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Tommy looked at the Predictor, wetting his dry lips with his tongue. Today was the day he had waited for since he had been old enough to understand. Today he was fifteen. Within seconds, he would find out how he would die. The two blinking red lights on the Predictor looked like eyes. They stared coldly at him as though sizing him up. Perhaps they were. The machine sat, shiny, metallic and quiet. Just within hands reach. He hoped for something good as he stood there, trying to muster up the courage to do it.
His dad’s prediction had been skin cancer. That was ridiculous of course; cancer had been cured years ago. Perhaps it was a new strain. Not that it mattered in any case. No matter how ludicrous, the prediction always came true. You always heard about those idiots in the news who had tried to beat the Predictor, and prevent their deaths. It had been like in the ancient myths of humanity. In trying to avoid their imminent, foretold demise, they had simply stumbled into the path of their doom. Running from their own fear, they had fallen under the wheels of their speeding destiny. So full of denial to the end. Fools. Everyone knew that it was better to accept it, and live your life to the fullest, not spend it fleeing an inexorable force. They should know better. His brother’s prediction was heart failure, his mother’s an aneurism. They held their heads high. They knew the wisdom of acceptance. Tommy knew too. Whatever came out of that machine once it had tasted his blood, whatever was on the red fatality card, he would face it like a man. And yet the fear held him back, filled his veins and froze him where he stood.
What if he was destined to die a painful death? What if his death was full of fear? The uncertainty weighed at him as he stood there. Wasn’t it better to live in blissful ignorance? No. that was what they had done hundreds of years ago. Living without knowledge was to live in denial of truth, the greatest crime of all. How could anyone justify turning from reality, even when they had the key to their future in their hand? It was madness.
And yet the fear. Tommy’s legs seemed to move on their own. Even as his mind screamed for what was right and proper, he ran, dodging away from the red eyes of the Predictor as though the still metal pursued him with the wrath of his crime.
After the screen door banged, his family trickled into the open. They wanted to know what the prediction had been.
“So?” Dad said. “What was it, son?”
“Tell us, sweetie.” Mom said. “We’re so proud of you.”
Jared just looked expectantly over his quantum physics textbook.
“It was a tumor.”
“Where’s the card?” Mom asked. “I want to frame it with the others.”
“I dropped it.” Tommy lied.
Then he fled upstairs. He got into the shower, and sat against the tile wall. Hot water steamed over his skin, but he wished it would sink deeper, and wash away his shame. Why had he run? He was a coward, that’s why. A filthy coward. Even as he silently rebuked himself for his weakness, another fear grew in him. It was the law. He had heard what happened to those who didn’t get a prediction when they turned fifteen. They disappeared. They were wiped from the system, and then they themselves vanished. The very device he had fled from could be used to make him cease to exist. He shook his head. Nobody could find out about his crime. If they did, he would never see his family again. They would cast him out. He would wander the streets, marked as the craven he was. All of society would beat him, stone him, and scorn him for this sin. No one could ever know.
By the time school started up again, the fear of retribution had faded. Tommy was happy. But by the end of the week, his life was in ruins. It began when he was pulled out of English lit class, and taken to the principal’s office. The beady eyes of the principle stared him down as the silence stretched, and the glowing eyes of the school’s Predictor accused him coldly. Memory of his crime surfaced again, and he went cold with fear. Time plodded numbly on until a man with dark glasses on slipped silently into the room.
“Is your name Tommy Carson?” the man asked.
“Yes.” Tommy said. What was this about?
The man took off his glasses, and his eyes were grim. In a frighteningly emotionless tone, he voiced the words that ruined everything. “Tommy Carson, you are hereby charged with flight. You will be stripped of all rank, and ejected from the system.” The man grabbed Tommy, and dragged him over to the school’s Predictor. With one drop of Tommy’s blood, he could wipe the boy from the system. Tommy Carson would never exist. Tommy felt the prick of the stolen blood like a dagger to the heart, and when the man released him, he fell to the ground. A red card fluttered down next to him. Without thinking he picked it up, and stuffed it into his pocket. Perhaps he took the card out of misplaced curiosity, perhaps because he was grasping for redemption. But it burned in his pocket like a brand.
During the ride home, Tommy’s shock made the city outside the window into a dream. A few time he pinched himself to wake up. He didn’t wake up. This was real. They gave him a grey jumpsuit, and he stripped off his clothes from before and changed into the suit, the red card clutched in his hand. He didn’t read it. His mother was crying when he got home, and his father just turned away. Jared was the one who took Tommy’s citizen’s card from the hand of the man with the dark glasses. He looked sadly at Tommy, and then looked away.
Afterwards, the man with the glasses drove him to the outside of the city, and left him. There wasn’t much outside the wall. Just the desert of the world, the dead waste left over from world war three. Tommy sat on a rock, and cried. If only he hadn’t run. If only he hadn’t let his family down. He was gone now. They would thrust him from their hearts like the failure he was. Out here, outside the gate, he would be gone quickly. The residual radiation from the war would kill him before thirst did. Radiation, like him, was an abomination. Out here, out of sight, was the only place it was allowed to exist, and the only place he was allowed to exist. He had been wiped like a stain from the face of humanity.
He lifted the red card the Predictor had spat at him. He read the words through his tears.
Tommy P. Carson has been successfully erased. Have a nice day.
P.S. Cause of death: Radiation Poisoning