short stories


Haydn Poe ducked behind a neon street sign, her gun concealed against her body. The thrum of hover vehicles whizzing by on the intersection made the hair on her arms stand on end. Her breath billowed like smoke in the gelid winter air. Her rose-pink hair was hidden under a dark blue hood, which blended in as well as could be expected with the sharp outlines of buildings bathed in the bluish glow of streetlights. A storefront on her left boasted the best pre-birth DNA editing services a mother could hope for. It was an old building, dated by its flecked white paint. It was where her mother had gone, when she decided her daughter would have pink hair. And it was where Haydn went, when she decided she wanted her daughters to be natural-born enforcers, just like herself.

Keen reflexes, perfect eyesight, control over emotions. That was what one needed to be enforcer. That, and a willingness to kill.

Her target was on the move.

Severus Renditia. Age 13. The ex-apprentice of a glass blower. Marked expendable for refusing to do manual labor. Blue eyes, red hair. IQ of 80.

The same age as her boy. Ah well, it couldn’t be helped. Someone had to do her job, or else the city would be overrun by the unwanted. A person could only be marked expendable by someone who has custody over them. That meant most of her targets were children and the elderly. The state could also mark convicted criminals as expendable as a punishment, and frequently did.

She got no pleasure out of it. That was the difference between the good and bad enforcers. The bad enforcers were warped in mind, sadistic. Haydn was one of the good enforcers. She didn’t care enough about the process of killing to be sadistic.

Haydn eased out from behind the sign and pressed a button on one of the streetlights. The raindrop-shaped vehicles all went from 70 miles an hour to a full stop in less than a second, dropping to the ground. She weaved her way past them to the other side of the road. Three seconds later, the vehicles rose above the road and flung forward. They were propelled by magnetics. The undersides of the vehicles formed opposing poles to the poles on the surface of the road, propelling them upward. Jets drove them forward, and guardrails on the sides of the road kept the magnetic field limited to the roads, and the button turned that section of magnaroad on and off.

You could get arrested for playing with the buttons. She’d seen a four-year-old arrested for turning it off again and again, when his father wasn’t paying attention.

It only stayed off for five seconds. After that, the vehicles would still be no danger to pedestrians because their internal GPS allowed them to avoid obstacles, but the magnets were strong enough to be dangerous. They would have ripped out Haydn’s nose piercing, pinned her to the ground by her e-bracelet, and disarmed her of the gun in her hand and the knife strapped loosely to her underarm. Not fun.

Haydn stepped lightly along the sidewalk, keeping an eye on her target. He was wearing a grey hoodie pulled over his red curls, and she could tell by his quickened pace that he suspected he was being followed. He disappeared down an alley.

Good. She preferred to dispatch him somewhere less public. To people unaccustomed to bloodshed, the sight of a nearby death often led to official complaints. On her last job, she had ended the life of an elderly gentleman with a throwing knife when he was crossing the road. When the road had turned back on, the embedded knife had nearly cut him in two as it was attracted to the ground. She’d been blocked on social media for that one by bystanders who had witnessed the brutal killing.

“I just want to speak to you,” Haydn called after the boy, following him into the alley. “I have a proposition for you. I could register you as my conscripted laborer.”

“Your slave, you mean,” Severus said, turning around slowly.

Haydn shrugged, flicking off her hood. Her crimson lips stretched into a smile. “Call it what you will. If I declare you mine, no one can harm you.”

Expendables could be killed by registered enforcers. The reward was 800 quen for destroying one. It was a lucrative business, for those who could stomach it. And the knowledge that one was doing good for the community was a bonus. Fewer people meant higher quality of life for those remaining. Besides, only the unwanted were expendable.

She heard footsteps behind her, and her smile twisted into a grimace. Her fellow enforcer, Melody, used Haydn’s tracking skills to find targets and then tried to kill them first.

Haydn swore, and put her body between Melody and the boy. Haydn got closer until they were face to face, and brought up her e-bracelet as if to register him as a conscripted laborer. The hidden knife against Haydn’s arm slid out and she had gashed his throat open before he could even blink. Blood spattered against her face. Catching him, she lowered him to the ground as he gave a single gasp and fell silent.

Automatically, she touched a button on her e-bracelet. A silver light enveloped the body as it read his DNA. “Confirmed expendable,” the e-bracelet chirped. “Reward 800 quen now being transferred to your account. Congratulations on a successful hunt.”

The scanner made sure that no one had already claimed the reward by checking the DNA against a database. A long time ago, Haydn had not felt the need to scan the remains so quickly. That was before Melody had swept in on one of her kills and scanned it first. Now the motion was robotic and instantaneous.

“Nice one,” Melody said. Her voice dipped to a whisper of disappointment. She was blonde, short, overweight. IQ of 114. She offered Haydn a stained pastel yellow cloth.

“Harpy,” Haydn jeered, wiping her face with the proffered rag. The street-cleaning crew was notified when a successful hunt was made, so Severus’s body would barely have the time to grow cold.

“You know I can’t compete with you,” Melody said, sniffing. Her nose seemed to run perpetually. Her pudgy hand rubbed at it.  “You need to leave some for me. I’m barely scraping by, and you’re rich enough as it is.”

“When you’re old, and your kids mark you as expendable, which no doubt they will,” Haydn said, “I will thoroughly enjoy putting a bullet through your skull.” That would be one death she could appreciate, despite being a good enforcer.

Melody flinched and backed away as Haydn threw the balled up, blood-streaked rag at her. Haydn could see her bulgy blue eyes misting over with tears. Desperation was always ugly. “One day, I will beat you to a kill again,” Melody said, straightening up.

“Never again,” Haydn pushed past her and stepped onto the lit sidewalk. Time to go home.

. . .

Bessemer scrubbed the grey table with a wet rag until it shone. He had pale hair, almost white, but unfortunately pink-tinted. He felt that he had lost the DNA lottery. His older sisters, Prelude and Theremin, had been born lucky. Their hair was as snow-white as their father’s. In appearance, Bessemer took after his mother. The same hazel eyes, the same slender fingers, the same aquiline nose.

His mother Haydn and his father Crowe had disagreed on the point of DNA editing. Crowe believed that it was better to let children be born naturally. In the end, after many terse arguments between the two, they had compromised. Prelude and Theremin were altered before birth, while Bessemer was left as-is. Lucky him. It was not as if Crowe cared about him, anyway—Crowe had made that clear enough in the past. Winning the argument against Haydn meant more to Crowe than what was best for his son.

In everything other than appearance, Bessemer and his mother were polar opposites. The sight of blood made Bessemer queasy, and he had no interest in weapons training. He was a morning person, she was a night owl. He felt guilty for killing mosquitoes, while she killed children and remained guiltless.

He heard a noise at the door as his mother touched her hand to the DNA validation tablet. The system recognized her, and the door slid open mechanically.

“Bes,” Haydn said affectionately, spreading her arms to embrace him. Bessemer flinched and shrank away. The kitchen table formed a barrier between them, and he rubbed a spot on the table with his cloth.

“Your face,” Bessemer stuttered, staring at his own reflection on the wet table. “There’s blood on your face.” His stomach churned, and he swallowed dryly. Crimson dusted Haydn’s face like freckles.

Haydn’s breath whooshed out of her like a depressed balloon. She held out her hand and Bessemer deposited the cloth into it. Scrubbing viciously at her face with one hand, she placed the other on her son’s shoulder.

“How was school?” she asked.

Bessemer shrugged, trying to still his trembling fingers. “It was school. How was work?”

He immediately regretted asking as she filled him in on all the details.

 . . .

An ache blossomed in Haydn’s temples as her son’s wide eyes watched her warily. More than anything, she wanted Bessemer to love her, but he couldn’t look past her profession. More than once, he had asked her to quit her job as enforcer to stay at home, since her husband’s job provided enough to support the family comfortably.

He had especially asked her not to take on this recent hunt. Apparently he knew Severus. They weren’t friends, but they went to the same school. Haydn was shocked that seeing Severus in the hallways was enough to make Bessemer feel an attachment, when he had rarely showed a connection to his own mother.

Her clouded expression cleared when Prelude flounced into the room, her face radiant with interest. She immediately asked Haydn to repeat herself, and listened with rapturous attention to the entire account. “When will I be able to go on my first hunt?” She was technically old enough at eighteen years, and all of her private training had given her the skills required.

“Next time,” Haydn said, pleased that at least her daughters showed promise.

Crowe slouched into the kitchen, took one look at her, and grimaced. “Missed a spot,” he said. “Under your left eye.”

The tension in the room stretched and became palpable. Haydn swiped at the spot under her eye and smiled frostily. “You didn’t prepare dinner.”

“No,” Crowe said, his voice edged with irritation. “I ordered out.”


“Yes, again. I’m tired when I come home too, you know.”

Haydn snorted. “Hard day at work?”

“Hi mom,” Theremin interrupted. She had just entered. She was short, only five feet tall. The rest of her family called her the diplomat. They were all crowded now, into the little kitchen. She took in the situation at a glance and put it to rights by asking her parent’s questions until their anger was diffused.

They ate in silence.

After the meal, Bessemer went straight to bed. Haydn followed him, and seated herself on the edge of his bed. She leaned forward and kissed his forehead, seeing the disapproval in his eyes. “I love you,” she said simply. “You are wanted.”

The worst moment in Haydn’s life was when her own mother had told her she was not a wanted child. Her mother had considered marking her expendable when she was a contrary two-year-old, and had kicked her out of the house when Haydn was only sixteen. She had used DNA editing to manufacture the perfect child, but was not prepared to handle a living, breathing toddler with actual needs.

“No,” Bessemer replied. “You don’t. Love me, I mean. You want me to love you. That’s different. The thing about me is, I read people like I read novels. And you’re an open book, mom.”

They had always spoken like this. Open and to the point. Leaving scars and opening old wounds. They battled with words that cut worse than the knife she had sliced her target’s throat with.

“What if I want your love?” Haydn asked. “Is that too much to expect from my own son, my precious?”

“I do love you,” Bessemer said. “I just hate everything you stand for. And don’t kiss me again. You have blood on your face and your hands.”

Haydn glanced in the mirror above his bed. “No, I don’t.”

Bessemer’s eyes bored into her. “You can never wash it off,” he whispered. “Severus was my age.”

“I’ve ended younger lives.”

“I know.” Bessemer said. “Doesn’t it mean something to you? A life? Doesn’t a life mean something?”

“It does,” Haydn said. “It means something because of death, not in the absence of it. Everyone dies, Bes. I just speed up the process.”

“Dad hates what you do,” Bessemer said.

“He hates me. Period. And I hate him.”

“Why do you stay together then?”

Haydn hesitated. It was true, divorce was simple enough. All it took was switching one’s status on social media to single, and the union would legally be ended. The only problem was, in the case of a divorce, all male children were given up to the custody of the father, and all female children were given up to the custody of the mother.

“I don’t want to lose you,” she said.

Bessemer bent his knees and hugged his legs against him. His lips were trembling ever so slightly. Finally, he said, “Forget about me. Just do it.”

“You want me to leave.”

“Please,” Bessemer said. “I’m sorry. You killed Severus. It could have been me, mom. You don’t understand. It could have been me.” His eyes were directed to her feet, which were tucked up under her as she sat at the end of his bed.

Haydn’s voice rose and hardened. “Look at me. You are wanted. It could never be you.”

Bessemer snapped. “Just go! Don’t you get it? I don’t want you!”

Haydn’s face drained of color as fast as a watercolor portrait run under a faucet. She swung her legs out from under her, stealing out of the room before he could see the tears budding at the corners of her eyes. Walking down the hall, she stopped at a screen built into the wall. With a few swift swipes, she ended her union with Crowe. It was that easy.

She took a deep breath. Bursting into Prelude and Theremin’s room, she said, “It’s time to go on that hunt I promised.

Theremin looked up, startled. Prelude was snoring softly. In another bedroom, Crowe swore. He had been automatically notified that when his own profile updated his status to single.

Haydn exited the house with her daughters in tow, but not before she passed Bessemer’s room and heard him crying. She almost regretted her actions. Almost.

. . .

Bessemer rubbed his eyes, choking back another sob. He hated how he was this sensitive. He almost regretted what he had said to his mother. Almost. They had always spoken this frankly, but she had never before acted on his words. He curled into a ball and let his tears seep into the pillow. He hadn’t told his mother, but Severus had not been just another guy. He had been a friend. His mother had killed a friend. Bessemer’s family was well-off. They weren’t supposed to associate with lowly apprentices like Severus, so he tactfully avoided mentioning their friendship to his mother.

“Bes!” Crowe bellowed, slamming the door open. “Your mother is gone. You’re mine, now.”

Bessemer sniffled, and wiped his nose with his arm. “That’s ok,” he mumbled. “I didn’t want mom. I want you.”

Crowe’s face creased into a snarl. “Well, I don’t want you. I want to be alone.” And with three quick flicks, he switched Bessemer’s status.

“Expendable,” Bessemer breathed.

 . . .

Haydn used her e-bracelet to switch through the list of expendables. She wanted to find an expendable as far away as possible, somewhere she could go with the girls and eventually settle down and make a home, a place crawling with expendables where she could earn her keep.

“Are you okay, mom?” Theremin asked, her voice fluctuating in panic. She knew by now what had happened. “What about Bes?”

“Bes is where he wanted to be,” Haydn snapped. “He’s happily living with his beloved father.”

Prelude laughed quietly at the thought that her father could be the beloved of anyone.

They were on top of a local shop. They had accessed the flat roof via a rickety ladder nailed precariously to the side of the building.

Her e-bracelet beeped. A new expendable was listed for her area. It would be better to let Melody get this one, especially if she were leaving the area.

She ignored it and moved on. Ellis City, Tharsis, Illyria… Her curiosity eventually got the better of her and she checked the listing for her area. And her mouth opened in a silent scream. “Bes,” she gasped finally.

Crowe had punished her in the only way he knew how.

She had to get to Bes first.

“Prelude, Theramin.” She grabbed each by the elbow. We need to find your brother.”

“Try back home,” Prelude suggested. “I bet the poor kid’s still trembling under his blankets.”

“Not with Crowe there,” Theramin said. She was staring at the e-bracelet. She recognized her brother’s image. “He’ll want to get as far away from Crowe as possible.”

 “True, but he couldn’t have gotten far from home,” Prelude concurred.

“Will you make him your slave?” Theramin asked.

“As if I have a choice,” Haydn snapped. “You know I don’t have a choice.”

“Will he be our slave too?” Prelude asked, a grin crossing her face like the Cheshire cat.

“No!” Haydn said. “He will be your brother. And we have to hurry.”

Haydn gripped the rungs of the ladder and swung herself down, then gave her daughters a hand. They slipped through the cold night. It had begun to snow, white flakes sifting gently to the earth. Vehicles swished by through the snow, and the glow from the road and the surrounding streetlights made the night radiant.

Bessemer Ultera. Age 13. IQ of 120. Marked expendable because of mother’s mistake, marked unwanted by father. Pink-tipped white hair, hazel eyes, slender fingers, aquiline nose, gentle demeanor, honest soul. Bes.

“Bes!” she shouted into the wind.

“Bes!” Theramin said.

Prelude smirked. She had never been close to her brother. “We need to split up.”

Haydn knew she wasn’t thinking straight, but this was no ordinary job. Normally she couldn’t call for her targets with the hope they would come. There was a tiny part inside of her that feared that he wouldn’t come if she called him.

They separated, each choosing a different direction. Theramin tried to go back to the house, where she hoped to negotiate with Crowe. Crowe could still change the status of Bessemer, and she was not called the diplomat for nothing. Prelude headed to the south, and Haydn headed north, where she had found her last target. It seemed to her to be good luck to move in the direction of her latest success.

Sure enough, she caught sight of his blue parka across the street.

“Bes!” she screamed, pressing the button on the streetlamp.

The vehicles stopped and descended abruptly. The figure took off running. Haydn’s heart dropped into her stomach. “Come back!” she called, weaving her way among the vehicles to the other side. “Wait!”

Bessemer ducked into the alley where she had cornered Severus. She knew it was a dead end, and relief washed over her. She slowed down now, taking a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth. She hated that she would have to convince him to become her slave. It was deplorable. She had never had any intention of turning Severus into her slave, she had only wanted him to stop running, so she wouldn’t have any risk of missing her target and Melody wouldn’t have a chance to get him first.

“Bes!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.

“Stay away!” Bessemer yelled back, turning to face her. His face shone like the moon from the light of the streetlight, which beamed down on him as if he were being interrogated.

Her beautiful son, she loved him so much. His pinkish hair so like her own, his slender fingers, his hazel eyes, his aquiline nose. Feeling unwanted, just as she felt. So like her, in so many ways.

Why hadn’t she seen it before?

“Stay back,” he warned. “You can’t do this.”

Haydn remembered how he said it could’ve been him. Now she knew where his mind was going. “I’m not here to kill you,” she said, hurt. “How could you suspect your own mother?”

Bessemer’s face was screwed in an expression of distrust. He continued to back away, almost to the wall of the alley.

“Where are Prelude and Theramin?” he asked, eyes darting to the rooftops. “Where are they and what are they doing?”

“Do you think we’re planning an ambush?” Haydn cried. “I love you. I came because I care about you. You are still wanted.”

“Those are just words,” Bessemer said, crossing his arms in front of him.  “Your actions will always show where your heart lies. There were always be blood on your hands, and that is why I can never trust you, no matter what you say.”

Haydn lifted her e-bracelet. “I’ll make you my conscripted laborer. All you have to is place your hand on my bracelet. I’ve already changed your status, you just have to touch it to make it official. Just—take my hand.”

“I don’t want to be your slave!” Bessemer cried. “I don’t even want to be your son! I can never forgive you for what you did to Severus. He was my friend, mom, at school. I knew you would be angry at me for becoming friends with an apprentice like him, so I never told you, but it shouldn’t have mattered. He was just a kid!”

“He was unwanted.”

“Your life matters regardless of whether you are wanted!” Bessemer was screaming now. The soft whirr of the vehicles whipping by created a soft background to his words, which sank like bullets into her.

Haydn slowly approached him, reaching out her hands. This embrace he could not refuse. She was his mother.

“Don’t touch me with your bloody hands,” Bessemer said, a sob rising in his throat. He shrank backwards.

The sharp sound of a bullet split the air. Bessemer whimpered and slumped against the wall, hands reaching toward his mother, fingers outspread. A second bullet met his blue parka a second later and bit deep into him.

Haydn wailed and rushed at him, putting her arms around him. From the rooftop, she heard Melody’s low cackle. The harpy had finally managed a successful kill.

She touched the edges of his pink hair and cradled him in her arms. “Bessy, oh Bes,” she murmured. His parka was stained with crimson, and her fingers became slick with his blood as she stroked his coat.

From a distant corner of her awareness, she realized the Melody was approaching. Numbly, automatically, Haydn touched the button on her e-bracelet.

A silver light enveloped the body as it read his DNA. “Confirmed expendable,” the e-bracelet chirped. “Reward 800 quen now being transferred to your account.”

Sobs of horror wracked Haydn as she realized what she had done.

“Congratulations on a successful hunt.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s