Abby plays on the floor and James watches television. You are curled up next to James on the couch reading the newssheet of the day. The city is prosperous, the city is safe, the Council has everything under control. Under control. James flops down onto your lap and you raise your eyebrows.
“Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum,” he whines. “Can I please have some ice-cream? If you loved me you’d let me have ice-cream.” Your mouth twitches upwards and you ruffle his hair.
“No, you little pest! It’s not even midday!” You laugh.
“Muu-uuu-uuu-uuum!” he moans, each syllable accompanied by a head-butt on your thighs. You grab his head and hold him still. Abby has noticed and the dolls are momentarily forgotten.
“Ice-creaaaaaaaaaaaam!” she squeals, her smile showing her small teeth.
“No. If you’re both good, we can all have some after dinner tonight.” You push James up off your lap and fold the newssheet. Abby abandons her dolls completely and comes over to put small hands around your waist. You smile broadly and lean forward to pull her onto the lounge. Four years ago she was not this heavy and you struggle with the awkward angle. You are lucky to have her. Each family has the right to apply to have two children, one male and one female, but rarely is a family granted leave for both. The population burst of the Second Baby Boom crippled the old Government and the Council ensures that it won’t happen again. Your husband was a powerful man. Smart, handsome, kind and first advisor to the Council on matters of defence. It was his position as an advisor that allowed you to have Abby. But he’s gone now. The Council took him and he’s gone. The Council will take care of him. Abby leans back and pokes your face. You wrinkle your nose.
“And what do you think you’re doing?” You say sternly, a challenge on your face. Abby just giggles. You’ve never been angry in front of her and she can tell that you’re joking. You used to be angry, but you Levelled completely by 16 years old and it’s been many years since you could feel that way. Anger is now meant to be impossible, and so it is. There are no pub brawls, no arguments heard late at night, no murders, no crimes of passion and no war. Not since they Fixed the world. You’re not sure if they really did fix it, but that is what it has been called. The Fix. It was the Council’s answer to all the world’s problems. It wiped out anger and it keeps the peace. But there are rumours. Rumours of the Council’s lies, oppression and secret agendas. Kidnappings, murders and sabotage. But they are rumours and the Council is just. Is true. They tell you it is so, and you know it well. The Council takes care of you all.
The Council administers the Fix at birth these days. It is a one-off injection which although potent, cannot supress all hormones. Adults who lived through the Fix underwent voluntary admission at first, except the stragglers. The Council could not allow anger to survive and so those who resisted and were captured, are given extended treatments. Your grandfather was given extended treatments, but the Fix would not take. Your mother took you to visit him in containment when you were young. You remember him bouncing you on his knee, his gentle arms around you. Mention of the Council stopped his knee. But the Council took care of him.
Abby is too big for bouncing now. Your arms are around her waist but she is an awkward fit for your lap. She started kindergarten in the summer and is top of her class by a long way. Her teachers tell you she has a promising future. James was the same at her age and he continues to grow. You have watched them grow. You make their meals, put them to bed, buy new clothes to fit their growing bodies, help them with their homework and work from home. For them. There is a knock on the door and James bounds over to open it. Four Cagents wait beyond. You blink.
“Hello James,” the one in front says, smiling, “I’m Cagent Matheson. I used to work with your father. These are my colleagues, Cagents Glover, Turner and Jones. It’s nice to meet you again, the last time I saw you, why you were no bigger than a watermelon!” He laughs, patting James’ head. He walks past James, leading the others into the room. James shuts the door behind them and you move Abby onto the lounge. You stand and walk to greet the Cagents with a friendly smile.
“Cagent Matheson, Zain! It has been years! To what do we owe the pleasure?” You have known Zain for fifteen years. He was your husband’s bodyguard when he was first starting out as a young Cagent, but all Cagents move beyond such posts. You remember Zain coming to your wedding. He gave you a toaster and wished you all the happiness in the world. Zain’s eyes are blank as he steps back from you.
“The children are no longer yours, ma’am. They are needed. The Council will take care of the children.” He says, blank faced and passive. “There are documents you need to sign.” You stop. You are empty and full at the same time. The Council knows best. But they are your children.
Cagent Jones takes you by the shoulders and guides you to sit at the dining table. James follows. You realise absently that he is holding your hand. He hasn’t done that in years. You blink and focus on his face.
“James,” you say, your tone hiding all, “Go watch some television, honey. Sit with your sister. There’s a good boy.” You squeeze his hand and let go. He does as he is told. He is a good boy. The Cagents don’t sit with you. Glover and Jones are behind you, Turner is at the door and Matheson stands next to your chair. You are stiff and tense as he puts an arm out for Glover to pass him a folder from her briefcase. He takes it and sits beside you. He starts talking but you are empty again. Your mind disconnected from your body. And your fists clench slowly on the table. You are calm, anger is impossible for you, but the uncomfortable feeling of tension building warns you otherwise. The Fix makes it impossible. And yet you clench your fist.
Matheson tells you the Council needs them, they will be relocated. They are smart children. Gifted. Special. Valuable. Precious. Yours. No. Not yours. No longer. The Council will take care of them. You breathe deeply. James is watching you, his face is scrunched up and he glares angrily at the Cagents, the hint of a pout about his lips. Abby is just happy watching the television. The Fix is ineffective on the more hormonal periods of life. Pregnant women, children and teens are expected to feel occasional anger, but they are monitored more closely. Abby looks over, following James’ gaze and you smile at your children reassuringly. Not yours. The. The children. They are the Council’s now.
Matheson says your name. Once. Twice. A hand on your clenched fists. “Ma’am, I do need your signature. This is a lawful process and the process must be complied with.”
“Right. My signature.” You unclench your fists slowly, one hand moving the paper and one taking the pen. You pause with the pen in hand, hovering.
You had heard of children being taken, but it was not your problem. It was a fairy-tale. A hoax. A vicious lie concocted by rebels who want to destroy civilisation. They have escaped the Fix to bring down the peace that the Council so bravely fought for. The Council knows that. You know that. But the Council newssheets reassure you on a daily basis that everything is fine. The rumours are false. You are safe. And you are. It is your children that will be taken from their mother.
You sit and start to read through the thick papers but movement catches your eye. James has Abby by the hand and they are walking towards you. Angry tears line James’ cheek and Abby’s innocent confusion is plain. Glover intercepts James and Abby comes to a halt with them. Glover has him by the waist and his hand is ripped from Abby’s. Abby begins to cry, starting towards you again before Glover manages to get a grip on her arm. She pulls Abby back to the couch and pushes her up onto it. She puts a hand on James’ shoulder and he bounces down onto the couch. She has them both by the arm and you are captured just like they are. The Council will take care of them
“Now, darlings,” she says in a mothers’ tone, “You need to calm down, your mum is fine, we’re just talking, just chatting okay. It will all be okay.” She is smiling with a mother’s smile. Reassuring and calm. James is silent as he glares at her and Abby’s wails quieten into hushed sobs. James puts an arm around her, whispering but you can’t hear what.
Your fists are clenched firmly now. Stuck and you can’t move them. But it’s okay. The Cagents don’t notice. Your heart races and your leg shakes. You’ve heard other rumours. Rumours of angry outbursts and disappearances. You don’t want to be another rumour and the Council will take care of your children. The children. Matheson turns away from the children and back to you.
“Your signature, ma’am?” He is waiting but you continue to read the documents. Your husband told you to always read before you sign. That way you don’t end up with a second dishwasher you didn’t need and didn’t want to pay for. You flick over the page.
“Ma’am, that really isn’t necessary. The Council will take care of the children. We just need a signature.” He is terse. Short with you, and it spurs you to insolence.
“I’m sorry, Cagent, I should read them before I sign.” You smile politely and return to reading. Matheson puts his hand on your wrist and you shrink.
“Ma’am,” he squeezes slightly. “Sign the form, ma’am. For the children.” He frowns and you can hear his frustration. Frustration. That’s not possible. You shake your head and sign the papers. These are Council documents. The Council will take care of them.
“Why are you smiling at him!?” James shouts, jumping to his feet. He is glaring at you now. He doesn’t understand. You start towards them, getting to your feet but the restraining hand of Matheson finds its way onto your shoulder. Glover pulls James back into his seat.
“Sit down, ma’am. Those are not your children anymore.” He pushes you back into the seat and goes over to the children that were yours. Are yours. Not theirs. He speaks softly, and though you can’t make out what he is saying, you can hear the tone. Threatening, angry, frustrated. He is scaring your children. Your fists clench as your daughter’s lower lip begins to wobble dangerously. She is so close to tears again and it tightens you. You are rigid and your breaths are getting deeper as the Matheson continues to speak.
His hands are on your children’s shoulders now. He is gripping tight and he squeezes them with his fingers. Abby whimpers. James flinches. You flinch. They are your children. Yours. Not theirs. Not the. Yours. You stand slowly, in control. Calm. You walk over to Matheson, putting your hand on his shoulder and squeezing with your own fingers.
“Remove your hands from my children.” You say quietly, calmly. You are still in control.
“The Council will take care of them.” He says without turning.
“Remove. Your. Hands.”
Matheson turns as he stands, breaking your grip. He moves quickly, taking your arm and twisting, locking your arm in an unnatural position behind your back. This isn’t possible. The Fix. Your heart pounds so hard you can hear it in your head. He pushes you down to your knees by your head and holds you there. Your children are screaming, pulling away from the firm grip of Glover. They want you, not the Council. They are screaming for you. They are yours.
“The serum.” He says clearly, his hold firm. Jones smiles viciously as he places his briefcase on the table, unlocks it, and prepares a needle. He is slow and calm, just smiling to himself. Sick. You are watching silently, but no longer calmly. You are shaking ever so slightly and your fists are clenched. The agent flicks the needle and walks over to you.
Glover calls Turner over and he picks up Abby, holding her on his hip like an experienced parent. You laugh, a bitter sound and jerk away from Matheson though it strains your arm. Glover has James. James is screaming, screaming for you, screaming at the Cagents. He is kicking though his arms are trapped at his side. The clenched fist of your free arm bashes against Matheson’s legs and your head is thrashing. You are screaming too. Screaming with your children. And the needle is ready. Jones kneels beside you calmly, ignoring your flailing limbs.
“Ma’am, this is just a little something…to calm you down,” Jones says with a toothy smile. And then you are still. Waiting, as he wipes your arm clean, preparing for the injection. As he finally raises the needle you lash out. You scream. You wrench your arm away from Matheson, ignoring the snap of your arm and bursting towards your children. Matheson is too quick. He was waiting and he grabs you by the hair, pulling you back to him. You fall to the ground, clutching at your burning scalp. Matheson bends down quickly, his knee across your throat. Jones wastes no time on pleasantries as he jabs the needle into your arm. You feel the sting and the burn of the serum in your veins. You fade into black to the screams of your children. Yours.
Your fists are no longer clenched.