1 chapter one

Fifty-four. That's how long they gave me. No, it's not what you're thinking, in fact it's so much worse. My time isn't limited by disease or anything like that. My time is limited because I'm not important enough to keep around. My part in society is small, unimportant, replaceable, and so I have until fifty-four years old before they extinguish my life; before they smother me out like a dying campfire, when in fact my fire will be very much alive. They'll snuff me out on February 16th, 2164. I once had more time, but a few bad decisions and one time to traffic court took a month and three weeks off of my life.

My name is Jonas, Jonas Libbey. I live in the countryside, the state of which doesn't matter. I have two children, Trace and Tomas, both still under the age of fifteen, that's the age they decide what you're worth. I have a wife named Janet, who's date is October 11th, 2185. She will be seventy-three years old, and I will be long gone. She's a Tester in animal biology. She explains a skill to children and then tests them on it. Those that "pass" will stay and see her more throughout their learning years. She's more important than some wrench jockey who patches up the machines that work on the farm.

That's right, I don't even work on the farm. I spend all day working on robots that go out and do all the work. I spend most days worming my hands and body into the machines. Yes, I sometimes have to crawl inside of the belly of some machine to replace some component or repair some scrape or dent. The fact that I'm small and stocky makes it easy to get inside the engines, it's part of why I'm a mechanic and not an electrician or a plumber.

There's yet to be a day when there isn't something to fix, either at work or home. The pay is okay, but money doesn't help with life expectancy. Well, I suppose if you're making enough it might help, but I would be the wrong man to ask about that. I don't reckon that climbing  inside stuffy and leaky machines helps with life expectancy either, but it doesn't look like it matters much. I won't be around to see the effects of that anyways.

Life is unfair, that's rule number one. It's the hardest rule to accept because life is natural, but we are punished by death for none other reason than being born. Our premature deaths are a fact of life, like taxes and storms on the plains that break the machines on the farm.

I try to make sure my children receive the best Testers I can afford. The children don't go to school anymore like they did in my Grandpa's time. Instead they take tests to insure the job they get best fits their skillset. For example, if the test giver explains how a simple math equation works and then gives a test on it, and one of the testees excels at that, that child will be pushed further into that skill and be chose for a job by age fifteen. It's a simple example of a much more complicated procedure, in all honesty, there's a reason I'm a mechanic.

Trace is ten, I've insured he has landed under a well respected Tester. He excels at science. He's currently being mentored in chemistry, and is doing great. Tomas is seven, he's got a rebellious streak in him, and always shoves back when he's pushed. I've paid for the same Tester that Trace had when he was younger, but he resists. I worry, but he still has time to turn it around. Currently, what he excels at is recollection, and machinery.

I fear he will be no better than me, a mechanic with few years and nothing to show for it. Janet assures me being a mechanic isn't the worst thing. "Some people don't even get that long," she always says in that little way; like I'm forgetting something important and shouldn't have to be reminded. "We should just be grateful for the time we have," she will say. I don't know how she's so peaceful about the whole thing, it's all insanity. People should be allowed to live and die when they want.

I suppose we should be happy with the time we get, it is numbered after all. We should just be pleased with the years we are given with our families, but it's damn hard. It's damn hard to be pleased with anything when you know the exact time and date of your death. When you know your children too will die of unnatural causes, and even their children will meet the same end. A vicious cycle with no end in sight. It is a  fearful certainty that we must live with, and come to terms with, regardless of its absurdity.

Will I even see my grandchildren, or will my children tell them stories of me like I tell them of their own grandfather and great grandfather? Will they wonder what I must have been like? And what will my children respond to these questions? All of these questions of life are a disturbance to any form of rest I might get in the quiet hours of the night.. After I'm gone, will they even remember my face? My actions? Will they look at old dusty photographs and say "my ol' dad was a good man"?

I wonder what will come of the Libbey line, but what does it matter? Life is fleeting and time is of the essence. Anything I have is extremely temporary. Hell, I won't even have reached half of my life's potential by the time they put me down like a lame horse. When they come for me, times up. That's it. A big badda-bing-badda-boom, your life was less than a footnote on the scuffed up misery of our history. My life is less than the dirt clinging to the bottom of my boot. That's my reality.

Even with these truths weighing on me, we try to keep everyday as normal as possible with routines and busy hands. We still live on Grandpa's land, out here in the sticks, with a few animals and a small garden out back. We have a dairy cow, a goat, two pigs, and three hens. The animals are tended to each morning and evening before and after work or education, and the garden is tended to each evening. We rotate out the garden and animals between myself and the two boys every day.

We also have one scruffy old mutt that lays by the rocker on the porch. Occasionally he will lift his head and give a good bay about something or another. Then he'll smack his jowls and lay his head back down with a sigh. The children have taken to calling him Grumpy, but I never bothered naming him nothing other than Scruffy Mutt. He just showed up one day, and has laid on the porch ever since. I'm not even entirely sure the thing gets up to take a piss, at least if it does, I haven't seen it.

There used to be a black and white tom cat around as well, though I haven't seen him now in quite some time. He always kept the mouse problem under control, but now they wreak havoc in the barn. I've tried trappings, but nothing seems to work. I know Scruffy Mutt won't be doing any ratting in his old age, if he ever would have. So I've promised the kids to get a ratting dog or kitten of their choice the upcoming weekend.

It was a slight mistake, as they've been bickering about it since I stated so. Tomas wants a kitten, but Trace wants a sturdy terrier. They're still working on a compromise, but I wonder if they will reach one before I have to make the decision for them. Janet isn't exactly happy with this decision either, but I need a handle on the rat problem both here and at the farm. Lest the least of our problems will be money, and the problem will be the Monitors when we don't pay our bills and taxes on account of spending our money on food for our food.

Ah, the Monitors. Where do I start? When they come for you, there's no getting around it, it's your time. There's no escape from the Monitors, you can't fight them, and doing so only makes your own situation a hell of a lot worse. What's worse than death? Try being captive in your own body, brainwashed, and made to hunt down those that dare resist dying peacefully.

The Monitors aren't human, but they once were. They used to be average Joes, or maybe they even volunteered to become monsters. They still wear their faces, but there's nothing human about them. The back of their heads are armored, along with their bodies, but their brains are intact. They carry no weapons, but are basically indestructible and  practically immortal.

I once thought that the faces were for our benefit, to make them more human, I didn't know. I thought they were just machines. That all changed one day when they came for my Grandpa. We were chatting around the table, he had somehow made it to be sixty-nine by being an electrician. My father was long dead, he had been a brick mason, aged to forty-eight. My mother wasn't in the picture, died in childbirth. Maternal deaths during child birth are more common than ever, doctors care less if one with a low age dies, and my mother was extremely low aged as a fifteen year old pregnant lady.

There was a knock at the door, not like skinned knuckles, but something metal that scratched a painful sound against the cool wood. Grandpa's face blanched as he stood from his chair, fingers trembling as he gripped the back of the chair he had stepped behind, as if it were some shield that would keep the monsters at bay. He looked at the door cautiously. I followed his gaze to the old wooden door, always had it protected from those that had tried to intrude. Another three knocks, and Grandpa jolted slightly at each rap. Neither of us moved to open the door, but held our breath as a voice spoke on the other side of the door.

"Jack Libbey, your time is up, we are here to collect you." The voice was raspy, like it came through rusty vocal cords. Another knock, and my heart lurched into my throat. "Open the door now."

"G-g-grandpa.." I stammered. Stuttering had been an issue for me at that age, especially when I was under stress. He met my eyes, as the door busted off the hinges and the Monitors came through single file.

"Look away, Jonas," he said softly. That's the last thing he said to me. I'm sorry that I didn't listen to him. The Monitor repeated it's first statement and Grandpa didn't move a muscle. His face grew red and his grey eyebrows stitched together in anger. "Fuck you."

The Monitor reached out with steely fingers and grabbed his wrist, to which he grunted in pain. He struggled against the grip to no avail, punching at the hard plating of it's chest. The Monitor yanked him up hard and stated "Do not resist."

"Or what? You'll kill me?" A fair point, but useless to his oppresser.

"Cease resisting or face the consequences," the Monitor said flatly in it's strange unused voice.

Grandpa struggled against the monster's grip, which was solid and unbroken. The Monitor pulled him towards the door as grandpa yelled "fuck you" at the top of his lungs. He struggled out the door, and the monitor pulled him along effortlessly. Grandpa punched and pulled and screamed, but nothing changed the Monitor's mind.

I'll never forget how eerily quiet it was outside. It seemed even the birds had stopped chirping to mourn this moment. The cow stood silently, and the chickens didn't bother to cluck. It was all strange, as the only sound that rung out against this silence was the sound of my Grandpa's panicked fuck yous. He was defiant until the end, but it got him no where.

As it pulled him over the flower bed and towards the van, Grandpa fell; his arm twisting at an unnatural angle. The Monitor never looked as it pulled him up by his broken arm, pulling it further out of socket as it trampled over the magnolias we had planted two weeks before. It was painful to watch, but not nearly as painful as seeing him three months later as I drove to work.

I stopped at the gate outside the farm to have my code ran. I had just started working at the farm about a week after Grandpa was taken. The Monitor that held out the scanner to my wrist wore his face, and for the first time, with tears in my eyes and horror in my heart, I realized that they were still in there. I could see it behind his pale blue eyes. He was still there, but not in control anymore.

I've often times thought about why. Did they put him there just for me to see and be punished everyday when I go to work? I guess I'll never know, but I can assume. After a few weeks the tears stopped coming and were replaced by a deep, hungry rage. Everyday when I saw him I was angry, but eventually even that wore off as I saw less and less of him behind those familiar eyes.

When I leave work and he stands stark still rain or shine everyday is a constant and painful reminder. He- it- just stands there, all the time, every day, waiting for me to see it's face. A grim reminder of my own demise. Death was imminent, is imminent, and no one escapes. No one. Maybe that was the point, to remind me to not follow in his footsteps, to not resist.

To remind me to just die when I'm supposed to.