Excerpt from Inner City - Full copy Now available at Smashwords
Callen sat on a plastic bench in the empty corridor of the Family Administration Agency. His feet swung back and forth, his eyes riveted on the large doors in front of him, his mind desperate to know what was going on behind them.
The seven year old looked out of place as he sat alone, orphaned in the cold open space. His parents, Leona and Jonathan Carrus were behind the imposing doors fighting for their lives. The City’s authorities had charged them with being financially unfit to raise a child and they were struggling to convince the Judge they could reverse their business fortunes.
“I don’t understand why I’m looking at all this technical data,” the holographic image of the Judge said, his frustration towards the speed of the trial starting to show.
All City officials were holographs. Officials of every kind within the City worked in plush, secure buildings well away from those they had to pass judgment or enforce rules upon. Their holographs were the new government public relation conduits, projected out amongst the population and supported on the ground by minimum wage employees and automated systems that enacted their decisions.
The holograms were projected onto a clear, reactive, computer encoded silicon substance that linked and mirrored every move the corresponding official made. In this way the three dimensional form and image of all officials, including Leona and Jonathan’s Lawyer, oversaw their duties.
“We are demonstrating, Your Honour,” their lawyer argued, “the potential for a breakthrough. Every person in this city carries a crystal containing their personal scan, every person. That’s almost ninety million potential clients.”
The Judge was losing patience.
“We are dealing with a very simple question of wealth. The defendants are no longer earning enough or hold enough assets to meet the requirements of parenthood and their son is not yet nine years old, so he’s eligible for reassignment. Is there anything else I should be considering?”
The Judge’s duty was a grave one, but his decision was delivered for the good of the community. Within this City the average life expectancy was one hundred and forty years and the longer lives led to overcrowding. New lives were at a premium. Each child had to be carefully assigned to those best suited to provide and raise a new citizen of the City to the standards demanded. Millions of couples were working towards a child of their own and their businesses were flourishing, not going backwards.
While the Judge knew the pain his decision would cause in the short term, he remained convinced he was doing the right thing by all those who lived within this city’s walls.
“Callen Carrus is to be taken from his parents and reassigned immediately to a new eligible couple who meet the financial requirements to raise a child.” The hammer fell. The decision was final.
Leona wept uncontrollably. Tears streamed down her face. Jonathan sat beside her. For the first time in his life he did nothing to comfort his wife when she needed comfort. They had lost their son. When they were granted the right to have Callen their business was going from success to success and their luck held out through the citizen’s genetic program. They were both young and proved genetically appropriate to be given permission, through the invitro process, to donate egg and sperm as the biological parents of their own child. In this modern world it was akin to winning the lottery and both Leona and Jonathan felt truly blessed.
How had it all gone so horribly wrong so quickly? Here they were, less than a decade later, listening to a judge destroy their lives and take away their child. They had lost their family.
A guard came and stood behind Leona and Jonathan as the Judge looked to them.
“Your son is to be escorted from this building. You are to have no further contact with him and no record of his existence with you is to remain. If you try to contact the boy in any way, you will be charged and face a sentence of fifteen years incarcerated public service. Do you understand?”
Leona sobbed and nodded. Jonathan hardly moved.
“Yes”, he said without ever taking his eyes off the Judge. They had no choice but to accept that Callen was no longer their son.
A neat woman with a painted smile entered the far end of the corridor. She walked directly towards Callen. Her conservative skirt and button down blouse sung of her position within the government and try as Callen might to ignore her approach, he couldn’t.
“Callen”, she said from about half way down the hall. “Come with me, please”.
“I’m waiting for my parents. They’re in there”, he said pointing to the doors in front of him.
“No, they’re not sweet-heart. Come now, I’ll explain everything”.
Callen looked to the women. She was trying to look like a friend. She offered a hand, her delicate fingers extended. Callen jumped from his seat and ran at the large doors guarding the courtroom. He pulled hard on the handles but hardly managed to cause any movement. Callen cried out.
In the courtroom Leona and Jonathan tensed to the sound of Callen’s cries. They reached for each other’s hands and squeezed tight. Legally their son was now someone else’s concern.
Callen was led down the long corridor. He struggled hard, but a dissenting seven year old proved little problem to the experienced escort.
At the end of the corridor a door swung shut behind them. The ensuing silence made a mockery of the life changing drama that had played out along the hard polished plastic floor moments before.
Callen sat in an empty room. It was the third room he’d been in since being taken from the floor housing the court rooms. Every now and then someone would come and talk him through legal protocol, but Callen’s head was swimming with information and he’d taken to pretending he understood simply to cut the complicated explanations short.
The wheels of administration were suffocating him in procedural red tape and his seven years of experience didn’t help him understand the mechanics of what was happening, no matter how well explained. All he knew for certain was that his parents were not with him and would never be with him again.
His mind protested the fact. He remembered the lessons about families at school. The icy cold fear of every modern child surrounded him. He wasn’t going to let this happen; not to him. He wouldn’t accept reassignment. He didn’t care who his new parents were or what the law demanded, he’d never give up the parents he loved.
Towards the end of the day, Callen was collected by a young man who took him to a dormitory. He was assigned to a bed within a plastic molded room. It was explained he’d stay for the night and then his new parents would arrive to take him to his new home. Callen said nothing. He didn’t want anyone knowing the thoughts he was having. When the reassignment was finalised he’d go with the strangers and play at being a dutiful son, but at the first opportunity he’d be away to find his old home and his real parents.
Callen took a long time to fall asleep. As he lay in darkness his mind drifted to a memory of a holiday taken beyond the City walls, to a sister city by the beach. He’d been given a window seat on the plane and as they began their descent, Callen stared in fascination at the barren, inhospitable land they were passing over. Then he saw movement. It was a band of savage ‘Outlocked’ moving across a sandy clearing. Callen had always suspected the terrifying stories of these people were made, or at very least exaggerated to scare and entertain, but here they were, in the flesh and real, Outlocked savages.
He shrieked with fear and excitement and others went to look out their windows. Callen’s parents had to calm him. Then they answered a barrage of questions. They recited the well known facts about the Outlocked people: how they lived a poor excuse for a life in the exiled wastelands. How they’d been shut out hundreds of years before for causing dissent and threatening the economic survival of the prosperous, hard working citizens within the modern cities.
Callen was amazed to have actually seen them. When he returned to school he’d gain celebrity status over that fact. He’d seen the savages from so many popular horror movies.
The thought of those Outlocked creatures, so close to the walls of the resort they were travelling to frightened him so much he couldn’t sleep. He lay in darkness in his hotel bed and every time he closed his eyes the terror of the savages gripped him. His parents came each time he cried out, but they struggled to ease his fears or answer his many questions: What if they were cut off on holiday? What if they were overrun by Outlocked? What if the horror movies came true?
His parents reassured him the modern automated security systems would never let that happen. As long as he stayed inside the walls of their cities he’d stay perfectly safe; every City citizen knew this one rule by heart. Callen’s parents held him tight in their arms and it was this that helped him finally drift asleep. Now, on the first night of his reassignment, that memory of being nursed and reassured by his parents gave Callen the peace he needed to fall asleep again.
In the morning Callen woke and was taken to a shower where he was rudely scrubbed by a woman wearing rubber gloves and an apron. The task left him humiliated, but more was to follow. He was taken, still naked into a doctor’s surgery where he was strapped down on a full length chair. The chair whirred to life and stretched him out until he was lying flat out. He tried to turn his head to see all the instruments, but straps around his forehead and chin held his head firmly in place.
There was no colour in the room. There had been no colour in any of the rooms. Not the room he slept in, not the shower room, not this new room. A doctor's hologram flickered to life beside him. Even the projected image of the doctor was wearing white. Callen lay, strapped down, fully exposed, embarrassed and vulnerable. The doctor was a young woman and her holographic image mimicked her movements as she manipulated controls on a panel that caused robotic machines around Callen to buzz and whir to life. Instruments on long metal arms began to examine his body on her command.
Measurements and checks were made without any explanation. Finally the doctor spoke as she typed her notes.
“You’re a very fit young boy. You’re going to make some lucky parents a wonderful son.” The doctor powered off and her image disappeared.
The restraints around Callen's body snapped open. He jumped from the chair. The door to the room was open and Callen hid behind it peering out. Had everyone forgotten he was naked?
The woman who had scrubbed him down re-entered and took him by the hand. Callen couldn’t take being treated as less than human any longer.
“Can I have some clothes?” He whined. The woman looked at him in astonishment.
“You’re about to get a whole new wardrobe if you’d just be a little patient.” Callen gave in and walked with the woman as she navigated the hallway. There was no-one else to see him, something he was extremely grateful for.
Another room waited; another white room. He sat on a cold plastic bench molded into the wall. His hands stayed fast to his lap. The woman in white left him for a moment, then re-entered, wheeling a large plastic cage. Callen stared at it. All he could think was the cage was for him; they were going to wheel him around on parade. The woman swung open a door and revealed clothes. The large mobile box was a wardrobe now displaying, shoes, socks, underpants, pants, shirts and jumpers.
“These are all yours, paid for by the Helfners.”
Callen had never heard of the organization and he gave a mystified look.
“Your parents,” the woman answered off his look. Callen stared motionless. In one day his entire life had been turned upside down and shaken. The woman left the room and Callen swiftly went to the cage to dress. He searched for his favourite labels. When he'd finished he looked like a mannequin in a department store, displaying the unmistakable creases that new clothes hold.
The door was still open and once Callen was happy with his appearance he walked from the room to be met again by the woman in white.
“Good, you’re finished,” she said. “We’ll get all the other clothes sent around to your home some time later today. Your Mum and Dad are waiting for you. I think they’re a little excited.”
Callen had been doing his best to remain brave, but having two strangers referred to as his ‘mum and dad’ was too much for him and he broke down in tears. Within seconds Callen was a sniffling, snorting, hyperventilating mess. The woman in white showed compassion; the tears of a seven year old had managed to reach past her hard, professional veneer. She hugged him close until his tears stopped.
“You have to be brave about this. The Helfners are going to love you very much. You’re a lucky young man.”
“I don’t want new parents. I want the ones I’ve got; they want me too, I know they do,” Callen whimpered. The woman was thrown by the statement. She didn’t know how to react.
“But you’re seven years old,” she said, as if this explained everything. Callen stared at her, searching for meaning.
“Surely you’ve been taught about families at school? You must know how people have children?” She asked. Callen chilled. He did know. He’d been remembering the lessons since this nightmare began. He could virtually recite every word he’d ever been told about family reassignments, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept.
After a moment he reluctantly nodded that he understood. The woman showed relief. Had he not known, for whatever reason, she could have been facing a delicate situation. She moved quickly, brushing a few stray fibres from Callen’s new clothes as she encouraged his recovery.
“See if you can’t cheer yourself up. Your new parents don’t want their first sight of you to be in tears.”
Callen ran the back of his hand across his eyes.
“Good, boy,” the woman said. “Now let’s put on a smile and go and meet your new mummy and daddy.”
Callen was led through a door into a room of colour, a room of synthetic seats and viewer screens, a room of sound and activity and milling, expectant mothers and fathers. Raegher and Annie Helfner sprang to their feet as their number was called by the digital voice. They raced across the short space, threw their arms around and hugged Callen as if he was a long lost son, which, in a way, he was. Callen suffered the smothering without a word. There was little else he could do.
The trip home was uneventful. The route was entered in the transporter’s computer, it locked onto the magnetic tracks and both Raegher and Annie were left to tell Callen all their plans for the rest of his life. They could have been talking about revolution for all he knew. He kept nodding and changing his focus from one to the other, all the time watching the passing streets. He was frantically trying to map the direction of his old neighbourhood. The Helfner’s unit was almost two hours drive from the administration buildings. By the time they arrived Callen’s head was spinning with landmarks and turns taken and all the while the incessant chatter continued.
On their arrival at the Helfner’s home Callen was shown straight to his new room. The walls were bright yellow. A bright blue bed with bright red cupboards set them off. A mobile of the solar system hung from the light and as the planets rotated, so did the colours they gave off. Callen was overcome with the vibrant room. He sat on the bed and the Helfners retreated to prepare for their first dinner together. Callen began planning when and how to leave this new and unfamiliar family.
Dinner was a feast. Everything a seven year old could want; largely synthetic, but far more nourishing than anything natural. The ham and vegetable simulates were a forerunner to the sweets, a simulate ice cream pie with a crust of chocolate biscuit all covered in fudge so thick it stopped running as it cooled. Callen’s appetite had not suffered over the past twenty four hours and he happily had a third helping of dessert to the delight of his new parents.
In bed, he was visited and kissed on the forehead no less than three times before Annie and Raegher finally turned in for the night. Callen waited a good hour, desperately trying to keep his focus, his eyelids grew heavy and he’d throw them open in a torturous battle against sleep. When he thought the time was right, he got up from his bed and silently inched along the hall to check on his new parents. They were sound asleep. He headed back to his room and rummaged quietly in his wardrobe. He located a back pack perfect for what he had in mind. He loaded the bag with anything he thought might come in useful and he left the room.
Quietly he navigated the stairs, stopping only at the kitchen to add food. He looked at the chocolate sauce now sitting left over in a container, useful or not, he’d have that too. He closed his bag and then walked to the front door and silently opened it and left. He rode the lift to the ground floor and for the first time in days, relaxed. He was beginning his journey to find the parents he loved and refused to give up without a fight. Everything he’d planned was working out perfectly. He’d have the whole night to search before anyone ever knew he was gone. He opened the building’s door to walk out into the night.
The building’s alarm wailed to life. A flashing light above the door lit the surrounding space with its intermittent piercing blue light. Callen couldn’t believe he’d forgotten something so obvious. Every building in every modern city had an alarm. He turned and ran. His plan would remain the same. The only thing changed was his head start.