Federal Death Registry

by Jay Vera Summer

                                                                                                                           Artwork by Mark Dwyer

                                                                                                                           Artwork by Mark Dwyer


            The televisions flashed on and emitted the familiar series of beeps indicating a death alert. Sarah looked up. The screen showed a heavyset man being elevated in preparation for air blasting.

            “I bet he’s going to the ocean,” Sarah said to herself as she sat alone in the Federal Satellite Office Midwestern Division Number Two waiting area. She straightened her uniform gray pants with her hands. “He looks like a Midwesterner. Midwesterners always go to water.”

            A guy with curly, round hair framing his head walked in the front door. He wore jeans and a t-shirt instead of uniform. Sarah immediately felt anxious. People didn’t have to wear uniform, but most did Post-Inquiry. It simplified things. She only knew what jeans were from the old videos of Resisters. Also, she had never seen a man with long hair in her lifetime. The man sat down two seats away and gave her a smile.

            “Hi,” he said, with a small wave. “I’m Drew.” Despite being different, he was cute.

            The televisions beeped once again as the limp man blasted across the country to the ocean. His arms and legs hung. Either he was unconscious, or dead prematurely. A machete dangled from his arm, connected to his wrist by a bracelet. He was held above the water for a few seconds then dropped. He hit the water with a large splash; a shark instantly devoured him. Dark red blood spread throughout the water around him before the screen cut to black.

            “Poor guy wanted to fight sharks,” Drew said. “That would’ve been a great way to die.”

            “But he lost consciousness so instead a shark ate him. That’s so sad.” Sarah frowned. She noticed Drew was laughing.

            “Why are you here?” Sarah asked. Most people register in childhood and Drew looked about twenty-five. She hadn’t registered because her parents had never brought her, which is why she was here today, the day she turned eighteen and could register herself. Despite his outdated clothing and hair, Drew spoke and walked like the wealthy. She would’ve guessed he’d come from a family that registered their children’s deaths in elementary.

            “Same as you,” he said. He smiled widely.

            “You’re here to get revenge on your mom because you have breast cancer and she won’t pay for your health care even though she has savings?” Sarah asked, raising her eyebrows.

            Drew threw his head back in loud laughter and his curls shook. Sarah stared, waiting.

            “My mom is gone and I’m not sick, but close enough. Sometimes revenge can be a salvation.”

            “A salvation? Do you mean a solution?” Sarah asked. “Why would we need a solution Post-Inquiry? Everything is solved.”

            “Is it?” Drew cocked his head and whispered, “Would you be here if it was?”

            A Federal Death Registry Agent wearing a long, white lab coat over gray uniform stepped from behind the counter across the room and walked over to the waiting area. “This man’s death is a good reminder for everyone that deaths don’t always go as planned. Federal uses perfected, Post-Inquiry technology, but we do not force wakefulness on faulty human consciousness.”

            “Thank you,” Sarah said, standing.

            “I am 11981. I will register you today.” The agent leaned over and shook Sarah’s hand. She wondered what his name had been when he was still a civilian, but knew it’d be rude to ask.

            They walked over to the clean, white counter. 11981 stepped behind it and sat on a white swivel chair and Sarah sat on an identical chair facing him. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Drew leaning forward and watching them.

            “We must connect,” 11981 said. “Until your sensor is implanted, our connection will be how you transmit death-related data to Federal. This connection is necessary and will remain even after you receive your sensor. In order to keep your death registry active, you cannot do anything to interfere with, scramble, block, or silence the existing connection.”

            Sarah nodded and extended her left arm, wrist up, exposing the three-centimeter-long Inset screen embedded in it. 11981 held his own left wrist over hers for two seconds, until each of their Insets emitted a split-second vibration notifying them that the connection was complete. They each tapped “Yes” on their Insets to confirm the connection. “10/23/2086: Connection with Agent 11981 begins” scrolled across her screen.

            “Tap to confirm that you understand your sensor chip will identify when you are dying and transmit a notification back to Federal,” 11981 said. “Within one minute of receiving that notification, the Federal Death Implementation Team will begin fulfilling your plan.”

            Sarah tapped the confirmation popup that appeared on her Inset.

            “Next, I will read a list of categories that will simultaneously appear on your Inset. Tap to select the reason behind your death plan: accomplishment, adventure, artistic expression, entertainment, vengeance, overcoming of fear, family status, spectacle, other. If other, please provide a short description.”

            Sarah tapped vengeance. She noticed 11981 eyeing Drew. She wondered if the agent was worried.

            “Now verbalize your death plan to me as I type. Provide detail, but remember I have a limit of 200 words and the death plan should take less than three minutes to carry out, excluding time spent air blasting, if air blasting is necessary.”

            “Yes, I want to get air blasted to wherever my mom is, and then I want my breasts cut off with a knife. Then—”

            “We can put it in the notes to air blast you to your mom, but two things need to be in place: First, we need her to sign off on it.”

            “Do I have to tell her the entire death plan?”

            “No, just that you want her to be a part of it. Second, you’ll need a static backup location in case something happens, such as she dies before you do or has her Inset deactivated and cannot be located at the time you die.”

            “Fine. I pick my parents’ house as my backup location. She hardly leaves it.”

            “Also, agents of Federal cannot cut off your breasts. We can provide the necessary tools for you or someone else to cut them off.”

            “I can’t cut off my own breasts,” Sarah said. “I mean, I can’t even wax my own bikini area. There’s something about doing it yourself that makes it hurt even more.”

            “Rules are rules,” 11981 replied.

            “Maybe a friend would do it,” Sarah said, and began scrolling through her connections’ profiles in her Inset.

            “I’ll do it,” Drew said, standing up as if he were accepting an official award. “I will cut off both of your breasts, with a knife, in front of your mom.”

            11981 stared at Drew for a few seconds and then looked at Sarah.

            “Okay,” she continued. “My friend, um, Drew, will cut off my breasts with a knife. So, I guess make sure he is air blasted to my mom at the same time. Once my breasts are cut off, I’m going to throw them at her.”

            “You can’t hit your mother with bloody materials. It’s a health risk.”

            “That’s insane,” Drew said, walking across the room to the counter. “Federal solved infection. How is there any risk? Cancer isn’t contagious. And we can cure anything anyway, even if it were.”

            “It’s procedure,” 11981 said, looking directly at Sarah and not Drew.

            Drew sighed loudly, then said, “I guess you could have a glass panel lowered in front of her the second I hand you your breasts. They won’t hit her, but she’ll see them coming.”

            11981 continued staring at Sarah and did not acknowledge Drew’s comment.

            “I’ll go with the glass panel then,” Sarah said. “What he said. And after I throw the breasts, I just want to die.”

            11981 typed up the plan then had Sarah tap off on the finalized registry. Finally, he asked her to sit on the bench to wait for medical.

            After Sarah stood up, Drew took her place in the white chair and leaned back. He sat with his legs apart and one arm draped on the counter. With the jeans, it looked like an advertisement from the early 2000s or even the late 1900s. She’d never seen anything like it outside of Histodocs.

            “What are those old-fashioned utilities for?” Drew asked 11891, nodding toward the clipboard, papers, and pens sitting to the side of the counter. “I thought we replaced manuals years ago.”

            “Civilians use their Insets for everything, but we are Federal. We use manuals for backup. We have two copies of everything—virtual and physical.”

            “But it’s Post-Inquiry. Why would we need backup if we’ve eliminated all mistakes?”

            11981 paused. He said, “Sir, you’ve solved your own question: it’s Post-Inquiry. Questions themselves are not necessary.”

            “So they say,” Drew responded, “but questions aren’t illegal yet, right?”

            “Not illegal, but selfish,” 11981 said. “Since we’ve reached the final edge of understanding and no question can break new ground, the only purpose of a question is to further one individual’s knowledge. To ask for information that doesn’t pertain to one’s own life is greedy, unnecessary, and a waste of time for everyone involved.”

            “Sure,” Drew said, nodding. He glanced at Sarah and raised his eyebrows. She felt her face flush. Was he flirting? Would 11981 think she supported his questioning?

            “Also, to ask questions about these objects is to… is to question Federal,” 11981 stammered. He quickly recovered. “Moving on, let us connect.”

            11981 slowly reached his wrist out and connected with Drew.

            “What is your occupation?” 11981 asked. “It is not showing up in the data packet I received.

            “Comedian,” Drew said.

            Sarah blinked. Comedians were another thing she thought ended with the Resistance. This guy told jokes? For what audience?

            11981 studied him, then finally spoke. “So, you were asking questions as a joke?”

            “No, you’ve got it reversed. I joke to get people asking questions.”

            11981 looked flustered and spoke quickly, “Let’s hurry up and finish this registration,” he said. “There are people waiting.”

            “It won’t take long,” Drew said. “I want to die watching the sun burn out: a big blaze, then no more sun.”

            “You want to die watching the sun burn out?”

            “That’s exactly what I just said,” Drew responded. “Are you asking a selfish and greedy question?”

            11981 looked shaken up. Sarah assumed he had never been spoken to that way.

            “Death plans require detail. For example, where you want to be, what you’ll be wearing, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be with.”

            “I want to be wherever I am when I set off the sensor. You don’t need to move me. I want to wear whatever I’m wearing, and be around whoever I’m already around. My only wish is to watch the sun burn out in a scorching blaze.” Drew’s voice sounded like a bully’s taunt, and 11981 looked like he felt bullied. His face turned red and he tapped his Inset rapidly.

            “Fine,” 11981 said, clearly trying to maintain a professional appearance. “I will input this and you can move on to medical.” After tapping furiously on his Inset, 11981 disappeared into a backroom.

            Drew stood and walked toward the door then motioned for Sarah to follow him.

            “I’m waiting for medical,” she said.

            “Babe, you won’t need it.”

            “Why not?” Babe? She felt dizzy. What had she just witnessed?

            “You heard my registry. I need to act soon, before that guy realizes he didn’t sign me up to die watching a virtual sun burn out on a screen superimposed over the sky…”

            Sarah tried to think. What would happen if Federal programmed the actual sun to burn out? Of course they could do it.

            “Drew, please don’t take my death from me. I’m looking forward to it.”

            Drew smiled and winked—another long outdated practice. “I look forward to our deaths, too—to everyone’s.”

            “But, you said you’d help me out, you’d cut off my breasts.”

            “Do you really want revenge?” he asked. “Do you want to go out cold and slow and bloody, making your poor mother sad? Making her blame herself for the fucked up society she was forced into? I will be helping you. I’ll be helping the whole world.”

            “Is this a joke? A prank?” People didn’t do those any more, but she had heard of them.

            “No, it’s the smartest punchline for the greatest set-up of all time.”

            Sarah felt herself breathing faster and faster. She knew something big was happening, but the bigness hadn’t completely sunk in yet. It was there, but she couldn’t look at it, only around it.

            “We will go out together, Sarah,” Drew continued. “Us, everyone. It will be beautiful.”


JayVeraSummer Bio Photo.JPG

Jay Vera Summer is a writer and artist living in Florida. She loves animals, plants, and water. Her work may be found in marieclaire.com, Proximity, Luna Luna Magazine, and more. She cofounded the online literary magazine weirderary. Find her at jayverasummer.com or @jayverasummer on social media.