Congratulations to Baileigh Borna of Mill Creek Booth Middle School. She was selected as the eighth-grade winner of the Cherokee County School District’s second annual Short Story Competition.
The competition is open to all CCSD seventh- and eighth-grade students as a part of their English Language Arts studies. Each middle school submits its best entries to be considered, then a team of judges selects an overall winner from each grade.
By Baileigh Borna, Grade 8, Mill Creek Middle School
Running through the woods, forty-eight-year-old Darin Parker trips over another tree root in the path, but he keeps going. The disease, which has now metastasized on the right side of his brain, causes him to feel dizzy and disoriented. But he has to catch her. His life depends on it. The news that the inoculation failed to slow the disease keeps his legs in motion. Then he sees her. She is trying to climb a tree up ahead but her foot slips on a branch and she falls to the ground. He slows to catch his breath and then he ambushes her, taking her life instantly as he pushes the red glowing Tazard into her neck.
Sitting beside her body, Darin’s feelings of remorse are replaced with relief that just seems to pour all over him. He can already feel the Pluton mass in his brain disappearing.
* * *
“Oh no, today is my 16th birthday,” Luna says out-loud as she crawls out of her sleeping pod to get dressed. Looking at herself in the reflector she sighs, still talking out loud, “Sixteen. The worst age to be nowadays. I wonder if they are tracking my birthday.” Running a hair phaser through her hair, she decides to be satisfied with how she looks and walks downstairs in her father’s house. Smelling the freshly brewed coffee, she grabs a flagon and filling it up asks, “QUERI what’s the top headline in Calitoneia today?”
“Good morning, Miss Luna! Today is Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the year 2099. Today’s headline in Calitoneia is ‘Supreme Being Justice, Darin Parker, Extends His Life by 76 Years.’ Would you like the details?”
“Sure,” Luna replies thinking how this could only heighten her anxiety about turning 16 today.
QUERI continues: “Justice Parker, who was diagnosed two months ago with Pluton in the brain was given only 12 weeks to live. However, he was cured yesterday afternoon when he successfully transferred the disease to a 16-year-old Healthy after a successful hunt in The Zone. Justice Parker will now reportedly live another 76 years. The Healthy was a registered 16-year-old-teen with a reported remaining life span of 76 years. As national controversy continues over the legal mandate for healthy people to register their projected life spans, the battle continues at the Life Span Council over the process for how the Afflicted can access the Healthy Register.”
“Wow,” Luna replies thoughtfully. “How can anyone just take someone else’s life to save their own?”
“It is required,” QUERI replies, still unable to distinguish a human rhetorical question.
Logging off the news feed, Luna stuffs a bio-engineered banana into her pedestrian pack and heads out the door to her mother’s house. Before reaching the sidewalk, a man approaches her, flashing a Calitoneia Recruiter badge he asks harshly, “Are you a registered Healthy?”
“Leave me alone,” Luna shouts pushing past him. “It’s none of your business.”
“It’s your 16th birthday, and you are required by law to register as a Healthy or Afflicted,” he calls after her, while taking pictures of the address plaque on the building. Then speaking into the Tile on his wrist, the Recruiter says, “She’s not registered yet, but I am certain she will be. She is strong, in good physical condition and mentally alert. She could have a lifespan of 80 or more years, making her a top desired target.”
Just minutes later, entering her mother’s residence, Luna calls out, “Mom, where are you? Are you ready to go to the show?”
“I don’t think so,” her mother strains, calling from the back room. “I’m not feeling well.”
“Mom, what’s going on?” Luna asks, walking into the room and seeing her mom lying in her sleeping pod looking somewhat green and shaky. Quickly picking her up, Luna rushes her mom out the door and puts her in the transporter. They head straight to the nearest infirmary.
On the way, Luna can’t stop thinking about how this could be helpful because now maybe her mother can qualify to register as an Afflicted. This could keep the recruiters away from both her and her mother. But, she also couldn’t help but worry that her mother was feeling more than just under the weather.
The new normal in Calitoneia was the frightening reality of living in a society where the fatal Pluton disease is afflicting more and more people every day. But the alternative is equally scary. To survive the disease, you have to kill a Healthy by injecting a Tazard, which then transfers the disease to the deceased and gives you their remaining lifespan. At first this was being done without any strategy to just get rid of the disease. But now, careers are being made for Recruiters who are hired to find the Healthy with the longest lifespan. At one time confidential medical records were protected, but now they are registered, and the Life Span Council sells them to the highest bidder.
For Luna, the idea of killing someone to extend one’s own life is a repulsive concept. But most people do not share her view. In the community of Calitoneia, people no longer value the life of others. Friends and now even family members are at odds and the youngest and healthiest citizens have become the hunted, and the Afflicted have become the hunters.
Entering the Infirmary, Luna prays that her mother does not have Pluton but she hopes that this visit will taint her medical status and enable her to register as an Afflicted. But unfortunately, the first test reveals that her mother is infected with Pluton.
Seventy-five years ago, when the cure for cancer was discovered, the human race thought no disease would ever plague the planet so harshly again. But that was before Pluton spread across the globe in 2089. And two years later, everything changed when it was discovered that injecting and killing a healthy person with a Tazard could transfer Pluton to the victim, and extend the afflicted person’s life by the victim’s lifespan. Now, a national registration process requires all people to register by age 16 as a Healthy or an Afflicted based on their medical health status. In recent years, the registration age was lowered from 25 to 21, and then to 18. But, just last year it was lowered further to age 16.
To Luna, the killing is immoral and lowering the age to 16 is horrible, and yet she knows that the government will continue to lower the age as more and more people in power become Afflicted because of Pluton. This means the younger generation will be extinguished while the older generations become almost immortal, living well beyond 100 years.
When her Tile buzzes on her wrist, the face of an old playmate Putrid Nunce, a Recorder from the Registrar, appears on the screen.
“This is an official call,” Putrid announces in a serious tone. “Your mother will need to register as an Afflicted by noon today. And now that you have turned 16, Luna, you must also register. You need to scan your medical reference sheet and register the results. You will also need to get an LS Scan to find out the length of your remaining lifespan for proper recording. Remember, Luna, failure to do so will result in the assumption that you are a Healthy, and you will be captured for not registering and sent to The Zone where you will be prioritized on the hunt list for Afflicted officials, royals and wealthy entrepreneurs.”
“Let me take care of my mother first and then I will comply,” Luna responds, feeling nauseated and sick in her stomach.
“Luna, although we are childhood friends, do not delay,” Putrid warns her. “I will capture you myself, if I have to. You know the law and you know that I am obligated to enforce it.”
“Did you register last month on your 16th birthday?” Luna asks Putrid, already knowing his answer.
“You know that I’m exempt as a Registrar Recorder,” he states indignantly. “Don’t delay!” he snaps before disconnecting his Tile.
Turning to the Medic entering the exam room, Luna and her mother wait expectantly.
“Four weeks. That’s how much time you have to live, Ms. Halo. Your LS Scan results show only four weeks. You need to get registered as an Afflicted and consider hiring a Recruiter to help you find a Healthy, because there isn’t much time.
“What about the inoculation trials?” Luna asks hopefully.
“There have been absolutely no positive results,” the Medic answers, “so, we have discontinued them completely.”
At only 41, Luna’s mother is devastated to receive this news. Looking at her daughter she embraces her with tears in her eyes and whispers, “Don’t worry Luna, your father will be here to take care of you.”
“No, mom! No! You can’t give up. I won’t let you die.” For the first time, Luna considers all the options for extending her mother’s life. She is shocked by her own thoughts but the love for her mother is so great. She begins to realize that she will do anything to cure her. Maybe even help her take the life of a Healthy.
When the Medic returns with a copy of her mother’s medical results, he advises Luna to scan them right away and submit them to the Registrar.
“Being a registered Afflicted is your only chance, Ms. Halo. It will activate your options to hire a Recruiter and legally hunt a Healthy,” the medic explains.
Less than two hours later, Luna hears from Putrid again. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother, and I see she is now registered. But, you still haven’t Luna. I warned you earlier, and I wish you would have obeyed like you promised.”
“Putrid,” Luna pleads into the phone, “Just give me a little more time. I am dealing with my mother’s diagnosis and making decisions about her options.”
Although Putrid could hear a change for the better in Luna’s attitude, he was furious that she did not respond to his first call. “Too late,” he snapped. “Luna, you are going to The Zone.” He disconnected before she could say another word.
Feeling angry, Putrid began plotting his capture of Luna. His superiors at the Registrar would expect it. Even his own family would demand it. The Nunces come from a long line of Supreme Being Justices, Solicitors, Enforcers and Recorders. Putrid’s father was a registered Afflicted at age 38 and hired a Recruiter who identified a young Healthy with a lifespan of 75 years. Now a Senior Enforcer, Putrid’s father is in charge of supplying The Zone with Healthy candidates to help expand the lives of Afflicted VIPs. Putrid is very loyal to his father and the Registrar. He believes that he must capture Luna to impress them both.
Back at the infirmary, Luna feels desperate to save her mother. “Mom, I think we need to hire a Recruiter.”
“No!” her mother says shaking her head. “I can’t kill anyone, not even to save my own life. Let’s go home and start preparing for my passing. There is a lot to do and I want to make sure that you and your father have access to my life accounts. These are the things we need to focus on right now.”
“But Mom,” Luna pleads, “I can’t lose you. You must do this. I need you to live another 100 years. If we hire a Recruiter, we can make sure that you get the longest lifespan possible. I won’t just let you die.”
“I said no, Luna,” reaching for her daughter’s hands, Ms. Halo holds them tightly. Then locking eyes with Luna her mom reassures her, “I know you don’t believe in killing others to save a life, even if it’s mine. You are just feeling panicked by this news and I understand. But one of the things that I love most about you is your moral compass and we both know hiring a Recruiter is wrong. Now take me home. I am tired and I have a lot to do and need your help.”
Luna’s father is a 50-year old registered Afflicted. Walking up to the outside door of the transport hovel at his ex-wife’s home he looks weary. With diabetes, a pacemaker, and a remaining life span of less than 10 years, Mr. Halo is not at risk for being hunted. He embraces both Luna and her mother as they exit the transporter.
“Your mom and I have spoken by Tile and she made it clear that although hiring a Recruiter is legal, she feels it is not moral.”
“But, Dad!” Luna cries. “She will die if we don’t. How can you just let her die?”
“Luna,” her father says, trying to comfort her. “If I could do it for her, I would. But your mother is the only one who can hold the Tazard and inject it to survive, but she refuses. She says there is no way that she can kill someone to save her own life. You, yourself have stated you could not take a life to save your own, haven’t you?”
“Yes. I have said it,” Luna concedes. “But it’s different when it is someone you love so dearly.”
“You all go inside and rest,” says her father, hugging Luna one last time. “I will come back tomorrow night and we can all have dinner together. Just call if you need me before then. By the way Luna, Happy Sweet Sixteen! Did you register this morning?”
“Not yet,” Luna replies. “I will do it tomorrow.”
“You should do it now. You know how those Recorders are. They are tracking your age and won’t hesitate to capture you for The Zone. I understand they have a shortage of Healthys up there right now, so you are just putting yourself at risk.”
“Ok, Dad,” Luna says, patting him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I will register.”
Watching her dad walk down the street towards his home, Luna ironically feels grateful that he is an Afflicted.
That night, while Luna is sleeping, she hears a noise on the main floor of her mother’s house. Descending the stairs, she sees a shadowy figure moving slowly in the front room.
“QUERI turn on the lights!” she commands.
Lighting up the room, she sees Putrid standing inside by the window with a blue glowing Tazard in his hand.
“You will come with me,” he orders.
“No, please Putrid! I meant to register. I can do it right now, let me get my papers and scan them,” Luna implores.
“Too late,” he replies coldly. “I warned you and now I will capture you.” Speaking into his Tile, Putrid calls out, Healthy capture in progress. Send backup to my tracked location.”
“Putrid,” Luna begs. “You don’t need to do this.”
Approaching Luna, Putrid grabs her hands and pulling them behind her back he forces her to her knees. Pushing the blue glowing Tazard into her neck, he screams suddenly. Both he and Luna fall to the floor. The tranquilizer instantly causes Luna to go unconscious but the red glowing Tazard that Ms. Halo injected into Putrid’s neck kills him instantly.
When Luna wakes up, she feels foggy and her surroundings are unfamiliar. A door opens and she is pulled to her feet.
“Where am I?” she asks the strange man standing before her.
“You’re at The Zone,” he replies.
“My mother?” Luna whispers.
“She’s fine,” he replies. “She killed the Recorder to save you and the news is reporting that she received his remaining lifespan of 80 years.”
“So, why am I here?” Luna asks, somewhat elated and somewhat confused.
“You were captured and charged with failing to register on your 16th birthday,” the man explains, strangely cheerful, “And now, the Enforcer has officially registered you as a Healthy. Today you will be hunted by a VIP Afflicted. It’s kind of an honor around here.”
Just then, a greenlight flashed brightly. Opening the door, the man shouts, “Run girl, you only have a two-minute head start.”
Running into the woods, Luna’s mind races with emotions. She knows that there is a slim chance that she can escape if she can make it to the trap door in the fence across the final clearing. Though only a few Healthys have escaped, the Life Span Council created this escape opportunity to enhance the hunt and keep the hunted from giving up easily. Hearing footsteps in the distance, Luna increases her speed. The sun is high and it’s getting humid as she passes through the second clearing. She starts to believe that maybe the hunter is badly afflicted and won’t be able to catch up to her. Only two more clearings to go.
Approaching the next clearing she is forced to slow down. There are barriers made of thorn bushes making it difficult to navigate with speed. As she squeezes through the bushes, she catches a glimpse of a figure in a transport rover in the distance. He accesses a camouflaged ramp that takes him up and over the bushes. Panicking, Luna crouches down and continues to navigate the barriers causing deep cuts and scratches all over her body. When she reaches the other side, Luna races back into the woods. Although her body aches, she feels triumphant. There is no way that rover can possibly drive through these trees. They are much too close together. Seeing the final clearing, Luna carefully looks around before creeping out into the open. She remains focused on the trap door in the fence on the other side. Seeing no one, she takes off running. Just as she reaches the door, a man grabs her wrist and they both fall to the ground. Struggling, Luna fights with all her might, but then she suddenly freezes. Face-to-face with her assailant, she is overwhelmed with relief.
“Oh, Daddy, it’s you!” she cries.
“It is!” Mr. Halo smiles and pulls her in close as he begins to cry.
“Mom is ok!” Luna shares excitedly. “She is going to live 80 more years!”
“I know honey, it’s the best news,” her father says looking at her lovingly through misty eyes.
“Wh-what are you doing here Daddy?” she asks as the situation dawns on her.
“I’m so sorry baby.” Pushing the red glowing Tazard into her neck, he whispers sadly, “I’m hunting you.”
 A Tazard is a state of the art weapon that can temporarily tranquilize or permanently kill a human depending on the setting. The device can be set to transfer all disease from the holder of the Tazard to the injected person. When the Tazard is glowing blue it is ready for use as a tranquilizer, but when it is glowing red it is ready to kill and transfer diseases from the holder.
 Pluton is a deadly disease caused from the increase of Plutonium in the earth’s core that has gotten into the water, crops, and other natural resources of the earth.
 A flagon is a modern thermos designed in 2098. It is very popular among teen girls
 QUERI (Que of Ubiquitous Electronic Referenced Information) is a state of the art on-demand voice activated system that can answer all human questions.
 Calitoneia is a colony on Earth geographically located in the ancient state of California.
 The Life Span Council replaced the Census Bureau and merged with the World Health Council in 2090.
 The “Tile” replaced the “Band” in 2091; which replaced the “Gem” in 2074; which replaced the “Pod” in 2062; which replaced the “Cell Phone” in 2050.
 An LS Scan uses the most modern technology to measure a human’s remaining life span by scanning DNA strands and the body’s organs with a wand-like instrument.
 The Zone used to be Camp David. which was a retreat for the President. but in 2090 the camp transitioned to The Zone to serve as an elite hunting retreat for Afflicted VIP officials, royals and wealthy entrepreneurs. The Zone makes it easier for them to hunt and expand their life spans. and maintain their power and control in society.
 Life Accounts in 2099 include the money and property a person owns.