My head is groggy with lack of sleep, but I can’t be late, or there will be no African Violets left. This small booth isn’t well-stocked. It’s hidden from the main roads and mostly gets customers that know the owner. I learned of it through my morning ads. I’ve purchased so many flowers at this point that I get ads for even the most rinky-dink flower shops a person could ever find
The woman looks at me suspiciously as she runs her scanner over my wrist.
I smile reassuringly, “I’m new to the neighborhood and saw your stand when I was running the other day. I thought I would grab some flowers for the wife. She loves violets.”
The shopkeep visibly relaxes as she wraps the flowers. Waving goodbye, I walk towards downtown, cradling the flowers in the crook of my left elbow, and shoving my right hand into a coat pocket.
My wife hated flowers. She had also died ten years ago, during the war. It was a stupid thing, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, paired with her relentless need to help people. Law enforcement was pretty violent during those years, and the police had been harassing some random young man. She seemed to think being a white suburban woman made her invincible. When she stepped between the officer and the boy, she didn’t survive the encounter.
The media had a field day with this one, pegging her a hero. Half of the outlets cheered her for saving the officer from being shot, the other for saving the boy. But the boy wasn’t saved—the feds charged him with shooting my wife and sentenced him to life in prison. I had tried to tell them to tell anyone what had happened. I had wanted to make her death worth something. Unfortunately, money was what made that world go round, and those with the most money could spin whatever story suited them.
I shook off the memory and continued towards town. At this point, I had to clear my mind. To make it completely random, I couldn’t dwell on my feelings. I hummed a mindless tune as I handed the flowers to an older man. Smiling absently, I continued down the road, not bothering to wait for a reply or even look at his face. I just keep walking.
As I turn the corner, I change direction and walk backward for a couple of blocks before sitting on a small bench under a colorful awning. I need to keep up a mixture of habit and true randomness to fool the system.
A few blocks later, I pull the stun stick from my pocket and aim at a tall chic blond that was vivaciously chatting with her friend. I don’t wait, but I hear her friend gasp as the woman falls to the ground. The hustle of the crowd making its way to help adds to the confusion of the scene. Before long, they would realize she was dead.
Stun stick was a stupid name for these weapons. Sure, they could stun, but that wasn’t even their primary function—the elders registered one to every enforcer in the CCA. The enforcers worked in the shadows, but it was impossible to be completely hidden. The citizens had to know that there was some sort of agency keeping them safe.
The common knowledge was that enforcers were a combination of sentries and police officers. Their job was to ensure no one from the United States could enter the Confederate Cities of America. I knew better.
Glancing at my watch, I made my way to the nearest Tindo station. The bus came silently around the corner, right on time. I scanned my wrist and found a seat midway down the aisle. Happy to be heading home.
I let myself relax a little. There was no need to filter my mind anymore. The bus ride was when I gave my emotions free rein. The universe stuck my life on a perpetual repeat. I know the truth, but no one believes me. They only hear what they want to hear. Only this time, the currency was power.
After my wife had died, I threw myself into my work. I had been angry at the world’s lust for money and power and the deceit behind everything. Determined to make something to change the world, I created WATCHDOG. It was a beautiful program, and wartime made it easy to get funding. I pitched it to both sides. At this point, I didn’t care who paid. In my heart, I believed that it could make a difference. Boy, I was naive.
The bus pulled into my station, and I scanned my wrist one more time as I left. Two young girls were sitting on a bench in front of the entrance, looking at their tablets.
“Good Afternoon Jenny, Good Afternoon Breanna”
They both smiled warmly, and Jenny spoke for both of them, “Good afternoon Mr. Taylor.”
A pang of guilt swept over me as I saw the woman I shot today in my mind. My wife’s face on her body. The girls sat there so innocently.
“Don’t trust what the Elders say, girls; they are using a computer program to control us,” I spouted out impulsively. I’m an idiot, and I need to get inside and keep my mouth shut. There are ears everywhere.
They both gaze up at me. “Uhm, okay, Mr. Taylor,” Breanna says to me. The confusion was evident.
“We should go inside,” Jenny whispers to her sister, and they scurry off into the building.
My complex was one of the older buildings typical to the outskirt neighborhoods but well maintained. There were large lilac bushes in front, teaming with bees, and a bright blue door was in contrast to the dull gray walls.
I place my wrist on the reader, and the door swings open with a whoosh. The apartment was on the ground floor of the ten-level building — the first door on the right. The panel screen next to my entrance flashes a giant Margies Flower Empoiruim ad. Proof the system is convinced of my counterfeit flower obsession, but I’d been to Margies a couple of times and would not use it again.
I enter my home and sink into the large plush chair, sighing deeply. Tomorrow I will meet with the elders again and beg them to stop using WATCHDOG. This panel will be my thirty-fifth time pleading my case. When I first asked, I believed that I would have some sort of sway as its creator—no such luck.
Guilt washes over me, thinking about the lives I had taken. I always made sure to never look at my victims’ faces, but their demise stories often flashed across my screen. The news channel reported many of the deaths as some sort of medical incident, but it was a harder sell on the ones I had used my old Smith and Wesson from the pre-war days.
The enforcers had made some arrests. These arrests tended to be people that were loud spoken and opinionated. When I asked who solved those murders, the elders had always informed me that it was WATCHDOG, but I knew it wouldn’t have been able to compute the actual killer. My program was evolving.
When I was first trying to prove the flaws, enforcers would follow me. I could see them in the shadows, just watching. I imagine I had shown up on some anomaly report. The more flower shops I went to, the less they tracked me. Eventually, they stopped following me altogether. My flower shopping was no longer an anomaly. That is when I added the hits. They were not directly at the flower shop, but I wasn’t even a blip on the radar by now. I was just some strange guy that loved flowers.
There were whispers of a serial killer, and the Elders did not like this. It didn’t speak well of their claims that we were a crime-free society, that faith and trust in the bible kept us safer than those heathens that lived in the United States. The Confederate Cities of America was a utopia. The general public didn’t know about WATCHDOG, and the Elders rationalized the program as a gift from God. They were good at lying to themselves.
Maybe now someone would listen that my program was flawed. That no program could completely predict human nature, and real people were dying. Innocent people.
I sat in front of the panel, prepared with my speech.
“Good morning Theron,” The Elder spoke softly. He was a quiet man, leading the panel for the first time.
“Hello, Elder,” I spoke, bowing my head respectfully.
“Is my assuming the purpose of this meeting to try to convince us to turn off WATCHDOG?” he says.
I nod my affirmation.
“Then spare us the usual speech. Do you have anything new to add?”
I sigh and shake my head. They had to have noticed the influx of deaths. They had to be getting an inkling that if left running, WATCHDOG would become dangerous.
A man I didn’t recognize entered the room and whispered something into the elder’s ear. I watch as his eyes widen, and he gestures to the enforcer by the door. Anguish flickers on his face for a brief moment before returning to the stoicism enforcers were trained to express. As he raises the stun stick and points it at me, I already know it is too late.