Category : Books-Fiction
Sub Category : YoungAdult
At 18 everyone is assigned a job perfect for them. No one ever complains. Upon reading their job assignment card, a teen has found that, for the first time in 100 years, they’ve been assigned ‘serial killer.’
Leslie felt tired. He assumed he was supposed to, since this was the way he (and everyone else in his class) had always felt. As he awaited his turn to be called to the front of the stadium—to be branded with a new job, new housing arrangement, possibly a new spouse and pet dog named Sophie—he wondered what his new life would look like. Would he grow old as a construction worker, perhaps? Or an office manager, whatever vague responsibilities that entailed? Maybe a simple cashier at a grocery store, because in spite of new technologies, people still had to eat, and robots were no good at helping the elderly pack their vehicles with groceries.
A quiet groan escaped him. He felt even more tired now. He entertained an unexpected thought: Is this all my life is now? Is this all I can look forward to? A job?
His name was called. Not his real name of Leslie Farringer Hill—a confluence of his father Leslie’s name as well as that of his great grandfather Farringer—but his Assigned Name of 2099356. Leslie climbed onto a stage in the middle of an arena, where a line of stoic elders grasped their wrists and stared at him with grim indifference. Leslie sat beside dozens of civilians like himself, who sat before the Automated Work Reassignment bot, waiting for their assignments.
Leslie placed his forehead against wide screen and allowed the machine to dig a thin needle into his cerebral cortex. The pain was minimal, surprisingly—like the pinch you get when you pierce your ears. When it was done, Leslie and his classmates left the stage, and the elders announced, “Next!”
No applause. No congratulations. Just “Next.”
Leslie’s grandfather said that Reassignment used to be exciting. People were given the option—key word, “option”—to change jobs if they were unhappy, medically disabled, or better suited to another field. A good many of them got to choose their own jobs—a foreign concept to Leslie’s class of 2118. But then, the option to “choose” meant that jobs were in abundance, which had not been the case in half a century.
When the first version of the Primary Automation Network—or PAN—was released, there was high demand for workers needing to maintain the program’s vast webbing of databases, neural connections and information flow. Then the tech got smarter, and work done by human hands became outdated; PAN began functioning on its own, running its own updates and anticipating its own needs.
The human population, however, continued to rise, while jobs declined. Nowadays, you got what you got. You didn’t argue or complain. If you did, you’d starve—and they’d let you.
“Hey, Les, what’d they stick you with?” Travis Dollman asked. Leslie noticed the shifting of his eyes back and forth as he gazed into his Internal Personalized Interface, which accessed the ever-growing layers of PAN.
“Don’t know yet,” Leslie replied. He wasn’t in a hurry to find out, either; he would have to live with his fate for the rest of his life. “How about you?”
“Reading the job description right now,” Travis said. He sounded distant, lost in the world of PAN. “Looks like… Oh, hey! Not bad! Chief Agriculture Overseer for the… Ah, shit, in the Swamps. Oh well, it’s good pay. Wife Meredith, Doberman Pixie, son named Liam. And triple supply of rations on a private acre. Not bad.”
Travis blinked, tuning out of his IPI. “Aren’t you gonna look at yours?”
Leslie shrugged. “Later. I’m tired. Had to do a double-shift last night, didn’t sleep much. I think I’ll go crash at the apartment.”
“Well, at least look and see if you still havean apartment first.” He grinned slyly, like he was telling a good joke that Leslie would never get. “Who knows? Maybe you landed a gig with Infinitum. They get crazy-good benefits.”
Leslie returned a shy smile. “Doubt it, but… Maybe you’re right.”
Leslie pulled up his IPI and dove into PAN’s universe. His system calibrated updates in seconds, a nice blinking clock telling him that it was 59 percent complete… 73 percent… 95 percent…
When it finished, a welcome letter greeted him. It read:
Congratulations on your Reassignment, 2099356! You have been reassigned to occupation:
That didn’t sound right. It sounded like… well, not anything that Leslie had heard of, actually. The only thing familiar to him was the word “kill,” which was spoken when something electronic sparked in his office and the Electrical Technicians had to “kill” the connection. He supposed it could also pertain to when the elderly had reached their time of Passage, when they grew too old to perform their jobs appropriately and were euthanized; it was sometimes morbidly referred to as the “time of killing,” a phrase Leslie and the general population repulsed.
But “serial killer” was something new to him. Below his title, an icon of a file folder blinked deep red at him, indicating the position was high level and top secret. Which meant upper echelon access into the depths of PAN, which very few civilians knew about, let alone explored.
Below that was a list of his benefits package: Fully-furnished housing on a five-acre plot (an ungodly amount of living space in today’s economy), wife Blaise Parkham, a gray Persian named Mufasa, and five times the normal ration supply delivered weekly to his doorstep.
Holy shit, Leslie thought. He blinked and closed his IPI.
“Well?” Travis asked impatiently.
“Uh… Something in agriculture, too.”
Travis squinted at him. “Something in agriculture? What the hell does that mean?”
“Yeah, I dunno. It’s a lot to read and I’m too tired. I’ll, uh… talk to you about it later. Need to rest.”
Leslie nearly ran out of the building. He felt Travis’s suspicious gaze on him, but he brushed it off. He felt uneasy, his adrenaline pumping faster than he was used to. If he was going to live in high-class, he needed to figure out what his job entailed, and he couldn’t concentrate with Travis’s never-ending monologue in his ear.
Leslie walked down the street, passing beneath the mousetraps of tram cars that ran noisily all day and night. Directly outside of Town Hall, a line of Individually Automated Vehicles awaited their passengers. He’d never had a car—had only set foot in one once, in fact. He had always relied on his feet for transportation. The 120-degree heat and omnipresent cloud of smoke lingering in the air had ceased to bother him.
About halfway home, a sleek charcoal vehicle stopped beside him. A door popped open and a charming female voice spoke: “Passenger 2099356, you may now enter your vehicle.”
Mine? No way. Not mine.
A few seconds later, the voice beckoned him again: “Passenger 2099356, please enter your vehicle and select your destination.”
Leslie warily stepped into the car. On the dashboard was a map of Ponderosa Pines, with a blue circle in the top left corner that read, “Home.” Leslie selected it, and 45 minutes later arrived at a large residence on Old Bakery Avenue. It was surrounded by a stone fence. The car approached a broad metal gate. The gate’s sensor connected to the car’s dashboard and asked for Leslie’s fingerprints. Leslie placed a hand on the screen, his identity was verified, and the gate opened.
Inside the fence, pine trees rose to staggering heights, dropping streams of needles and cones as the wind tossed them about. Beyond the trees was a stone mansion, painted white with black highlights around the windows and door frames. Two cars were parked out front—one for him and one for Blaise, he presumed.
He exited the car and entered into a wide-open living room, freshly painted and sparsely furnished. A chandelier hung above a staircase that led to the second and third floors.
In the far room at the other end of the house, a 90-inch television blasted music videos. Leslie could see the back of a woman’s black-haired head.
“2099356, I presume?” the black-haired head asked without turning around.
“Call me Leslie.”
“Call me Blaise. Or 2105344, I don’t give a shit.”
Leslie climbed the stairs and found a bedroom with a double-king bed, which he presumed he was supposed to share with Blaise. Upon it, a royal gray Persian named Mufasa yawned at him, his red collar jingling as the cat shook his head.
Leslie climbed into bed and refreshed his IPI. The number of databases he could access in PAN as a Mini Mart clerk—his first job—numbered in the low 100s. As a serial killer, they numbered at 989, 341, 863—and the numbers rose every few milliseconds.
Leslie frantically searched for anything related to “serial killer,” and began queuing thousands of historical documents and videos and biographical entries to download simultaneously. An alert rose on his IPI stating that his downloading power was insufficient for such high-speed traffic—would he like to upgrade to the latest version 13.4.57?
Latest version? he thought. I never imagined upgrading to anything higher than a 3.0.1, let alone the latest version of IPI software.
And with it, seconds later, gigabytes of information about serial killers from the infinite PAN.
Gigabytes of blood, torture, dismemberment and murder. Videos that immortalized the terror of the victims as well as the ecstasy on the faces of the voyeurs who slayed them.
Gigabytes of autopsy reports from the 21st century detailing the gunshot wounds, burns, incisions, and dismemberments of millions of victims—and the biographical recounting of the sadistic rituals the preceded them.
Gigabytes of accounts detailing how to stalk a victim before the kill; how to kill and dispose of a body; the best tools to make it quick, or make it slow…
Leslie’s vision turned white as the information was pummeled into his IPI. He blinked hard to log out of it. Then he turned over the side of his bed and vomited all over the hardwood floor. He vomited four more times until his body ached and vibrated.
His IPI popped up unexpectedly—which shouldn’t have happened. There were built-in codes which disallowed the software to act without permission from the host. But, Leslie thought, maybe it was just a feature that came with the high-profile job. A new message alerted him:
Greetings, 2099356! Your first assignment is:
1573 E. FAUBREY LANE
Time to Complete:
Shit, what does that mean? Leslie thought.
“What do you think it means, numb nuts?” he argued aloud with himself. “It means you have to kill him.”
“Kill what?” Blaise asked, standing in the doorway. Leslie startled at her appearance.
“Oh my god,” Blaise exclaimed, noticing the pile of vomit. “Are you sick?”
Leslie hurriedly covered the vomit with the bedsheets. “Uh, no… Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean it up.”
“You said you need to kill something,” Blaise said. “Is there an electrical problem? Do we need an Electrical Technician, or something?”
“No, no. I’ll handle that, too, don’t worry.”
An awkward silence hung in the air. Then, another message appeared in the IPI:
Instrument of Choice:
Leslie’s heart plummeted into his guts. He nearly puked a seventh time. He choked it back, swallowing painfully.
Blaise sat on the other side of the bed. “So… I guess we’re married now. You wanna… I dunno, go on a date, or something?”
LYLE MCCATHERN. 1573 E. FAUBREY LANE. 26 HOURS. HATCHET.
“Did you hear me?” Blaise demanded.
“Yeah, a date. Sure. Tomorrow. I have some work to do.”
Blaise scoffed. “Already? Jeez, you just started, like, an hour ago.”
Leslie nodded uncertainly. “Lots to do, I guess.”
His first kill was awful. And messy—reallymessy. Why a hatchet was chosen for him, he didn’t know. But he sensed that, somewhere beyond the IPI, PAN itself was watching him. He’d been in the workforce long enough to realize that if you didn’t fulfill your job requirements— all T’s crossed and I’s dotted—you wouldn’t be granted leeway or forgiveness. Your rations, valuable as they were, would be first to suffer.
After that, shit would keep rolling downhill.
Leslie accessed his PAN downloads on disposing a body and then how to extract evidence from a crime scene. He had to vomit multiple times into the garbage bags he used to mop up Lyle McCathern’s remains. He finished at the 23-hour mark, and PAN was satisfied.
A new message appeared, with an icon of a cake with flaming candles beneath it:
Congratulations on completing your first assignment, 2099356!
Next assignment to be uploaded in:
As the slaughtered remains of Lyle McCathern—just some Joe Schmo who worked at a brewery, it seemed—incinerated in a pit beside him, Leslie cupped his hands over his face and sobbed.
He sobbed. And retched. And sobbed some more.
Then he went home and stayed in bed until his next assignment.
He went on dates with Blaise. They exchanged half-hearted conversation. He stroked the fur along Mufasa’s spine, making the cat purr contentedly. He sat in front of the television with his new family and watched movies to which he couldn’t pay attention.
Because the information lurking in his mind was as alluring as it was insidious. Leslie didn’t appreciate the allure, but he acknowledged it was there. He found himself accessing crevices of PAN that housed information he would have never considered. Some of the terms he came across—murder, crime, torture—had been deleted from public access decades after PAN was invented, Leslie discovered. With centralized control of PAN solely in the hands of one corporation, Infinitum, coupled with the mandatory law that IPI’s be implanted at birth, it was easy for them to conceal and reveal whatever information they wanted.
And now Leslie had unrestricted access to it.
At the 56.6334-hour mark, Leslie received a new message on his IPI. He uttered a worried half-groan before the software consumed him:
Good afternoon, 2099356!
Your next assignment is:
JAMES AND JILL HAWTHORNE
MILDRED’S COFFEE HOUSE
Instrument of Choice:
GLOCK 43 WITH SUPPRESSOR ATTACHED
Time to Complete:
Leslie searched for Mildred’s Coffee House on his IPI map. It was nearly an hour away by car. And he had no idea where he would have the time to find a Glock 43, whatever that was, and kill two people—two of them. In a public place.
“Fuck,” he whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Blaise asked, not looking away from the television.
“Do you know when you’ll be back?”
Leslie sighed. “Soon, probably.”
The car door opened automatically for him. It received notifications when Leslie received missions. It sped down the highway at top speed, as if it understood his time constraints.
Then, a hidden compartment opened beside the map screen. Leslie reached in and extracted a couple of things. First, a handgun—the Glock 43 with a silencer, he guessed. He’d never held a gun before, so he sifted through dozens of links on gun handling before reaching the coffee shop.
The other items included a denim jacket, a fake goatee, sunglasses, and a baseball cap representing a team he didn’t recognize.
PAN is teaching me how to be a serial killer,Leslie thought. He applied the accessories. He was grateful for the gesture, but didn’t expect PAN’s courtesy to last long; the automaton had never done him favors like this before. No sense in expecting the generosity to guide him through the rest of his life.
Mildred’s was packed with people. Leslie had no idea coffee was such a hot commodity at one o’ clock in the afternoon. The line dumped out of the front door and onto the surrounding sidewalk. Leslie took his place in line behind a fat couple and a yipey Yorkie with which they rubbed noses. “You’re such a good boy,” they coddled. “Oh, what a good, good boy.”
Leslie scanned through PAN to find out what James and Jill Hawthorne looked like: He, a pretty-boy millionaire-looking barbie in real estate with slick gray hair and an attractive layer of stubble; she, also a slick-haired real estate agent enticing enough to be in modeling or porn—whichever PAN deemed most productive, Leslie scoffed.
Music blasted inside. People between the ages of 25 and 35 dominated the dining hall. Leslie glanced around, and spotted the couple in the corner. They looked sulky, certainly the least lively of the crowd, as if they’d just had a fight.
Jesus, there were a lot of people. How could PAN expect Leslie to fulfill his job with three dozen witnesses surrounding him? He felt sweat seep from every pore on his body. His IPI announced that he had 35 minutes and 14 seconds remaining… 13 seconds… 12…
“Fuck,” he mumbled. “Fuck.”
In a panic, he nearly retreated to his IPI for guidance.
But then it hit him. That word: Panic.
“How can I help you?” a bored, acne-infested barista inquired.
“Um… Three black coffees, please,” Leslie replied. He paid for the drinks, then carried them over to a low table surrounded by beanbags on which the still-sulking Hawthorne couple resided.
Leslie took a deep breath. Here goes.
“Hey, friends!” his voice boomed. They looked at him with suspicion and confusion.
“Remember me? It’s Marty! Your old pal!”
Jill looked at James, and he returned her concerned glare. “I don’t—” Jill began to say.
Leslie interrupted her. “Come on, you remember me! From college! We took the same algebra class!”
Leslie cut her off again. “Here. Black coffee, just the way you like it. On the house. Come on, let’s get a picture together, what do you say?”
Impatiently, he gestured for them to merge together on one chair. “Come on, squeeze together, don’t be shy. You’re married, for crying out loud! You’ve seen each other naked!”
The Hawthornes laughed nervously. Leslie felt as nervous as they sounded.
He retrieved a phone from his pocket and loaded the camera app. “Alright, now, smile and say cheese!”
They did. Just before Leslie dialed the “Take Photo” button, he uncovered the Glock from behind his denim jacket. Jill Hawthorne noticed it. Leslie pulled the trigger twice—a quick “one, two.” Jill’s surprise turned to terror, then to realization that she’d been shot and was seconds from death. James died without knowing he’d been shot.
The camera snapped a picture.
Leslie stuffed the gun back in his coat and sprang to his feet. “HO!” he screamed, waving his limbs wildly. “Holy SHIT! Sweet mother of CHRIST! SOMEBODY HELP!”
Curious eyes moved to the dead bodies.
Leslie allowed himself to be swallowed by the frantic herd as people stormed to the front door and created a bottleneck. He was nearly crushed by the fat couple with their hideous Yorkie as they struggled to push through the doorway. Finally, he separated from the crowd and sprinted to his car. He selected “Destination: Home.” It took him nearly fifteen minutes to catch his breath, and another ten to slow his heart rate. He followed the procedures on shirking the evidence, then returned home.
“You’re right,” Blaise said, still sitting in the same place on the couch as when Leslie had left. “That was quick.”
“Yeah,” Leslie said, feeling breathless. “Easy day.”
He retreated to the king bed, where he expected once again to vomit and sob. But he didn’t. In fact, he felt… good. Really good, actually. His IPI congratulated him once again, this time promising to deliver a tray of expensive cakes and sweets to his door within 24 hours.
Cakes aside, he felt lifted, as if the adrenaline boost had filled him with helium. He liked this airy feeling.
And something else: He didn’t feel remorse, as he had after bludgeoning Lyle McCathern. The bullets were quick and not nearly as messy as the damned hatchet. He could get used to bullets. It felt less personal. More like a job.
And that’s exactly what it was.
Leslie killed half a dozen more people in the subsequent month. A sleezy waitress in Nevada; a hokey bartender running for mayor in California; two airline attendants from an Asian country he didn’t recognize (just some dull, primitive society that had outlawed PAN, as Leslie understood it).
His murders became famous on the news, though the media gave him the piss-poor, unimaginative name of the Ponderosa Pines Executioner. With millions of databases he could download in seconds, Leslie learned from the mistakes of the idiots of the past centuries. No evidence had been found to incriminate him. Fortunately for him, the criminal justice system had been gutted to the point of near obsolescence in the last 100 years. Thanks to the strong-armed, omniscient PAN, people knew what stepping out of the parameters set forth by PAN meant. They knew that a crime against PAN, no matter how small, would risk their lives.
What they didn’t know—but Leslie now did—was that a crime against PAN meant a violent, prolonged, agonizing death. PAN ensured that jobs of such a specialty were still around—and well-compensated.
Not only had Leslie gotten better at killing—when he wasn’t actually doing it, he was shuffling through thousands of digital archives learning about it—but he thought he’d gotten better about not caring about it. That is, until he had to kill two teenage parents of a four-year-old.
Leslie hadn’t noticed the kid standing in the hallway, watching as Leslie duct-taped his parents’ mouths shut, strapped them to chairs and started drilling holes in them (the instrument of choice was an electric drill). He hadn’t noticed the kid until he’d burrowed a drill bit deep into his mother’s skull and killed her.
“Ah, shit,” Leslie muttered.
The kid had just stood there, sucking his thumb, taking it all in. They stood in silence for a full minute. Then, Leslie left the kid alone in the house, got in the car, and went back home. Realizing the magnitude of what he’d done, he vomited for the first time since Lyle McCathern.
“Goddamn it,” he grumbled. He repeated it louder. “Goddamn it.”
He punched the dashboard. Then he did it again, and again, wailing on the thing. He started slamming his elbows and knees and feet around the car’s interior, screaming and cursing. He threw himself about until it hurt, and continued until he felt like one giant, throbbing ache.
Weakly, he picked up his phone to dial the police. A picture of the Hawthornes’ dead bodies, taken just seconds after Leslie shot them, flashed on the screen. Leslie’s lips trembled, and he broke out into hysterical sobbing. He threw his phone aside. He’d forgotten about that picture. His first instinct was to smash the damned thing, destroy all traces of evidence.
But Leslie couldn’t just ignore the kid. He’d already left him alone in that house, amidst the grotesque corpses of his parents. He’d hate himself forever if he just left the kid like that. He needed to call someone to that house to get the boy.
One of the things Leslie had repeatedly stumbled upon in the PAN archives was the remorselessness that seemed to be inherent in the most famous killers. Most of them felt no pity for the victims or their families, no regrets for their actions. In fact, a lot of them claimed they would do it again if they ever got out. They didn’t have to think about how not to feel bad.
Leslie wasn’t that lucky.
He dialed the police number and reported a break-in. Then he hung up the phone, and forgot about smashing it. He felt tired, more so than he’d felt at Reassignment last month. How he longed for a chance to change jobs, like his grandfather Farringer had done before him.
“I can’t keep doing this,” Leslie spoke out loud. “I’m not… I’m not a serial killer.”
He knew PAN could hear him, even when he wasn’t logged in to the IPI. Leslie expected the IPI to activate any moment to deliver a personal message from PAN saying Leslie was out of line. A reminder that “breach of a worker’s protocol with daily job-related task ensures penalties commensurate with the worker’s offense, with punishments to be fulfilled in accordance with PAN Law 00841.”
Yeah, Leslie had known it by heart since his early childhood school days. It meant that whole violent, prolonged, agonizing death thing.
But no message came. Surely PAN had heard him, but it didn’t have anything to say.
Leslie rolled over to cry some more.
Leslie threw his phone down on the king bed. It landed next to Mufasa, who sniffed it considerately, then flinched away with disgust. Leslie barged into his bathroom and slammed the door shut. He felt overheated and sweaty. He turned the shower faucet to cold. He didn’t bother to remove his clothes. He stood beneath the water until cold tremors shook his body.
There was a knock at the bathroom door. “Are you okay?” Blaise shouted.
Leslie didn’t answer right away. Blaise asked him twice more, her tone of voice becoming more afraid each time.
“Fine,” Leslie mumbled. “I’m fine.”
A message arrived in his IPI:
Your next assignment is:
1066 OLD BAKERY AVENUE
Instrument of Choice:
GLOCK 43 WITH SUPPRESSOR ATTACHED
Time to Complete:
No. No, something was wrong. A bug, a glitch. Something. It wasn’t right.
“What the fuck?” Blaise’s scream sent shivers along Leslie’s spine, as strong as the cold water shivers he felt now.
Leslie shut off the water and dashed out of the bathroom, water cascading off his sopping clothes. In the bedroom, Blaise stared incredulously into Leslie’s phone.
“What the fuck is this?”
She held out the phone, which brandished the image of the dead Hawthornes. Leslie’s heart pounded wildly, then sank into his bowels.
“Why were you looking through my phone?” he asked. His voice was steady in spite of his shivering.
Blaise snorted. “Really? That’s what you’re going to say? Tell me what the fuck this picture is doing on your fucking phone, Les.”
A bitter smile drew across Blaise’s lips. She shook her head slowly. “These pictures were on the news. Are you the Executioner?”
Leslie’s silence and downward gaze told Blaise all she needed to know.
“Jesus Christ…” she said.
The timer in Leslie’s IPI dipped below two minutes. The numbers pulsed in blood-red, in sync with his own heartbeat. PAN began listing the consequences of Leslie’s failure to complete the assignment.
Leslie held up his hands, both empty, for Blaise to see. “I’m going to get a towel. When I come out, let’s talk.”
He retreated into the bathroom. He picked up his gun. He returned to the bedroom and pointed the muzzle at Blaise’s chest.
Her eyes widened. “You can’t be serious.”
Leslie’s IPI counted down the seconds: 52… 51… 50…
“It’s your job now, isn’t it?” Blaise asked. “The Pines Executioner thing. It’s why our rations are so high. Why you keep disappearing, sometimes for days.”
40… 39… 38…
Leslie thought of the kid standing in the hallway, and Leslie standing beside the dead parents. It occurred to him that PAN knew everything, including what Leslie was doing right at that moment. It knew every detail about every killer before him. And it was adding Leslie, the first serial killer in 100 years, to its database. Leslie Farringer Hill, the Pines Executioner. He slaughtered a family and ruined a kid’s life… because he was Reassigned.
“No,” he whimpered, a line of tears running past his nose. He shook his head angrily. “No.”
19… 18… 17…
Leslie hurtled the gun against a far wall. “Get out of here,” he commanded.
Blaise didn’t hesitate. She dropped the phone and sprinted for the door, leaving Leslie as alone as he’d left the little boy.
The timer expired. The IPI deemed the assignment a failure. It commanded Leslie to stay in his place of residency, reminded him penalties would be issued in accordance with PAN Law 00841… So on and so forth.
Reviews welcomed before publish the rest. Thanks for reading....