The following was my entry for the Summer 2016 24 hour short story contest. The first several sentences are mostly derived from the prompt for the contest (see my last post for further information on this and upcoming contests). Originally, when I wrote my story it ended up being much longer than the word count limit, so I had to whittle it down a lot. It may sound a bit choppy, but I hope you enjoy nevertheless!
The Shift by Jackie Cubero
Zoe’s shoes clip-clopped like a sticky metronome. Approaching a hot dog vendor, she asked, “Do you have turkey?”
“I had a pure-breed Schnauzer but now he only has three legs.”
Zoe rolled her eyes. Level III’s could be hard to deal with.
A newspaper dispenser reflected the sunlight and caught her eye. She blinked at the headline, “Second 3.0 Superintendent Disappears.” Again? She stared. Superintendents were the Presidents of 3.0.
Zoe forgot about lunch and swiped her badge for a copy. She read the article and hustled back to work. As Data Provider for Developmental Homing she needed to keep observation times standardized.
Flipping on the video feeds, she resumed watching and marking the behaviors of the young.
3.0 was a country that attempted to utilize nature and nurture to develop top capacity citizens for a top capacity society. That was the national motto, too.
Infants were placed into one of three Developmental Homes based upon a family line analysis. They were then nurtured in their presumably inherited strengths to become the future leaders, intellects, or wage-earners (level I’s, II’s, or III’s, respectively).
It was Zoe’s job to provide developmental analysis and recommendations for each child. Before clocking out, she sent the house trainers a few recommendations for the laggers.
After work, she hopped in a cab, scanning her badge. “Cubes, please.”
“Well, I had a Ferrari, but now it’s got only 3 wheels,” the driver answered cryptically, before zooming toward the Cubes.
Once there, Zoe scanned in to her cube and jumped. Her brother was standing inside. Ever since Chris had discovered they were siblings at his work in Population Analysis, he felt like he could barge into her life. She didn’t like it. They were nothing alike.
“It’s time for the Shift!” he beamed.
“What?” she asked, irritated.
“The Shift to 4.0! People are designed for more.” He sounded crazed.
“Get out!” Zoe demanded.
Thirty minutes later, her door buzzed.
“Zoe 242, you are charged with consorting with conspirators.” Cuffing her wrists, the policeman continued, “you were seen ordering from, riding with, and, or harboring individuals arrested today in connection with the Superintendent’s disappearance. It’s on surveillance.”
“It’s just a coincidence…” she stammered.
“Too much evidence. You are sentenced to Containment until your benefit to society is determined,” he recited.
Shocked, she found herself being escorted to the Fulfillment Center. The officer marched her through one of four large doors, this one marked “Containment.” Much to her distaste, they locked her in a cell with Chris. Then, the giant door slammed.
Zoe glanced around, spotting Schnauzer and Ferrari a couple cells down. She scanned across the hall and rose with a start. Little Christa sat in a cell sobbing. Christa 901 whom she had just sent recommendations for.
Other children had been removed from Homes in the past, but Zoe never imagined them ending up here.
“Why is my trainee in Containment?” she asked Chris accusingly.
“I’ve been telling you,” he whispered, sounding somber and gentle now. “There are problems with 3.0. Not everyone fits the mold. They are probably deciding her discharge.” Her death.
Zoe gasped. “What about the Superintendents? What did you do with them?”
“Nothing! 4.0 had nothing to do with that. We suspect it was an inside job, which is why now’s the time to change the beat, to Shift. We want people to decide their own future, to be free.”
Abruptly, Chris chanted, “Who’s got 4 limbs?”
A crowd of voices sounded together, “We’ve got 4 limbs!” Surprisingly, most of the Containees were in the movement and this was their rhythmic metaphor.
“We have a plan,” Chris winked.
Used to the compliance of carefully groomed citizens, the morning guard froze when Containees charged at him the moment their cells opened, encircling and cuffing him.
Afterward, people darted to their assigned missions. Carrying Christa, Zoe followed Chris to the large door marked “Discharge”. Inside, the air was frigid and Zoe shivered.
The place seemed empty until she heard a small squawk, “Ms. Zoe?” Tiny eyes peaked out from behind a box. She recognized Neil 819 from a home visit. “I don’t want a nap,” Neil pleaded. “They made the Superintendent and everyone else take a nap.”
“The Level I’s. They said we need a Superintendent who makes sure people get their naps.”
Sirens broke the stunned silence. “Step out peacefully and no one gets hurt,” boomed a speaker.
“This way!” yelled Chris.
He pried back an air vent and everyone crawled inside the hidden tunnel. Zoe glanced back at him.
“Yeah” he said proudly, “a whole underground system.”
Many were already gathered at the distant underground room when they arrived. Chris immediately began a speech. “Today, we…” but yells from another tunnel cut him off.
“They’re coming!! Level I’s with discharge rifles!”
People clawed frantically at the ceiling. Soon, light broke through and Zoe could see they were outside 3.0 territory. Everyone scrambled. Shots could be heard down a couple passageways. One man fell, discharged.
Zoe held up Christa, screaming “Get the children!”
Someone hoisted Christa, then Neil. People were still clambering out, by the time dirt was being shoveled back in.
Zoe caught a glimpse of Chris, reaching for her. Suddenly, a weapon fired and she felt agonizing pain in her leg. She screamed.
Chris pulled her out, blood seeping from her leg.
The last handful reached the surface just as the tunnel was covered. People rolled rocks and threw branches on top for good measure.
As a medic tended her leg, she looked at Chris. “This isn’t over.” she said with newfound intensity. “We can’t just watch people get discharged.”
“We won’t,” he said slowly, coyly. “It’s time to tell you the whole plan.”