Voids, page 1
Copyright © 2016 Tim Jeffreys and Martin Greaves
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author and publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
For the women in our lives.
Much of my working day is spent waiting. Today I’m sitting on a stained sofa in a cramped one-bedroom apartment, breathing in the mixed aromas of soiled nappies, stale milk and drying clothes, drinking a cup of budget SMOSH, and thinking about how much my job satisfies me.
The apartment is in dire need of redecoration. I notice a damp patch above the window, at the angle where the wall and the ceiling meet. You can tell there isn’t a man around; if this were my home I would have addressed that by now. No child of mine is going to be inhaling mould spores into their new lungs. The wallpaper looks diseased and is starting to peel. The furniture, including the Perspex Cotcube pushed against the wall opposite the window, is obviously cheap, but looks well kept. The apartment belongs to Kelli Geitner, a pale, polite woman of twenty-two. I could describe Kelli as good-looking, neatly turned out, if a little too thin, though that undernourished look seems to be all the rage since the recent food crisis. Her clothes are like the furniture, low budget but well looked after. If I hadn’t noted her actual age in the file, I might have thought her younger.
She sits opposite me on a Kinetic KarmaChair, bought second-hand probably, but still in good condition. Kelli’s smile, when she glances at me, is apprehensive. Most of the time, she avoids looking at me. The situation embarrasses her, I suppose. She’s tuned in to the MesmeriChannel and now and then her eyes shift to the fluid abstract holographic images, which project from the optical unit attached to the chair and float before her. As she gazes at them, the apprehension in her face momentarily softens. despite the allure of the holographic shapes, she rises frequently to attend to her baby son who crawls about the toy-strewn floor gurgling at every new discovery. I can tell she’s a smart girl. Perhaps not book smart, but she’s no fool. Maybe she could have made something of herself if baby hadn’t come along. Just watching her, though, I can see she’s a devoted mother. Some women get resentful and bitter when their men leave and take their anger out on the child. Not Kelli. She’s the sort of girl to whom motherhood comes naturally.
There’s another child, a girl nine years old, playing in the small bedroom. The girl is not Kelli’s own, but she takes care of her as if she were.
“Well,” she told me shortly after I arrived, “I’ve looked after her for a long time, after Bass brought her here. She’s part of the family now, and I do think it’s good for Jason to have his big sister around.”
I glance at my watch. I’ve been waiting now for two and a half hours and my patience is beginning to fray. I’m itching to get down to the real work, to my real purpose in being here. All this waiting around is fine, it’s necessary, but it doesn’t get my juices flowing, if you know what I mean. Bad coffee and the chitchat are what social workers are for. I’m here to execute the law.
“You’re sure he’s going to drop by today?” I ask.
“He usually does, on a Friday towards the end of the month.”
Needing to stretch my legs, I pick my way over to the window. There are no blinds and I watch the streets below. A long line of traffic is queued up along the avenue. People crowd the pavement and crisscross between the stationary vehicles. Even eight stories up, I can hear the cacophony of human catcalls and the scream of car horns, innumerable shouts amidst the dissonance of music, and the amplified commercials that announce themselves across the sky like a call to prayer. There is also the steady electric whine of hybrid cells from the line of cars waiting at the signal lights, a continuous drone that sometimes sounds like it’s vibrating on the inside of my skull. The huge residential blocks opposite are ghosts in a haze of smog. They appear to me as gigantic oblong blanks, smoky-grey rectangles precisely cut out of the vast platinum plane of sky. You wouldn’t know it by looking outside, but it’s actually summertime.
I think again about how much satisfaction I get from my job; how it makes me feel I’m doing something important, something worthwhile. How many people can say that?
Kelli speaks; her voice is soft, almost inaudible. “I suppose you must wonder why I put up with him.”
I know—more or less—what she’s going to say. I’ve heard it more times than I can count. But I let her continue because it eats up time and fills the vacuum that might otherwise be filled with anxiety.
“It’s for Jason. I want him to know his father. I want them to have a relationship, even if it’s not…a perfect relationship. At least it’s something.” She hesitates. “I wasn’t going to throw Bass out, not even after what he did. I still forgave him. I could even understand a little. Like he said at the time, I was so busy with the baby I had no time for him and he just got bored. But I let him stay, for Jason’s sake.” She sighs and pushes her hair back over her left ear. “But then he left anyway, told me he thought I didn’t trust him anymore.”
“Did you know that his other woman also got pregnant?”
Kelli’s eyes cloud. “No, I…I didn’t know that. But…he’s not with her either. Is he?”
“No, he’s moved on again. We couldn’t trace where he’s living now, probably shacked up with some other woman. It won’t be long until he brings another child into the world, hence the need for this.” I tap the holster attached to my side. Kelli stares at it, her face darkening.
“Will it hurt him?”
“Only a little, unfortunately.”
“But doesn’t he, I mean…doesn’t he have rights?”
“The law states that if a man sires more than one child by at least two different women and does not take financial or moral responsibility for those children, then he has waived his right to continued procreation.”
Kelli appears dazed by these words. She continues to stare at the weapon in my holster. “But doesn’t it seem a little…brutal?”
“The world is overcrowded. This city is jammed. Just look out the window. It’s unsustainable, and we need men to take responsibility for their actions, not run around making babies they have no intention of raising.” I tap the holster again whilst checking the case files once more on my wrist hub. “Trust me. This is necessary.”
“You got children of your own, Mr…”
“Seraphine. Danny Seraphine. And no. My wife would love to have a baby. Me…not so much.”
She hesitates, then says, “Do you love your wife?”
“I love her very much. We’ve known each other since we were kids. Grew up together on the Ashfields estate. You know it? Pretty rough area, right? It wasn’t quite so bad back then as it is now. I wouldn’t even go down there these days. I suppose it seems unfair of me to say I don’t want children when that’s all Em—Emily, my wife—wants more than anything. But…” Realising I’ve overstepped the boundaries of professionalism, I stop talking. I shrug at Kelli and smile instead.
Before anything more can be said, there’s a pounding on the front door and I
“Shall I…?” she says, indicating behind her.
I nod. As she moves off into the narrow hallway, I flip the holster catch on my hip and take out my gun. Then I edge towards the darkened hallway, thinking to spare little Jason the sight of what’s about to go down. I can hear voices out in the hall. A man in the doorway says: “Got any money?”
Kelli says, “I gave you everything I could spare last month. Aren’t you working?”
“Got anything to eat?”
“It goddamn stinks in here! Why don’t you open a window?”
Hearing the sound of Bass entering from the landing, I place the filtered goggles around my head before raising the gun in both hands and taking a step forward into the gloom of the hallway. Bass ticks none of the boxes associated with the archetypal Bunny; that is, the typical unprincipled reprobate I’m contracted to pursue. Invariably they’re thin, feckless, emaciated individuals who almost elicit a sense of pity rather than disdain. Most of them look like they lack the nutrition to engage in anything more energetic than taking a piss, let alone the siring of several children. Bass Brooks is different: a tall muscular figure, at least six-two, coiffured in the scarlet-tinged ponytail that seems de rigueur for young guys today. Here is a solid specimen, one capable of fathering legions of offspring; a whole fucking army of them, no doubt. He halts halfway along the corridor. Seeing the gun in my outstretched hands, he raises his palms outwards and glances over his shoulder at Kelli.
“Bass, this is…it…”
With his hands raised I’m presented with a clear shot of his groin, but I don’t lower the gun so as not to alert him. I aim at his head instead. I hold up my FSA identification card, but he strains to see it in the gloom.
“Are you Jason Brooks, also known as Bass, date of birth fourth of April 2024?”
He cocks his head to one side and grins, still holding his hands in the air. His teeth gleam in the dim light. He says affably, “What is this? Some kind of joke?”
Louder now, I say, “Are you Jason Brooks, also known as Bass, date of birth fourth of April 2024?”
“Hey, man, who wants to know?”
Louder again: “Are you Jason Brooks, also known as Bass, date of birth fourth of April 2024?”
The facial recognition software on my wrist hub has already scanned Bass’s head, the screen lighting up an affirmative green, but I need to hear him say it.
“Yeah. I’m him.”
That will do for me.
Another pause, then he lets out a bewildered laugh and says, “You’re goddamn FSA? Fuck you, man!”
He lunges towards me, but is still several feet away when I angle the gun downwards and pull the trigger. The gun buzzes and a huge bolt of brilliant white electricity arcs from the nozzle and hits Bass square in the crotch, throwing him backwards against the wall. A framed picture falls from its hook. The most interesting part of the whole procedure—I call it a procedure as though I’m some kind of doctor—is the little dance they do as the gun’s ray fizzes and pops around their groin. Bass does it leaning against the wall with his head thrown back and his teeth gritted. He’s clutching his crotch with both hands and leaping from foot to foot as if standing on hot coals. From between his teeth comes a hissing sound and little bubbles of saliva. The white arcing light becomes momentarily more brilliant and the dim hallway strobes as Bass continues his merry dance. The crackle is so loud I have to shout in order for my voice to be heard.
“Bass Brooks, I’m here to inform you that under Section 12 of the Absent Fathers Decree, dated twenty-fourth of the twelfth, 2046, you are guilty of neglecting the children you have sired with multiple mothers, and so in accordance with paragraph sixty, you have officially waived your human right to further procreation.”
I release the trigger and the arc light disappears. The hallway is wreathed in wispy smoke as the echo of the pop and sizzle fades.
Bass’s eyes had been shut tight, but when he opens them the intense green of his irises visibly fades in a process we call the “evanescence.” The circuit breaker dims that internal light, signalling a kind of spiritual amputation, a dulling of the chi perhaps. It’s a fascinating side effect of the whole procedure.
After thirty seconds it’s all over, literally and metaphorically.
Stunned—mouth hanging open, still clutching his groin—Bass glances down at himself.
“What the hell you done to me?”
“I’ve given you a contraceptive charge that targets the vas deferens, resulting in immediate vas occlusion, cauterizing the passage, causing an atrophy of the testes, a rapidly toxic necrosis of the…”
“What the hell you done, man?”
“I’ve substituted the lush and fruitful garden of fecundity with an arid Arabian desert.”
“What? Speak English for fucksake!”
With a sigh, I say, “Here, read this.”
I take an official envelope from my inside pocket and hold it towards him. It contains the court order, an information leaflet, and a complaints form. Bass stares at it dumbly and looks at Kelli. Then after a prolonged period where he just gazes at the wall beyond my left ear, I approach him and force the buff envelope into one of his trembling hands.
“This would’ve been a whole lot easier if you had a fixed address. I wouldn’t have had to call on Kelli here, who’s completely innocent in all this, by the way. Open the envelope and read what’s inside. If you want to blame someone, find a mirror.”
He remains at an awkward angle against the wall, still staring at me. “You can’t…you can’t just…”
“It’s the law, pal. Open the envelope and read what’s inside. You’ll find enlightenment therein.”
I return to the lounge for my coat and briefcase and crouch down to stroke a hand over little Jason’s head before picking my way out of the room, brushing past the Bunny who’d now been successfully neutered. I smile and thank Kelli, who looks as stunned as her ex-boyfriend and on the brink of tears. I re-holster the sterilization gun and exit the apartment.
I’m descending the stairway towards the lower landing when I see it—the shape—I’m not quite sure how to describe it—suspended at the base of the stairs. It looks like a transparent Rorschach blot, about three feet high and two feet wide and it subtly changes shape as I observe it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. The entire mass appears ethereal, fading in and out of view, the graffiti sprayed on the wall behind it still visible through its glaucomic surface. What makes it even more unnerving is that I can’t tell if this thing is actually hovering before me or if it’s simply fluid behind my eye, a sunspot, or something of that nature. All I can do is stand and stare.
I stop midway down the flight and reach for my holster—a stupid move for two reasons. First, I’ve no idea what effect a neuter blast would have on such weird phenomenon; and second, the gun is spent as it’s illegal to carry more than one load per mission, just in case an assailant manages to wrestle the gun from an agent and launches themselves on a sterilization spree against the general population. Such an incident happened once, two years ago, and it resulted in three suicides, including that of the agent who’d been forced to relinquish his gun. So here I am, facing this translucent form that has morphed before my eyes, and for a few seconds I’m overcome with a sense not of fear but of hopelessness. In a glimmer the thing is gone, like a floater across my pupil, wiped in a mere blink.
The hours I spent in Kelli Geitner’s apartment waiting for Bass Brooks to show result in me hitting rush hour on the way home. This is a major inconvenience as I promised Emily we’d have dinner together this evening. With our work commitments, both hers and mine, it’s getting harder and harder for us to spend quality time together.
I get onto the overhead freeway heading east, but al
“Get off the highway! Hey, get that kid off the goddamn highway!”
The traffic begins to crawl and I inch the car forward. As we pick up speed, people are lightly bumped out of the way by car fenders. There are angry shouts and the thump of fists on car bonnets. I hear a siren start up behind me. Looking in my rear-view monitor, I see a government clean-up squad about a hundred yards back. The lights are flashing and the wagon’s sirens make a hell of a din, but they’re stuck in Lane 5. Others have noticed too. The clean-up crew jumps from the stranded vehicle and charges forward through the maze of hybrid cars, fully kitted out in protective riot gear.
People scream and climb over cars. It’s mayhem. I accelerate, bumping two elderly women onto the asphalt. I feel bad, but this is no place to stop, not now. There must be around a hundred people dodging the multiple lanes of traffic, attempting to make the safety of the crash barriers before the clean-up squad arrives. Looking back over my shoulder I can see two of the cleaners already dragging a woman by her hair as she writhes and kicks at them. A child in the car to my right is screaming in the passenger seat as desperate people clamber over the bonnet.