Author : George R. Shirer

The assessor is attractive in a button-down kind of way. Blonde hair, pink jumpsuit, digital makeup set to minimal. Her face is a sculpt, something from one of the mid-level catalogues. Attractive, but not too attractive. The same face you see on a thousand other people. Only her eyes, brown and liquid, are original.

“You failed your empathy test, Mr. Clawford.”

Her tone is carefully modulated. No condemnation there, none at all. Just carefully presented curiosity.

“I know.”

“You haven’t been taking your dose.”

It isn’t a question. I shrug.



The assessor leans forward. Her pink uni-suit tightens slightly, emphasizing the shape of her breasts. It’s a cheap trick, meant to distract one, make your interviewer more susceptible to the subharmonic pulses they use in these interview rooms, to make one more compliant.

“Compassion fatigue,” I say.

The assessor arches her brows. “Honestly?”

“Honestly. I’m tired of being chemically forced to care for my fellow man.”

“Are you experiencing nausea? Fatigue? Some people develop a sensitivity to the pills over time.”

“No, nothing like that. I just decided not to take my dose.”

Her carefully modulated expression becomes one of concern.

“You are aware that refusing to take your dose is illegal?”

“It’s a class two offense. I know.”

“Will you take your dose now?”


“Why not?”

“I sort of like feeling like a bastard. Does that make me a bad person?”

“It makes you . . . atypical,” says the assessor. She shifts in the chair. “This is the second time you’ve failed an empathy test, Mr. Clawford.”

“I know.”

“There are three options at this stage,” says the assessor. “You can take your dose and agree to daily monitoring for the next three months.”

“No. I won’t take the dose any more.”

She nods. “Fine. The second option is isolation. You’d be placed under house arrest and not allowed to leave your residence until you resume taking your dose.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t think so. I think, miss, I’ll go for option three.”

She frowns. “Exile to the Cold Isles?”


“You are aware that if you choose exile, Mr. Clawford, it’s a one way trip?”

“I know.”

“And that is what you want to do? To go and live among the callous and the unfeeling?”



“Because I’d rather be an authentic bastard than a fake nice guy.”

Her grin surprises me. She stands and her suit tightens, turns matt black.

“Good answer. Come with me. We can be in Christchurch within the hour.”

I’m confused. “We?”

She laughs. “What? You didn’t think the fuzzies would trust one of their own to do these assessments, did you?”

“You’re one of the cold?”

“No, Mr. Clawford.” She gives me a look that I’ll get from lots of people over the next few weeks, part condescension, part genuine sympathy. “I’m one of the free.”


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