45 Minutes, 1156 words.
The walls hummed. Or something did. It was the same in every government building Alsania Olivander had ever been in. There had been a fuss about is a few years ago, she remembered. Too many citizens and denizens complained. There was a statistic that said most people living under the sphere of influence of a Zone spent about a quarter of their lives inside a government complex. Alsania could believe it. This particular time, she’d gotten lucky; her ticket to enter the queue had popped on a Wednesday. Wednesdays were slower, so she’d only been in line for about six hours, and already she’d moved about a third of the way through the queue. She desperately wanted to call Max, or text him, but she knew that use of a mobile device, even an implant, could cause one of the Proctor Drones to issue her a Formal Request to Leave. An FRL would re-set her progress back to waiting for a ticket to enter the queue. She didn’t have months to wait; she only had six weeks until her trial.
So Alsania stuck it out. She arched her back as much as she could without disturbing the gentleman behind her. He was engrossed in a book. Alsania could never get the hang of reading standing up; she liked to read–she just needed to be sitting in a recliner, preferably with a hologram of a beach playing. But that was a daydream; she’d never be able to afford an H-Player. Not on the government dole. Which was why she was here. She desperatley needed to get off the dole. And access to a trust fund would do nicely.
She really wanted to call Max. Partly because she genuinely liked talking to him, and could really use the conversation. This line was *boring*. But also because part of her wanted to gloat, to taunt. To rub it in that she was nearly a third of the way through the queue. Granted, when they closed in two hours, she’d have to leave for the night. But she had gotten in on a Wednesday, a slow day. They’d reset the queue tomorrow, but she was already in–she’d earned her place in line, and as long as she was outside the roll-up door of Zone Process & Procedures Department # 5633-b by 0730 hours, she’d retain her place when the queue re-set. Alsania smiled; she’d be at the head of the queue & talking to a Clerk by closing time Thursday, and then it would all be over; she was confident that the new appeal would work. And then she’d be off the government dole. Maybe she could even afford to read on a real beach. She heard that radiation levels on South Beach had dissipated enough to allow 15-minute visits. With the proper paperwork, of course.
She really wanted to call Max.
By Thursday at 4:15, Alsania had moved up to Next in Line. Being the NIL brought glares of jealousy, of course, but nobody ever dared make a scene. Nobody wanted to get a FRL from the Proctor Drones. There were rumors of a woman who’d queued up on a particularly slow Monday & spend three days In Line, only to make a rude comment when she was Second, because the NIL had bumped her. The NIL had responded & the nearest Proctor Drone issued them both FRLs. The NIL complied, but the unruly woman Refused, and had been banned from all government complexes for six months. Her trial for Refusing a Request from a Proctor Drone Without A Completed Form 346-Z commenced while she was in line for appeal. She was summarily executed by the Proctor Drones while she was still in line. Nobody else in line commented.
Alsania gasped when she head the *ding* from the tiny H-Player that announced that Clerk 72 would now assist petitioner # 5327. Hesitantly, she stepped out of the coveted Next In Line box that was painted on the floor, and began the Long Walk down the row of Plexiglass windows behind which stood the lauded Clerks. She wondered what Max was doing right then.
As she approached window # 72, the light she’d been following turned from blue to yellow, indicating that this was her desination. She turned to face the heavyset middle-aged woman on the other side of the thick plastic window. The woman on the other side wore the disinterested look of all the Clerks who spent countless hours gathering, processing, and filing paperwork, and then entering data and handing more paperwork back to the petitioners.
“Your Ident has been scanned and confirmed,” the woman said mechanically, “how may I be of assistance today?” Alsania inhaled. This was it.
“I here to file an Appeal of Application Denial, form 69B-12C,” she said, in what she hoped was a professional manner.
“Paperwork,” droned the Clerk.
Alsania set the small drive in the tray in front of her. The tray mechanically whisked under the Plexiglass to the Clerk’s side of the window. Seven terabytes of data were on that small device; such a small amount of paperwork for such an impactful consequence. If successful, Alsania would be off the government dole forever and living the good life. But this was her final appeal. If lost, she would be found guilty of attempted murder at her trial in six weeks, and summarily executed. She held her breath & wished she could call Max.
The Clerk walked away with the drive.
Two minuted later, the Clerk returned. “Your Appeal has been granted.” she said. And that was it. After all the waiting, two minutes was all it took. This was the moment.
The Clerk continued to look disinterested. “The Review process is now complete. The denial of your previously filed Application For Authorization of Homicide is hereby reversed. Your data drive now contains one permit for homicide, valid for thirty days from date of receipt. Do not undertake the murder after the expiration date, do not murder anyone other than the identified target,” the clerk paused & glanced at her terminal, “…one Maximillian Olivander. Certification of Completion must be filed within six weeks of the Act, or you will be fined. Failure to complete the Act will also result in a fine. Your trial for attempted homicide is cancelled based on completion of this paperwork. You have seventy-two hours to email a cop of this report to the Zone Court Clerk.”
The little drawer whisked back to Alsania’s side, and she retrieved the drive witht he new set of paperwork on it. She let out her breath, and wondered if she’d been holding it the entire time. The yellow light turned to green again and directed her out of Deoprtment # 5633-b. As she walked, she daydreamed about how she would spend her inherited wealth after she murdered her uncle.
Alsania could barely wait to get outside so she could call Max.