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No Need for Alarm

Franklin Randall lived in Apartment 17, Berguire Plaza, in the Tolaney District of New Viridian. Mr. Randall always wore a black trench coat and clutched a black briefcase and a black umbrella, no matter the sky’s emotion. It was more efficient to carry an umbrella on a sunny day than it was to lose valuable time covering his head or seeking shelter on a rainy one. Mr. Randall was rather obsessed with time. He was never late, nor was he ever early. Mr. Randall was always precisely on time. Time was reliable and constant, as was Mr. Randall. His life was clockwork, and both time and Mr. Randall prided themselves on never causing any alarm.

Each day, Mr. Randall would be awoken by the census scanners peering in his window at 6:15. Others in the city would be turning to a loved one and ask “am I alive, darling?” As a child, he had been afraid of the scanners. They would scamper over the house with spider-like appendages and bulging eyes. His mother held him and his father smoked. Mr. Randall’s father was a perfectly law-abiding man, of course, save for the smoking.

Mr. Randall would shower (five minutes), dress in his usual attire (five minutes), eat breakfast while scanning the first articles of each section on his NewsScreen (ten minutes), brush his teeth (two and a half minutes), and finally ride the shaft down to the lobby (a final two and a half minutes). Mr. Randall would nod at the secretary, though he would never look at her. The doorman had long since stopped trying to open the door for Mr. Randall, and Mr. Randall had long since stopped thanking him for his services.

Mr. Randall would pass a confectionary that children never visited, a fountain that never contained tangible water, a billboard that contained more propaganda than products, a hologram tour guide that had frozen many years ago and was never bothered to be fixed, and a restaurant proudly displaying some of the world’s last, rusting, yellow paint. Berguire Plaza was one of many such nooks in New Viridian, though to say such a venture as precisely-plotted as New Viridian contained such a haphazard thing as a ‘nook’ would be outrageous. Mr. Randall chose it because it was neither upscale nor downscale, and for its proximity to the public transit station and the city center.

Seven skyscrapers formed Berguire Plaza’s boundaries, and they were well equipped to defend their inmates from any stray rays of sunlight that had broken through the smog and crisscross of hovers zooming above. Still, if Mr. Randall were one to suppose, he might have supposed that it was a happy enough place. The shopkeepers attempted to smile and a colorful array of birds might have gathered around the sweet aroma of the confectionary if birds hadn’t gone extinct several years before. But Mr. Randall never supposed.

Mr. Randall would greet Sid the restaurateur with a “How do you do?” at 6:41 each morning, to which Sid would reply “Just sweeping, how about you?” Mr. Randall would nod politely and walk to the public transit station. The middle of his shoes would always touch the lines separating the cold, marble squares of Viridian City, never the squares themselves. At 6:45, he would arrive at the public transit station and board the PubTranZoom, which the many lazy citizens of New Viridian abbreviated as the ‘Zoom. If Mr. Randall were one to suppose, he might have supposed that whoever named the PubTranZoom thought himself very creative, or perhaps that it was peculiar that he did not know Sid’s last name, or for that matter anything about him other than that he was a restaurateur who swept at 6:41 in the morning. But Mr. Randall never supposed.

The ‘Zoom would, as its name suggested, zoom through the air, through building after building, edifice after edifice. Mr. Randall remembered in school that such a machine once required tracks, but whatever tracks were, they were not in use. The ‘Zoom was propelled from an opening in the middle of one building to the opening in the middle of another. If Mr. Randall were one to suppose, he might have supposed that magnetism or a reverse gravitational system kept the ‘Zoom moving. But Mr. Randall never supposed. And why should he? The ‘Zoom flew, or something like that, and that was all there was to it.

Mr. Randall got off the ‘Zoom at 7:15. He liked the ‘Zoom far more than hovers. Hovers could get stuck in traffic, or break down in midair, and Mr. Randall even occasionally read that they could be hijacked. He didn’t know how this was possible, nor did he want to, so he simply rode the ‘Zoom. What it lacked in creative naming it made up for in efficiency. The ‘Zoom ran on a timed traffic path, never broke down, and Mr. Randall had never read any appalling stories about it.

At 7:30 Mr. Randall would arrive at the office, an ugly looking annex to Control. He didn’t greet anyone here. Many officials and government employees, whether they volunteered or not, were Mr. Randall’s customers. Greetings could lead to relationships, and relationships could lead to attachment, and in Mr. Randall’s line of work, attachment could prove inefficient.

Besides, Mr. Randall was quite certain that the indifference was mutual; the others walked in straight lines, intent on their destination. Nobody stopped to check their NewsScreen or admire the obelisk in front of control. Virtus et ordo, or so it read. Mr. Randall had once heard from a mischievous classmate that ‘ordinem’ was one font size larger than ‘virtus’. He wasn’t surprised to see the prison address listed on the office board one day.

Mr. Randall’s annex was small, gray, and uninviting. The government valued money almost as much as Mr. Randall valued time, so the shaft only functioned for ten minutes at a time. Waiting had been frustrating to Mr. Randall when he first started, but he had quickly accommodated it into his schedule. At 7:40 he finally reached his office and began to file documents in his archaic processor. He averaged 0.25 documents per minute. The office measured five feet by five feet, six feet tall. It was a poisonous green color. When he had first started at Control, Mr. Randall had considered sending a request for a color change. But he knew the consequences that simple request might carry.

At 9:30 the board in the communal area lit up. The salesmen’s convention, Mr. Albwerth had called it. He was a droll man with a peculiar sense of humor. The others hadn’t taken to him, and eventually a Mr. Todd filed a complaint. They were told both men had been transferred. The salesmen knew better.

The men filed into the room one by one to write down the names and addresses. Some of them, the rookies, exchanged hellos or snippets of a conversation as they walked past each other.

At 10:00 Mr. Randall was back on the ‘Zoom. At 10:30 he would arrive at his first customer’s place of residence. Mr. Randall liked to think of them as customers. It was better than having patients, or victims, or subjects. Mr. Albwerth pretended he was a salesman and Mr. Randall pretended he had customers.

When the door opened at the first customer’s home, he would say he was from Population Services. Mr. Randall was used to darkening expressions or trembling lips. Sometimes the customer opened the door, sometimes a loved one. He would go through a similar conversation with each customer. Mr. Randall had his business down to a science; each visit would take from 30 to 32 minutes.

“Please take ten minutes to say your goodbyes and make yourself comfortable,” Mr. Randall would say. Everyone had a different reaction. Some had their families gathered around them, and each of them hugged and exchanged last words, tears trickling down their faces. Some were old and lonely. They would spend their ten minutes picking up old pictures with wrinkled smiles, or simply staring out in the window. A woman had once told Mr. Randall she counted every beautiful sky she had ever seen, and that morning she’d reached 5,000.

The ones in the prisons had ten minutes of contemplation. Some of them screamed. To themselves, to far away loved ones, to Mr. Randall or the prison guards. Most of them professed their guilt or insisted upon their innocence.

After their ten minutes, Mr. Randall had them lie down in the pod that had been delivered earlier that day. He opened his briefcase and began the injections.

“There will be no need for alarm,” he would say calmly. Some patients closed their eyes grimly, trying to smile. Others trembled with white faces.

This injection took five minutes to take effect. It numbed the senses so there would be no pain. Another injection cut off circulation to the limbs.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

This injection would take another four minutes.

The next injection removed speech, hearing, and sight.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

This injection would take five minutes.

The final injection.

“There will be no need for alarm,” Mr. Randall would say, though he knew that they could neither see nor hear him.

This injection took eight minutes.

When Mr. Randall was finished, he would pack up his briefcase. The pod would be picked up later that day. He would file the paperwork the next morning. Ten minutes later, Mr. Randall would be back on the ‘Zoom. He would buy himself a first class ticket during lunchtime, always ordering the same meal. A chicken salad with nuts and milk. Every Friday he would also order a chocolate chip cookie. The one irrational exception to Mr. Randall’s Perfectly Plotted Guide to Life.

The customers were all different. The prisoners were returned for rowdiness or overpopulation. The mentally and physically irreparable fell victim to population laws. Many winters, the season of newborns, the elderly would be subject to a draft. A rare few, the occasional wealthy suicidal or religious fanatic, volunteered for the service to be performed. Mr. Randall didn’t care. For some reason or another, someone had seen it fit that each customer be returned to a frozen, or vegetative, state. Someone had to perform the job, and Mr. Randall was well-suited to the task. He had long since stopped asking himself questions to which he needn’t know the answers.

Besides, they were told it was a much better alternative to the days of before. It was cheap, which the government liked, and efficient, which Mr. Randall liked. The customers didn’t die and neither did the rest of the world. Starvation, crime, and poverty had all been solved using only pristine calculations and unwavering solidarity by the immovable object that was Control. Virtus et ordo. Or so the billboard in Berguire Plaza read.

At 7:30, Mr. Randall would finally arrive home. Sometimes he would glance and see Sid standing behind an empty counter, polishing glasses. In his building, the secretary had gone home, but the doorman was still there.

In his apartment, Mr. Randall would retrieve assorted fruit from the ColdKeeper and a meal of meat and grain from the HeatKeeper. He would scan the NewsScreen and read three pages of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities each night before bed.

Pages. From a real book.

Mr. Randall had received the complete works of Charles Dickens from his mother for his thirteenth birthday. He had found them after the funeral and started to read them many years ago. In the years since, he often questioned why. Nevertheless, each night he would read precisely three pages. At 9:00, Mr. Randall would be fast asleep. It was cold in his bed. Heat was an expensive commodity.

And so lived Mr. Franklin Randall, salesman.

Then came the day it all changed.

The day started out normally enough. Mr. Randall performed his usual morning routine and continued his traditions with the secretary, the doorman, Sid. The sky was a murky gray, as usual. Birds had not, in fact, repopulated the earth. The ‘Zoom did not break down or get hijacked. He filled out his paperwork at an appealing rate.

His first customer was in the prison. He was a poor, demented excuse for a man, alternating between reliving marrying his wife and murdering her. He was strapped down. Mr. Randall told him there was no need for alarm. The prison clock read 31 minutes.

His second customer was an old woman in a nursery block. She spent her ten minutes telling Mr. Randall (though Mr. Randall wasn’t quite certain she knew he was there) that her husband was on his way home from work and that they really must wait. Mr. Randall looked at the photos. One read “In loving memory of Roger Johnson.” Mr. Randall told her there was no need for alarm. The woman’s body was already quite frail; Mr. Randall’s stopwatch read only 27 minutes.

It was when Mr. Randall arrived at the third customer’s residence that the day became peculiar. A young woman opened the door and invited Mr. Randall inside. When he asked if she was Alice Thomas, she replied in the affirmative. It was unusual but not unheard of for someone so young to receive the procedure. It could be a religious choice, or perhaps she had contracted a rare disease and wanted to end it before it began.

But what occurred next was unheard of. When Mr. Randall told her she had ten minutes, she glanced towards the door and told him she did not need them. Mr. Randall was speechless, not the least because of the peculiarity of this young woman. His entire day’s schedule was now off by ten whole minutes!

As she laid herself in the pod, Mr. Randall glanced towards the bedroom door. It had opened just a crack, and he could glimpse a sliver of a glazed blue eye through the crack before it vanished again. Mr. Randall swallowed. The young woman looked up at Mr. Randall with a fearful determination. He hesitated a moment before beginning the service.

The first injection took five minutes.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

The second injection took four minutes.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

The third injection took five minutes.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

The fourth injection took eight minutes.

His visit lasted only 22 minutes. Mr. Randall packed up his briefcase, glanced once more at the bedroom door, and hurried out of the apartment. The rest of his day passed without significance. When he tucked himself into bed, Mr. Randall saw he was three pages away from finishing A Tale of Two Cities, but went to bed without reading.

The next morning, Mr. Randall awoke with a start, staring fearfully into the seeker’s cold metal eye. He spilled the milk on his NewsScreen, making it flicker on and off. He nodded twice at the receptionist and accidentally let the doorman open the door for him. He forgot to greet Sid and the middle of his feet touched the inside of the marble squares. When he got to the office, he filed his documents with a shaky hand. Mr. Randall’s heart sank with a sickening dread. Alice Thomas was 87 years of age.

When he walked into the salesmen’s convention, the screen glared at him, its evil red letters boring through his ears and nostrils and eye sockets to the hairs on the back of his neck and the tips of his toes. Mr. Randall dropped his pad twice in copying down the names and addresses. Three men wearing day-visors were walking through the office. Some of the salesmen turned their heads twice. Very few people visited the third floor of the Control annex.

Mr. Randall was not up to his usual standards that day. His first customer took 34 minutes. The next took 36. The third customer took 40 whole minutes. By the end of the day, Mr. Randall was averaging 47 minutes per customer.

Walking through Berguire Plaza, Mr. Randall noticed Sid standing outside with a red-haired woman and a black-haired old man dressed like a penguin. They were beaming proudly at a cluster of neon letters reading “Cassatino’s Place”.

“Hi Mr. Randall! Carrying on the old family name in neon,” Sid called out.

“Congratulations on the new sign,” replied Mr. Randall. Cassatino. Sid Cassatino.

Mr. Randall walked slowly into his apartment building. For the second time in one day, he allowed the doorman to open the door for him.

“Thank you for your services,” Mr. Randall said. The doorman looked befuddled.

“That’s – that’s very kind of you, Mr., uh – “

“Randall. Mr. Randall.”

The lift beeped slowly and tortuously up to Mr. Randall’s floor. It had started pouring and thundering outside, but Sid and his employees still stood giddily in the rain. Mr. Randall placed his eye in the retina scanner. The door slid open. Mr. Randall gasped.

In the middle of his apartment lay a silver pod and a black briefcase. Mr. Randall walked over to the pod. It could not be real. He supposed it was all a hallucination. Yes, that would be it. All a dream. Mr. Randall slumped onto his dusty couch. It hadn’t been used in quite some time.

Minutes passed. Ten. Then thirty. An hour. Time had abandoned him. He was a respectable salesman. He did right by his customers. Didn’t he? A commendable job. He kept his mouth closed and his eyes open.

The stars were shining as brightly as they could through Berguire Plaza’s signature gray haze when he summoned the courage to examine the pod again. Mr. Randall took a glance out the window. The novelty of fresh neon had finally worn off, and Sid was reluctantly shutting it down. The confectionary must have smelled good, even in the rain. Mr. Randall looked instinctually to his trusty umbrella. Mr. Randall wondered if the frozen tour guide hologram had gotten ten minutes.

Mr. Randall had been given hours. He trembled and moved toward the pod, then stopped himself. One more thing to do. He was three pages away from the end. He read them upright, tears streaming down his face like never before.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

The book slipped from Mr. Randall’s hands. He lay himself down in the pod and opened the briefcase, holding the first syringe up to his head. It was a vile green liquid, the color of his office.

“There will be no need for alarm.”

He inserted the syringe. It took ten minutes.

Mr. Randall took out the second, third, and fourth syringe. The three were connected. Once he had inserted the second, he could not have hoped to insert the third or fourth. Mr. Randall plunged them into his body.

“There will be no need for alarm,” Mr. Randall croaked.

This seemed to take hours. Mr. Randall felt consciousness slipping away. He looked back on his life. It seemed now an endless parade of needles and papers. He tried to hold onto something.

Tick tock, there will be no need for alarm, Sid Cassatino, thank you very much for your services, a far, far better rest, Mr. Franklin Randall. Tick tock, no need for alarm, Sid Cassatino, thank you very much, a far, far better rest, Mr. Franklin Randall. No need for alarm, Sid Cassatino, thank you, a far better rest, Mr. Franklin Randall. No need for alarm, Sid Cassatino, thank you, a better rest, Mr. Randall. No need for alarm, Cassatino, thank you, a better rest, Mr. Randall. No need for alarm, Cassatino, thank, rest, Mr. Randall. No need for alarm, Cassatino, rest, Randall. No need for alarm, Cassatino, Randall… No need for alarm, Cassatino, Randall… No need for alarm, Randall… No need for alarm, Randall… No need for alarm, Randall… No need for alarm… No need for alarm… No need alarm… No need alarm… No need alarm… No alarm… No alarm… No alarm… No alarm… Alarm… Alarm… Alarm… Alarm… Alarm………

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