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Population 5000

by Steve Lance about a month ago in Sci Fi · updated about a month ago
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Fiction: Short Story

Population 5000
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But George did not have to hear the scream; he could see it on the man’s face. In twenty-two years, he had seen three executions. They all had the same horror stenciled across their face.

The authorities will leave the body tethered to the station for seven days. A gruesome reminder to anyone contemplating breaking the law. After that, the body will be recycled. Organic matter is too precious to waste.

Sharon glanced over George’s shoulder. Her smile faded, and a look of guilt washed over her face. Not that she had anything to do with the man’s death; he got what he deserved by stealing rations. But, for a birth permit to be issued, a death had to occur. The station only had resources to support a population of 5000.

“George, you should get some sleep. Your mental aptitude examinations are in the morning,” Sharon said. She tugged on his arm, pulling him towards their cabin.

“I scored well on the physical examinations. We are in good shape,” George said. He pulled his arm away and stared at the brown planet below. His mind drifted to the picture of a beautiful blue world hanging in their cabin. “They say earth once had a population of billions, can you imagine. People having babies whenever they feel like it. No one testing them to see if they are worthy.”

Sharon had completed her procreation fitness examinations. She received high marks for a lean and fit body with a clean family medical history. But her imaginative and curious mind made her the top female candidate for the reproduction program.

Her parents tried to convince her to choose a different mate. While George is an excellent physical specimen, his mind is undisciplined. If he doesn’t score high enough, the birth permit will go to some other couple. They urged her to at least consider a sperm donor, and George could still help raise the child.

Sharon was busy preparing the morning meal when George awoke. As he slid the bed back into the wall, a small table emerged from the floor. Space, like everything else, was in short supply. But Sharon and George, the fifth generation born and raised on the station, never knew anything else. Their small cabin was a luxury, far better than living in bunk beds in the crowded dorms.

Sharon placed the two bowls of breakfast meal on the table and a small glass of orange juice in front of George.

“I thought we were saving the juice for a celebration?” said George.

“This is a celebration. It is the day you will get high marks on your exams,” said Sharon.

“Get a glass, and we will split it.”

“I want you to have it. Give you that little extra lift,” said Sharon.

George did not want to spend the morning arguing and knew once Sharon made up her mind, there was no changing it. Smiling, he took a sip and held out the glass, offering her the next sip, but she waved her hand no. After drinking three-quarters, he set the glass in front of Sharon. When she tried to push it back, a small smile crossed his face that said, you won, now be reasonable. They had been living in that small cabin for three years, and sometimes entire conversations took place without saying a word.

Around twenty people were taking the mental aptitude examination. George scanned the room and estimated that at least half would not get selected based on their physical examination, no matter how well they did on the metal examination. You had to do well on both examinations for your genes to be passed to the next generation.

Roy remained his biggest concern. He had done well on the physical examination and was known to be quick-witted. He did not have a partner but made it clear he would provide stud service to any female that did not have an acceptable mate. George overheard Sharon’s parents discussing this possibility, should he do poorly on the examination. Sharon dismissed the idea, but George knew she had a burning desire to have a baby. It could be six months or even a year before another birth permit became available.

Roy took the desk next to George and whispered, “Don’t sweat it mate. If you don’t make the grade, I can help you and Sharon out.”

George looked down at his desk, his ears flushed red, and his heart rate increased. He had to stay focused and not let Roy get into his head.

“Of course, none of that artificial insemination. If I’m going to help you out, it has to be the old fashion way,” Roy said. “I’m sure Sharon won’t mind.”

George snapped his pencil in two and glared at Roy. He grabbed the edge of the table as he fought back his anger.

“Easy, just having a little fun. Didn’t mean anything by it,” said Roy. “But it would be a shame if Sharon didn’t get to pass along her genes because you came up short.”

George lunged across the aisle and knocked Roy out of his chair. The two of them rolled across the floor. George raised his fist, about to slug Roy, when two security guards grabbed him.

“I should have both of you removed,” the examiner said.

“We were just fooling around. Blowing off some pre-examination tension,” said Roy.

“If either of you so much as cough, I’ll have you thrown out for disrupting an official examination. Now take seats on the opposite sides of the room.”

As George prepared the evening meal, Sharon sat at the terminal, hitting refresh, waiting for the examination results to be released. George put down two plates of beans with a few carrot sticks on the side. He walked over to Sharon, who was sitting with her head down. He gave her a shoulder rub as he looked at the screen.

Roy had the highest combined score and classified himself as willing to accept any partner. The list of the most desirable matches had Sharon and Roy first. An asterisk indicated Sharon was uncommitted on whether she would accept a sperm donor. Next on the list Helen and Roy, both having declared they would accept any pairing. Sharon and George were third on the list.

“I guess we will have to wait until another permit becomes available,” said Sharon as she stared at the terminal with her and Roy’s names listed first and Geroge listed third. Sharon knew another permit may not become available for a year, in which case they would have to do the examination again. Who knows what the ranking would be then.

“I’m sorry. I did my best,” George said.

“Did you?” shouted Sharon. “I heard you got into a fight. Almost got kicked out.”

“I didn’t mean to. It was just Roy —.”

“Roy, he didn’t start it. You did. So don’t go blaming him.”

“You should have heard what he was saying —.”

“I don’t care. They are just words. Why couldn’t you do this one thing for me? You know how much I want a family.”

“Maybe you should take Roy up on his offer,” said George.

“Maybe I will,” said Sharon.

George slammed the door as he left the cabin.

The Port Side Pub kept its lights low, a place to sit and get drunk on synthetic alcohol. A couple of regulars sat at the bar alone. Old men who had nothing left in life but to slowly get drunk each day. If you were hard up, you could sit next to them, and they would buy you a drink. Just so they could tell you about the time they saved the station by patching an asteroid hole or how they were good at space ball in their youth. George had never been that hard up and sat at a table in the corner.

Hank, a friend of George’s, saw him sitting there and took a seat without asking.

“I heard you gave Roy a good thumping,” Hank said.

“Lost my temper. It was a stupid thing to do,” George said.

“He deserved it,” Hank said. “I saw Sharon decline his offer. Good for her.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, it just posted. The permit is going to the second on the list. Roy and that Helen girl.”

Hank and George sat for a few minutes sipping their drinks. Hank tried to talk about something else, but George’s answers were short, if he responded at all.

“Hopefully, there will be another permit soon,” said Hank. “Maybe one of those two old men at the bar will finally drink themselves to death.”

“I’m not that lucky,” George said with a half-smile.

Hank tried a few more attempts to start a conversation, but when he saw George just wanted to be left alone, he said something about having to get up early.

When the bartender announced closing time, only George and an old man were left. Both of them stumbled out together. The old man kept telling George he was married for fifty years until his wife Dolly passed away. He tapped George on the chest and said, “The secret to a good marriage is keeping your wife happy.” He did this three times before George ducked into a restroom, hoping to lose him. But the old man followed him in.

“The happiest day of our lives was when we got a birth permit,” the old man said. “Dolly was so happy. And she was a great mother.”

George just grunted.

“The trouble with you kids nowadays is you don’t believe in family,” the old man said. “Like you for instance, you’re a fine young man. You should settle down and start a family. Better than getting drunk at bars with the likes of me.”

“Some of us aren’t as lucky as you,” George said. He turned away and tried to walk out the door.

But the old man stopped him, put his hand on George’s chest, and said, “nothing to do with luck. I just know how to treat my wife right.”

George pushed the man back. “Why don’t you just die, old man. Make room for a new generation.”

“Why you’re a little piss ant,” the man said and pressed his finger to George’s chest.

George pushed him again, this time a lot harder. The man fell back and hit his head on the sink. He lay on the floor, blood flowing from a gash on his head. He was hurt, but would live if he got medical attention.

“Hang on. I’ll get help,” George said.

“I’m going to press charges,” the old man said. “Your life won’t be shit when I’m through. I hope they tether you to the station.”

George stopped and turned around. He is a twenty-two-year-old who had just seriously injured a senior citizen. And it was the second time today he had gotten into a fight. He would not get the death penalty, but he could get five years of hard labor. What would happen to Sharon? It would ruin any chance they could have a baby together. A criminal record automatically excludes you from obtaining a birth permit.

If the old man died, another birth permit would become available. He and Sharon were next on the list.

George leaned down and placed his hand over the old man’s nose and mouth. He watched as the old man’s eyes first got larger, then slowly faded away.

The bartender had seen them leave together, and the corridor cameras saw them enter the restroom. There was no use running and pretending he wasn’t here. The story would be that the old man was drunk, slipped, and fell, and by the time George got back with help, he was dead.

It had the advantage of being somewhat true. Well, at least there was nothing to contradict the story, or so George thought.

Sci Fi

About the author

Steve Lance

My long search continues.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (1)

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  • Alina Z28 days ago

    Felt the anguish of your dystopic vision of the future. The children permit idea and the medieval connotations of 'bodies tethered on the spaceship' are so intriguing. Nice!

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