Echo of Chaos: Ch. 1

My brother was scheduled to be executed on my eighteenth birthday.

I remember thinking the timing was idiotic, but I would never say so out loud for two reasons: One because idiocy is a crime punishable by death; and two because the timing had been intentionally planned by my mother, a professional Schedule Supervisor, as an attempt to save her children—another fatal felony.

It was common knowledge that every eighteenth birthdate was celebrated by the Congruent Coupling Ceremony, the eternal binding of two individuals the Congruity Team found compatible for reproduction. Everyone knew the ceremony could only take place at a certain time, on the mutual birthdate of the loveless bride and groom. Everyone also knew if you missed your opportunity on your eighteenth birthday, you’d have to wait two years for another perfectly compatible mate to be assigned by the Congruity Team, though it was more likely you’d never marry at all. 

It was a big tragedy apparently, but I knew better. I knew that it was actually a huge relief to be spared the perils of Congruent Coupling. 

I knew because I watched my mother suffer through it after my father was mysteriously pronounced to have committed suicide. She didn’t even have time to grieve or investigate why the man she married in love (an almost unheard-of event in the Program) would drink the poison just hours after laughing and smiling with his daughter and newborn son.

“I guess you never know what some people are capable of,” Captain Salvador Bright had told my mother when he had come to bear the news of my father’s intentional death.

Captain Fancy Pants (as I preferred to call him) was a man who wore a pound of makeup "to soften his image" during the video announcements he made every night. When he came to our door the night my father died, I remember he was wearing gold, silk pants that sparkled when he walked and a matching shirt so bright it hurt to look at it. Three hours later, Captain Fancy Pants, married my mother. Out of courtesy, he claimed. He already had a wife or two, which was illegal, but apparently not when you’re the one who makes the rules.

My father, on the other hand, was a man who valued the truth above all else. I remember the Captain announced an ordinance for an early bedtime once “as a response to recent criminal activity in the late hours.”

My father had laughed sardonically, looked at my mother, and said, “He’s full of shit. The only recent criminal activity going on around here is his own.”

“Shh!” my mother had said, knowing his words could get him sentenced to death. 

She seemed to be shushing him constantly. He would come home from his work as an Ordinance Official visibly angry, ranting about the Program's corruption and the Captain's scandalous activity. My parents occupied the room below me, and I would fall asleep to the sound of their muffled arguments. The one the night before my father’s death was the worst.

“I didn’t sign up for this!” my father had said. "I have to say something, Ella! This can't go on!"

“Please,” my mother had begged, “please, keep your voice down. Think about the consequences, Greg.”

“No! I won’t put up with this any longer! I can’t!”

The next night, the Captain came to our door with my father's alleged suicide note. I can't continue, it read in his clear, bold handwriting. 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he had told me with a sincerity that didn’t match his eyes. He took my hand and I could feel the coldness of the four rings on his left hand, the giant stones glimmering. "I'm going to have a private word with your mother now."

         He had given my hand a quick squeeze before walking past me to my mother's bedroom, where she was feeding Max. I had rushed to my room to eavesdrop on the conversation.

“It’s only temporary,” he had explained to my mother. “The Congruity Team will arrange for a more proper Coupling when one becomes available.”

Of course, that never happened. 

Ten years later, my mother was still married to Captain Fancy Pants, still working long hours as a Schedule Supervisor, and still the exotically gorgeous woman who turned heads and made our fine Captain the point of envy in every hot-blooded male, married or not. 

“Mommy, how come Daddy doesn't live with us?” my brother, Max, had asked her one day.

“He’s not your Daddy, Maxi,” my mother had replied robotically with a faraway look in her amber eyes, “and this isn't his home.”

That was back when Max was still little. Back when it was still acceptable for him to ask questions like that or to ask questions at all. Max was my father’s child, and my father and mother married before the Flood in a big, beautiful chapel with stained glass windows. They loved each other. They weren’t forced together for offspring quality and similar genius IQs. Therefore, Max wasn’t expected to be a perfect genius because he wasn’t bred by perfectly compatible parents. Still, my parents were smart. They wouldn’t have been accepted into the Program if they weren’t. The Program didn’t accept anything less than perfect.

And Max wasn’t perfect. 

Therefore, when he was declared to have a learning disability, when excuses of age and genetics could no longer be used, my mother was asked to schedule his Execution. 

These Executions were another kind courtesy from Captain Fancy Pants. After all, learning disabilities, immaturity, and low intelligence levels meant a life without success. 

“To prevent poverty and the destruction of our race; to allow equal opportunity and a life of health, wealth, love, and respect, every child at the age of ten must pass the Intelligence and Common Knowledge Assessment with a score exceeding or equalling ninety-eight percent. Any child who scores below ninety-eight percent will be scheduled for termination.” Captain Fancy Pants declared in the video announcements shown on testing days. “For the same reasons, a second test will be distributed at the age of sixteen. This test will measure intelligence as well as mastery of individual skills and will determine professional placement and compatibility. A score of one hundred percent is needed to prevent scheduled termination.”

Max had scored seventy-six percent, the lowest score in his entire generation. There had been lower scores before, but only from the more obviously struggling ten year olds. Max had been expected to pass. 

He was smart in his own way. He could list every major city that had once been a part of Earth, and determine the age of any star with one glance. He knew everything there was to know about climate, and could tell you what the weather was once like in any city on Earth. He also had an impressive internal compass, aware of his exact location at all times. All things that didn’t contribute to his intelligence score, and therefore his deemed usefulness.

“We took a test today.” Max declared at dinner the day of his testing.

I had seen my mother’s body freeze at his words. She knew he was different. Everyone knew he was different. It had been known that she would be scheduling his execution before the two generals showed up to inform my mother of Max’s humiliating test score.

They weren’t really generals. Their formal occupation was Information Delivery, but they were always huge, muscular men with big, booming voices incapable of expressing emotion as they delivered any information deemed importantly urgent, which mostly consisted of test failures, deaths, and reminders of scheduled dates. The more important or tragic the news, the more generals you could expect to deliver the news. 

Only one had shown up to remind my mother and I of my eighteenth birthday and the Coupling Ceremony scheduled for eight o’clock the following evening. Two of them reminded my mother of Max’s scheduled execution, also at eight o’clock. The other two reminded me that I was the scheduled Execution Executive. 

They knew nothing of the conflict that my mother had created. That information came later, and caused such a stir that Captain Fancy Pants himself had shown up to deliver the information.

“Do you think me a fool, Ella-Jane?” Captain Fancy Pants had yelled at my mother. “This was no accident!”

My mother, ever the talented actress, had shed tears and fallen dramatically into Captain Fancy Pants’ arms, his thick, protruding belly squishing the delicate, beautiful form of my mother.

“Forgive me, Captain,” my mother begged. “I have dedicated nearly all of my time to my precious profession. I have hardly found the time to rest! I am afraid such dedication has taken it’s toll on my abilities.”

She pulled away from Captain Fancy Pants to flutter her tear-speckled eyelashes, dab at the moisture on her flawless, contoured cheeks, and retie the strings holding her silk robe together, her pillowy lips quivering in desperation. Captain Fancy Pants didn’t see the desperation, though. He only saw the glimpse of my mother’s ample cleavage while she adjusted the string, and that was all it took to be granted forgiveness.

“Meet me in my chambers in an hour. I will fix this mistake immediately, and ensure you plenty of rest,” Captain Fancy Pants said.

Three hours later, Max was scheduled for execution at the next available date, and I was removed of the privilege of my Coupling Ceremony.

“Thank you,” I told my mother that night.

“Thank you?” she asked.

“Thank you for being my mother.”

She smiled weakly, but she said nothing. Her son was still scheduled for execution in two days, her daughter was a professional killer now destined for a life without marriage, and she was still trapped with the greedy Captain Fancy Pants. However, she had also been given an entire thirty days to rest, a privilege she hadn’t seen in her entire career.

“Be careful,” she warned before retreating to bed with Max curled in her arms like an overgrown monkey.

Her warning had nothing to do with my expression of gratitude which would have been grounds for worry had anyone else heard me. It also wasn’t about my appointed profession or the consequences of emotion. It wasn’t even about the conflict and confusion the day had presented to us. 

It was about love and a fellow Execution Executive named Forrest.

It was the same warning she had given to me two weeks before.

More precisely, two weeks, seven hours, eighteen minutes, and twenty-two seconds. 

The exact timing of her witness to my crime. 

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