The Pursuit of Universal Happiness

Submitted into Contest #108 in response to: Write about a person or object vanishing into thin air.... view prompt


Science Fiction Crime Suspense

At a time not too far in the future….

It was exactly 2400 hours and Controller 7564385ZE, known informally to his friends as Zed, stood in the entrance to his work-pod, anxious to start his usual 12-hour shift. He was never late for work, partly because such a mistake was grounds for dismissal as a Zone Controller and partly because promptness was his natural inclination. He was relieving Controller 8999541AL, nicknamed Solo Al, who was not a close friend but more of an acquaintance. Zed nodded to him as they swapped positions in the work pod and exchanged pleasantries coming in and going out. 

A key part of Zed’s sense of responsibility in his job was based on his daily and continuing obligation to the 100,000 Citizens who lived in his Zone and were under his control. They did not know him or were even aware of his existence but he did know all about them, at least data-wise. And he actually did enjoy being a Controller and serving the State. Good pay and relatively undemanding work except for the occasional urgency that required his total attention. Maintaining the status quo of the State was a suitable life role for him.

He sat down in his moderno-chaise positioned in front of the computer console and activated his computer screen by entering his logon code. The screen burst into life, ready to serve him for the next 12 hours. He mouse-clicked the Guide icon on the screen and the first page of the document appeared. At last count, it consisted of more than 10,000 pages. It was often referred to as the Controller’s bible, an archaic word about which he knew little of the origin.

The Guide dictated in minute detail every task and obligation that a Controller was responsible for. For example, it even stipulated how a male Controller was supposed to take a pee. Not to put too sharp a point on it, but it detailed the number of shakes required but did allow some latitude in this department. One of his favorite quotes from the Guide described his daily role: “The controller is the tip of the spear. If he or she departs from the true course of action, the entire enterprise is in jeopardy.”

He fully understood that his primary responsibility as a Controller was to manage and promote Universal Happiness (UH) among each of the 100,000 Citizens in the Zone under his supervision. There were five essential C Features that contributed to UH. They were (1) Contentment, (2) Contributions, (3) Congeniality, (4) Credibility, and (5) Creativity. 

To assist him in his daily tasks, he had access to an algorithm on his computer that periodically assessed and quantified each of these Features for his 100,000 Citizens. He was presented with a list throughout the day of individuals needing adjustments of their “C Features.” If any of them was out of whack, Zed’s job as Controller was to correct them. For example, if one of his Citizens was not smiling frequently enough to meet the Guide criterion of Congeniality, he would just dial up additional smiles for that person. This was only one minor example. Many of the necessary adjustments were more complex. 

You may be wondering at this point how the number of 100,000 was arrived at for the optimal Citizen population in the Zone, and all of other Zones for that matter. Simple! This was the number of people who could be maintained by the number of servings of Gruel that were manufactured daily. It was impossible, of course, to grow any crops or raise animals outside the Dome because of the constant radiation and the intense heat. There was also only limited quantities of raw materials that could be used to manufacture the necessary daily portions of Gruel. 

Because the number on people in Zed’s Zone was fixed, births had to be accommodated in relation to the fixed total population. This goal was achieved by the Adjustments of which there were two types: Implosions and Explosions. Implosions were the easiest action to describe. Imploded Citizens were compacted into 5-centimeter purple spheres in a matter of seconds. These spheres resembled small round and colorful rocks. They actually were quite useful for the State because they were often used for landscaping purposes around city buildings.

The indications for the Implosion of any Citizen was the continuing failure to achieve acceptable levels of the previously discussed C Features. As noted previously, one or even two of them could be adjusted by the responsible Controller. However, when three or four of them were out of whack, it was difficult to adjust that number for an extended period, given that the Controller had such a large population to manage. Hence the need to turn to Citizen Implosions.

Explosions on the other hand. and as the name suggests, were much more dramatic than Implosions. The individual in question began to puff up and then explode, releasing a gooey, tar-like substance that often splattered passers-by in the street or at homes. Explosions were relatively rare and used mainly for political and disciplinary reasons. As you can imagine, a cleaning crew often had to be dispatched to the site. Zed viewed Explosions as problematic. Most important for him, of course, was all of the paper work that was required for each case. Clean-ups were the responsibility of anther Zone unit and not his responsibility.

Truth be told, a significant part of his day’s work recently was a side hustle that he never discussed in public because it could result in serious disciplinary action from above. He had a tangential association with a number colleagues in the Zone who made personal loans to Citizens who may have come up short on Credits at the end of a month. To be fair, this was often no fault of their own but occasionally, was associated with their bad habits. The weekly interest on such informal loans, called “vig” by his colleagues, was high but totally understandaable under the circumstances. 

On occasion and understandably, one of his colleagues who made such loans would come to him for what they referred to as “remediation” of disputes when negotiations with their clients had reached a stalemate. Such remediation required the Implosion of the individuals who were on the short end of the loans. All such actions, of course, had to be accomplished within the boundaries established by the Guide. In such cases and as only one example, he most often would document the lack of Congeniality or even Credibility on the part of the targeted Citizens.


As Zed was sitting at his console, his communications icon began to flash with an urgent audible — BZZZZZZZ. It was an incoming video call from 4993612MA. This was a “must-take” call from his Controller Supervisor, known as Big Ma. She supervised 100 Controllers in the Zone and could be very short tempered. 

“Zed, how are you doing?” she asked. “We haven’t spoken for weeks.”

“Same-o, same-o,” Zed responded neutrally.

“I’ll get to the point quickly,” Big Ma said. “I am calling about your Implosion numbers of late. You, of course, were first stop for a proper explanation of this vexing issue,” she added. “You realize, of course, that Implosions can often cause concern among our Citizens, particularly for family members, and I want to confirm that my Controllers are operating beyond reproach.”

“Oh, give me a break,“ Zed responded, perhaps too quickly and forcefully. “I have been on top of this since your last call about this matter and operating strictly on the basis of the Guide. I think that you’re too focused on my Implosion numbers. This is just the luck of the draw. Besides, my Zone has historically had a very large number of anti-State actors. I continue to be on top of all this and I don’t like being criticized for being too aggressive. Why am I always in the crosshairs for too many Implosions? Is anyone else getting harangued in this same way?”

“Zed, Zed, please slow down and take a deep breath,” Big Ma responded. “The problem is not that you have too many Implosions. Our data shows that you have too few of them. Your Zone population is creeping far over the 100,000 target. There is a concern at Zone HQ that you were perhaps becoming hesitant in the pursuit of your assigned duties. Perhaps you have become sympathetic about your older Citizens with declining UH scores. Hence, your declining Implosion numbers.”

Zed nodded his head but did not respond immediately but he had to hold himself back from slapping the side of his head with his hand. Big Ma might have heard such a slap. “How stupid I have been,” he thought to himself. His “vig” colleagues has alerted him a month ago that a relatively large number of their clients were in arrears and Zed needed to be able to accommodate to a large number of Implosions on short notice. On this basis, he had allowed his population to creep up over target, assuming that it would soon be adjusted downward by a large number of Implosions at their request. This had been a major error on his part that had obviously aroused unwanted attention to his work performance by HQ. 

Feeling flustered and insecure, Zed said to Big Ma: “I apologize for causing you this concern about my performance. However, I assure you that I am not consciously avoiding any necessary Implosions. In fact, I am continuing to increasingly enjoy that facet of my work. Thanks for this heads-up and I will immediately attend to the necessary corrections.”

“Well, Zed,” she said, “we are counting of you to get your Implosion numbers back in sync. And, as you do this, please also pay attention to the location of your Implosions in the Zone. Our computer analysis is indicating a clustering of them in some of the more unsavory neighborhoods and we are at a loss to understand why this is happening.” The conversation with Big Ma had obviously run its course. 

“Sayonara, Zed,” she said and signed off. Her image on the screen disappeared.

It was the near the end of his shift. Luckily, Zed was prescient enough to have previously compiled a list of potential Citizen Implosions. He was primed for quick action and Imploded the entire list in one keystroke, quickly reaching the desired optimal number of Citizens. Satisfied that he had quickly responded to Big Ma’s concerns, he shut down his screen and computer console, getting ready to go home.


It was 1200 hours and Big Al was reporting to work to relieve Zed. He pushed open the door of the work-pod and was surprised to see that Zed was not inside. Instead, there was a small purple sphere tottering on the edge of the moderno-chaise. He thought to himself: “Another day, another Credit. I need to get to work.”

August 27, 2021 11:48

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Kevin Marlow
19:57 Sep 03, 2021

Turning excess humans into landscaping. That is an original idea!


Bruce Friedman
20:54 Sep 03, 2021

From one particular perspective, it's also ecologically sound.


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Rajiv Iyer
23:23 Jan 02, 2022

If we go with this idea, the earth will look very well-carpeted with lush greenery indeed. There's 8 billion of us after all, and counting. Dystopian & dark, but not a bad idea.


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Rajiv Iyer
23:25 Jan 02, 2022

Loved this dystopian farcical satire, with the twist at the end. With some tweaks & elaborations, this could become a "Black Mirror" episode.


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