Part I - The Beginning
January 17th, 2039, that was the day it all changed. On that day, the world population reached 9 billion. On that day, the governments of the world made an announcement. On that day, they banned seconds, forever.
Blake had not been born then, merely a glimmer in his father’s eye, as they say, but he had seen the footage and god knows he had been haunted by that day for his whole life. He had always found it strange that a day, on which he had not been alive, could dictate his entire existence, regardless of anything he did or said, heedless to the injustice of it all. It always made him angry.
The leaders of the world had been planning the announcement for a while, their top scientists and advisers testing theories and running simulations in top secret labs. They had known the severity of the world’s situation long before that fateful day, the desperate state of the planets fuel and food supplies, the dire living conditions that more and more people were now forced to endure. The human race was getting too big for its home and so, after months of exhausting every other option, the worlds powers had made a live announcement, in every country, on every channel, addressing every one of the 9 billion.
Blake had seen the footage so many times he knew it almost all by heart. The broadcast was not made by representatives from any one country, no president or king was present, instead just a man and a woman, unknown to the general public, standing in front of an unknown flag. They had spoken slowly, in soft, gentle voices and had started by explaining that the world’s powers had been in discussions about overpopulation and the dramatic strain it was having upon the planets food, water and energy supplies. Most of this was not really news, the last few years had been filled with stories of starvation and conflict. In truth, everyone had already known the world was in trouble, in decline, but they had just never wanted to admit it.
With solemn, cold faces, as if they had been chiselled from stone, they delivered the words that would change the world forever. They informed the world that every government on the planet had agreed to and signed a world-wide one-child policy that would take place immediately. After that day it would be illegal for any couple, not already expecting, to have more than one child. Anyone who broke this law would be pursued and punished by a special enforcement unit, that would be set up in every country across the globe, called The Seekers. The Seekers would have all the appropriate powers and authorisation to detain or extinguish anybody who broke the new law. With an almost inhuman lack of emotion they informed the world that there would be more details to follow from each country’s individual government. Then they were gone, leaving a stunned, silent world to stare at a blank screen and contemplate all that they had just been told.
Part II - The Mistake
Blake had known for a long time that he had been a mistake. His parents had always been good people, the ideal couple, quiet and law-abiding; nobody ever had a bad word to say about them. They had married young, a childhood romance that had only blossomed, and eleven months after their wedding day his mother had given birth to his sister Rosita. Their first child and, as the law stated, their only child.
He had been told, later, when he was older, that his parents had been happy. Living in a small, neat, whitewashed cottage on the edges of a quiet village not too far from London, they had spent three blissful years together, just the three of them. They had seemed to live in permanent sunshine, like a dream, filled with endless joy and eternal love for each other. Then Blake happened and it all came crashing down around them.
The pregnancy was unplanned of course, a lapse of concentration after one too many glasses of wine, but the law was clear and unwavering. When they found out they had been panic-stricken, minds wheeling at a thousand miles an hour as they faced the implications of that little blue line on the pregnancy stick. Their perfect life had shattered into thousands of pieces in that short, three minute wait.
His parents had been faced with two, stark choices: abort the pregnancy, as was the law, or keep the child and run, flee from their beautiful little home as fugitives. Luckily for Blake, they chose the second option. There had been indecision, of that he was sure, arguments over what was best for all of them, but in the end the decision had been simple and they had fled, taking everything they could and disappearing. They left that quaint little house and blissful life behind them, forever.
Times had been tough, an endless cycle of lies and fear, constantly moving, never settling anywhere for longer than a few months. Blake had been born into this, a boy who would never go to school, never play football with his friends or take a date to the cinema. He was born into a life of uncertainty and unrest, a life he never chose but about which he did not have a choice. Some days, the unfairness of it all felt enough to crush his very soul.
He remembered once, when he was only five or six years old, he had been sitting on a bus next to his father and had spotted a group boy scouts, all dressed up in their matching uniforms, so smart for such young boys, laughing and playing catch together in the park. Blake had watched them as the bus pulled into a stop, eyes wide with wonder, and then turned to his father. “Daddy, can I get some of those special clothes and play catch with those other boys?”
His father had looked down at him then, eyes shining with barely concealed tears, filled to the brim with an endless sadness. He had put his arm around his son, pulling him closer, and spoken in a shaky voice. “I’m sorry son, but no……you can’t.”
Part III - The Birthday
It had always been the four of them, together, a family, a unit. No matter how tough their lives became, how desperate or terrifying their situation, they had always had each other, to lean on and gain strength from. Blake’s parents were smart and careful, they did all they could to keep them all safe. To keep them all hidden.
They were constantly moving. His parents would often work multiple jobs, renting cheap accommodation for as long as they could without raising suspicions, suspicions that inevitably would arise when people saw a couple with two children in tow. They would weave stories of Blake and Rosita being school friends or cousins and that would work for a while, satisfy the few that showed little interest in their affairs; but not all, not those with a larger appetite for gossip, who would figure out the truth, sooner or later they always did. When that happened they were always gone, usually before the suspicions began to fester at all, fading away into the darkness. They would be on to the next town, the next cheap flat and minimum wage job. That was their life, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the law.
Blake could remember the day that all changed with horrific clarity. It had been his sixteenth birthday.
They were living in the city of Chester at the time, in a dingy bungalow with a leaky roof and permanent smell of damp. His parents had saved some money, not much but enough, and, as a treat, decided that it would be nice for the four of them to have a day out and visit the local zoo. Family outings such as this were usually a bad idea, too much suspicion aroused by the four of them together, but this was an exception. The zoo had been brilliant, even at sixteen he had run around in excitement from one animal to the next, eyes wide as saucers. He remembered most clearly seeing the tigers, the huge majestic beasts pacing effortlessly around their enclosure, fur glowing orange in the afternoon sun. He had stared at them for almost half an hour, utterly mesmerised, frozen with a mix of fear and awe, a living statue.
Afterwards they had headed back to that cramped bungalow, for a small party, some food, balloons and a cake. They sat around the small wooden table together, the four of them, laughing and feasting, not a care in the world. Four criminals, hiding from the world in this dilapidated old house, having the time of their lives.
Blake had been asleep when it happened, exhausted after one of the happiest days he would ever have. The others had been tidying up, clearing away the remains of the party food and decorations. Then, without any warning, the front door had exploded inwards in a shower of splintered wood and The Seekers barged in. He had woken instantly, filled with panic, and leapt out of bed as the air was filled with the menacing cackle of machine gunfire and the thud of something heavy hitting the ground. He had thrown open his bedroom door as gunfire sounded again. This time he saw the outcome, his mother pitching forwards, already bleeding crimson life onto the floor.
Rosita ran towards him screaming at the top of her lungs. “Run! Just run! Go!” For a moment he hesitated in the doorway, frozen as he had been a few hours earlier watching the tigers, rooted in fear, then more gunfire sounded and his sister fell forwards, landing with a sickening thump on the ageing cream carpet. As the Seeker turned toward him, gun raised and ready, the spell finally broke. Blake spun round with lightning speed and, without thinking, acting all on instincts, launched himself into his parent’s room, bullets spraying the wall a few inches away. Then, in blind panic, he threw himself through the glass bay doors and out into the dark night beyond.
Part IV - The Cell
There was only so much running you could do, especially when you’re running from the world. Alone and afraid, fleeing from a government, a power far bigger than himself, was like running from a tidal wave, the huge wall of inky black water breathing down his neck, inescapable and inevitable, just waiting to crash down upon him and grind him to dust. It was three years after his family’s deaths when the wave finally consumed him. His running days were done.
Blake had been in Scotland when they found him. He had taken refuge in an old church, tucked away on the coast just north of Aberdeen. It was a cold, lonely place, just him and the old priest in the ancient, ill-kept building. The priest allowed him to sleep there, even eat meals with him, in return for Blake’s help with the maintenance of the aged, creaky building. It was tough work; the wind sweeping in off the sea below brought with it a bone-chilling cold and the weather was often dark and gloomy, clouds like huge lumps of coal suspended on invisible strings. Despite the tough work Blake enjoyed his time there. The priest, Father Martin, was kind and gentle, not prying or asking questions of Blake’s past, and Blake was glad for his company. For his friendship. Both men knew the hardships of spending too much time alone.
The Seekers had come for him in the night, quietly this time, sneaking in like shadows in the deep black that surrounded the church. Blake had been asleep, dreaming of a giant wave, when a gloved hand clamped over his mouth while another stabbed a needle deep into his arm, pushing clear liquid into his bloodstream. He tried to fight as he was yanked from sleep, to lash out and strike back but the arms that held him were too strong, the drug already numbing his muscles and mind. He fought as long as possible but slowly, his mind faded. The wave had struck.
He had woken in his cell, alone once more. This cold, grey, concrete room, emotionless and unmoving with only a bed and a toilet for furniture, had been his home for the past week or so although it was difficult to tell the passing of days without a window. For a while he had shouted, banging on the iron door as he paced around his cramped cell, but no one had answered. That was, until today.
As Blake stared at the wall, lost in thoughts of his past, thoughts of freedom, the bolt on the door was pulled back with a metallic rasp and the door swung open. Blake jumped, snapping back to reality, and scurried to his feet. Bright light flooded inwards and he was momentarily blinded, forcing him to squint. When his vision finally returned he was greeted by the sight of a woman, short, middle-aged and dressed in a neat, white uniform. She stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the bright bulbs behind, and was flanked on both sides by armed guards. She peered down her nose at him with hard eyes behind a set of thin, wire-framed glasses, a look of curiosity and disgust written across her face. She said only three words, curt and sharp. “Follow me, please.”
Part V - The End
He was ushered into another room under armed guard and forced to sit at a long table in the centre. Besides the two chairs at opposing ends, it was the only furniture in a room that seemed like a larger version of the cell he had just left. The hinges squealed in protest as the heavy iron door was shut behind, bolt slamming across, leaving him alone once again.
Blake had no idea how long he had been sitting there. Maybe an hour. Maybe five. Eventually the door opened behind him, hinges repeating their desperate plea for oil, and a man entered. He wore a smart, black suit that somehow looked too clean, too sharp, and, after sitting in the chair opposite, looked at Blake with cold, hard eyes. He delicately folded his hands in front of him and then spoke up, voice calm and confident, full of authority. “Well, hello there.”
Taken a back a little, it took Blake a few moments to reply. When he did his words were rushed and forceful. “Who are you? Where am I?”
The man smiled, a fake smile, no kindness or sincerity in sight. His small, grey eyes watched him intently and Blake was reminded of a shark, those unblinking, dead eyes that just stared at their prey, never swaying or wavering. Sitting across from this great white, Blake gave a little shudder. “My name is not important, neither is our location. What is important, Blake, is you.” Even his voice, so flat and emotionless, made him uneasy.
His temper flared, heat rising in his cheeks like a bonfire, and he jumped to his feet. “No! I want to know where we are!”
The man scowled in response to this and replied in an annoyed tone. “Sit down! Or I will sit you down.” The men’s eyes locked, neither backing down, Blake’s full of rage and defiance, his captor’s full of a calm, reassured power. After a few moments Blake sat down slowly. The man, face passive, merely nodded and began again. “We are currently in a high security facility in a top secret location. This facility is designed for the holding and processing of seconds, such as yourself.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Processing?”
“Yes, that’s right.” He paused, unblinking, and then abruptly stood, chair legs scraping across the hard stone floor. He stalked slowly around the table and stopped in the middle. Then, with careful grace, he unbuttoned his blazer and reached inside, removing his gun from the holster beneath his arm and placing it lightly onto the table, barrel facing the opposite wall, away from both of them. Blake watched him warily, like an antelope might watch an approaching lion, senses alert and muscles ready. The man left the gun and sat back down. “That right there is my gun. It is currently loaded with..”
Blake burst into life, springing up at lightning speed and scrambling across the table, grabbing the cold metal grip with fierce strength. He stood at his end of the table, gun raised and aimed directly at his foe’s chest. He had expected the man to react, to be shocked and afraid, but he wasn’t. He sat, unmoving, in his chair, relaxed and confident as Blake stood there, hands shaking slightly, he gave a mighty sigh. Almost like a disappointed father.
He cleared his throat and continued. “As I was saying, it is loaded with a single bullet, just the one. Now you could shoot me, as I’m sure you very much want to, however, before you do, hear me out.” He gestured for him to sit again and, once more, Blake found himself obeying, the gun firmly levelled at his opposite number.
“Very good.” He paused. “Do you know why I do this? This job, that is?” Blake said nothing so the man continued. “Ha, of course you don’t.” He swung back on his chair, balancing on the back two legs like a schoolchild. His smile had grown to a real one, a glimmer of joy beneath that emotionless mask. “Now, most people would say that they do it because they have to, because they are told to or because they are paid to, but for me that is just not true. The reason I do this is because I enjoy it. It fascinates me, how each of you react, how you all….process what I’m about to say. I feel like a scientist, watching the lab rats squirm.” He gave a deep, menacing chuckle, the sound echoing horribly in this concrete box.
As he watched, Blake had to use every bit of his resolve to not pull the trigger. “What the hell are you talking about? I have your gun, right here. I could shoot you without even blinking, so I think you had better start telling me what the hell is going on.” Blake’s words were firm, mind filled with anger and confusion but, to his annoyance, the man barely reacted.
“You’re right, you could shoot me but you won’t, your need for answers far outweigh your desire to kill me. It always does. So I would ask that you keep your mouth shut and let the adult talk. Agreed?” After a long pause, he nodded. The man smirked at that. “Good boy.” He laughed again, that dry, almost humourless chuckle. He gave Blake a rueful wink and then folded his hand in front of him once more. “Lets get back to business. You are a Second, an illegal refugee on planet earth. Your entire life is a crime, your very existence. We have been hunting you for a while now, since we killed your family...”
Blake shook his head with rage as he let out a mighty roar and sprang from his chair, sending it flying backwards behind him. He stormed around the table, face red and eyes shining, and forced the gun firmly against the other man’s head, digging the barrel into his temple. He spat his words more than spoke them. “Don’t you dare talk about my family, you bastard! You murdered them! They were good people, innocent people and your men slaughtered them!”
“Innocent? Oh no. They were criminals, you saw to that.” His voice was utterly calm despite the gun pressed into his temple. He rubbed his hand over his chin, feeling the stubble that had grown there. “Now let me give you your options because you only have two. Your first and worst option would be to pull that trigger, to blow my brains all over the walls and then be gunned down by the men waiting just outside that door. Or, you can listen and take my offer.”
Blake paused, intrigued despite himself. “What offer? What could you possibly offer me that would make me not want to kill you?”
A grin spread across the man’s face. “The same offer we give to every Second, become a Seeker. Join our forces, serve for a term of ten years and then you will be freed, made a legal citizen of the United Kingdom. You will be allowed to live a normal life, free from judgment, free form persecution. Isn’t that what you want? What you have always wanted?”
His face dropped with shock, the room spinning as his mind reeled. He gripped the table edge to steady himself. “A Seeker? You want me to be a Seeker? To hunt and kill people like me? Innocent people like my family. No, never!” His voice came out a lot weaker than he had wanted.
His captor raised a single, slender eyebrow in mock surprise. His face said he had heard it all before. “Really? You’re not even a little tempted? Think about it, a normal life. No more hiding, no more running. Not constantly looking over your shoulder or living in fear of being caught.” He gave a knowing smirk. “I know you’re tempted. I can see it. Don’t worry, you’re not the first.”
Blake slammed his hand onto the table, anger bursting from him at the seams. “No! Fuck you! I’m not like you. I won’t take your fucking deal. I will not help you hunt people like animals, for no crime other than being born.” He took a deep breath, cheeks blazing. His voice changed to little more than a whisper. “I have been hunted my whole life, for reasons that were never my fault. I did not choose to be a Second, I had no choice in being born and yet you pursued me for it, chasing me around this god-forsaken country for doing nothing but existing. I will not help you do the same to others.” He glared down, defiance burning in his eyes, the gun hovering between the two of them like a great metal wasp.
The man paused for a moment, brow furrowed as if deep in thought, and then let out a great sigh laced with disappointment. “Very well. Sounds like you’ve made up your mind. Go ahead, pull that trigger. Do what you need to, because if you won’t take my offer then this is the only other way.” Slowly, he stood and, reaching out, gently guided the gun barrel back to his temple. He gave a sad smile, as if accepting defeat. Accepting the end. “Make it quick.”
Time seemed to slow as they stood next to each other. Blake’s mind was stunned, overloaded with all the new revelations. Uncertainty was beginning to seep in like a poison, his hand shaking ever more violently as his head spun like a top. Could he really kill this man and face his own demise afterwards? Should he take the offer? Serve and be free? It had always been what he had wanted, for as long as he could remember but this deal was too much. Wasn’t it? Despite his words he could feel it, the temptation, at the back of his mind, clawing at him, trying to take over, and he hated himself for it.
Beads of sweat began to dribble down his forehead as he tousled with the demons inside his head, his breathing shallow and laboured. Then, like an epiphany from the depths of his conscience, an image flooded his mind, an unstoppable tidal wave of hurt and injustice. As he pictured the image of his sister, reeling forwards as crimson blood sprayed from her back, the anger rose inside like a molten eruption of pure hate. Mind made up, he took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the gun was huge but it was not the sound he had expected. There was no boom, no explosion of gunpowder, only a hollow metallic click, the chamber ringing empty. Blake froze in shock, the implications of it all just too much for his mind to process. Then, the man beside him began to clap, a slow and mocking noise that seemed to echo inside his very being. Grinning, the man spoke in words filled with victory. “Well done, I’m impressed. You will make an excellent Seeker.”
Blake was still frozen in shock as the guards threw open the door and barged in, grabbing both his arms and dragging him out. He simply went with them, limp and numb, eyes, wide as saucers, fixed on the man as he kept clapping, slow and rhythmic, a manic grin on his face. As he was pulled off into the darkness each clap vibrated like thunder inside his mind. Finally, he screamed.