SFReader 2014 Story Contest
Third Place Winner
Described as a well-mannered, sweet-natured, nihilistic punk, Samson Stormcrow Hayes claims that living in Los Angeles hasn’t made him cynical, just more enraged. He writes stories, screenplays, and comics including the critically acclaimed graphic novel Afterlife. He can be found in old parking lots, abandoned malls or at www.Stormcrowhayes.com.
It was a beautiful Monday afternoon when Reeben H.A.I.A. found out he was dead. His phone buzzed with the news telling him he had eight hours to report to the enlistment center. A moment later, his phone rang. It was his mother.
“Reeb, they just sent me the report,” she cried.
“I can’t believe they killed you.”
“We all knew about the big spring offensive. Casualties have been heavy for the past three weeks. Did you tell Dad?”
“No, but I’m sure he was informed. Are you coming home?”
“I have to take care of a few things, but I’ll be home in an hour or so.”
“Please hurry,” she urged.
He hung up and told his boss. Any death resulted in the immediate release from any hour: whether it be the work hour, the education hour, or the fitness hour. His boss offered his condolences, a hearty handshake, and a sad story of how he lost his brother in the war the previous year. As Reeb headed for the transtube, he noticed his boss in the office window standing at attention and saluting. He returned the gesture.
As he sat on the train, a luminous blue light blinked from the phone as it hung around his neck. The light indicated he was a fallen veteran and should be treated as a hero. However, it was hard for the citizenry to get excited when they saw heroes daily. Still, there were always those who offered light applause or a pat on the back.
The train raced through the city. Reeben passed the time by searching the net for the latest war news to see if his unit was mentioned, but the headlines only talked about the upcoming election. Then he saw one name that curled his lip. He clicked on it and a thin woman in her fifties appeared. It was Senator Zaller-Antuono-Lessik, a dark horse hopeful with the radical view that the war should be stopped.
The war had been going on for as long as he remembered; probably since before he was born. Ending it was absurd.
He clicked on it to hear what she had to say, but abruptly ended it a moment later.
“Dumb radical,” he muttered. He only watched because his sister was a supporter and he liked to know what kind of rant he could expect from her when she came home.
As the train raced through the tube, Reeben decided to jump off two stops early. Even though it was customary for a fallen soldier to spend his final hours with his family, he wanted to see Amelia one last time.
He arrived outside her building, a skyscraper stretching 40 stories into the air. He knew it would be difficult getting a hold of her during the work hour, but he hoped his blinking blue light would give him some leeway. He walked past security, but when he stood in the elevator bank, the computerized voice would only ask:
“Authority code, please?”
“I don’t have one, but–”
“–I’m a veteran. See.” He held out his phone hoping the blinking blue light would mean something, but it didn’t.
“Please clear the area, thank you.”
He knew the only way he could ride up was if Amelia gave him a code. He pulled up her name and stared wistfully at the thumbnail image of her beautiful face before pressing it. Three rings later her face filled the palm-sized screen when she answered.
“Amelia, I’m downstairs. I need to see you. Can you give me a clearance code?” he asked. “It’s important.”
“What are you doing here?” She sounded irritated. “You know I’m working. I shouldn’t have even answered. Why didn’t you text?”
“I just received my orders. I have to report to enlistment.”
Amelia’s eyes welled with tears. “I’m sorry Reeb… I… This is why I broke up with you. You know I couldn’t stand waking up each morning thinking this could be the day I find out you died. And now it’s come anyway.”
“I just want to see you one last–”
“I’m sorry,” she choked back her tears. “I can’t… I just… can’t.”
Reeben felt his own eyes watering, but he fought them back. “I still love you.”
“I love you, too. I’m sorry.” She hung up.
He stared at the thumbnail image that remained on the phone. He knew it wasn’t dignified for a fallen soldier to cry, but he didn’t care. He shed a few tears before exiting the building.
They had dated all through high school, but a month after she lost her older brother, Amelia broke up with him, too afraid of going through it all again. At the time, Reeb thought she was being silly, but now he understood. He shouldn’t have called her.
Reeb decided to take the tube to the park where they shared their first kiss. It was only one stop away. When he arrived, he found another couple holding hands beneath the tree where it happened, so he turned away. It was time to go home.
As he waited for the next car, an older woman ran up and hugged him.
“God bless you, son,” she said. “God bless you for serving your country.”
Reeben opened the door to his home expecting some kind of applause or adoration as was customary, but instead he was shocked to find no one home. At the very least his mom should have been there, but she hadn’t even left so much as a note. He sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. Since he had time, he checked the ADN’s (Attack Defense Network) casualty report. He searched for his name, typed in his ID and password, and clicked “report.” A short listing appeared on his screen:
NAME: Reeben CorneliusHarwin-Antilles-Isip-Anderson
DETAILS: Wounded on patrol. (more details)
He clicked: “more details.” A new screen came up.
Corporal H.A.I.A. was patrolling the defensive perimeter when his unit was ambushed with mortars and small arms fire. Other units counter-attacked to cover their withdrawal, but a burst of fire ended his life as he was being carried to safety. The following additional personnel were also killed in the attack:
A list of names followed, mostly from his unit, but Reeb had never met any of them. The list was long. He was still looking for names he might recognize when he heard the front door fly open.
“Reeb!” called his mom.
He dropped the phone and ran to meet her. His sister followed behind and all three embraced in the hall.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” his mother cried, “but I had to pick up your sister from the fitness field. It was the only way to reach her.” All phones were turned off for the fitness hour so citizens could focus on maintaining their health.
“It’s not fair!” cried his sister.
“It’s the law,” he whispered.
“It doesn’t have to be. We could end this war if we elected Senator Z.A.L.”
“Please, don’t start,” their mother urged. “This isn’t the time to argue.”
“She’s right, Sis. I don’t feel like fighting.”
“It’s too late now anyway.” She burst into tears.
Reeb’s father arrived home shortly afterward. He took the news in stride. He shook his son’s hand and asked, “Are you ready?”
“Not really, but I want to do what’s right.”
“Good for you, son. Just remember to be brave. It won’t even hurt.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Reeb’s father slapped him on the back and they went into the dining room.
That night, Reeb’s mom made him his favorite dinner. He ate so much, that when she offered him dessert, he had to say no.
“Please, it’s the last time I’ll ever make it for you.”
“I’m sorry, Mom, but if I eat another bite I’ll explode. Then I won’t even need to go the recruitment center.”
His father laughed politely, but no one else joined.
After dinner it was customary to hold the wake when friends and family could say their goodbyes, but Reeb had posted that he wanted to keep it simple. Only Den, his best friend came over. Together, they went to his room and tried to find a more detailed report of his demise.
“It would be nice if they gave a few more details,” said Den. “Did you at least get off a few rounds? Maybe take a few of them with you.”
There were no further details.
“It’s funny,” said Reeb. “I never really followed the war much before, but look how many people were killed. I’m sure I’ll see the other casualties when I go to the recruitment center tonight. People just like me, living their lives, almost oblivious to the danger we were in.”
“Damn, this system sucks. Sometimes I think we should just blow up the ADN and live our lives like normal people.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We need the ADN to fight our wars. Do you know how much worse it would be without it?”
Den shook his head.
“When I was little, I remember my grandfather telling me about the real wars that his father told him about. You can read all about them in history-pedia. They were brutal, savage affairs. They dropped bombs on cities. There was famine and disease and people horribly mutilated and scarred. All of that’s gone because of the grid. The grid is good and it’s important that we fight through it.”
“But why? Why does anyone have to die? Why do we even need war?”
“You’re starting to sound like my sister. Next thing you’ll be saying you want to vote for Z.A.L. Remember when we were kids and your cousin drowned? We were so devastated with grief because he was gone and we never had a chance to say goodbye. That’s how wars used to be, but not anymore. This is civilized thing to do. It shows we’re civilized.”
Den sighed. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’d miss you, too, if we were reversed.” Seeing Den’s sorrow, Reeb added, “Cheer up. As convoy escort, you have one of the highest survival rates of the war. Only eleven more months. You’re sure to make it.”
An hour later, everyone walked to the tube. They all boarded and headed for the recruitment center. Reeb’s sister held his hand.
“What if you didn’t show up?” she speculated. “What if we just took the tube and went far, far away?”
“We’d be outlaws with no way of living,” her father answered. “Besides, that’s anarchy.”
“But what if everyone stopped going at once? Not just you, but every casualty? What would they do?”
“C’mon, sis. When the other side found out we didn’t purge our casualties, they’d have to retaliate. Then we’d have a real war.”
She sighed. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Definitely,” said Reeb. “There’s no doubt about it. You know the ADN slogan. ‘It’s the civilized thing to do. It shows we’re civilized.'”
When they arrived, Reeb hugged his family and said his final farewell. Then he joined the other casualties who waited for their names to be called. When Reeb heard his, he entered a small room where they gave him a sedative. That night, his body was burned in a furnace that helped fuel the cities bright lights.Share