Snow covered the brown cobbled walks of Fuller City. The wind howled in between the buildings as it blew the white flakes into deep drifts. Shop windows were latticed with crystals of ice and snow. Overnight the temperature had dropped and the mercury was now straining to reach twenty six degrees. People walked about in layered clothing, pushing against the wind driven snow as it swirled in several directions before reaching the ground. Doors to businesses and stores became blocked with drifts as owners continued to battle the forces of nature. Atop many of the stores could be seen cell sweepers, teenage boys hired to keep the snow off of the solar panels. If the panels remained covered for too long the Mg-Ion batteries would quickly drain and power to that building would be lost. Each panel had to remain completely cleared in order to capture every particle-wave of sunlight. At random locations night post lamps lit up under the dense cloud cover. Fuller City was engulfed in an early winter storm.
For the last thirty years the winters had been returning earlier and had become increasingly more severe. During The Transition Period and for decades after the effects of global warming had been reversed, however it was becoming apparent that the reversal had set into motion another climate change, a cooling period. Man’s attempt to repair the Earth from their own destruction was causing even greater damage. The United World Nations created a special climate control committee to examine the cooling effect to determine what if anything could be done to prevent a worldwide disaster. The winter of twenty eighty to twenty eighty-one was setting out to be the most bitter in the history of humankind.
Across Fuller City residents were stockpiling food and Mg-Ion batteries in hopes of enduring the next four to five months of bitter cold and deep snows. Even with all the advances in city infrastructure, water pipes would still freeze and solar panels could be covered causing power outages. Each individual resident was responsible for maintaining their panels and water infrastructure; it was the solution to out-of-control city budgets. Some business owners decided to lock up their own shops and return home to share the bitter cold experience with family or friends.
Three miles to the North of Fuller City sat a large network of buildings. The residents and employees did not need to be concerned of a power loss or frozen water pipes; no resource was spared to keep The Fuller Education Center and The Fuller Incentive Center fully operational.
The Fuller Incentive Center was comprised of one small insignificant gray on white building. The corners of the building were faux offset gray stones that appeared stacked until they reached the roof. The outside walls were smooth to the touch and glistened bright white. No windows adorned the outside and the only entry was a heavy brushed steel door that sat in the middle of the wall facing the sidewalk that ran along the road. Inside the building the floors and walls were of brushed stainless steel; no color to distinguish one wall from another, every wall, ceiling and all the floors were the same brushed stainless steel.
When you entered the building a single kiosk stood by itself just inside the door and off to its right was a security pass through. When entry was granted through the heavy steel door the entrant must then pass a retina and facial recognition scan. Failure to be identified would result in a permanent stay at The Fuller Incentive Center, in most cases as fertilizer in the flower beds that adorned the entryway. Beyond the security kiosk a brushed stainless steel door allowed entry into a long narrow hall, the walls and floor of which were covered with the same brushed stainless steel. At the end, another security kiosk and another brushed stainless steel door, through which was a large open room. Inside the room were two sets of elevators, each with its own distinct destination. The elevator to the left went two floors down; the one to the right went one floor down. Exiting the elevator on the right was a large room which had rows upon rows of desks. At each desk an operator monitored a computer terminal; each operator was assigned a single occupant that resided on the floor below. Each terminal had two computer monitors, one to adjust necessary settings; the other, a video feed that followed the assigned occupant. Each Fuller Incentive Center occupant had been injected with a tracking chip that synced with its operator; regardless of where the occupant went his or her activities was displayed on the assigned operator’s terminal. The elevator on the left went forty feet below the operators and under the surface of the Earth where the occupants of The Fuller Incentive Center resided.
Each resident occupied their own room, nine feet by six feet. Each room contained a single bed and toilet made of brushed stainless steel, the walls, ceiling and floor were also of brushed stainless steel. In one corner of the ceiling was embedded a single LED natural white light; it emitted enough light to allow shadows and outlines of the contents of the room. Since the LED emitted from the corner it cast odd shadows that kept the occupant disoriented. Daily the occupants were removed and led to a feeding area then to a cleaning station. Once fed and cleaned they were sectioned off to separate medical testing facilities. After morning test were completed they were escorted back to the feeding area and cleaning station and then returned to the testing facilities. There was no attempt to separate men women or children, as each operator above had complete control over the behavior of their assigned occupant. Any action that was considered a violation was adjusted with images of pain in the violators mind.
Children that had been deemed unfit by The World Medical Committees standards to allow their genetic material into society were allowed to continue a natural seventy or eighty year life span in a secured environment to itself. During that time their DNA was tested and examined, altered and re-injected into them in hopes of disabling undesirable traits that could later become manifest. Some of the adults had started out as children at the center; others were Transistors, ones that could not or would not conform and still others were traitors to the State. Room number thirty two held such a traitor, his operator above was also designated number thirty two.
William J Crouch had been stripped of his personal identity. Embedded in the brushed stainless steel wall outside of his room was a brushed stainless steel plaque that had etched “Occupant 32”. Like all other occupants he was dressed in a one piece lime green jumpsuit that closed with Velcro up the back. It was the only piece of clothing each occupant was allowed to have, no underwear, no shoes, no socks. William was familiar with what happened to the occupants of The Fuller Incentive Center, in his past he had assisted in some medical procedures. As he had every morning for the last six weeks he sat on the edge of his cold metal bed knowing what awaited him. As with all his other days he would not let fear control his actions.
He had told his four captors at the book store that he never married and had children, it was now a decision he deeply regretted. Had he married and even had children knowing what he knew, at least someone would miss him. As it was he had no one, no family, no real friends, and no one that loved him. He would be missed by no one. Exactly at seven in the morning a chime echoed throughout the facility and then a second later his door slid into the wall. William stood, paused and then walked to his doorway where he remained until ordered to proceed to the feeding area. It was not long before a tall slender man dressed in a red one piece jumpsuit waved him from his room. In his hand was a black round slender object about sixteen inches long, the end of which had two short prongs. William knew the current that would pass from the Paton and into his body if he resisted. He stepped from his doorway and followed those in front of him to the feeding area. The room he entered was as all other rooms; floor, walls and ceiling made of cold brushed stainless steel. He formed rank along with the rest of the occupants and again waited. Once instructed he took his assigned seat, bench thirty, table thirty seat number two, the cold of the steel bench pressed against his buttocks. Again he waited. A bowl and spoon were placed in front of him and he waited until instructed to eat. When the order was given he picked up his spoon and started to eat.
To his right in seat number one was someone he had not seen since arriving. Above his right eye was an indentation about the size of a quarter, across the top of which was a fresh scar. At the base of his neck William noticed another scar and the left side of his head had been shaved of all his hair.
“Names Thirty Two; what’s yours?” William extended his hand to the newly arrived occupant.
“He ain’t anyone new; he’s just been away for a while.” A ‘boy’ sitting across from William explained.
“Well he can speak for himself can’t he?”
“No. See that scar along his neck? They did something to his vocal cords to shut him up. He always screamed, never would stop screaming. Scream, scream, scream. Nicknamed him the ‘Screamer.’”
“What’s your name?” William asked the boy across from him.
“Names Thirty Eight, been here since I was four, so has Thirty One. We grew up in here together.” Thirty Eight said.
“Why, what defect did you have to keep you in here?” William asked.
“Nothin’. We started out in an Education Center, but we fought a lot, got labeled as bullies. They tried to educate it out of us, but they said we would always fight.”
“Did you; always fight?” William asked.
“No; well I don’t think we did. We only started cutting up when we were four. We always wanted to be outside to play, but outside time was only on Saturday. So we got bored and wrestled. We formed wrestling groups and when the Controllers tried to stop us, the other kids stopped but we kept on. We were just bored. I hated being trapped inside and having nothing to do.” Thirty Eight said.
“How long ago was that?”
“Forty two years now. I got my last serum shot when I turned four, as did Thirty One there. So I suspect that soon we’ll start looking our age.”
Thirty Eight and Thirty One still had the appearance as if they were in the mid-teens, not in their forties. William lamented having ever played a part in the Fuller Education Project.
“So why did they snip his vocal cords?”
“Like I said, you not listening to me? They working on your ears?" Thirty Eight leaned to his right than to his left, looking at each of William's ears in turn. "He screamed all the time to be let out. That hole in his head, they took out a piece of his brain to make him calm.”
“So you two were not genetically flawed? Just hyper?”
“That’s what it seems to be Thirty Two. Be glad they snipped him, he’s right next to you. He would be keeping you up all night if they hadn’t. Hyper kids, back in the old world I heard they achieved the same results except with drugs. Called it Hyper-Activity-Disorder or something like that. Hyper kids were given a pill to shut them down, dope them up. Today they just send you to an Incentive Center pull a plug from your brain and snip your vocal cords. In the end it has the exact same effect. But that’s not the worst part about being raised in this forsaken place.”
“Yeah?” William asked.
“The RB’s. They’re the real bullies. They tease, beat, trick, play mean games, they’re really mean. The Operators told us that the RB’s are part of the re-education procedure. But if that’s so, then why were me and him put in here?" Thirty Eight pointed his spoon at Thirty One. "The RB’s are the real bullies. They have those electric sticks; they sneak up from behind and zap you for no good reason. Wet myself every time.”
All security personal in all Fuller Incentive Centers were required to wear a one piece red jumpsuit and carry sixteen inch long Taser sticks. The color of the suit made them stand apart from the occupants, to avoid confusion, the stick gave them the power to keep the occupants under control. Since the occupants were the genetic defects of society there were no restrictions on what actions the security personal felt was necessary to keep them in control. Over the decades and throughout all Fuller Incentive Centers the security personal had come to be called RB’s; Red Bullies for the distinctive color of their jumpsuit. William felt compassion for the two boys. They had no defective genetic material, just what had been deemed an ‘undesirable trait’. They were highly active children who hated sitting for hours a day.
With conversation ended William turned his attention to eating a bowl of unflavored oatmeal and then obediently followed the others to the cleaning station. The room retained the same décor as the rest of the facility and along the walls were long stainless steel benches. Above the benches at two foot intervals were numbers, and above them, shelves. He made his way to seating area number thirty two and removed his one piece jumpsuit and then entered a large room with shower heads dropping from the ceiling. He stood motionless under one of the shower heads and waited. When the other occupants had entered the room a water and soap mixture fell from the shower heads. William lathered himself and then waited for the rinse cycle, when the clean water stopped; strong jets of air filled the room from the floor, ceiling and walls. The occupants then exited back into the changing room and there on the number thirty two shelf was a fresh clean lime green one piece jumpsuit. William got dressed.
As everyday over the past six weeks his heart raced as he was lead down a hall, from which doors to examining rooms opened along its length. He had never thought of his own death or suffering, but now it could be a reality; a tear broke loose from the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek. He was instructed to stop at the tenth door on his right and to stand facing it. He obeyed as he had every morning. Every day for the past six weeks he was led to the tenth door and told to remain standing, facing the door. Every day the door never opened and everyday he was escorted back to the feeding area at lunch and then the cleaning area and back to the tenth door to stand, waiting, until time to return to his holding room.
He had stood motionless for thirty minutes never expecting the door to open but this day the door slid into the wall, startling him. He slowly entered. His own genetic alterations were about to begin. He was still looking at the floor when he heard the door slide shut behind him; he did not look up to see what awaited him. Another tear slid down his cheek and he watched it as it fell to the cold hard stainless steel floor. He now fully comprehended the fear he had instilled in others as he had done his job in the past. For the first time he felt regrets.
“Come over here and have a seat William”
William knew the voice and he told himself he should comply, but the voice instilled fear in him.
“It’ll be okay, come on over.” Toby said.
William forced himself to raise his head as he approached a large oversized plush chair. Before sitting down he took in those that were gathered, along with Toby was Nick and Greg, William sat across from the three men.
“Would you get our guest a glass of orange juice please?” Toby instructed an unnamed attendant that was dressed in a red jumpsuit. The attendant disappeared through another door and returned a few minutes later with a large glass of orange juice. She handed it to William.
“It’s safe to drink. Just good ole' orange juice.” Greg said.
William took the glass and eagerly drank the beverage.
“Why am I here; with you?” William asked.
Toby turned and nodded to Greg. “Well it’s like this, Daniel wanted to dig through your brain and reprogram your genetics, but we persuaded him to give us a chance at another option.” Greg said.
“What’s that?” Without realizing it William’s tone had turned cyclical.
“Be careful William, I don’t appreciate you’re tone.” Toby had snapped back so quickly that it startled William.
“Sorry I didn’t realize.”
“It’s understandable under the circumstances. The Committee is fully aware that everyone makes mistakes, and if we never attempted to work with those that did we would be just as bad as they are and, well soon enough we would be out of people to work with.” Greg said.
“William, before we go into our offer keep one thing in mind, this is our one and only offer. We'll not be back a second time.” Nick said.
“Make your offer.”
“Central System was able to ID the third man that was with you and Jim. His name is Anthony Christopher Williams.” Nick said.
A look of surprise washed across William’s face. He had known Anthony by the name Bo and it did not take long before he realized he was a dangerous man.
“However we highly doubt he still uses that name.” Toby said.
“So who is this Anthony?” William said.
“He is or was a Secret Service Agent, on Presidential detail back in Twenty-Fourteen. He was with President Jefferson in the UK when the nukes went off. He returned to the US on Air Force One and soon after landing disappeared. It was assumed he entered the hot zone of Washington DC.” William gave Nick a puzzled look. “Sorry; Anthony’s family lived in Washington and were home at the time that the bomb exploded. He was seen on security cameras approaching the outskirts of Alexandria along US Highway 1, we lost track of him as he passed the last camera that hadn’t suffered loss from the effects of the nuclear detonation.” Nick said.
“Since Central System was able to ID Anthony that means that he did not enter the hot zone and suffer from the effects of nuclear radiation. What we want to know from you is what name he’s now using and why he was with Jim?” It was Toby who finished the explanation.
“That’s all you want in exchange for my freedom?” William asked.
“Of course not. We’re also aware that you left them an encrypted warning, from that we were able to determine that the five of you in some way bonded. William those four have some sort of trust in you, we want to exploit that trust and use it to our advantage.” Nick said.
“I told you back at The Fuller Life Center that I had no interest in helping you. Why do you now assume that anything has change?” William said.
“Six weeks in this place.” Greg said.
William bowed his head. In his mind he realized that the offer included keeping all of his current genetic material intact and keeping his current stable mentality. If he refused he would linger in death for decades, if he agreed to help he would regain all he had lost and more without suffering any loss to himself. He thought of the two boys he had met during the morning feeding, he would once more be a part of the genetic cleansing. He dismissed their plight and returned to his own offer of self-preservation. He had not realized that Bo or Anthony was part of the former resistance to approving the serum, or at least that is how history reported the actions of the US Secret Service.
“Okay. I want out before I talk. This place stinks and smells of death, besides the people in here are completely unstable.”
Nick stood and approached William, extending his hand. William in turn stood and took his hand in his.
“Toby and I will get the paper work processed; Greg will remain here while you go in there to change. There’s a suit waiting for you.” Across the room, in the direction Nick had indicated was a small bathroom.
“So you knew I would accept the offer?”
“Any person that has the chance to get out of here would take it, or else they really do belong in here.” Nick said.
Toby stood and approached Greg, “We’ll meet you out back in about twenty minutes.” With that Toby and Nick exited the small medical testing room through a door at the back.
“Get changed quickly, once you’re done we’ll follow them out that same door. We’ll not be walking through the facility.” Greg said.
William wasted no time changing out of the lime green jumpsuit and into the navy blue casual suit. They had even considered his need for underwear and socks. Once he had the black dress shoes tied he felt human again and exited the bathroom. Greg looked him over to ensure he was presentable and then approached the same door that Toby and Nick had exited, when William followed Greg through he at last realized he was free of The Incentive Center and had no intention to ever return. Outside of the medical testing room the two entered a small hallway, the end of which opened up into a large room. There they rejoined Nick and Toby.
“Its official you’re a free man.” Nick said.
Nick had already pushed the button on the elevator and stood by the doors waiting for its arrival when the others joined him. When the elevator doors parted the four stepped in and were taken up to the ground floor. There they exited the back door and got into a black Tesla SUV.
“That’s it. You're out. Start talking.” Nick said.
Toby’s voice instructed the car to start and then entered their destination as The Barn’s Firm. After the car was in motion; Toby turned the heater to full to remove the bitter chill.
“He goes by Bo, never heard a last name. They took me to an apartment above an old book store. The owner was named Nancy, again no last name.”
“Central System got you entering and exiting the book store, we were able to get the owners information. But we were unable to get any information from Central System after you entered.” Nick said.
“Figures. She installed some sort of damping field at some point in the store. They marched me upstairs and into an apartment. There was no new or current technology in the apartment at all, everything was from the mid nineteen nineties or perhaps even older.”
“What was their interest in you?” Toby shifted sideways in his seat to face William.
“They wanted to know everything about the serum, how it’s obtained and why we keep children until they're five years old.”
“And did you tell them?” Greg leaned forward and into the question.
“Of course. I was leaving The Fuller Education Center; I had to get it out of me. I've never married and I was starting a new job the next day. I figured it was a nice way to confess my sins.”
“Now William; surly you don’t look at the extraction of the Fuller Life Serum as sinful?” Toby asked.
“It does give one nightmares after fifty years of service. Sorry.” William shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe that's something we need to consider, honoring transfer request more often.” Greg said.
“I think it would go a long way, don’t get me wrong we all need the serum to live, but it can be difficult to face those children day after day. Little kids crying for their parents or wanting to be able to play or just be hugged. And the constant testing they are subjected to. I know it's something that has to be done, but the adult tech's that are put through that need some time away.” William said.
“Nick, you care to make a note of that, I think that it would be a good idea to consider shifting personal around more often. Let's consider it at the next meeting.” Greg said.
“So you confessed your sins. What then, they just let you go?” Nick asked.
“Yep. They videoed the entire conversation and told me that if I ever spoke they would send a copy of it to you, the committee.”
“Surely Jim had to have known I would get around to telling him everything, why did he push it.” Toby looked through William. “Is there something else you’re not telling us?”
William turned his gaze to watch the snow as it made it’s decent from the sky. He watched as it covered the ground in a fresh white purifying blanket. All that was dead and ugly underneath was hidden from view to be reborn in the spring. He had gained his freedom and he did not want to return to the Fuller Incentive Center, he wanted to keep his liberty. “The reason they wanted the information in the first place.”
“Which was?” Toby’s voice took on a dark sinister tone.
“Jennifer is pregnant.”