Friday, August 18, 2017

The Calling by William Quincy Belle

Louise gets called up to make her contribution to global sustainability in William Quincy Belle's sci-fi short.

Thursday, June 15. Time: 1625

Louise reread the message. She glanced away, then read it again for the third time. There it was in black and white. No more conjectures. No more wild guesses. Nothing remained to be discussed. One didn't have to speculate about the future, as the future was here. Time to stop dreaming and start doing.

She looked at the time. It was nine twenty-two in the morning. She had seven hours and three minutes. What could anybody do with three minutes? she thought. Let's round it off to seven hours and figure out how to cram everything necessary into such a short time.

Then again, was it a short time or was it the right time, just what anybody needed to tidy up before checking out?

She wondered if this was an odd time to get a pronouncement. Then again, the Ministry of Sustainability worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. What would dad say? She touched her handtab and chose Connect.

"Peace be with us."

"Peace be with us, Dad."

"Louise, how goes your day?"

"I've been called." Her voice quivered with excitement.

"You have?" he exclaimed. "I know we all must contribute and we all will eventually, but your mother and I always thought we would be called long before you."

"I've been declared 9.5 fertile."

"Why is that an issue? Your mother is still an eight."

"The tot has crossed 10.112 B and... well, you know the level better than me."

"Maybe so, but I'm still perplexed."

"Does anyone understand OptPop?"

"Not really. When is your call?"

"This afternoon at sixteen twenty-five."

"Today? My goodness." He sighed. "I'm sorry you won't be home for dinner. Mom received a ration of meat."

"She got meat? It's been so long, I've forgotten how it tastes."

"Husbandry isn't the best use of agri."

"Okay, Dad, but I like what I like."

"That attitude, young lady, has got us into trouble."

"I'm sorry."

"Forgiven. We must sacrifice our personal pleasures for the greater good, for what's sustainable."

"Will you see me off?"

"Of course we'll be there. Mom and I have always been proud of your contribution, and I know she'll be as happy as me with your calling."

"Thanks, Dad. I'll see you at World7 this afternoon."

Louise walked from her office to Human Resources and showed her calling notice.

"Wow, aren't you lucky," Sally said. "I'm never going to get called. Geesh, my entire family has been called and I'm still hanging around. I'm beginning to think they don't want me."

They laughed. "Your turn will come," Louise said. "Everybody gets called sooner or later."

"Yes, I know it's inevitable, but do I have to be last? I want to contribute as much as everybody else."

"You can still contribute in the way you live your life."

"I know. However, I want to do more. I live frugally and I keep a small footprint. Plus, I've started volunteering to help others decrease their part of the carrying capacity. I just look forward to the chance to make the ultimate contribution."

"Peace be with us."

"Yes, peace be with us. It's been nice knowing you, Louise." Sally stood up and gave her a hug.

Louise floated through her day excited and humbled by being called. When she arrived at the World7 center, she found her parents waiting by the main door. Her mother ran up and threw her arms around her daughter. "Oh, Louise! I am so proud of you. We couldn't have gotten better news today. Your father has been out telling the neighbors, and I think everybody on our floor is jealous. How many people get their daughter called before thirty?"

"Oh, Mom." Louise smiled. "It's no big deal."

"No big deal? I'll have you know that the MacDonalds' daughter wasn't called until she was fifty-five. Thank God Fred and Alice weren't around to see that! I'm sure they were pacing the ether."

Louise turned and embraced her father. "Thanks for coming down, Dad."

"Thanks? As if we would miss this important occasion!"

The three of them walked into the lobby. A banner dominated the room, proclaiming Good Life Through Sustainability. Louise went to the reception desk and pushed a button marked Service. The animated 3D face of a woman appeared on the display. "Peace be with us. How may I be of service?"

"Peace be with us. My name is Louise Joy Brown."

"Ms. Brown, Bishop Webster is expecting you. It's a good day to contribute."

"Every day is a good day to contribute."

"Yes, indeed."

"I'm here with my parents. Would there be a problem if they came in to witness?"

"Not at all. We're pleased to welcome visitors. If you will wait but a moment."

The animated face disappeared and was replaced by the World7 logo. A side door opened and two men came out, dressed in robes. The older of the two shook Louise's hand. "Peace be with us. I'm Bishop Webster, and this is Novice Mark. Mark is here for his novitiate. The two of us will preside over your contribution."

"Peace be with us." Mark smiled and nodded to Louise.

"Bishop Webster, I would like to introduce my parents, Charles and Elizabeth Brown."

The bishop took both of their hands in turn and smiled warmly. "Welcome to the contribution. This is an important day for all of us." He pointed to the side door. "If you will all follow me, let's prepare ourselves."

The group entered a small room, set up with three rows of seats before a floor-to-ceiling window. Beyond, an otherwise empty room contained a raised platform in its center.

"Charles? Elizabeth?" said the bishop. "If the two of you would take a seat, we'll get Louise ready for the ceremony."

Bishop Webster led Louise through a side door into a hidden vestibule. "Louise, here is your ceremonial robe. You can change here. Leave your clothes on the hook, and we'll take care of everything afterward."

"Thank you, Bishop."



Webster left Louise behind and went back into the main area, motioning Mark over to a display. "I looked over your transcripts. You've done well at university, and I'm sure you'll acclimatize yourself easily here. Allow me to lead you through the procedure a few times, and then we'll put you in charge of supervision."

"Yes, Bishop."

"Let me know if I go too fast."

"Yes, Bishop."

"The optimal population is displayed on the center screen. Remember: this number is constantly changing. The Ministry of Sustainability collects input from around the world on the variables feeding into the population. They use a complicated algorithm to maintain an up-to-the-minute calculation of what the world can sustain. Such as..." He raised an eyebrow at the young minister, waiting for a satisfactory answer.

"Ah..." Mark held up one hand and counted his answers out on his fingers. "Economic factors, reports on agriculture, raw material availability, fuel capacity, water levels..." He glanced away for a moment, then resumed counting. "Plus disease, natural disasters, and accidents."

"Excellent. Yes, they all contribute to determining what the optimal population is at any given point in time. The Ministry sets the targets for both births and deaths, controlling all components of global balance."

"But why Louise?"

"You tell me. The selection process is based on a number of factors, including..."

"Ah..." Mark held his chin in one hand, eyes darting around the room. "Geographical location, regional optimal population, age, fertility and potential for procreation, and predisposition for sickness and early death."

"Top marks again. I do not fully grasp the intricacies by which the Ministry arrives at its choices, but it's based on the most accurate data and the most tested theorems of equilibrium maintenance. It's all scientific, backed with the devout belief in the intrinsic infallibility of our knowledge."

"Peace be with us."

"Peace be with us without a doubt, Novice Mark. Since the inauguration of OptPop and global sustainability, we've all but eradicated conflict. With equality and shared resources, there's no longer any need for anybody to go without. We're all fed, housed, and supported. There's no deprivation in the world." The bishop smiled. "And look at the results! Nobody fights anymore. There's no war. We have unprecedented world peace."

The side door opened and Louise stepped back into the room. "Bishop Webster?"

Webster looked her up and down, beaming. "Louise, you look radiant." He came forward, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. He then led her back to her parents. "Charles, Elizabeth, I present to you your daughter."

They both stood up. Elizabeth embraced Louise. "Oh, Louise, you look beautiful," she said.

Charles leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

Webster smiled. "Shall we begin?"

Louise put a hand on the shoulder of both her parents. "Mom? Dad? I thank you for everything. I do this for you. I do this for everyone. Peace be with us."

"Peace be with us," her parents said in unison.

"This way, Louise." Webster led her to the far side of the room and they entered the chamber. "Please stand on the platform and face the window."

Louise stepped onto the raised area, doing as she had been told. She smiled at her parents.

"Just give me a moment," Webster said. He shut the door, walked back in front of the window, and stood by the wall display. "Mark?"

"Yes, Bishop?"

"Please pay close attention to the next steps. We're going to return Louise to the greater whole. We will induce a fusion reaction, converting her to energy we will then capture and store for future use. She will not be gone; she will remain part of us all."

"What do we get?"

"We estimate six quintillion joules. It's only an estimate, as there is some imprecision in the conversion and some energy is always lost. Nevertheless, we're able to capture most of it, and the recycling of energy greatly reduces our dependence on new energy."

Webster spoke into a microphone. "Here we go, Louise." Webster turned to the parents and smiled. He touched the display screen, sliding a finger to one side.

A low hum began within the chamber. A bright light encased Louise, slowly increasing in intensity. The humming grew louder as Louise turned into a white cloud. Charles and Elizabeth held a hand over their eyes. Webster and Mark looked away.

Webster silently counted down from five before looking again at the display. He slid his finger along the screen, paused for a moment, and pressed a button. The room became deathly quiet. The brightness had gone. Everyone looked into the now empty chamber.

"Six point one," Webster said. "Elizabeth, Charles, congratulations. That's the best number we've had this month. Your daughter has made a significant contribution. She will live on for years to come, providing for our community. You should be very proud of her." He walked over and shook their hands. "I will provide you with certification to display in your home, so family and friends can share in your good contribution."

"Thank you, Bishop Webster." Charles grinned. "My wife and I appreciate all that you've done here today. Louise contributed, but not without your assistance."

"Thank you. However, I play only a small part in the process. It's really people like your Louise who make the greatest contribution to our sustainability. She deserves the credit."

"Peace be with us."

"With all of us."

4 comments:

  1. A mind blowing read - reminiscent of some of the themes in Ishiguro's, 'Never Let Go'. An extension to the dimensions of the story might be to introduce some conflict within Mark's beliefs or even those of the Bishop or the parents? Very many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. I agree with Ceinwen about Never Let me Go. It was for me an excellent depiction of a cold blooded new world. I suspected the ending but never thought it would come about.

    Mike McC

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  3. Good story. I thought the use of religious overtones was particularly effective and helped make the willingness to "contribute" believable.

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