It says 'August 21st, 2078'. There's no mistaking it. It's been blinking since a month and a week ago. It starts blinking a month in advance, and August 21st was a week ago.
How am I still alive?
Decades ago they found a way to determine with a degree certainty, when a person will die. Not due to DNA or environmental circumstances just happening to work out that way, but because those factors are taken into account when the Agency of Lifetimes decides when your use is up. This is generally a date a few years before you would otherwise come to pass. There's a machine that can calculate that date within a 1-year margin of error. To prevent people dying on the street or possibly endangering others -- think heart attack while driving a bus, for example -- it was decided to limit people's lifetimes well before the margin of error came into play.
The date cannot be wrong. A small, tamper-proof device with potent, fast-acting poison is injected at the base of the skull and it kills every time, nearly instantly. They say it's so instant you can't possibly realize. They say it's so lethal it's impossible to survive.
Yet here I am. A week overdue.
I'm sitting in my apartment. I've been too afraid to go out, as everybody who knows me knows my time was supposed to be up. We had the going away party the day before I was supposed to die. You're supposed to stay home on the day in question, so that they can collect the body without any incidents.
Did it not work? Was the poison not strong enough? Am I special? Am I broken?
I want to tell someone, but even my family would not understand. Death is final. Even if it is decided beforehand, you do not argue with it.
People have tried, with lawsuits and trying to dig the device out of their bodies, but all have failed. The device triggers immediately if anyone tries to mess with it, and the lawsuits were deemed frivolous, since the constitution now stated quite clearly that time of death is decided by the government and cannot be altered.
One argument that was used a lot when introducing this technology was that it would now be perfectly clear whether a death was murder, suicide or natural. You just check the date.
Suicide and murder you can't stop. But since by far most people die of 'natural' circumstances, it did make it harder to make someone's death seem like it was of a natural cause.
It never really bothered me. I'm 32 now, I've had a good life, and I've seen a lot of my friends die earlier. Also, I've known since I was little that this was going to happen and when. When natural death is no longer a surprise, you can learn to accept it rather easily. Yeah, I'm relatively young, but I knew how much time I had and I made the most of it.
But what am I supposed to do now? If I go outside, somebody will realize I'm supposed to be dead. I don't know how and if the Agency deals with survivors. But food is running low and I can't use any of my credits to order food online because a dead person would be ordering food.
The day they were supposed to pick up my body, I panicked and hid. I regret that. They came back later that day and forced the door open. I hid again, even better this time. I regret that even more.
I get up to walk to the cupboard. I was wrong. The food's already finished. What I thought was a packet of rice has gone bad. I thought rice couldn't get bad, but then again, there's insects and what looks like insect eggs in there. I'm not eating that.
So time has run out yet again. And there's not much else to do than to try my luck.
Perhaps they won't kill me, though I fear for that possibility.
I sit back down and call my dad. Some flags will go up somewhere, but that's okay. Life in here is over either way and if I accepted my death before, I should do so now.
"Owen? No..." my dad said, sounding like he just heard a ghost.
"Yeah, it's me. So, something seems to have gone wrong."
"But you're..." he said almost whispering.
"I'm not, though."
It stayed silent for a second.
"Son, you can't be alive," he said quietly but resolutely.
"I know. I'm going to turn myself in. If they haven't figured it out because of this phone call, anyway."
"Good. Look, I'm glad to hear you, but this isn't how it's supposed to be. We said goodbye to you..."
"I know, but I wanted to hear your voice one more time."
"You shouldn't have. You're making this call because you wanted to hear my voice? You didn't consider how it would make me feel to hear from my supposed-to-be-dead son?"
"Look, I'm sorry..."
"Screw that. Don't call again. Don't call your mom or your sister. Leave us alone."
The connection is terminated.
I sit in silence for a while, thinking about how things ended up this way.
I consider all the things I didn't get to do because I knew I was going to die rather young. I didn't start a family, because I wouldn't be there for my kids. I didn't start a real career because it would be a waste of time for both myself and whatever company I would work at.
I was as much a constructive part of society as a 32-year lifespan would allow.
There's a knock at the door. I become as quiet as I can.
I say nothing.
"It's the Agency. We're here for Owen Merrick."
I sigh and get up. I open the door to find a man in a gray suit, with two burly men behind him.
"It's time to go, Mr. Merrick."