Simeon Selkirk was riffed from Life and sent to Termination.
Two Termination Guides showed up at his sleeping pod with a Riff Notice. He knew the drill. For fifteen years — ever since Mandatory Euthanasia became law — he had been a Termination Guide. No Riffed Person ever escaped from his custody.
Foster, the Senior Guide, didn’t speak at all. He shoved Simeon into a white van and locked his arm and leg restraints to a metal frame.
Garth Harker, the Junior Guide, patted Simeon’s arm. “I always liked workin’ with you, man.”
“I suppose you’ll be moving up to Senior now,” growled Simeon.
Garth feigned a look of surprise. “Yeah. Who’d a thought it?”
Simeon clung to the frame, shaking with fear and anger. It wasn’t fair! He wouldn’t be sixty for another five months. Someone was filling a quota. He was losing five months — almost half a year! — in order to fulfill a quota.
The van stopped. Garth led him along the walkway to a familiar steel door. The Junior Guide inserted his ID card. The door slid back and he pushed Riffed Person Selkirk into a small cell.
“So long, man.” Garth stepped back. The door slid shut.
An inner door opened and a Guide conducted Simeon down a gray-tiled hallway. The man asked a question. He repeated it twice before Simeon noticed. “Useful? What do you mean?”
“I asked if you was good for anything, Riff.”
Simeon stared at the man. “What?”
“Never mind, Riff. It don’t matter.”
Panic thrust ice into Simeon’s gut. The Guide stopped in front of a green door with a small glass panel set at eye level. The glass was cracked. “In here, Riff.”
“Wait!” cried Simeon. He touched the glass. “I can fix this.”
“Sure you can.” The Guide sneered. “I got maybe two of those need replacing. Forget it. Go on in. The Last Guide will be along in an hour or so.”
“No! Wait! I mean I am — I was — a carpenter. Long time ago.”
The man regarded him solemnly. “I can use a carpenter. I’m Chief Guide Albright. You can call me Chief.”
Thus did Simeon become the fix-it man for Termination Hall #595. He replaced the cracked glass — seven in all. Shelves needed repairing, doors replaced — Riffs often took out their frustration on holding cell doors.
Albright took Simeon’s identity card. “Soon you will be officially dead.” The Chief Guide smiled. “Beats the alternative, don’t it?”
Simeon’s gratitude was real — for a few months. Then he realized that Albright was using Riffs as a kind of slave labor. The cook and his helper were Riffs, as were the laundry staff, the two janitors, and the two office clerks. Simeon began to pay close attention to Albright’s duties.
There was no Last Guide. Chief Albright escorted each Riff to the Termination Chamber, gassed them, and activated the flash-freeze processor. Beyond the Chamber, automated machinery handled and stored the corpsicles. Riffs didn’t struggle. Albright flooded their holding cell with a special gas that made them groggy and easily managed. Simeon had to repair several of the gas mechanisms.
Sometimes the Chief would unburden himself about his job and the problems of running a Termination Hall.
“I get no support,” he lamented one day as he leaned against a wall watching Simeon replace a broken table leg. “Oh, water, food, and heating gas is supplied, but I haven’t had a single staff person assigned here for years. My Last Guide was transferred out three years ago.”
Simeon paused. “No replacement was ever sent?”
“No. None. I don’t know what’s going on at HQ. I send messages. No reply. I call. The same person answers and promises to relay my requests. Nothing happens.” He sighed. “But the Riffs keep coming and trucks eventually collect the corpsicles.”
“That’s rough, Chief.”
By the end of his second year at Termination Hall #595, Simeon knew Albright’s entire routine. Riffs came in and were escorted to holding cells. When he felt like it, the Chief returned and activated the special gas. A few minutes later, he took the Riff to the Termination Chamber.
Simeon’s chance came one sweltering July evening. Albright went up to his apartment at six o’clock, as usual. Soon he was back. “It’s like an oven up there, Riff.” He carried his pillow into one of the holding cells.
An hour later Simeon turned on the gas and waited five long minutes before entering the cell. Albright giggled as Simeon got him up. He kept giggling until the Death Gas hit him. A minute later, his body disappeared into the machinery, soon to be just one more corpsicle.
The Termination Terminal demanded an identity for the freshly euthanized person. Simeon knew what to do. Back in the winter, two homeless people froze to death in the Terminal public entryway. The Chief had Simeon cycle the stiffs through the Chamber. One lacked an identity card and the ID chip embedded between his shoulder blades had been roughly hacked out.
Albright shrugged when Simeon told him about the missing card and chip. “Perps do it to get extra rations.” He fished out a red-bordered card. “Use this. Enter the code for ‘Deceased Person, Stolen ID’. The code is on the back. Someone is supposed to investigate identity thefts, but it never happens.”
On that hot summer night in July, Simeon used the red-bordered card and entered the code for ‘Deceased Person, Stolen ID’. The computer accepted the data and returned to standby, ready to process the next identity.
Simeon stopped in the kitchen on his way to the office. No one was there. He checked the lunch room. Empty. On a hunch, he walked down the hall and into the office. The Riffs were all there. The fear was so thick he could smell it.
“Hi,” he said brightly. “My name is Albright. You can call me Chief.”
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.