Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“Tom! Tom!”

I shake my head and massage my jaw as I sit up. The pretty woman crouched by me looks worried. Behind her I hear a struggle occurring. That has something to do with the pain in my jaw.

“Are you okay?”

Good question. I raise my hand for a pause and take stock. I’m in a nice suit, sitting on the grey carpet tiles of the floor next to an overturned chair. I glance at her name tag.

“I’m fine, Margaret.”

“Thank god for that! I thought he was going to kill you!”

He was? Fragmented memories return: Arthur Windemere, long-term claimant. He’d come in for a ‘New Year Restart’ review and – what?

“Give me a moment, Margaret. That shook me up a bit.”

I stand up and see a green-jacketed figure, presumably Arthur, being locked into restraints by a police officer while a pair of security officers hold him. He’s screaming all sorts of nonsense and they’re not trying to calm him down.

“Let me help you up.”

With Margaret’s assistance I manage to stand up and lean on my desk. He must have really clouted me one. A chap in a blue uniform hurries over to me.

“Okay, Tom, we’re going to go down to the medical centre and get you checked over.”

He escorts me out of the open-plan office, down a long corridor, into a white room where two nurses wait. I lie down as instructed and he proceeds to do a very thorough examination before looking me in the eye.

“How’s the head, Tom?”

“Things seem to be a bit jumbled –” I look at his name tag. “Andy.”

With a smile he whips out an injector and applies it to my neck. There’s a brief stinging sensation and a sudden warmth accompanies my mind settling.

My name is Tom. I am part of the Cleardown team. We go into the welfare centres and work with the stubborn cases, using our skillsets to identify and goad the temperamental ones into assault, drive the vulnerable to suicide and the needy back out onto the streets where nature will save us money before spring. I know every miniscule piece and combination of legislation to withhold welfare chips. Using that, I drag every claimant through a bureaucratic nightmare until they snap – or die. Dying is preferred: less datawork.

When they attack me in frustration they contravene the terms of their agreement with WFA (Welfare For All). Prosecution is inevitable and they will join labour units or get exiled to Titan. More importantly, they are removed from the ‘black triangle’ of foodpacks, freedata and hydrofare; thus ceasing to be a drain upon our society.

My predecessor was Steve and my successor will be Ulrich. We are designed to be fragile in certain ways, so it takes less than the usual amount of force to break us. The more severe the sentence, the better it is.

Andy escorts me back and Margaret has already tidied my work area.

“For a moment I thought we’d had another bad one like the bloke who used to sit here.”


She looks at me, eyes misty with tears: “He got attacked and cracked his head on the desk. Poor Steve never had a chance.”

“You’re a caring woman, Margaret. This place needs more people like you.”

Her eyes narrow and then open wider as she smiles; having decided that I am sincere.

“You remind me of him.” She looks down, then back at me: “What are you doing after work?”

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