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Graduation With A Bullet: a story by: GF Willmetts.

February 28, 2021 | By | Reply More

It is said that everyone has someone waiting with a bullet with their name on it. These days, its common practice. After all, who wants to die of old age when you’re falling apart and wasting taxes on everyone doing their best to keep you going? A simple bullet and a quick cremation. Sorted. The ultimate in population control. All easy and someone we don’t know has a bullet with my name on it. Not to be used until I reach 60. Probably in junior school right now and getting the same kind of indoctrination we all get. Another 40 years down the line. There was still a matter of equalising the number of young and older generations at the start but that tends to get glossed over.

Of course, a system had to be worked out for it. A certain amount of fairness or we would all become raging psychopaths, determined we would get them before they got us. The conditioning worked because it was the young who shot the old and, by your 60th, you shoukd have had a good life and glad to go.

When we graduated, we are given a mono-gun that carries one bullet and a target photo on the CARD that will flash up a destination near the time. You would think we know decades in advance who we are supposed to shoot. No, it doesn’t work like that or we would just be shooting our own generation. Our personal target is approaching their 60th already. We shoot when young so we can have a full life without having to worry about murdering at a later time. Who wants to have those kinds of nightmares while doing waiting to do our duty? Well until its our own turn but by then why care? You would have had a good life. We knew it was going to happen. Do it early and have a happy life, the teachers insisted made sense. Far better to pack everything into a shorter life than slowly sink into old age. The history lessons showed that in the Middle Ages, life span was shorter but people had happy lives. We got the same indoctrination.

Looking at our teacher now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was approaching his 60th but there was a sad smile in return. He knew what was coming. We liked the old codger but I doubt if it would be anyone from our school who would do it. People had fewer qualms about killing strangers than people we know.

At school, someone did ask why didn’t we shoot the generation up from us as we approached 60 so we didn’t carry the nightmare burden of murder so early in life and do it near the end of our own lives. It was tried for a while but some wanted to die early because of illness and that made a mess of the population numbers and had to have a rethink. Our way kept the human race to a workable population not like the over-populations of earlier centuries. Also some of them chose not to shoot their own targets but chose their own targets instead. These people didn’t really understand their lessons and were classed as psychopaths and had to be removed. No one knew how. So really, population control was at the root of this and there was laughter about which lucky sod got to shoot the leader when he hit 60 although the teacher frowned at that.

When it came down it, graduation came with a bullet. Once we had employed the system, we were citizens for life. Who wanted to fail? There was a rumour that some were not capable of the one murder in our lives but no one really knew what happened to them. It was best not to ask. Maybe someone else got their bullet. We weren’t supposed to think that deep.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the day after my own graduation, my CARD blipped up. It was time to do my duty and then move on to a happy life. No doubt a similar method would be used to find me a wife and father some children. Those who live by the CARD die by the CARD. Sorry, old joke. It’s so part of our lives we tend to take it for granted as it guides our lives.

It was also across the city. Not another city as I’ve heard can happen. No one wants it to be on their own turf. Not that anyone can complain. It isn’t as though anyone settled hasn’t killed anyone. Me not included yet. I was about to join that particular club. It was always pressed upon as not to go as a team. We aren’t packs after all. If you needed dutch courage after all the practice then you really shouldn’t be here or so I thought, hoping I would be as gracious when it was my time 40 years down the line.

The CARD fed me all the details I needed but name. There was no need to get personal. All I had to do was pull the trigger. The ethics class only lasted a few lessons. Much of it devoted to Q&A. We had a lot of questions and the realisation many of the answers were the same for any class. People would not volunteer to walk into a disintegration chamber let alone alive to be cremated before dying. This way it would be quick and other than knowing you would be shot at 60, you could at least tidy up your affairs before the last day. The CARD was good for that. We had an orderly society. What could possibly go wrong and why to me?

Yeah! To me. I was either the most unlucky person in the world or the most luckiest. My target wasn’t given a name, just a place and a number. If you achieved some sort of celebrity over a lifetime, the last thing you wanted to be known for was the person who killed a star. Didn’t recognise the dude. Drilled in at school.

I arrived at the right time and there was the man. Going grey, probably premature. He could even look like an older version of me. Still, always the sad smile but, without hesitation, he fired his own gun at me. A draw. I fired as well, turning at the same time. I got caught in the arm but I got him in the chest. Flesh wound. What was he doing holding a gun that he was supposed to have shot 40 years ago? What did that smile really mean? He wasn’t waiting to die. Maybe he really did think he would get me first. If I hadn’t turned when he fired, he would have killed me. An auto-med kit quickly sorted out my arm.

Who was this guy? People were looking around, saw it was finality and walked on. Maybe they didn’t realise there were two guns or just didn’t want to be involved. After all, I wasn’t committing a crime only doing my duty. I slipped his gun into my pocket and picked up his CARD. Just to have a look, y’know. The cremation crew would arrive soon and bang, literally, would go any evidence. That would have to be enough on it to find out what was going on. Was he one of those radicals that stole bullets?

Finding a Pit Bar, I sat in an alcove and called up a drink while I inspected his CARD and slid through his files. At least I didn’t have to rely on a finger whirl scan as it was already open. I didn’t have to go through all the files. Like mine, it would have had to have started with his target.

If my jaw could drop any further, then I would be chewing the carpet. He hadn’t shot his own assigned target at the start of his adult life. Slowly moving through his pictures and it looked like a list of targets from over the years. Did he shoot any of them? Some, like me, looked a lot like him. Almost as though he got reassigned them. Did he go back to school? I mean, you only get assigned at school. Maybe he was a teacher and was able to grab some. Was there a problem with the software that kept giving him fresh targets. Giving him only one bullet would have given him a problem who to shoot and he didn’t shoot anyone. What was going on here? The last picture was me. He knew I was coming and felt more like I was his target. Was the sad smile a regret that he was shooting someone else who looked like a younger version of himself again. He just wasn’t fast enough this time. But I was too young to be killed. I had 40 years yet.

I’m not given to impulsive behaviour but went back to the body. There was a puzzle here. It was still there. The cremators hadn’t arrived yet. Whoever he was, he wouldn’t leave any ammunition wherever he lived, would he? What if he needed more bullets? He could hardly carry them in his pocket. If I knew where he lived yet. Body first.

No one was paying attention. Very few people around here anyway. I searched his suit, putting any credentials in my pocket. Not grave-robbing. It would all be burnt anyway. He must have thought himself a good shot not to have a second bullet. What if he just wounded me. I pulled off his shoes and examined his heels. They slid open. Inside each of them were two bullets and I reloaded one of them into my mono-gun. Just in case. I wasn’t stupid. I doubt if he needed more than one bullet at a time. If I was being targeted ahead of time, who’s to say I wasn’t now on someone else’s CARD? I closed the heels and took them with me. They might even fit but the bullets were needed. I mean, why would my target be someone who didn’t kill anyone. It was almost like there was a pocket of people who never got killed but that was ridiculous. We all died at 60…didn’t we? Except he was going to shoot me. This needed thought. What was going on?

I let that whirl around in my head. He knew at 60 he was and a nobody was going to kill him. It wasn’t, he knew it was me. But would killing me would have extended his life further until the computer brought up a target again. So how did he keep going? How much older than 60 was he? I would need his finger whirl for his CARD or I would have to leave it open. I’d have to leave it open for now but I did place his finger tips on the back of my CARD to get a copy and make some sort of permanent copy later.

I found a park and a private seat and looked at his CARD again with a clear head. This time going beyond his early targets who he didn’t kill, looking for future target pictures. I thought originally they were pictures of him but they weren’t. Mine was the last for now. They were people who looked like him. I looked a bit like him but a little younger. Maybe he was going to become me and just keep going until the next time.

This was going to take some thinking. By shooting me he would be prolonging his own life for a while. The Cremators would certainly know if he hadn’t died and blame me but what would they have done if they found my body instead? Unless he left his ID on my dead body.

From the pictures, this had to be more than one time he had done this. Many times. I couldn’t get past him looking like an older version of me. A couple of the others looked pretty close, too, but not all of them. They could all be credited assassination targets to him. So how was he getting away with it and how was he living beyond their die-by-date. I doubt if his two earlier lookalikes came when he was 60. More likely he needed an identity swop.

That wasn’t going to happen now. If he was going to pose as me for a while, maybe I just ought to keep going and see if someone contacted me. This never came up in school. What had I stumbled upon? Why was I getting thrilled by this option and not scared?

I could hardly go back to my old life? No, that was wrong. Whoever he was he somehow was going to take over my life and he must already have his own apartment. One less thing to him to look for.

He had to be having some help from above. I had his CARD. Maybe more information would come there and visit his address? Was I going to be joining a conspiracy or unravelling one? The lessons were wrong or they were missing something?

I can see you asking by now why didn’t I ask anyone else to help? Stupid question really as they were all off fulfilling their own targets. I doubt if any of them would expect any of them to shoot back.

Maybe the clues would be at his house. Apartment as it turned out to be. Would it let me if just because I had his CARD or would it need further ID? Thankfully, the door just opened, and I pulled my one-shot, hoping it would shoot a second bullet without shredding.

‘Is that you, honey?’

I found myself ducking as a bullet hit the door and fired back. She didn’t even wait, whoever she was. Maybe there was a password and I hadn’t said it or she had seen me and realised her…what…husband…I wasn’t him.

My aim must have been better as she crumpled to the floor. Was I really the better shot or just age creeping up on them.

Considering both of these people had obviously shot people, they were or had been very good shots…until now.

I checked the woman. Her CARD was on the table and open. They must have thought they would be successful without a need to close it. Lucky me.

What to do next? This time the privacy of a home. Closing the door, I sat at the table and looked through her CARD. A similar version to her…what? Husband? People who looked like her and many who weren’t. What were they doing? Letting people live? How could they get away with that? How could they get away with that? Old people would stand out with their grey hair and wrinkles.

Wait a second, I recognised one of these women. A bit older now but a politician’s wife. She had come to the school once. A recce for lookalikes? I looked at his CARD again, trying to imagine these young men as older men, connecting the dots. Yeah. Politicians. So that’s how they did it.

Connecting the dots. The one set of people who broke the 60 law and no one questioned it. The price. Keeping these two alive. Did they kill lookalikes for them as well?

What happens next? Go after them as targets? The cremators would confirm their age. There wouldn’t be any comeback and I would have 40 years before I became a target. I certainly couldn’t go back to my old life. Where was this in the school text?

How many politicians were involved and could I really kill all of them before they got me?

I sat for ages staring into thin air, shaken only when the automatic lights came on, reminding me night had come.

The COM flashed on and a face stared at me. It was the woman who once did the recce of my school.

‘You’re not him.’

‘I’m not her neither. I was the faster shot. Both fired first.’

‘What do you want?’

No bickering around, all business.

‘The way I figure it, we have several options. I could come after you people…’

Her face dropped.

‘…or I have a similar contract to your late best friends only better paid to keep you all from being targeted.’

That gave her some hope. They must have thought that this would happen eventually.

If nothing else, it would give me time to think. If you can’t shoot them, make sure they can’t shoot you neither. Here’s to a happy life.

end

© GF Willmetts 2021

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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