A Story by J.L Hunter

Directive 7. Andrew's hand trembled above the mouse. He knew what he had to do, what was expected of him.



          Population control warning: 86%

               The screen flashed twice, illuminating the darkness of Andrew Morris' desk. He had been staring at a stack of papers that needed faxed; the cold and evenly spaced lettering on each page had begun to blend together.

               Andrew nearly didn't notice the brightly flashing screen. It did that often, when there was some update alert that he usually would catch on the thumbnail at the bottom of the screen. This time, there was no thumbnail, the words floating just above the task-bar.

               He froze when he finally looked up and saw the notification, and the simple but horrendously blunt percentage. The coffee cup hovered in front of his face, the warm porcelain resting against his lips. Andrew stared, wide-eyed, his mind and all the thoughts in it running at a thousand miles per hour, though his expression reflected none of that activity.

               His free hand slowly reached across the desk, searching through a mess of papers and folders for the phone. When he found it, Andrew lifted the receiver up to his ear. An automated message spoke immediately, asking him in it's robot voice that was programmed to sound like a woman's -specifically because the majority of the staff were men and statistic analysis had proven that the female voice had prevented many more suicides than with a male's voice- if he would like to speak to a supervisor. If so, say, supervisor. If he'd like to speak to reassurance councilor, say, councilor.

               Andrew told the female robot voice, supervisor, and then shouldered the receiver so he could grab a notebook and pen. He was still gripping the coffee cup with his other hand.

                The woman told him to hold on. Some music played while he waited, the ambient sort that always made Andrew feel as if he were in space. He took a sip of the coffee and then let the dark liquid slide back into the cup. Cold. He lowered the cup and sat it next to his keyboard.

                Finally there was the crackling sounds of someone picking up the line.

                “Hello?” A gruff voice answered.

                “Um. Hello, sir. I have an emergency beacon.”

                A moment of silence, then, “Identification number please.”

                “Alpha 189505-90,” Andrew said without hesitation.

                “Okay, Mr. Morris, now I need the issuance number... and color of threat.”

                Now it was Andrew's turn to take a moment. He surveyed his notes, looking up and down, searching for the right one. Eventually he found it on the underside of the page.

                “Issuance number 109. Threat color...”

                Another long pause.

                “I don't have all day Mr. Morris,” the voice demanded.

                “... Red.” Andrew said abruptly.

                “Alright,” there was the sound of shuffling papers, “Approval to initiate order 7."                       

                "But sir...”

                “Just do it.” The voice of the commander interrupted. The tone of the man was apathetic and cold. There was a click and the woman robot spoke again, explaining that he still had two options to consider. Andrew lowered the phone, letting it rest on it's holster.

                He drew in a long breath and held the air in his lungs for a little while before exhaling slowly.

His job was simple. It usually consisted of answering phones and filing paperwork on the cart to his left, where a woman with her hair pulled back into a tight bun, wearing a wrinkle-less gray suit so well ironed it almost appeared to be cut out from a cardboard box, would come up every hour to pick them up. For a while he thought it was the same woman, then later realized that there were several different one's, all of them wearing the same plastered gray suit.

                Andrew would sit there, listening to the constant chatter of keyboard strokes from the other cubicles, the faint murmuring of voices, the unending beeps that came along with flashing screens. Those were the most important aspects of the job, and often the most horrible.

                He looked again at the words that still flashed on the bottom of his computer screen.

         Population control warning: 87%

                Andrew knew he was working for the united states government, but was unsure of which branch his office responded too. There was often a transparency in the directives that the men in the suits issued. The commander that he had just gotten off the phone with was the highest in command, his orders coming directly from the president himself.

                It was hard to believe that the president would make such a harsh decision. It was difficult, for even Andrew, who was only a blip on the radar screen, whose job was only to issue the commands, to type in those codes.

                He knew that he was the last in the chain that led to the circumstances orchestrated to retain control. Even knowing that those ten directives existed had kept Andrew up for nights on end. It was only recently that he was able to sleep for more than a few hours.

                Control. The fact that much of what men understand as control is relative to varying perspectives. It was really nothing but organized chaos and destruction, excused by that one simple word.

                Control. He also knew that once that population control percentage reached 95% something would happen. The world was a cup with a capacity, the economies and production was the substance inside that cup. Once the cup was filled to capacity, the water would overflow and governments would no longer be able to contain the population. International trade would halt, agriculture the way it exists would no longer be able to sustain demand. Chaos would ensue.

                But the alternative.

                Directive 7. Andrew's hand trembled above the mouse. He knew what he had to do, what was expected of him.

                Above, Andrew saw, a group of men in suits standing behind a large glass window, staring down at him.

                He pressed his hand down onto the mouse and clicked on one of the several windows on the screen. A program started up, filling the screen with hundreds and thousands of digits scrolling downward. Andrew had only booted up the program twice since starting with the office two years ago. Both of those occasions had been nothing short of disgusting. This one would be the worst though.

               When the digits halted, the screen went blank and a single vertical line appeared in the center. It flashed on and off, waiting for input.

         Population control warning: 89%

               A red bar appeared underneath the warning, filled up to a little over three quarters. The percentage was increasing rapidly, much faster than it had been since however long the numbers had been counting. Decades? Maybe even centuries.

               Andrew felt the stares, like razor blades falling onto his head, slicing through his skin. The pressure was almost unbearable.

               He didn't have to do it, he thought, there would always be someone else to take his place. If he refused to type in the code, the responsibility would shift to another cubicle. Then what would happen to him? Andrew thought he knew the answer to that question. All he had to do is lift his head and look through that second floor window, to look into the eyes of the men who glared down at him.

               Merciless animals, he thought. He brought his hand to the keyboard and began typing the numbers one at a time, each keystroke bringing an entire civilization somewhere to a cataclysmic end. Andrew didn't know where it would be, whether in some third world country, or right here in the united states, some impoverished neighborhood slums, or perhaps even a middle class subdivision. It didn't matter, because to the beast that Andrew worked for didn't care regardless. It dealt in numbers, in percentages. He didn't know how it would happen either, nor did he want to know. Such things were left up to those men above him. They were the ones who had to live with the consequences of their actions.

               Only it wasn't their actions. It was his. In the end he would be the one to pull the trigger.

Andrew looked down as he pressed in the number 7 on his keyboard.

        Population control warning: 91%

               He had always heard that every second a hundred children are born. He also heard that every minute, hundreds of people die.

               What justification did he have then, to take life in his own hands? How bad had things gotten in the outside world, away from his tranquil yet troubled little life? How bad had it must have gotten for things to come to this.

               Slowly, he brought one finger down onto the enter button. They would do it anyways, he reminded himself. Then they would kill him. Ditch his body in some retention pond with a suicide note stapled to his chest. He didn't want to die.

              He didn't know those people anyways, whoever they were. God help them, he thought as he felt the pressure of the plastic underneath the skin of his index finger.

        Population control warning: 92%

              More would die. In the end, this is better.

              The screen went blank. Andrew closed his eyes. When he opened them, the program had shut down and the screen was back to his bright desktop, with the picture of his two daughters staring at him. He felt disgusted with himself, the bottoms of his fingers felt grimy. The words had disappeared from the bottom of the screen.

              He looked up to the second story window. The men had returned to their own desks, attending to their own monstrous tasks.

              Andrew picked up the coffee cup, which was now as cold as the liquid inside, brought it up to his lips and poured it down his throat. It was bitter, and that was what he wanted. Something like him.

              The next day, Andrew Morris walked into the office like he usually did. He sat his briefcase down beside the paper wall of his cubicle. Everything was there, just like he had left it when he left the night before.

              Only there was a newspaper, laid neatly on top of the keyboard. The headline read in bold lettering: Thousands killed in Ghana.

              Andrew stared, unblinking, at the subheading: Poisoned water supply from nearby lake Volta. The large picture accompanying the article showed a village surrounded by an endless field of white bags the size of bodies, some stained with bright red splotches.

              He felt dizzy and nauseous. Andrew had to hold onto the desk for support, otherwise he would simply fall to the floor.

              Looking up, he saw on the bottom of the screen that had just loaded.

       Population control notification: 76%

© 2012 J.L Hunter

Author's Note

J.L Hunter
I had this idea during the last few months while watching the republican primary and the back and forths of the politicians standing on stage beating each other down like it was some kind of game. That is the way the media had presented it anyways. Most of them didn't do anything to help matters though. It got me thinking, what if this whole thing is a big game played by people in an office somewhere, pushing buttons and deciding the fates of those around the world.

My Review

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This was a really well written short story. So well written that the only constructive criticism I could offer is the use of capitals in nouns. I have poor grammar but I am under the impression that titles like 'united states' should be 'United States' or 'president' should be 'President'. Each is the name of something (country and job title). Otherwise the pace of the story is perfect against the format. You manage to get the reader to feel an attachment to the emotion of the main character which is a fantastic feat for a short story. The concepts regarding population growth and reduction are relevant to today's world.

Hopefully you can forgive me if I am wrong about those nouns.

I don't know much about writing and short stories, but I would think this one was worthy of submission to a publisher. If you do get it published, please report back which publication it is in. I would read that publication because it would mean they share my impression and might be able to open me up to more quality work like this.

Posted 8 Years Ago

Wow, I like it, I am normally not a big fan of stories because they tend to drag on however this one was great. You caught the readers attention with the first sentence and kept them reading through the whole thing. Your imagery was vivid, you could see everything you wrote and sometimes feel it as well. "The coffee cup hovered in front of his face, the warm porcelain resting against his lips." Beautifully said. You finish the idea and kept it interesting. You spaced each paragraph out well making it easy for the reader to read. Your grammar overall was spot on. I am a big fan nice job.

Posted 9 Years Ago

wow! I don't normally read stories, but this pulled me, you did a wonderful job establishing the monstrous

Posted 9 Years Ago

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3 Reviews
Added on June 14, 2012
Last Updated on June 14, 2012
Tags: politics, government, control, suspense, population.


J.L Hunter
J.L Hunter

Pensacola, FL

Writer. Father. Lover of cheese. Umbrella salesman. Badger enthusiast. Doorknob. Cup. Also, cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes. And beer. Smoke. Sizzurp drinker. Lemon flavor, never grape. more..

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