by Laura Kathryn Rogers
Today was a great day for hunting. I bagged four before breakfast. It gives me a great appetite.
Perhaps I should introduce myself to you, young man. The name given to me at birth, in June of 1965, was Irving Robert Hawthorne. People called me “Irv.”
You are correct. That would put me in my late 90’s. I don’t look it? Thank you. That is because of the magic of computer imagery.
I know you’ve heard of it. I helped create the advanced technology. The science meant to be for healing, growth. Instead, it was perverted into means of torture at the relocation centers for the elderly.
Where (you say) I should be?
However, you said yourself that I do not look my age. 30, you say? Thank you. I am often highly praised for my work. Yet, you are the first to know about this. I’m wearing, ah, sort of a computerized suit. It makes me look any age I wish. I have matching computer chips depending on the age, that I insert to feed information into my brain so that I know the lingo, culture, tastes, even the attitudes of whatever age I wish to project. Quite a success, I must say so, myself.
So, why am I telling you? Young man, I have my reasons. You do not need a history lesson to know about the changes that have happened in America in the last 30 years. Most of it happened in your lifetime. However, I am going to give you one.
A detailed one.
Just 30 years ago, the social security system defaulted. Taxes were raised to bail it out. This caused a growing tide of resentment towards the older generation, some who were living into their 11th or 12th decade thanks to improved healthcare. The younger generation of politicians voiced their concern about those who seemed to be selfishly using the resources needed by younger others.
Ah, the young.
The young and their mindless parents who raised them to be narcissistic takers, users, one-celled organisms. The ‘middle ones’ as the parents of this ungrateful horde were now called, in their loving denial, didn’t see the growing danger. They did not see that once they outlived their usefulness, they would be next marked for slaughter.
Yes, I said slaughter.
You say that the relocation camps did not slaughter anyone. That many millions of elderly perished was incidental. It was just their time to go.
Really? Young man, did you ever visit the places, perhaps to see a grandparent? No?
Then, you do not know.
Ten years ago, the new reform government came into power. You remember, you say. You were a teenager. You did not vote it in, but you approved of most of what you heard. It made sense to you. The world had limited resources. The oldsters were greedy, holding onto jobs, homes, assets, not caring about the rights of others. The younger generation had a right to share the wealth. But, no, the oldsters were selfish; they would not get out of the way. Someone needed to move them.
Fred Ackerman, aged 35, was the man to do it.
Ackerman was charismatic, freckle-faced, and he looked ten years younger than what he was. He was a wunderkind who used his great words to entice a willing second majority of the population into creating mayhem and destruction.
There was us–the over 60’s, and them–the under 40’s. The first and last baby booms. The middle ones, products of my generation’s wide use of birth control and abortion were a minority. Yet, they were prolific…creating this loud, populous generation of whining entitlement.
You say I am bitter, young man? Well, perhaps when I tell you more, you will see I have earned the right.
Ackerman played on their fears, prejudices and feelings of resentment. My own son, Jonas stopped speaking to his mother and me, and became a devoted follower of the politician. Jonas no longer allowed us to see our young grandchildren, telling us he feared we would ‘badly influence them.’
Akin to a modern “Mein Kampf,” Ackerman published “The Articles” which distorted facts and painted the elderly as useless parasites. He proposed that anyone who dared live past 60 be forced to retire, their assets seized, and that they be relocated to camps where they could be watched, lest they try to steal any more of the future of young America. The book sold out, and was in a 70th printing when Ackerman, at age 36 announced a run for president.
After his election America, as I knew it, as millions knew it, simply ceased to exist.
Everything he proposed in “The Articles” became law within six months. Millions of healthy senior citizens, some the parents of the young followers of the Ackerman campaign found themselves forcibly retired. No pension, no support. If you were 60 or older, you went to a relocation camp unless you were of some value to the ‘state.’
Homes and bank accounts, assets were seized. Distributed to the younger generation who greedily watched as millions were forcibly put on busses to relocation camps, not allowed to take anything beyond what they needed to wear, medicines, and other ‘basics.’
Everything my generation did to conserve and save was spent in half the time it took to produce. When it was all gone, the younger majority pouted and demanded water from the proverbial rock. Yet, there was no saintly Moses to deliver them.
Only Fred Ackerman. He was their hero, their rock star. He quickly became much more…to all of us.
Ackerman continued to warp the truth. The right to vote was taken away from anyone older than 60. Those who tried to vote anyway were turned away with guns. The slacker millions voted each new ‘reform’ into law. When Ackerman was 37, he was named president for life. The next year the Bill of Rights and the Constitution was amended to leave out anyone over the age of 60 unless they were, of course, Ackerman, or ‘approved servants of the state’.
What this last part meant was that Ackerman knew he needed a few of the older folks. Folks like me, the computer folk, the engineers, those who knew things that the younger generation had yet or were resistant or slow in learning. I was one of the ‘approved servants’ because of my work with computer imagery.
My beloved wife, Doris, however, was not on the approved list.
Off she went to a relocation camp, the nicest possible one of course, something of a resort, I was told.
I was allowed to inspect it. Everything looked okay; however, I wanted her home with me. No, I was told. It was for her own good. I would be away teaching Ackerman’s staff how to use my computer programs. She would be lonely.
Finally, they wore me down. Doris kissed me goodbye and told me I was making the right decision. I walked away from my wife feeling somewhat less than a man. Feeling deep in my gut that all of it was terribly wrong and was about to get much worse.
The ‘students’ were lazy, easily distracted, wanting to be paid, but not for doing anything. This was the life their parents, the middle ones, had taught them. They wanted to play with their new electronic gadgets, enjoy the new possessions the government gave them from the loot seized from the elderly generation.
They didn’t have time to learn or to work. If I couldn’t make it easy for them, they became frustrated and refused to try, or called in ‘sick.’ They were never disciplined for such behavior. If a program had bugs, they didn’t want to solve it on their own, or even with help. I was called in, and told “Just fix it old man, I haven’t got time.”
Business fell off badly. The people who could have fixed it were locked behind huge gates of relocation centers. The pretense of the camps being anything but prison quickly ended.
Ackerman somehow managed to turn the growing economic business downturn into more justification for the interment of the elderly. They were the reason for this, he chanted. It was their fault. They should have seen it coming, he said. Prepared the younger generation. It was the oldsters fault. It should have been easier for the younger generation. We became public enemy number one.
By 2060, you rarely saw an elderly person on the streets. If he or she did go out, they had to have identification papers. Even then, young gangs roamed, and picked them off, like so much game for the killing. Ackerman made that our fault as well. The young had been provoked, he stated. All the more reason for the camps. Even more reason for the elderly citizens to do their duty and teach the young everything they needed to know, and then report to the camps themselves.
We saw the handwriting on the wall. Soon, I was only one of about seven men and women still considered important by the Ackerman regime. Still, I was regularly stopped, pushed around and treated rudely by twenty year olds armed with guns. Men and women who had authority way out of proportion to their maturity and decency.
I visited Doris whenever I could. I became more and more concerned. Her ‘resort’ no longer had activities or any attempt to do anything other than crate the thousands of souls forced to stay there. The nursing staff was plagued by constant turnover; instructions to the internees became curt demands. A program of work became mandatory for all but the most infirm. This soon became little more than slave labor. People were forced to work the gardens that produced most of the food for each camp, wash the laundry for the entire facility, clean the building. Those who refused were punished.
How? By the very computer imagery that I meant for good. Some young genius learned how to make a chamber of sorts, where a person could go into, and see images that were as real as I am to you. Yet, the images at the camps were not good things. They consisted of the type of things of which one’s worst fears and nightmares were made. Things that could (and did) make many fragile hearts stop beating. People, millions of people, were simply frightened to death.
By this time, I knew that genocide was happening. Worse than Hitler, Ze Dong or Amin. Worse than any war. There were over a hundred forty million older people in the camps by 2061, and daily, countless bodies were being pulled out the chambers, and disposed of.
There were no longer cemeteries because Ackerman deemed such a thing wasteful. Older cemeteries had been ‘reclaimed’ for new projects. The bodies were dug up and summarily broken down into ashes. All of it was being sent into outer space. Several trips a week.
The land was needed, Ackerman said. For homes, buildings, schools for the young. The young deserved it. His supporters loudly agreed.
Within 6 months countless dignitaries, including three former presidents went into the ‘reality chambers ‘as they were called, and came out corpses. Their remains were placed somewhere in the nether areas of space between the Moon and Mars. As if none of the people had ever been.
Across the country, libraries were stripped of anything that reverenced the elderly. The empty shelves were soon full of Ackerman’s propaganda and books by authors who wrote condemning material placing blame on the elderly for the problems of humankind.
I knew that it was only a short time before I would no longer be deemed useful to the government. Some of the younger computer experts were actually catching on to my ideas and starting to find them interesting. Especially when they saw how efficiently the use of imagery could rid them of the excess oldster population.
At night, exhausted, I worked on other experiments that no one knew about. I finished the first prototype of the computerized suit and its accompanying micro chips. I learned a way to insert the chips so that it was virtually painless. After a few trials in the suits, I found that I was accepted at whatever age I wanted to be.
It turned out to be just in time.
It was on a Saturday, last March. I had gone to visit Doris at her camp. Dear Doris, who had been a kindergarten teacher. She tried to reason gently with her captors, and would even gently scold them when they were rough with her. However, they did not like this.
They became even more bullying with my petite, frail wife. She worked in the kitchens, lugging things that were far too heavy for her. The heavy work and hours on her feet had made her weaker and sickly. She was frightened, and her face showed it.
The last day she was alive I bought her a modest gift from our home. It was a small blue bottle from her collection. The idea was for her to conceal it, and when alone, take it out, and enjoy looking at it. She could think of when she had her garden and her collections at her fingertips.
The female guard, however, who was watching our visit, saw me give Doris the bottle. The woman, a skinny, pimply faced adolescent with hard tiny blue eyes, and a nervous habit of licking her chapped lips, trotted over and snatched the bottle from my wife. She held it up in the air in delight.
“A pretty!” The guard exclaimed. “I have just the place for it at home.”
“No!” Doris cried, looking at me desperately. “Irv gave it to me. Irv?”
The guard put her surprisingly strong body between Doris and me and backed me into the courtyard, and before I could respond, locked the gate. Still, I could see and hear everything. “It’s an extra,” The guard said, licking away saliva from her lips. “You can’t have extras. It’s against the rules. I want it. So, it’s mine.”
Doris, who had been a meek, non-violent soul in 90 years of life, turned into a spitfire.
She grabbed at the bottle, and when the guard resisted, slapped her. “Be ashamed of yourself!” Doris said, using a voice that had made many a kindergarten student pay heed. It was too late for this woman, however. I pulled at the gate, fear coursing through me.
Doris got the bottle, and the guard scuffled with her. “You Oldsters!” The young woman squealed, “You want everything! Well it is our turn to have! Our turn to take!”
She grabbed at Doris’s hand, and the bottle fell, burst into pieces on the cement ground.
Rage and disappointment danced on the guards face. She drew back her hand and slapped Doris with all her might, causing my wife to fall backwards on the hard ground.
Doris got to her feet, and tried to get away from her.
The guard wasn’t satisfied. “You evil old witch! If you can’t have it, no one will, eh? I’ll show you what it is like to lose something!”
She grabbed Doris’s hand, holding tightly to her fingers. To my horror, I heard the sound of bones breaking. Doris screamed out, but still the woman would not let her go. Foolishly, I pulled at the door with all my might, but the lock was steel, and held.
“Irv!! Irv!! Help me!” My wife cried.
I helped her. What else could I do?
I had long carried a gun in my pocket in case one of the bands of bullies targeted me. This, had it been found out, would have been considered a crime against the state, and carried the death penalty. However, I had been careful. Without a second thought, I fired four shots into the ugly, drooling face of the guard. She let my wife go, and fell to the ground, as dead as anyone ever was.
“Go, go!” Doris cried. We both heard running footsteps.
“No…I….” I stammered, shocked by what I had just done.
“Irv, listen to me! You know what they’ll do…the chamber…they can make you do things to yourself there, horrible things, make you wish to be dead long before you are…I’ve heard…GO!” Doris had forgotten her crushed fingers, and true to her heart, was thinking only of me.
The steps were closer, closer. She pleaded once again, her face awash with tears of pain. I turned and obeyed, got out there quick.
The rest of the day, I could not concentrate. All I could think about was Doris. Of what was going on at that bestial hole where she was prisoner.
That night, I got a compugram that had long since taken the place of telephones, email, the postal system, or telegrams. The screen lit up and a young man, with a smirky look on his face, so real that I could have touched him, stood before me.
“Hawthorne?” He asked rudely. I nodded. “I’m sorry to have to tell you. Your wife, Doris Hawthorne is dead.”
“Dead?” I looked at the screen, unbelieving.
“She tried to start an uprising at her camp today. She killed a guard, a very valuable employee. We can’t find the weapon, but she was injured in the attempt. We had to put her down.”
“You put an animal down,” I said, flatly, my heart beating so rapidly that I feared I might follow my wife. “Not a human.”
“I understand your feelings at this difficult time, learning that your wife was a criminal of the state….” The young man, seeming more self-satisfied than ever, said.
“You understand nothing! She was my wife! I killed that damn guard! I have the gun! Come get me if you think you’re up to it!”
The smirk vanished. Coldness took its place. “You, Hawthorne, are one of the few productive oldsters left in America. Why would you do that, Sir? We have allowed you freedom. You have your own house. Besides, no one saw you at the camp today.”
“I was there!” I yelled at the screen, wanting to crush it, “Did you find a broken bottle? A blue one? I brought it to her.”
“That’s not possible, Hawthorne, “The young man sang out, as if talking to a toddler. You know she is forbidden extras. You wouldn’t do that.”
I had had enough. I took a step towards the screen. The look on my face must have gotten through to the young man. Even though he couldn’t be reached via cyberspace, he took a step back.
“Don’t you dare speak down to me, you arrogant young ingrate!” I yelled, “I gave her the bottle. The guard tried to steal it. They struggled. She hurt my wife. I killed her. I am not sorry! I would do it again! Moreover, it is Mister Hawthorne to you. If you call me anything less, you will get the same the guard did. I will hunt you down and find you! Clear?”
“Mister Hawthorne.”Menace entered the cold tone of the young messenger. “Let’s just say that what you say is true. Which is the better way to punish a useful employee of the state? Put him down and put our camps and government at a disadvantage? Or, should we take what is most precious from him? Think about it, Sir.”
His words tore through me. “You!” I wanted to crush him, destroy him, as he and his kind had destroyed my wife.
“You understand, Mister Hawthorne? I see that you do. I trust the state will have no further problems with you.”
The screen went blank.
I sank to the floor, rocking, writhing, moaning rage, saying foul things, weeping, feeling totally impotent. They had known I’d done the killing. They handled it. They’d taken the most beloved thing in my life away. My wife. What else could they do to me?
I drank most of the night. I did not sleep.
The following day’s hangover was not dehabilitating, however. Instead, it made things very clear. I finally knew what I had to do.
Once, I had been a pacifist. I had even thought the Second World War had been wrong. I thought there had to be a way to stop Hitler that had not involved so much bloodshed. I had known nothing. My precious wife being taken in such a heartless way changed me. The state, Ackerman, all of it had to be stopped. And, I had to try. Or, I would happily die trying.
I adjusted various formulas and the computer suits I was working on. I built a reality chamber of my own in the basement that surpassed even my hopes. I worked from my home, for the most part, so no one thought to check on me. Before long, I had over 10,000 suits, with matching chips, all in the age ranges of 20-40.
My own personal army.
Then, I went hunting.
I ingratiated myself with Ackerman and his staff. I was wearing a computer suit that made me appear to be 25. The microchip in my wrist insured that I made no faux pas that gave me away. I showed a special interest in the ‘problem’ of the elderly. Soon, I was put in charge of all the relocation camps. At night, I busily made more suits. Some young…some very, very old.
By last month, no one imprisoned in the camps was older than 40. But they sure looked that way. They were loud, insistent that they shouldn’t be at the camps. However, no one believed their wild stories. How men had kidnapped them and made them look old. Imprisoned them. Crazy oldsters, the guards thought.
Until it happened to them.
New guards arrived. Young looking ones. We would make eye contact and smile.
Times they were a ‘changing.
You look so shocked, young man. However, you should never mistake a man’s capacity for genius or his desire for revenge.
So why do I tell you? I guess you should know. I have a computerized list of those who have youth microchips. I have a small machine that tracks those without the chips. You are one of the last thirty youngsters not in the relocation camps.
Ackerman? He went in two weeks ago, screaming and begging for mercy. You might have read of it.
Last weekend, he was caught escaping. The 80 year old with the delusion that he was President for life? Ah, I see that you read the story. Good.
After a trip to the chamber, he now sits and quietly drools. My generation is more humane than yours is. We decided to let him live.
I see you look frightened, I am terribly sorry. I really mean you no harm. It’s just that your generation started it.
I hope I will not have to kill you. If you come quietly, I won’t have to. I’m a hunter, not a killer. I just like to bag ‘em and send them to the camps. Like your generation did to so many of my kind.
Unkind? I have to laugh at that one, young man. We are just reclaiming our rights.
The children? Oh, they won’t go to the camps. They have no idea what has happened. Only that the parents that are raising them have suddenly become a whole lot more humane in their views. And a lot more strict with them. Teaching them to have character and responsibility.
I promise you, young man, no one under the age of 15 will go to the camps unless they are proven to be spoiled to the point of being incorrigible.
Next week, the constitution will be amended, giving us back all of our rights. Then, we will drop our suits and again be free to be ourselves, teaching a young generation to have respect for the rights of all. Those in the camps who can be rehabilitated, will be freed…in time.
You seem like a reasonable sort, maybe you won’t have to stay long….oh, don’t run! I’m 97, there are some things even computer programs can’t fix. Don’t make me shoot you!
Oh, there, see what you did?
I am sorry young man. That wound is bad. The chest shots are usually fatal. You say, as you gasp your last, that you make my fifth victim. No, not exactly.
I said that I had bagged four before breakfast. Which reminds me. Hunting makes me so very hungry. And I’ve not had my bacon and eggs yet.
You, young man were the fourth.
I am very sorry you won’t see the new age for us seniors! How glorious it will be!
May you rest in peace.
Ah, my prunes and orange juice are calling me! And coffee! Strong, black coffee. Just right for a warrior.
After my meal, I will go hunting again.