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Deception This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The sun rose wearily, piercing the apartment’s filthy windows and exposing the layers of dust lying undisturbed on the rickety furniture that cluttered the hallway that served as my kitchen. I prodded my cereal, grey and listless lumps swimming in a pool of crusty milk, and surveyed the neglect of my disheveled home. Yet another day. Yet another struggle. There was no time, though, to consider the poverty of my existence. I snapped my fingers and the robot rolled across the floorboards, its once-elegant body now rusty, limp and misshapen, the eagerness of his youth long since replaced by a resigned sadness. I cursed him for being so ugly, so plain, so cheap. I gave him my orders and in return he handed me a dampened sheet of paper containing that day’s list of names and addresses.
A few minutes later, I was behind the wheel of my truck, an ancient vehicle no longer produced in the North’s smart new factories. Although the day was still early, shapeless figures trudged through the drizzle along the narrow pavements. I slowly made my way across town to Fenchurch Avenue, the first road on the list. This was one of the dingiest streets in the North, unloved and overlooked. I knocked at the battered door of the fifth house, smiling grimly. A frail woman, her hands greasy with margarine, opened the door, and I introduced myself in a matter of fact tone.
“Hello,” she said, welcoming me into the house. “This is unexpected. Are you here to see my husband? I’m sorry I was just baking a pie. Make yourself at home.”
“Mrs. Peek,” I said formally, “Please summon the other members of the family. I have something important to tell you. It concerns a decision taken by the Government to give you the best possible future.” I spoke slowly and deliberately, using simple, basic vocabulary.
Her confidence was quickly replaced by wariness as she scuttled away, summoning the other inhabitants of the house. I sat down and reflected on the speech I was about to deliver, one that I had given hundreds of times before, one that I knew even better than my own name, one that I understood would change forever the lives of those who heard it.
Moments later, I was standing in front of the entire Peek family. I was always astonished by how many people lived in these small houses, and that morning’s visit was no exception. It reminded me of the family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the few works to have survived that Middle Ages.
I composed myself and began to recite the lies I had become so practiced at delivering.
“I am here to inform you that the Government has become very concerned about your living conditions. There are twelve of you here in this house if I’m not mistaken. And, as I’m sure you know, ever since we designated the South as the repository for all the garbage that we generated, the population of the North has soared to a point where we now have a terrible crisis.”
I smiled at them, knowing well that they knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Aye, we do. Just yesterday I was walking down the street to see Mrs. Marble and saw all those poor souls from the South, camping homeless in the rain.”
I winced and shook my head in an understanding way, feigning sympathy and conveying the impression I had been one of those who had voted against the decision to transport all our garbage in the South, making it impossible for people to live there.
“That is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. The Government is afraid that your neighborhood will soon be over-run by homeless refugees. That is why I have come to talk to you today. I am here to offer you a stable, furnished, and comfortable home, away from this terrible over-crowding. And, just to be clear, this new home, this new life will come at no cost to you. Everything will be free: you will have no obligations, no duties, no need to work. Everything will be provided by the Government.”
Now, this wasn’t entirely true. Yes, I was offering them, beguiling them even, to accept the promise of a new home. But it wasn’t because of the vast quantities of garbage that were driving the Southerners from their homes. No, the Government had decided to use the crisis to rid the North of the uneducated, the lower classes, the disadvantaged, and the ignorant. I was small cog in a secret branch of the Government charged with implementing a program designed to free space and direct undesirables to a “better place.”
“Wha’ if we don’ wanna go?” a small boy asked bravely, clutching the hand of his mother.
“Then you will be buried under garbage,” I responded quickly, the lie apparent only to myself.
“When will we see this new home of ours?” asked an elderly man, emaciated by lack of food and pale through lack of exercise.
“Soon,” I promised. “Now, hurry up. I will return to collect you at four o’clock. Pack your essentials. Tell no-one of your good fortune. Prepare for your new life. Good day do you.”
I hurried out, starting to feel claustrophobic. They shouted questions, but I ignored them, sick of it all. I fled to the next house on the list, where I repeated the same speech and received the same reactions. Again, I told them too that I’d be back at four o’clock.
I went to a small and dusty pub, and a robot served me a cigar along with my usual sandwich. I coughed as I inhaled great puffs of smoke. Smoking was my drug of choice, the only thing that kept me going. Some people say love fuels their lives. Well, my fuel was nicotine. It curbs my emotional stupidities, envy being one of them. Envy? I really was starting to lose it. Envious of what? Them? They who lived on less than a shilling a day in the midst of their starving, unwashed, disorganized families? Nah, not I. I didn’t need a family. I earned triple what they did and had a job in the Government. It was time, though to earn my wage.
I got up and found my dirty automobile. The engine roared and I drove to the first house I’d been to earlier that day. It was half past four. The afternoon was quickly turning into dusk. I had a cunning lie to explain my lateness.
I barged into the house to find them all sitting on the floor gripping their belongings. I felt a pang in my heart as I looked into their solemn faces, knowing that I was about to destroy their lives.
“I am late, I apologize humbly. I was just calling one of the leaders in our Government, trying to give you the most time possible you could have packing.”
“Will there be furniture in the new home?”
“Will we all have rooms?”
“Will I still have to sleep on a chair?”
“Will we have showers?”
“Will it be comfortable?”
“Will we like it?”
They were all shouting questions, demanding answers now.
“I assure you it will be more than adequate,” I said quietly, ignoring the yelling. “Now Mr. Peek, if you could just sign these papers and then we will be ready to go…”
A few minutes later, they were clustered in my truck. Nervous tears welled in their eyes as we drove to the next house. We rumbled along through empty streets as I told them how lucky they were to have been chosen for this new home. I knew they weren’t listening and that their minds were elsewhere, but I continued nonetheless.
The car halted abruptly in front of the grey metallic building. I ushered them out and they looked around fearfully. There was not another house in sight, just acres of wood. We walked through the sliding glass door into the lobby, and I entered their numbers.
“I have Family 4261 and Family 4262.”
“Both families?” The lady asked.
“Yes,” I answered, taking the red stickers that were handed to me bearing the numbers 4261 and 4262.
“Corridor four, door two, chamber six,” she told me.
I nodded as I placed the red stickers on each of their foreheads. They were all drowsy as the fumes of the place reacted and took control of them. I’d gotten used to the smell.
We walked down the marble floor, our heels clicking in unison until we reached a heavy door that I slid open and pushed them through. Their dazed curiosity was soon gone as they entered the room and looked around petrified. Thousands of faces stared back at them behind metal bars, pale as ghosts, luminous in the eerie light. All hope vanished, all voices were silenced. They moved inside and realised this would be their new home where, like caged animals, they would live together. The beds in the cell were clustered on one side, an extra pair of clothes for all of them hung on a peg, untouched food lay on a platter, a basin of water in the corner, everything they needed to survive. The platters of food would be replaced in the morning by robots, the basin re-filled, the clothes washed; all would be done and taken care of. I stared at the cages piled on top of one another. They were all dying, starved of hope and light. After a while they would give up eating altogether and, once dead, would be thrown into the sea and the empty cages re-filled. They were the unknowns, the unnamed, the unmissed. Nobody would notice their absence.
I drove home, a cigar planted between my lips, a vague sense of achievement and satisfaction lifting my spirit. My day was over, another road cleared. Another evening alone with the robot awaiting me. Yet as I tuned the key, I realised I was not alone. Someone was waiting for me, a face I vaguely recognised from the office. I stood transfixed, my blood cold, my face rigid and pale.
“Mr. Grenth. Please take a seat.” I slumped, dreading the words that I knew would come next. “I have been sent by the Government to inform you about the decisions that we have taken so that you may have the best future possible. …”




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