of the world can only fantasize about being here. Travel for leisure purposes has been strictly forbidden under the Beck reign, and none of earth’s remaining countries have been revitalized to the extent of the Union. Some have come close, France and Japan, for example. But for others, Germany, Mexico, and North Africa to name a few, they lack the assets and skills necessary to simply recreate what was lost when the world turned to shit.
There have also been recorded shortages of food, water, and various hygiene products as of late in the bottom feeder countries. My best friend Payton only messages me about it twice a week; I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a notification waiting for me in my inbox, even on the day of my mother’s execution. Like I have the power to determine the allocation of the Union’s resources. If she really wants to help support the lives of her people—her father’s people, really— she ought to tell her father to participate in a Commander meeting once and awhile. It’s no wonder Father has America at the bottom of the food chain. He gives to those who give to him. In all instances, that means abiding by all Beck customs and traditions, enforcing others to do the same, and punishing those who refuse.
The latter is the key to my father’s heart. There is one question that remains, however. Who will be the one to pull the trigger at today’s execution?
It surely won’t be Father.
He’s never had the stomach for killing. Not directly at least. Instead, he orders his subordinates to do his bidding for him. They comply every time, without hesitation. Knowing that if they don’t, two bullets will be loaded into the gun.
One for the rebel. One for the enabler.
From what Mother once told me, the outcome of his Chase is the reason he can’t bear to kill directly. She would never tell me exactly what happened to him, only that winning the throne cost my father everything. The only way he can live with himself is if he gives back now and again. Not directly of course. He could never commit treason. I guess that’s why he has Mother.
Or should I say had . . .
A knock sounds at my door as the train pulls into the train station, a silver leaf-shaped building combining a public footbridge over the Union’s streets with a full transport hub for bus, rail, and tram lines. Considering this is my family’s private train, and my parents departed earlier this morning, there’s only one person it could be.
I frantically dab my skin with a moist towel, adjust my suit, and disable the glass’s opaque settings. Mav resides in the corridor. He’s holding two pieces of burnt bread with jelly glazed over the top.
“Hello, brother,” he says, grinning. His beach-blond hair neatly falls over his forehead, and his white suit is free of dirt and guilt. He hands me a piece of bread. “It’s time to say goodbye to Mother.”
I gulp when I spot the silver pistol latched to his left hip.