How do you want to die?
Everyone has to go through it, but for the right price, you could choose how, when, and where.
Travis is one of the world's most well-known Deathwriters, a very rare group of individuals with the unique ability to bring about death through the medium of the written word. A personalized death written on one's behalf usually comes with a kingly price tag, but after a close personal encounter with death, Travis begins to question the entire system.
DEATHWRITER - Chapter 8
I fiddle with my keys while trying to balance my computer in one hand and a pile of student reports in the other (because for some reason we haven’t figured out how to use a decent online submissions site yet). Once I get the door open, I stumble inside, only to find a sharply-dressed woman with a tightly-wound bun and a thin set of glasses sitting in the guest chair, watching what appears to be the news on the television in the corner.
“West LA locals are heralding a local celebrity as a hero after it came to light that he’s been donating his fortune to pay for professionally-written deaths for youth in the area,” the reporter says. I close the door behind me and place my belongings down on the bench by my desk. “Nearly two dozen individuals have come forward, saying world-renowned Deathwriter and Hawthorne local Travis Warren approached them, offering to write their deaths for them, free of charge. Many of those given this rare opportunity, worth millions, seem to be randomly selected, connected only by the fact that they tend to come from underprivileged backgrounds, though further investigation has shown a trend of community involvement and acts of selfless service.”
“Just warms your damn heart, doesn’t it,” the woman says, drawing my attention away from the screen.
“Excuse me, who are you?”
The woman stands and offers me her hand. I take it, nearly recoiling at the touch of her cold fingers. “Agent Collins. Office of Special Interests. Please, take a seat.”
OSI. They’re in charge of running ADSA. She shows me her badge and gestures to my desk, though it takes every bit of self-control I have to keep myself from rolling my eyes at being told to take a seat in my own office. Nevertheless, I comply and wait as she returns to the guest chair.
“Well, Mr. Warren. You’re making quite the splash, aren’t you?”
“Doctor,” I repeat. “It’s Dr. Warren.” I admit, I rarely have people use my official title, but I’m somewhat irritated at the moment.
“Of course,” she admits, unimpressed. “Dr. Warren. Seems like you’ve been busy. Writing a lot of deaths?”
“I have. Is that a problem.”
“Well, that depends on who you’re asking,” she answers, her voice steady and sharp.
“I’m asking you.”
“Now that’s a different question entirely. Personally, I’d be inclined to agree with your local news. A hero, by all accounts. But say you were asking the United States Government? Well, things become a little less clear.”
“And why?” I huff, feeling my heart rate increase. “I pay all the dues, adhere to every Guild standard, maintain regulations on chaos and anonymity.”
Agent Collins waves her hand in front of her face in dismissal. “Oh, that’s crap. Uncle Sam doesn’t care about any of that. None of that matters.”
I snort. “You’re saying paradoxes don’t matter? The Guillemont Standard? The Renault principle of randomness?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Agent Collins replies, cutting through my sarcasm with a dark, pointed knife, so to speak. I tilt my head, unsure of how to respond, giving her only my expression of confusion and kindling distrust. “We made all that up. Well, Okoro and Renault did, actually. At our insistence. It was our condition for implementing ADSA at the Federal level, way back when.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, wringing my hands underneath my desk. I’m not sure what she’s getting at, but nothing she’s said so far has proven to be anything but hostile and ominously portentous.
“You realize, Dr. Warren,” she begins with an offensive sigh, “that our society balances on a very thin edge, teetering between order and chaos. I’m sure you’ve seen a little bit of that in the news over the past couple years. Now, there are a very select few that stand between those agents of disorder and complete anarchy—and I don’t mean the thin blue line, your everyday friendly neighborhood peace officer. I’m talking about people that have the very real power to make changes that tip society in the direction we want.”
She pushes on my pencil jar for effect, causing it to lean to one side. I take it from her and place it off to the side. “So, what? I’m supposed to be impressed? You’re here because you want me to help you or something?”
“I’m here because you’re screwing things up!” she scoffs snidely. “And because of the potential threat you pose to that balance!”
I laugh out loud, pouring in as much contempt as I dare. “Threat? What are you talking about?”
“Yes, Dr. Warren. Threat. To any reasonable outside observer, you most certainly seem like an angel sent from heaven. A hero to be put on a pedestal. But the ordinary Joe from Happytown, USA doesn’t see the grime behind the sausage making. You see, someone like you threatens to overturn the whole system. With you doing what you’re doing—and any other Deathwriter that follows in your footsteps—the poor start living longer, sticking around longer, moving up the rungs of society.”
“I’m failing to see the problem.”
“The problem, sir,” Agent Collins snips, evidently beginning to lose her steady coolness, “comes when urban areas start becoming overcrowded and out of control, lawless. And with more people demanding better employment, better living conditions, you start losing society’s base of minimum-wage earning workers. The economy falters, other nations start seeing our weakness. Et cetera, et cetera, the list goes on. It’s a wrench in the entire engine. There’s a reason things are the way they are. There’s a reason why change never goes beyond the occasional protest and strongly-worded post on social media. Because of us. And all of us, really. Because when it comes down to it, the people who have the power to make change don’t actually want to change the way things are. Because change is unpredictable. Unmanageable. Chaotic.”
I shake my head. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. This has to be a joke, right? There’s no other explanation. “I refuse to believe that,” I fume. “And it doesn’t matter. You have no authority over me. I haven’t broken any laws.”
“Yes it does, yes we do, and I don’t care,” Agent Collins retorts. “Here’s what we’re going to do. It’s very simple. We’re going to return the deaths you wrote and give those people something random again—we’ll come up with some cover—and then we’ll give you an option. Either you stop immediately and only do the jobs we tell you to do from now on, or we rewrite your death. What’s your choice?”
The blood drains from my face. I’m not sure whether to laugh or shout or to take her seriously. “You can’t,” I counter skeptically. “You’re not a Deathwriter. And I don’t know of a single one that would work with you.”
Agent Collins gives me a cold grin, folding her boney hands over her knee. “You don’t get it, do you? Okoro wrote ADSA. Everything ADSA produces holds his deathwriting authority.” She leans in closer. “And we control ADSA. Ergo, we can in fact do what we want.”
I know I should be feeling scared or cowering in humble awe, but all I feel is anger. A rush of fire swarming the surface of my forehead and cheeks. “What you’re telling me is that you use Okoro’s creation as a weapon. A tool created to save humankind, and you’re using it to play god with the citizens you swore to protect?”
Agent Collins stands and grabs her jacket hanging on the wall. “Sadly, Okoro did throw in some controls when he coded the system. Seems he didn’t trust the government entirely, imagine that. We can’t write just any death we want, but we do have the ability to press the random button as many times as we need.”
She opens the door and gives me one final warning glare. “Just a matter of playing Russian Roulette with your life until we get the outcome we want.”