• Reading time:3 mins read


“It’s quite simple,” said Karen. “I’m going to be terminated.”

“But you’re still of use to society, surely?” replied Simon.

“I don’t know, since they changed the rules again, and they found things in my past.”

Simon nodded. He knew the rules had been changing rapidly since the stage 2030 Covid. His own phone had been worrying him, though the app never gave the user much information, he reflected.

“What things did they find?”

“I… I don’t know. Maybe I got too close to some people in the street.”

He studied her; this was the closest he’d been to his wife for a month. He expected the contact timer was running on his phone, but you never really knew how long you would get. The fans of the close-contact meeting booth were running fast to extract any possibility of the virus. He toyed with the mask in his hand, temporarily off in the safe booth. He looked up at the camera, which was focused on them, and he looked away quickly.

“It’s so unfair,” he said. “We’ve been married four years, how much time have we had together?”

“Simon, don’t – they’ll mark you too. I don’t want that.”


“You know the phone mic is probably listening.”

“Yes.” He looked at the mask in his hand again. “How long have they given you?”

“I don’t know.”

“No, they’ll not commit on a definite time, I know.”


“How are the children?”

“The reports I get say they are doing well. The AI state parent is happy with their response to training.”

He nodded. “Oh Karen, we should run away with them, take them out of state school. We could go to, I don’t know, somewhere…”

“You know there is nowhere, the world is the same now.”

“An island somewhere.”

“It won’t work,” she said. “We don’t have the travel permit even to get out of the city.”

“I know. But if only.”

“Simon, this is dangerous talk, this could threaten you and the children.”

“Yes, I know,” he said as his hand involuntarily touched the phone in his pocket and he snatched a glance at the camera above.

“It’s better for the world if I’m gone. I’m not giving to society like I was, they have said.”

“The AI said,” he muttered.

“Yes. The Gates AI knows all. Society wouldn’t be as safe as it is without it.”

Then Simon noticed a black uniform outside the meeting booth. His phone vibrated. The black gloved hand tapped on the door. He looked up at the masked face. Only the eyes visible, with the riot helmet above. He looked at Karen; she didn’t look scared, just resigned to it, fatalistic.

The door slid open and the uniform indicated for him to put on his mask and step out. Simon did so and stood in front of the black uniform. Simon thought of Karen and the children.