Author: Rex Caleval

“You have to run. Every day for the rest of your life, you have to keep running. Nothing else we can try will work. I’m sorry.”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” replied a sweating, red-faced man. “I haven’t broken any rules. I’ve done what you people told me to do. You promised me more time. This isn’t supposed to happen. It’s not right.” He hung his head, taking deep, gasping breaths.

The trim woman facing the man put a hand on his arm, a sympathetic look on her face. “That’s all true, Mr. Logan. I know it isn’t fair, and it feels like you’re being singled out. And really, you are. The planners messed up again, and now things have to be adjusted on the fly, and a bunch of people who haven’t done anything wrong end up paying the price. I can’t dispute any of that.”

She moved around in front of Logan as he tried to catch his breath and regain his composure. “But Mr. Logan, there’s nothing we can do about that now. We have to face things as they are.” She reached forward to lift his chin, looking into his eyes. “There has to be another cull. The people have voted over and over to keep consumption levels high, so as resources dwindle, everyone gets less and less time before they get scanned into the grid. There’s no way around that, and you’re one of the unlucky ones this time. But I can help you. I really can. Work with me, and things can still turn out almost how they were supposed to. Think about what’s at stake. Isn’t it worth trying?”

Looking up at her, Logan let out a resigned sigh. “You’re right, Ms. Shaw. Cases like this are on the news all the time, and nobody ever wins their appeal or gets their time back. Hell, I’ve voted for those consumption levels myself more than once. I lived the high life, knowing eventually the bill would come due. It’s just that eventually wasn’t supposed to be so soon. How long have I got, again?”

“Just over six weeks,” replied Shaw. “It’s not a lot of time. In fact, whenever this happens now, the time given gets to be less and less. But we can do you a lot of good in six weeks, and you know there’s a self-image effect once you get placed into the grid, too. We’ll get you doing better, and that will make you feel better, and that will give an extra boost to how you’ll appear once you cross over. And think about this: once the time comes, yes, your physical body will die. But you’ll never have to worry about it again, either. You’ll be able to eat and drink whatever you want, do whatever you want, and still stay in the same shape you’re in when you start. Doesn’t that sound good?”

Logan nodded. “Yeah, I like the sound of that.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Shaw. “Now, let’s try again. Are you ready?”

Logan leaned on the handrails, pushing himself upright. He chuckled as he looked at his reflection in the mirror on the gym wall. “I guess I’d better be. I’d hate to spend eternity being this pudgy.”

Shaw smiled. “Excellent. I’ve been a state-appointed personal trainer for a long time, and that sense of humor helps people more than anything.” She reached for the treadmill’s controls. “Ready to run for the rest of your life?”

Logan nodded, looking determined. “Let’s try fifteen minutes this time. I’ve got a long way to go.”