Science Fiction Speculative Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Freya didn’t usually look out the window on her way to work. There wasn’t much to see. And anyway, there was always work to do, even first thing in the morning. 

But today, her Spectacle – a thin, curved strip of brushed metal magnetically attached to the temple of every other occupant of her bus – lay dormant in her lap. She couldn’t quite stomach the thought of notifications about Mails, Memos and Meets beaming directly into her eye. Instead, she stared absent-mindedly out at the corporate campus that she traveled through each day on her way to Keyes Pharmaceutical. 

As the bus, plastered inside and out with Keyes branding, silently turned the corner through to her section of Grove Industrial Campus, Freya spotted a building she’d never noticed before, un-distracted as she was by her unused Spectacle. 

A handsome old Victorian town-house, incongruous among the sleek office buildings, painted in pastel blue and pink, partly hidden behind a well-kept garden. Freya read the sign above the door: Grove Campus Daycare: For the Future.

A sleek black car pulled up outside the daycare and a woman – tall, beautiful, and expensively dressed – stepped out, followed by a toddler. Inside the bus, Freya winced, placed her Spectacle on her head and tapped it. Her eyes glazed over.


Daycare centers hadn’t always been a sore spot for Freya. They once represented hope, part of a future she had neatly planned out. But life, she had recently discovered, was complicated. 

The entire world had learned that lesson about twenty years previously. Unsafe chemicals, loose regulation and an inability to face problems until it was too late meant that the growing male fertility issue of the 2030s become a crisis by 2040 and an apocalyptic event by 2045. 

Freya didn’t remember too much of that time, except that her parents – in fact all the adults she knew – always looked frightened. When Fertilitee, previously Horizon Petrochemicals, announced in 2049 that its scientists had found a fix, she was 13. She remembered a bit more of that – in particular her mum and aunt putting up balloons and getting very drunk in the front room.

But as Freya would soon discover, though Fertilitee, and one other company, Conceive, had indeed found a solution, it wasn’t easy, nor was it cheap. It was the ultimate problem of supply and demand.

What’s more, there were endless hoops for prospective parents to jump through to even be considered. Before they could think about loans, let alone baby clothes, they had to contend with the characteristics reference agencies. Exvivron, the agency Freya picked when the time came for her and Noah to try, had revenues higher than the gross domestic product of the Netherlands. 

They spent years, half a lifetime, living a life that would give them their best shot. Then months finessing their application. Noah worked at the state-owned broadcaster, doing the tech for the nightly newscast, which beamed down every Spectacle. They thought his job might help – some good contacts, pull a few strings. 

But then, one day, one ordinary day, the message came. Application unsuccessful, it said. We appreciate this might not be the news you were hoping for. They had cried – Noah first, then Freya – then got angry – Freya first, then Noah – then together decided to seek an appeal.

Using one of her contacts from Keyes, Freya managed to skip the queue and get an appointment for a callback from an actual Fertilitee employee, rather than the ubiquitous chatbots. 

“Can you explain why we were rejected?” Freya asked, trying to be calm, polite. 

“We’re not in a position to do that, I’m afraid,” the Fertilitee employee replied. “We base our decisions on a wide range of information from various sources and the way we calculate risk is confidential.”

“Is it Exvivron? That’s the agency we use.”

“I can’t divulge that, I’m afraid. It is possible to apply one more time. If you’d like to do that, I can link you through to our payments team.”

But they didn’t have the money. And that, after years of work, was that. That was nine weeks ago.


Freya’s office canteen didn’t offer much choice, but then again, nowhere did any more. The meat ban, sky-high tariffs on wheat imports and record temperatures meant the supermarket shelves were nearly always empty. She sat alone, picking at her meager lunch. 

Her Spectacle buzzed: Noah. She tapped her temple. “Hey.”

“What time are you finishing tonight? Jamie’s got tickets for that party tonight. The one I was telling you about last week.”

“I don’t know,” Freya said. “I’m pretty tired.”

Noah took a while to respond. “Okay. I just-”

“It sounds good, obviously. Interesting. Just, maybe another time?”

Noah paused again. “Yeah. I just think … we’ve got to start doing other stuff at some point.”

“Other stuff? What do you mean?”

“You know. We used to stay in all the time because we were saving up, and trying to keep our health scores up, all that stuff. But it’s not happening, so …”

“So…?” Freya asked. “So we have to go to kink parties every Monday?”

“No, obviously not. And don’t say it like that, lots of people go to those parties. They’re not some dirty thing.” 

“People go to them because they’re bored, Noah. They go because they’re unfulfilled and … and because they don’t have any kids to look after. I don’t want to be like that,” Freya said.

“That’s rubbish. And anyway, we’re never going to have kids to look after either. Not unless you can find another two hundred grand. You’ve got to accept that.”

“You seem to have accepted it pretty easily,” Freya said, her voice starting to rise a little. “Did you even want it?”

“What the hell, Freya? I … that’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? I’ve been trying everything, looking at all the options, you just seem more interested in forgetting about it.”

“Options! What options? We had one chance, they said no, and that’s it,” Noah retorted.

He hung up. Freya put her head in her hands and tried not to scream.

“Freya? Everything alright?” It was Mark, the head of “partnerships” – the euphemistic term for desperately trying to keep their contract with Fertilitee. He was a known creep, but a well-connected creep. 

Freya quickly composed herself. She was well-practiced at hiding her emotions; the characteristics reference agencies were known to collect information from acquaintances on emotional stability. “Oh yeah, all good. Thanks.” 

Mark sat down next to her, just a little too close. “Are you sure? You can talk to me.”

Freya paused, then smiled sweetly. “Actually, there is one thing. Are you still in touch with Victoria at Exvivron?”

Mark shifted, slightly unsure of himself, but also a little smug. “How do you know about that?”

Freya giggled coquettishly. She was slightly overdoing it, but Mark wasn’t known for his subtlety. “Word gets around, you know. We all know you’re a bit of a … I don’t know if I should say.”

“It’s alright,” Mark said. “I don’t bite.”

“Well, a bit of a lothario. And anyway, the personal assistant to Ron Walmsley? That’s a big deal.” 

Mark puffed his chest out slightly. “I suppose. I still know her, yeah. What do you want with her, anyway?”

“Just a little favor.”


Freya was amazed what flattery and a simple phishing scam could achieve. Victoria had spilled the beans on her boss’s daily routine and her shortcut route into the private office of Ronald Walmsley, visionary CEO of Fertilitee. 

Freya hadn’t seen Noah for a few weeks. His absence had prompted something in her, possibly nihilism, or a long-simmering rage now boiled over. Either way, a long-held desire to upset the apple cart had turned quickly from a vague notion to a fully-formed plan. She’d already bought a throwaway Spectacle, which she used to delve into the darkest corners of the shadiest marketplaces. There, she bought contact lenses to trick the Fertilitee iris-readers. With Victoria’s unwitting assistance, she had everything she needed.

But it was vanishingly unlikely to succeed. A few months ago, she would have written off anybody considering it as a whackjob, a dangerous idiot. But she’d spent her entire adult life confined by a set of rules, capricious and administered by an unsympathetic corporate overseer. She wasn’t ready to be told that was all a waste of time. 

But she also wasn’t sure she was ready to break into one of the most well-guarded locations in the country and administer physical violence on one of the world’s most powerful people. She wasn’t ready, until, while idly flicking through her Spectacle Network, she saw it. “So blessed, happy and grateful,” it read. “It just goes to show where hard work and diligence can get you. Our beautiful family is about to get a bit bigger! Jenny and I are SO excited.”

Seb Hanson had written that. Seb Hanson, who lived off his parents’ teat, who took cocaine and got obliterated drunk at every work party. Seb Hanson, who overrode the autopilot while high and crashed his car, paralyzing a child. Seb Hanson, whose mother just so happened to be a high-up at Fertilitee. That put paid to any of Freya’s remaining doubts.


She hadn’t expected it to be quite so simple. But she found herself in Walmsley’s private office with relative ease. Walmsley glanced up from his desk as she approached, coffee in hand.

“No Victoria today?” he asked.

“Not today.” She set the coffee down, then punched him very hard in the throat. 

She’d already locked and blocked the door, and as Walmsley recoiled from the hit, she pushed him away from the desk, from where he could activate the alarms. She slipped the Spectacle, which she’d spent the last few days sharpening to a razor-sharp point, off her temple and approached Walmsley.

“I have a complaint,” Freya said.


“I said, I have a-”

“I heard you. Do you have any idea what you’re doing? Do you know how much security there is here?”

“I don’t care. Do as I say, or I’ll cut your throat. Freya and Noah Smith, 44 Burnmont Place, London. Application denied on 14-05-62. Un-deny it.”

“I can’t. It doesn’t work like that.” 

Freya was standing behind him now, holding the shiv to his throat. She pressed it in slightly, drawing a few tiny drops of blood. Walmsley whimpered. “That’s really not going to cut it,” she said.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I can’t overrule it. It’s the agencies, if they say no, there’s nothing we can do.”

Freya gripped her makeshift blade tighter, her knuckles turning white. “Well, you better figure something out. I’m here now, and I’ve really got nothing to lose. If I can’t get what I want, I’m happy enough to get revenge.” She started to drag the Spectacle slowly across Walmsley’s throat.

“Wait!” he screamed. “Please, just wait.” He sniffled a little. “We can do it. We can bypass the agencies, it’s fine, we do it all the time. For rich kids and stuff. I just have to make some calls.”

“That’s more like it. No funny business though, I … hang on, what did you say? You do it all the time?”

“Just, let me make the calls-” Walmsley cried out in pain as Freya applied pressure once more. 

“What do you mean, you “do it all the time”?” Freya asked, emphasizing every word.

“We … it’s not that difficult. The process, you know, it’s just not that hard, or expensive. It was to start with, obviously, but we’ve got better at it, and now it’s cheap. But we decided, with Conceive and the agencies, to keep it exclusive. We wouldn’t make any money otherwise. You know what it’s like, there’s no jobs any more. We employ thousands of people.”

Before Freya could respond, the door to the office broke down in a hail of noise and splintered wood. A huge, hulking man stepped through the hole, pointing a gun at Freya and Walmsley.

“Oh thank God, Stan, help me!” 

Stan stepped forward, continuing to aim his gun steadily at the pair. “I heard what you were saying there. Did she hear that too?”

“Yes. Yes, she shouldn’t know that. Get rid of her.”

Stan fired.

Walmsley slumped to the floor, a hole in his head. Freya looked up at Stan, mouth wide open. 

“What … what?”

Stan looked angry, but appeared unfazed by the act he’d just committed. He calmly pulled the gigantic mahogany desk towards the door, and lifted it with astonishing ease onto its side, boarding up the door he’d just smashed down. 

“I’ve tried too,” he said. “It’s the only reason I took this job – I thought the connections would help me. But they just screw you over, no matter how much you suck up to them. Got rejected last week.”

Freya opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it once again. No noise came out.

“That happens to a lot of people the first time they see someone get shot,” Stan said. “It’s not very nice, I agree. But he deserved it.”

Freya’s brain finally caught up. “Maybe, but he just spilled the biggest secret in the world and now nobody will know.”

Stan shook his head.


Freya had explained the situation to Noah on the way over to the UKCast studio. She knew the Spectacles were monitored, but hoped they’d fly below the radar just long enough to do what they needed. 

The plan was for Noah to hijack the feed and plug in the security footage Stan had stolen, combined with the recording from his own Spectacle as he’d listened from just outside Walmsley’s office door. He’d burned the recording on to a physical disk – something Freya had never seen before – in case the authorities figured out what had happened and erased it from the centralized data store.

Noah was loitering outside when they arrived. After an initial awkward hello, with Stan standing a polite but protective distance away, he and Freya embraced.

“God. What got into you? This is nuts.”

“I lost a child, then I lost you,” Freya said. “I couldn’t just do nothing.”

Noah looked at his feet, then up at Freya’s. “You know this is probably going to be the end for us? Not like, “us”, I mean … Well, they’re probably going to kill us.”

“I’m OK with it if you are.”

“I guess I am. Probably too late already.” He hugged Freya again, tight. Then, grabbing hold of the disks provided by Stan, walked up the steps into the studio.

Freya turned towards Stan, her eyes moist. “What are you going to do?”

“Get out of here, for a start. You don’t mind?”

“No. Go see your wife.”


Freya felt a weird sense of calm as she sat at home that night. She’d watched the nightly Newscast; Noah had nailed it. He had always been very techy, and clearly his bosses hadn’t managed to catch it in time. The footage of Walmsley’s accidental confession played four and a half times on repeat before the cast went black. Since then, she’d sat in the dark, waiting for the door to get kicked down.

She’d expected that to happen no more than an hour after the ‘cast – the surveillance department was very quick. But, three hours later, nothing had come. She’d jumped when her Spectacle buzzed, about two hours after the cast, with a call from Noah, but it was just background noise, and what sounded like people yelling.

Just after 10pm, after she’d poured herself a second glass of wine, a thump outside shook her out of her reverie. Here it comes, she thought. Another thump, and a yell. Then several more. But there didn’t seem to be any sound at her door – if anything, it was moving past it. She tiptoed towards the window, holding her breath.

There was no sign of uniformed men picking the lock. No unmarked police van. Instead, a few hundred people were marching down the street. One had a makeshift drum. Several were holding banners. Now she was closer to the street, she heard chants and whistles. 

She stepped out, and joined the tide.


After about an hour of marching, during which time the crowd had built to a few thousand, they’d converged on Trafalgar Square, chaotic and loud with angry voices. Freya let herself be taken along with it, basking in the anonymity, all around her unaware of her hand in their righteous outrage. 

The giant UKCast screen, draped in front of what used to be the National Gallery, flickered into life. The crowd booed. Susan Albion, the state’s presenter of choice, looked out at the crowd, her lips pursed into a stern frown.

“Many of you were shocked by the footage you saw tonight. Rest assured, this vile hijack of our national broadcast is an act of terrorism that will not go unpunished. What’s more, it is false. Scandalous disinformation designed to sow a false narrative. Do not be fooled-”

A glass bottle, burning bright with a lit rag attached, thrown by an unknown figure in the crowd, slammed into Susan’s shoulder and exploded. The screen jolted and flickered before turning black. A roar went up from the crowd. Freya smiled.

June 16, 2022 21:50

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