The young doctor sat with a sigh, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. Moving very slowly, he pulled out and spoke very quietly, but gravely, into a tape recorder.
"Audio log of Dr. Ian Kovane, 25 January 2041." He sighed briefly before continuing.
"Vanity has been an integral part of the human psyche, the human spirit, and all human society since the beginning of time. It has always existed; it will always exist."
A man trudged quickly through a seemingly endless field of snow. Ahead of him, trees swayed in the breeze of a coming storm. His child rested, wrapped in tattered, grey blankets, in his arms. He had begun to lull her to sleep with a gentle lullaby as they walked tirelessly through the frozen landscape.
Despite the thick layers of ragged clothes and blankets between them, the little girl felt her father's heart beat like a war drum.
Fear had set in and the wolves were upon them.
"In the later twentieth century and on into the twenty-first, vanity took the form of plastic surgeries. Exercise routines and healthy diets-all remnants of working at one's own health-they fell off the face of the earth. They never really stood a chance." He laughed to himself darkly before continuing.
"Everyone was looking for that quick fix-an access road to perfection."
As the man continued into the mouth of the forest, he barely heard a car engine hum. It was far behind him, but it was shortening the gap with each breath he took.
"Eventually, vanity evolved. Soon, plastic surgeries weren't even enough to quench its thirst; the super-wealthy started dabbling in eugenics. And this science, which started out as a means for curing genetic diseases, became a vain attempt to be the prettiest, strongest, fastest, and smartest we could be.
"Soon, eugenics became the tool in our misguided pursuit to become perfect."
The man quickened his pace to a near run as he heard the car coming nearer and nearer to them. He didn't stop moving until he heard the car stop right behind him. There was no sound as the engine stopped-all he could hear was his breathing as his heart began to thud up against the walls of his chest as fear crept up into his throat.
As he heard the doors open and shut, his drumming heart stopped. He tried to breathe deeply and remain calm. Not knowing what more to do, he clutched his child closer into his chest.
A voice from behind the man rang out very loudly and militantly, "Are you Dr. Walter Allan Polk?"
He paused for only a few brief moments before answered shakily, "Y-Y-Yes."
"Dr. Polk, are you aware that you are in direct violation of Federal Ordinance 52-9G?" the voice rang out more loudly than before. Its owner audibly loaded a rifle behind him. A second body followed suit. They were officers of the law-"chlorinators," as they'd come to be known over the past few decades.
"And you are aware that the law states that within five days of the conviction of your crime, you were to have shown up at Vadium Plaza for termination?"
Trying to stay emotionless, the doctor said, "Yes."
"And you are clearly aware that you failed to do so and that my orders are to shoot you on sight?"
The two officers encircled Walter, keeping their guns pointed at his chest. It was the shorter of the two that first noticed the blankets swaddled in his arms.
"But there was a problem," the doctor began after a long pause. He began to breathe more deeply.
"Sir, what are you carrying?" one of the officers demanded, snarling, bearing his teeth and ready to lunge in for the kill.
Walter did not move or say anything: fear had devoured his ability to answer.
"Sir, if you do not answer me, I will be forced to shoot. What are you carrying?"
Walter remained silent.
"I repeat, if you do not answer me, I will be forced to shoot," the officer continued. "Dr. Polk? Do you understand me? I do not want to hurt you. Show me what you're carrying, and no one will be harmed."
Now, he didn't even seem to breathe.
The officers reared back, ready to deliver.
The doctor breathed deeply and continued, tearing up slightly. " because in the pursuit for a perfect society,"
Without a moment's more hesitation, the shorter officer fired at the bundle in Walter's arms, and the child's blood splattered scarlet like paint over an infinitely white and snowy canvas.
" we are the criminals."
Anguish mowed Walter down, and he was crippled in his loss. Too agonized to scream, he fell to his knees in silence, burying his head in the tattered blankets and pulling his child's small body to him as tightly as possible. Tears mixed indiscriminately with his mucus and saliva, sticking shamelessly to the torn rags that covered his daughter.
They used only one bullet to end his suffering and drove away, having nothing at all to say about it.
Dr. Kovane slammed his hand on his desk, knocking down the tape recorder. The tears that were welling in his eyes escaped down his cheeks as he blinked.
He picked up the tape recorder and spoke far more softly than before.
"Walter Polk-a colleague and friend of over thirty years-and his daughter were shot yesterday afternoon. They were two of the last five genetically unaltered people still alive. Now, there are only three: my wife, my daughter, and myself.
"And with Walter fired and dead, I am-for the first time- truly afraid my family may not have much time left.
"How long will they really let me live?
"How long will I be an asset to this society?
"And when I stop being useful, will they remember that I used to be?
"Or will I, like Walter, be fired? Will I and my family, like so many others, be slaughtered for existing?"
He ran his fingers through his hair. So many questions and absolutely no answers. He wished so badly he could stop thinking and that he could stop being afraid.
"That's all for tonight," he said, uttering a long sigh. "End audio log of Dr. Ian Kovane."
He pressed the stop button and got out of his chair. Wrapping his fingers around the chain, he pulled it to turn off the light. Lost for words and answers, he sat back down and stared at nothing the darkness. He tried to let himself decompress, but the nothingness never stopped staring right back at him. He sighed again, running his palms across his forehead.
The wolves are biting at our heels. They're hungry; and they will not wait much longer.
After a few moments, he stood and walked out of his den and out into the black hallway. Tired, he continued along so engrossed in and preoccupied with his thoughts that he almost didn't hear his daughter call out to him.
He stopped and looked into her room.
"What is it, sweetie?" he asked, walking in. He sat by her at the foot of her bed and let her rest her head in his lap.
"A boy at school told me I was different," she said. "He said you and mommy were different, too."
Running a finger through her hair, he said, "Well, of course. We're all different."
"Yeah, but he said it was a bad thing. He said we were freaks," she said sadly. "Are we freaks, daddy?"
"Of course not."
"Then why did he say that?"
"He said it, because " Ian's words trailed off. He took a deep breath. "Do you know what daddy does when he goes to work?"
"You help people. You make them better."
"That's right," he replied, a smile in his voice. "Sometimes, people get sick when they're born-sometimes mommies and daddies make their kids sick."
"Well, you know how we say you have mommy's eyes, because they're blue like hers?"
His daughter nodded up at him.
"Well, sometimes kids get their parents' sicknesses, just like you got mommy's blue eyes, and it's my job to change the way they're made so they don't have to be sick," he explained. "But some people." All people, he kept to himself. "Some people decide they want to make their kids different than they were already. But you, me and mommy, we're all the same as we always were."
"Why? Why are we the same? Why am I the same?"
"Because when you were born," he said, pulling her up into his chest. "Your mommy and I decided you were too perfect to change," he said, smiling down at her.
She smiled, yawning sleepily, and he hid a tear that slid away from the corner of his eye. He laid her down, tucked her in, and kissed her forehead.
"You get to sleep, okay?" he said.
She nodded, slowly drifting off toward sleep, and he walked from the room slowly-his mind swimming, drowning in thought.
He made his way back into the hallway and walked slowly toward his room. His wife lay asleep in their bed; he meekly smiled at her figure as it waxed and waned with each breath she took.
He stepped into the bathroom and flicked on the fluorescent light. In the mirror, he saw very tired eyes and wrinkled, worn skin; on the mirror, he saw a few scraps, cut from newspaper articles, which had been hanging there for nine years.
"Government Declares All Humans Are Illegal," "New Federal Ordinance Says All Genetically Non-Altered Citizens Are Subject to Termination," "Riots Eminent, Experts Say," "Downtown in Flames," "Five Left," "A Perfect World."
Emotion swallowed him, and Ian crumpled the articles, angrily throwing them to the bathroom floor. He sank, crouching and crying out all the tears-for Walter and his daughter, for his family, for himself, for the freedom they'd taken for granted.
A perfect world, he thought, scathingly repeating the journalist's cruel arrogant title. He reached out and picked up one of the crumpled scraps. He had underlined nearly half of it.
On the front there were two pictures-the first was of downtown Vadium before the federal ordinance and the second was the city after. The first was "coated in smog" and "writhed with inefficiency." And the second, thanks to the "superior genetics of our race" was the "height of perfection." When held up to the light, a disembodied smile shone through the thin newsprint.
"You smug fucks!" he shouted, punching the tile floor.
Ian began to shake, and the article fell from his limp grip. He'd wished so badly that this could all be some terrible nightmare-but in thirty-two years long years of tossing and turning, he'd never woken up, and now the alarm screamed out, It's time to go, Ian. It's time to let go.
He didn't bother to muffle his sobs or screams as he sank lower to the floor, because he wasn't afraid of waking his family. It didn't matter anymore.
Fear had set in, and he believed that, soon, the wolves would be upon them.