by William Quincy Belle
Thursday, June 15 at 16:25.
Louise re-read the message. She glanced away then read it again for the third time. There it was in black and white. No more conjectures. No more wild guesses. Nothing remained to be discussed. One didn’t have to speculate about the future; the future was now here. Time to stop dreaming and time to start doing.
She looked at the current time. It was 08:22. She had eight hours and three minutes. What could anybody do with three minutes? Let’s round it off to eight hours and figure out how to cram everything necessary into such a short time. Then again, was it a short time or was it the right time, just what anybody needed to tidy up before checking out?
She wondered if this was an odd time to get a pronouncement. Then again, the Ministry of Sustainability worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. What would Dad say? She touched her handtab and chose “connect.”
“Peace be with us.”
“Peace be with us, Dad.”
“Louise, how goes your day?”
“I’ve been called.”
“You have? I know we all must contribute and we all will eventually, but your mother and I always thought we would be called long before you were.”
“I’ve been declared 9.5 fertile.”
“Why is that an issue? Your mother is still an eight.”
“The total has crossed 10.112B and... well, you know the level better than I do.”
“Maybe so, but I’m still perplexed.”
“Does anyone understand OptPop?”
“Not really. When is your call?”
“This afternoon at 16:25.”
“Today? My goodness.” He sighed. “I’m sorry you won’t be home for dinner. Mom received a ration of meat.”
“She got meat? It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what it is.”
“Husbandry isn’t the best use of agri.”
“Okay, Dad, but I like what I like.”
“That attitude, young lady, has gotten us into trouble.”
“Forgiven. We must sacrifice our personal pleasures for the greater good. It’s sustainable.”
“Will you see me off?”
“Of course we’ll be there. Mom and I have always been proud of your contribution, and I know she’ll be as happy as I am with your calling.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll see you at World7 this afternoon.”
* * *
Louise visited Human Resources and showed her calling notice.
“Wow, aren’t you lucky,” Sally said. “I’m never going to get called. Sheesh, my entire family has been called, and I’m still hanging around. I’m beginning to think they don’t want me.”
The two of them laughed. “Your turn will come,” Louise said. “Everybody gets called sooner or later.”
“Yes, I know it’s inevitable, but do I have to be last? I want to contribute as much as everybody else.”
“You can still contribute in the way you live your life.”
“I know. However, I want to do more. I live frugally and I keep a small footprint. Plus, I’ve started volunteering to help others decrease their part of the carrying capacity. I just look forward to the chance to make the ultimate contribution.”
“Peace be with us.”
“Yes, peace be with us. It’s been nice meeting you, Louise.” Sally stood up and gave her a hug.
* * *
Louise arrived at the World7 Center and found her parents waiting by the main door. Mom ran up and threw her arms around her. “Oh, Louise. I am so proud of you. We couldn’t have gotten better news today. Your father has been out telling the neighbors, and I think everybody on our floor is jealous. How many people get their daughter called before thirty?”
“Oh, Mom.” She smiled. “It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal? I’ll have you know that the MacDonald’s daughter wasn’t called until she was fifty-five. Thank God, Fred and Alice weren’t around to see that. I’m sure they were pacing the ether.”
Louise embraced her father. “Thanks for coming down, Dad.”
“Thanks? As if we would miss this important occasion.”
The three of them walked into the building’s lobby. A banner dominated the room: Good Life Through Sustainability. She went to the reception desk and pushed a button marked Service. A display screen lit up with the 3D animated face of a woman. “Peace be with us. How may I be of service?”
“Peace be with us. My name is Louise Joy Brown.”
“Ms. Brown, Bishop Webster is expecting you. It’s a good day to contribute.”
“Every day is a good day to contribute.”
“I’m here with my parents. Would there be a problem if they came in to witness?”
“Not at all. We’re pleased to welcome visitors. If you will wait but a moment.”
The animated face disappeared and was replaced by the World7 logo. A side door opened and two men came out dressed in robes. The older man shook Louise’s hand. “Peace be with us. I’m Bishop Webster, and this is Novice Mark. Mark is here for his novitiate, and the two of us will preside over your contribution.”
“Peace be with us.” Mark smiled and nodded to Louise.
“Bishop Webster, I would like to introduce my parents, Charles and Elizabeth Brown.”
The older man shook hands. “Welcome to the contribution. This is an important day for all of us.” He pointed to the side door. “If you will all follow me, let’s prepare ourselves.”
The group of them went through a door into a small room set up with three rows of seats before a floor to ceiling window. Beyond, there was an empty room containing a raised platform in the middle. “Charles? Elizabeth? If the two of you would take a seat, we’ll get Louise ready for the ceremony.”
Webster took Louise through a side door into a hidden area. “Louise, here is your ceremonial robe. You can change in this small room. Leave your clothes on the hook and we’ll take care of everything afterward.”
“Thank you, Bishop.”
Webster went back into the main area and motioned Mark over to a display. “I looked over your transcripts. You’ve done well at university. I’m sure you will acclimatise yourself easily here at the center. Allow me to lead you through the procedure a few times, and then we will put you in charge with supervision.”
“Forgive me if I’m repeating what you already know, but let us be prudent by covering all details of our operation.”
“The optimal population is displayed center screen at the top. Remember, this number is constantly changing. The Ministry of Sustainability collects input from around the world for the variables feeding into the population algorithm and maintains an up to the minute calculation of what the world can sustain. Such as...?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Ah...” Mark held up one hand and counted on his fingers. “Economic factors, reports on agriculture, raw material availability, fuel capacity, water levels...” He glanced away for a moment then resumed counting. “Plus disease, natural disasters, and accidents.”
“Excellent. Yes, they all contribute to determining what is optimal at any given point in time. The Ministry sets the targets for both births and deaths controlling all components of global balance.”
“But why Louise?”
“You tell me. The selection process is based on a number of factors including...”
“Ah...” Mark held one hand on his chin. His eyes darted around. “Geographical location, regional optimal population, age, fertility and potential for procreation, and predisposition for sickness and early death.”
“Top marks again. I do not fully grasp all the intricacies by which the Ministry arrives at its choices, but they’re all based on the most accurate data and the most tested theorems of equilibrium maintenance. It’s all scientific, backed with the devoted belief in the intrinsic infallibility of our knowledge.”
“Peace be with us.”
“Peace be with us without a doubt, Novice Mark. Since the inauguration of OptPop and global sustainability, we’ve all but eradicated conflict. With equality and shared resources, there’s no longer any need for anybody to go without. We’re all fed, housed, and supported. There’s no deprivation in the world.” He smiled. “And look at the results. Nobody fights anymore. There’s no war. We have unprecedented world peace.”
The side door opened and Louise stepped back into the room. “Bishop Webster?”
Webster looked her up and down and beamed. “Louise, you look radiant.” He came forward, took her hand and raised it. He led her to her parents. “Charles, Elizabeth, I present to you your daughter.”
They both stood up. Elizabeth embraced Louise. “Oh Louise, you look beautiful,” she said.
Charles leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
Webster smiled. “Shall we begin?”
Louise put a hand on the shoulder of both her parents. “Mom? Dad? I thank you for everything. I do this for you. I do this for everyone. Peace be with us.”
“Peace be with us,” they both said in unison.
“This way, Louise.” Webster led her to the far side of the room and they entered the chamber. “Please stand on the platform and face the window.”
Louise stepped onto the raised area and faced the window. She smiled at her parents.
“Just give me a moment,” Webster said. He shut the door and walked back in front of the window. He stood in front of the wall display. “Mark?”
“Please pay close attention to the next steps. We’re going to return Louise to the greater whole. We will induce a fusion reaction and convert her to energy that we will capture and store for future use. She will not be gone. She will remain part of us.”
“What do we get?”
“We estimate six quintillion joules. It’s only an estimate as there is some imprecision in the conversion and some energy is lost. Nevertheless, we’re capturing most of it, and this recycling of energy greatly reduces our dependence on creating new energy.”
Webster spoke into a microphone. “Here we go, Louise.” Webster turned to the parents and smiled. He touched the display screen and slid a finger to one side.
A hum began within the chamber. A brightness formed around Louise and increased in intensity. The humming went up in frequency and Louise turned into a white cloud. Charles and Elizabeth held a hand over their eyes. Webster and Mark looked away.
Webster silently counted down from five then looked at the display. He slid his finger along the screen, paused for a moment then poked a button. The room became quiet. The brightness left. Everyone looked into the chamber. It was empty.
“Six point one,” Webster said. “Elizabeth, Charles, congratulations. That’s the best number we’ve had this month. Your daughter has made a significant contribution. She will live on for years to come providing for our community. You should be proud of her.” He walked over and shook both their hands. “I will provide you with certification. This is something you need to display in your home so family and friends can share in your good contribution.”
“Thank you, Bishop Webster. Both my wife and I appreciate all that you’ve done here today. Louise contributed, but not without your assistance.”
“Thank you. However, I play only a small part in the process. It’s really people like your Louise who make the greatest contribution to our sustainability. She deserves the credit.”
“Peace be with us.”
“With all of us.”
Copyright © 2016 by William Quincy Belle