TW: child killing
The first thing Freya woke up to on Saturday night was the sound of the window being smashed in. She leapt out of bed, the adrenaline shooting through her veins instantly waking her up.
“Get the kids,” she hissed loudly at her husband, who was already bolting out the door of their bedroom. She rushed out behind him, hot on his heels - then skidded to a stop. In front of her were the remains of her living room window, which was now just a jagged hole in the wall. In front of it stood two men, broad shouldered and shrouded in black Kevlar. Her heart stopped just as her feet did.
“Societal Supervision Squadron. We’re here to investigate claims about the disobeying of the population control restrictions.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re probably in the wrong home. This is completely disrespectful and wrong,” Freya tried to argue, mouth dry, but she knew deep down that it was pointless. The SSS never, ever raided a home without concrete evidence first. Her mind raced. What evidence could they have given? They’d been so careful.
Her husband, Mark, slowly inched towards the door frame. If he could just get the kids out, if he could just sneak them through the back door-
“FREEZE,” a voice boomed from behind them. A third man, looking exactly like the first two, stepped through the door, his boots crunching on the broken glass. In his fists he dragged three children - two girls and one boy.
“What a disgrace to this beautiful nation, to disrespect its laws and flaunt your disobedience in its face. This is what you think of the nation? You believe you are better than the rest? You believe the rules don’t apply to you? These laws were made for your protection and safety. These laws were made so that everyone would have enough food, enough space, enough resources to live long and healthy lives. And yet you are so selfish, you birth child after child like a common peasant. You know perfectly well that if you are permitted to have one son and one daughter. Any further children, accidental or otherwise, must be terminated as soon as possible. What is this, then? Explain yourselves.”
“That’s not our child. She’s our daughter’s best friend, she’s just sleeping over,” Mark said, making direct eye contact and pushing his shoulders back.
“It is not advisable to lie to an SSS officer,” the third man, still holding the children, warned.
“It was an accident,” Freya pleaded. Maybe they’d listen if they knew she was telling the truth. “She wasn’t supposed to be born, she wasn’t supposed to live past the womb, but I guess it was a sort of miracle, because she lived. A miracle baby, and-”
“You know there are post-birth termination options as well. This is not a new phenomenon. You chose not to deliver at a hospital because you knew there was a chance she would live. Probably felt the kicking.”
“Please, we’ll do anything. We’ll pay the fines and I’ll get another job and pay higher taxes, we’ll move out of the city, and we really haven’t taken anything more than what’s been rationed, I promise, you can check our records,” Freya’s eyes filled with tears, and as much as she tried to choke them back, she couldn’t. They spilled over, flowing onto the shards beneath her bleeding feet.
“The law is the law. We cannot bend or break it for anyone.” The first man appeared to be the most sympathetic; the third was downright enjoying the experience.
“Time to terminate,” he announced, and although his face was masked Freya could have sworn she heard a smile in his voice.
“DON’T! Kill me instead,” she sobbed, having utterly lost all composure.
“You’re a productive member of society. You can still work, you are educated and trained. More importantly, you are legal,” the third man said with nasty delight. “Because you have allowed your children to grow into thinking, feeling beings, despite this clearly being against the law, we will allow them to choose who dies.”
Freya turned, horrified, to her children, who were all shaking with silent sobs. Althea, the eleven years old, nearly immediately turned to her sister, Ismena, who stood, frozen, as if rooted to the floor. Their brother, Cassian, the eldest, stood between them. The threatening hand of the third man hovered over them, gloved and angry.
“One of the girls must die,” he said, the delight apparent in the way he spoke.
“Take me,” Freya begged, but her voice was drowned out. Freya could see the light of relief behind Cassian’s eyes. He was safe, and he knew it. Another privilege of being a boy. Althea and Ismena crept next to each other, sweaty palms gripping each other. Ismena only reached up to her shoulders, but besides the height difference, they could have been twins; their hair fell in loose waves around their shoulders, locks intermingling, Althea’s lighter ones and Ismena’s slightly darker ones. Two pairs of big, tear-filled eyes blinked at Freya.
“Take me,” the voice was hesitant and thin, but Althea appeared determined. “I’m older, I got to see more life than Ismena anyway. She deserves a chance to experience more.” Freya’s heart dropped at that instant. Older? More experienced? A child, protecting another child, equally naive.
“Take Ismena.” Cassian’s voice shattered the silence. “She’s the one who shouldn’t have lived anyway.”
The sentence stopped Freya in her tracks. She turned to Cassian, tears on her cheeks. “Are you crazy? They’re both your sisters! How can you pick so callously?”
Cassian shrugged. “She’s never lived outside. All her education is homeschooling. She has like five friends.”
“Cassian!” Freya was horrified.
“Althea’s had experiences, had friends-”
“Which is why Ismena deserves to live and have them too,” Althea interrupted, still staunch in her savior complex.
“I know you! The world knows you! You have so much left to do! Don’t throw it away for a girl who’s barely been to the grocery store!” Cassian pleaded, taking Althea by the arm.
“They are both your sisters!”
“Althea is my sister! Ismena is a fugitive living in my home! She will grow up a cripple, unable to marry or have kids or a job to support herself. She will be a parasite, forever living on the fringes of society, and we will have to be your hosts when you are dead, unhappily feeding her slivers of the outside world.”
“If I die, Ismena can experience the world. She’ll have started late, yes, but she’ll have a family and a job and life.”
“Do you see now, why we make these rules?” One of the men turned to Freya. “Every time you birth an extra child, you are taking the place of someone who deserved it. Althea, or Ismena, but our world cannot support both.”
“ME,” Althea gasped, pushing her sister behind her.
“Do whatever you want, just don’t hurt them, don’t kill them, please, please, I’ll do anything,” Freya sobbed.
“Take Ismena!” Cassian tried to drag Ismena out from behind her sister.
“SILENCE.” The third man’s voice boomed. “We have a lot to do today. There is no time for your hysterics.” He leveled his gaze at the girls.
“Cassian, who do you choose to terminate?”
“Althea, who do you choose to terminate?”
“Ismena, who do you choose to terminate?”
Ismena stood, rooted to her spot. She clearly knew the noble answer would be herself, but the self preservation instinct in her was too strong, and she couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“Ismena, who do you choose to terminate?” The man repeated. “A lack of answer is an answer in itself.”
“Don’t kill me, please, don’t kill Althea either,” Ismena whimpered softly, the magnitude of the question she was being asked crushing her.
In one smooth, swift action, the man pulled out a gun and shot Ismena. A red flower seeped through her shirt as she crumbled to the floor. Small cuts appeared on her lifeless skin as she hit the glass shards from the broken window.
Freya let out a singular, piercing wail as she collapsed to the ground, clutching her smallest child in her hands. Althea, equally horrified, dropped to her knees and gathered Ismena’s head in her hands. Cassian stood, frozen, motionless, as if he hadn’t really expected his wish to be fulfilled, as if it was all an unpleasant thought experiment and now he was having to bear the consequences of it.
The man turned to Mark. “It’s too bad you have to die too, but both you and your wife are still fertile and we can’t risk another accident happening. She has more value to the society than you are. It’s nothing personal.” And with that, Mark was also a lump on the ground, the rest of the family flinching their way to his bleeding side.
“Why… why Ismena? It was one to one,” Cassian’s voice faltered as he gaped at the devastation around him.
“Althea was selfless. We like to see those values. She will be more productive than most,” he said, brushing the dust off himself. Then he turned to Freya. “This is why we don’t disobey the rules. The point of living in a society is abiding by common rules. You were selfish, you were punished. You are forgiven now. Do not consider doing it again.” Then the three men collected their items, turned around, and disappeared back into the cold night, through the broken window, protected from the shards by their thick clothing and clanging guns.
A family of five, reduced to a group of three, all guilty in their own unique way. Two bleeding forms on the ground. A deathly silence.
By the next day, the morgue had collected the bodies. Freya sat into bed and stared at the wall, unblinking, unfeeling, refusing to eat or sleep. Cassian and Althea slowly cleared the glass from the floor and scrubbed the blood away; the floor had never sparkled so much.
“Should we cover it?” Cassian asked, staring at the window. “It’s letting all the cold and dirt in. We could get a blanket, or-”
“Thea, we can’t keep it like this forever. It hurts for me too, but-”
And so the window stayed, broken and open, not just for the next few days but for the next few years. Freya died just six months after the event - her heart couldn’t cope. Once she got into bed again she never got out.
Cassian and Althea kept the house and raised themselves in it, a silent pact between them. The only way to survive was to not feel guilty. So they moved on with their lives, got families, got jobs, but they never sold the house. And they never, ever repaired the window.