By Chồn LườI
“I confirm you are the biological father.” The young doctor looked up from her desk, “I can see this is neither here nor there to you. But it does make this part easier when there are no sudden surprises, let me assure you. Now, have you decided what you want to do?” Father and son looked at one another. The doctor raised her eyebrows, “Have you seen all the videos?”
The advert had come on as the father and son sat on the sofa, slurping from tubs of microwaved chicken noodles and staring at the screen. But, when the first silver image flickered on, their eyes dilated and their jaws stopped grinding. The advert was presented by an unknown, clean-slate-shaven man. “The Silver Bullet. Take one and you will always be healthy, always be fit and always be.” The voice continued over a montage of elderly couples swallowing the capsule, becoming younger and younger until they were Northern-Soul-dancing, picking edelweiss on mountainsides, and sculpting nudes in a classroom. Clay smeared past their elbows and flecked against the taught cheeks.
Opening her clasped hands, the doctor’s sleeves sagging from her arms, she pointed to the right, “I’m obliged to state clearly that one of you will die. And one of you will leave that room and live forever ― perfectly. This is because, legally and biologically speaking, only one in the family line is ever alive.” She paused, as if letting the patients process the information.
The father remembered his son’s look after seeing the advert, his expectant eyes transparent behind his melted pink skin. The father’s own gut fluttered, “Shall we take a look?” His son nodded and looked back to the screen. The Sustainable Populations and Product Commitment video was linked to the advert. It continued merging a calm tone with tingling possibilities.
The presenter explained the science. “Nano-bots, programmed with your DNA, maintain your tissue at a cellular level. Anything aging, diseased, or damaged is recycled into its pristine and original form. Well,” The presenter gave a slow, white smile, “the age of twenty-one is original enough.” Images of skin becoming tighter, plumper and blemish-free faded into one another as the voiceover got faster. “To ensure we live sustainably, the capsule will sterilize the taker. One taker per parent. Capsules must be administered in conjunction with an Eternal-E. Free thirty-minute consultation. Decision and responsibility on the taker. Terms and conditions apply.”
The son had smiled at his father; the father’s stomach acid gnawed his bowels and lungs. He told himself it was good for his guilt.
The doctor swiped her finger across the desk and the DNA results disappeared. The table became a pure, hospital white. “Excellent. Now, I can put everything on the table, so to speak.” She reached behind her and took a transparent case from the shelf. Father and son remained still. Inside the case, a silver capsule bobbled and then settled. “One Silver Bullet.”
Leaning forward, the doctor said, “Because you’re the whole family unit, to do this by the book is relatively simple. Have you decided who takes the Silver Bullet? The other takes the Eternal-E Capsule. Again, for legal clarity, I am obliged to tell you that E stands for euthanasia.” She set down another transparent box and silver capsule. Silence.
The family always used to talk gathered around the dining table. The father remembered his wife laughing at their son refusing to eat the skin around his peas, demanding she wrote a letter of complaint to the farmers. They laughed together every day until the father crashed their car into an auto-car. Had he been knocked unconscious? Their car burst into flames. His son and wife screamed. The father unclipped his son’s belt and dragged him out onto the verge. He beat out the flames. By the time he pulled his wife out, she was unconscious. Her burns were terminal; his son’s face had melted. He felt guilty, for crashing and for choosing to save his son. And he was guilty. The auto-car company proved it was his fault, so they paid nothing for his son’s care. The father struggled to get out of bed, to clean himself or cook. He lost his job. That was his fault, too. He paid for one failed skin graft but the money dwindled. He sold their home ― mementos, dining table, and all ― and moved the two of them into a studio flat to eek out their savings. Neither of them ever left.
They watched soaps and series and films and ate microwaved meals. After a year, the Silver Bullet advert interrupted him ― shook him ― and he realized he could help them both. All that his son needed was one tablet, making him stronger and healthier than ever. As a father ― a widower ― he only needed to do one more thing and he could reset everything. The bio-legal states that parents only live to support through a transitional rearing phase, long enough to ensure survival. After that, parents are redundant. The supporting eco-philosophy is clear: Generations of family members are an unsustainable accident of modernity. The father could sacrifice without feeling guilty.
The doctor raised her eyebrows, creasing her flawless forehead, until the father nodded and said, “If we both want to take a Silver Bullet?”
“But we’re only a small family. No brothers or sisters or cousins or anyone else ― very sustainable.” The man put an arm around his son. “Just us.”
“You can always come back later, providing that nothing has happened to either of you in the meantime. Or, the price of the Silver Bullet has become prohibitive.”
They could still hear shouting from outside. Father and son recalled walking into the medical center: a picket line with several dozen protesters chanting, “Prolife and Procreation,“ “No Eugenics,” and “Life Needs You To Die.” Every protester jostled alongside a manikin; the father saw parents with young babies and a nurse holding a wooden crucifix.
As they walked past the security guard, the father put a hand on his son’s shoulder and stopped him. The child looked up ― pained. The father said, “You’re going to take the Silver Bullet. You deserve it.”
The son’s eyes swelled with tears, “You promised. You’re not going to choose. Otherwise, you’ll feel guilty. Whoever is left will feel guilty.”
The father put a firm hand on his son’s neck. He wanted to say something but the son interrupted, “Dad, I know. But we agreed.”
The father turned to the doctor. “No, we’ve talked that through.” He brought his arm back from his son and squeezed his own knee. He blinked. “If we can’t both take one, we want you to decide.”
The doctor paused. Their intention was understandable but she was not paid to take that responsibility for them. The doctor would not recall her own appointment ― her choice. Father and son must have agreed beforehand because they each took a beaker, closed their eyes, and held out their palms in unison.
With no one to see, the doctor gave a pained smile. She tapped the table and, while the desktop spun the cases around innumerable times, reached for two small beakers of water. When the spinning stopped, as per the Silver Bullet Sustainable Populations and Product Guide, the doctor put a capsule in each patient’s outstretched hand. They put their palms to their mouths and opened their eyes.
The father asked, “Who got what?”
The doctor had followed the rules. She did not know. She did not want to know. “Please,” she gestured to the door, “Go through to the waiting room, take a bed each, and one of my colleagues will be through to help you shortly.”
The father could feel it in his gut already. He told himself it was good for his guilt.
Chồn Lười has been writing for years in various forms. But when attending Comma Press’ Short Story Course he was encouraged to submit. He has recently been published by Five 2 One magazine and Dirty Chai magazine and will soon be published by Centum Press. You can find him on Twitter: @bacullen85