Awaiting Assessment

Note: The following short story was originally a submission to a writing zine with the prompt being “birth and death” with a 1,500 word character limit. The story wasn’t selected for the zine, so I figured I’d share it with all of you.


*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678545. Candidate OH-1-3678545 please report to assessment area six at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678545 to assessment area six.*

Isidora stared at her candidate card and carefully reviewed her number. OH-1-3678549. Only four more to go. This was the most stressful part of birthdays for Isidora. Arrive, politely decline assessment, leave. It was redundant, painful, and emotionally exhausting. Accepting assessment, however, would be worse.

A tall man walked through the entry way, crossed the room, then took a seat beside Isidora. She watched as he reached into his wallet, pulled out an emerald green card — the telltale color of assessment cards issued within the nation — placed it carefully in his left hand, then replaced his wallet in his pocket. The man was visibly upset, tears streaming down his face.

“First time here?” Isidora asked. She knew it wasn’t his first time at the Bureau. Everyone has to report to the Bureau yearly on their birthday upon turning 17 unless they choose to receive assessment. If a person chooses to receive assessment, they are no longer required to visit the Bureau until age 80 or three years before they die, whichever is set to come first.

“No,” the man meekly said, his voice trailing off as he spoke.

“Every time feels like my first time here,” replied Isidora. “I hate it just as much every time.”

The man shuffled his assessment card in his hands, flicking his fingers over the rounded edges. As he did so, the overhead lights reflected off the card, allowing Isidora to see the number. OH-1-3678551.

“You’re only two after me,” she stated. “Born around 2:30 pm in 2136?”

“2:36 pm,” said the man softly.

“I’m Isidora.”

Isidora reached out her hand to shake the man’s hand. The man stared at her hand for a moment, then cautiously presented his own.

“Penn. Penn Carrington.”

“You mean like the singer?” Isidora asked.

“Yeah, like the singer,” Penn replied. “It’s a good thing the Bureau gives us these numbers, otherwise I’d be mistaken for him all the time. Well, that and the fact that I’m tall, black, and quiet and he’s none of those things.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678546. Candidate OH-1-3678546 please report to assessment area eleven at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678546 to assessment area eleven.*

“You’re telling them no then?” Penn asked.

“Yeah,” responded Isidora. “I know assessment’s an accepted practice now, but I just don’t feel right knowing when I’m going to die. You know?”

“I get it,” replied Penn.

The transmitter on Penn’s left wrist lit up orange, indicating a restricted communication arriving. Penn touched the transmitter, hiding himself from Isidora’s view in the process. She waited quietly, watching as the previously called candidate made her way across the room. The candidate was a young woman, much like Isidora, though she was wheelchair bound. An orderly wheeled her to the door leading to assessment area eleven. Isidora wondered how long the candidate had to live. She often found herself wondering when those she came in contact with would die. But she didn’t want to know her own expiration date.

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678547. Candidate OH-1-3678547 please report to assessment area two at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678547 to assessment area two.*

Penn ended his transmission, coming back into view for Isidora and those around. He had reverted back to crying, much like he was when he first walked in.

Isidora reached into her clutch and produced a small package of tissues. She handed them to Penn. He gratefully took them from her, removing one of the tissues from the case and wiping his eyes with it.

“Thank you,” Penn said, handing the package of tissues back to Isidora. He held his lone tissue tightly in his left hand, balling it up atop the candidate card.

“Is everything alright?” Isidora asked. “If that’s not too personal, that is.”

“Not particularly. Trying to take care of the affairs of my wife.”

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

“You couldn’t have known. It’s a bit of a birthday downer, even more so than a trip to the Bureau.”

“May I ask what happened?” Isidora asked.

“She um…,” Penn stammered, trying to collect his thoughts. “she died two weeks ago. Heart attack at the age of 27.”

“That’s so sad!” Isidora exclaimed.

“I didn’t know it was coming. None of us did. I mean, we knew there was a chance that Mira — that was my wife, Mira — would have heart issues. Both of her parents died from heart conditions in their fifties. She…”

Penn took a deep breath and stared into the room in front of him. He watched as a young man walked out of the room, a large packet of papers in hand. The man was clearly shaken. Like Mira, he’d die soon. The assessor had confirmed as much.

“She felt she had time to live her life without worry before she had to worry about getting assessed,” Penn continued. “We were both planning to get an assessment done when we turned 40. Halfway to the required visit age seemed like as good of time as any to know.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678548. Candidate OH-1-3678548 please report to assessment area two at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678548 to assessment area two.*

“They must have said no,” said Penn. “I always said no. So did Mira. She’s gone now though. I’m a 28-year-old single father. I need to know if I’m going to be around for my daughter or if I need to make plans for her.”

Isidora stared at her assessment card. Only one spot until she would be called. She grabbed a tissue out of her case, handed it to Penn, then took one for herself. Isidora wiped away the tears that had begun to well up in her eyes.

“Do you have anyone you’re responsible for, Isidora?” Penn asked.

“No,” she responded, “not yet. No kids, no spouse, no partner. My roommate will be living until age 83. My parents each have at least 25 years left and none of my grandparents will be passing for the next five years.”

“So they all know?”

“Everyone in my family knows. My roommate’s father was an assessor before he died. I’m the only person I know personally who doesn’t know when I’ll die.”

“Why not?” Penn asked.

“Because my creators gave me a choice. My parents sat me down at a young age and told me about how assessment worked, my choice, and the consequences of knowing and not knowing. It’s scary not knowing, but I’d prefer not to be counting down the days until I get hit by a bus, die from cancer, or never wake up from sleep.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678549. Candidate OH-1-3678549 please report to assessment area four at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678549 to assessment area four.*

“That’s you,” stated Penn.

Isidora rose from her seat and started walking towards the assessment room. She stopped and turned back to Penn.

“Regardless of what you find out today,” she said, “you should get some cake and ice cream for you and your daughter. It is your birthday after all.”

“Happy birthday to you too, Isidora,” replied Penn.

Isidora entered assessment room four. She proceeded towards a single white stool in the sterile white room. Across from her stool, a gangly woman in a white lab coat sat on a white stool with a white computer on a white desk in front of her.

“Please sit.”

Isidora sat down on the stool.

“Candidate OH-1-3678549, given name Isidora Pía Lorca Cabrera. Born March the 11th, 2136 at 2:32 pm. Please confirm your identity.”

“I am as you say I am,” said Isidora. The required identification response still seemed forced to Isidora, even after years of saying it.

“Thank you. Candidate OH-1-3678549, do you wish to undergo assessment?”

“I do not,” Isidora replied.

“Please confirm your denial of assessment formally.”

“I, Candidate OH-1-3678549, hereby decline assessment for one calendar year.”

“Thank you. Please exit.”

Isidora rose from her stool and made her way back to the Bureau lobby. Penn was gone, off to his assessment room to learn his fate. Isidora zipped her jacket up and walked out of the building, striding through the late winter snowfall to her transport.

She sat inside the transport, her warm breath fogging up the cold windshield. With a long sigh, she spoke into her transmitter.

“Remind me to receive assessment next year at this time,” said Isidora.

“Reminder set.”

Isidora let out a deep breath and pressed the button to start her transport. A loud explosion ripped through the air, its force tearing apart both the transport and Isidora alike. As the Bureau building caught fire, those inside evacuated out the back. Penn was happy to learn he wouldn’t die that day. He only hoped the same was true for Isidora.

AETI: Free Kindle Book Promotion (#2)

Oh hi. From February 20th through February 24th, 2017, you can pick up my debut book, An Epilogue to Innocence, for free on Kindle. For a more detailed explanation as to why I’m doing what I’m doing with this event, keep reading.

If you got An Epilogue to Innocence from this event, please consider writing a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Also, regardless of if you picked up the book during the event, please share this post with your friends and encourage them to get the book for themselves.

Around six months ago, I did a free Kindle book promotion for my book, An Epilogue to Innocence. Seeing as it had been almost a half of a year since the last one I did, I figured now was a great time to do another giveaway. I’d been wanting to do one for a while, however a recent piece of polling[1] that came out made me feel like now was as good of time as any.

A Pew Research study released in November 2016 found that about a quarter (26%) of Americans haven’t read a book in the last twelve months. That number goes up if you’re specifically looking at black Americans (29%), rural Americans (32%), Hispanic Americans (40%), and Americans with a high school diploma or lower (40%).

I’m not saying my book is the best book for people to read. There are amazing authors out there that write great, inclusive, thoughtful fiction that everyone should read. Hell, I need to do a better job of representing people of color, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups in my work going forward. While I made an effort with An Epilogue to Innocence, there’s definitely a long way I have to go.

That said, it’s hard to continue a career in writing if I cannot fund it. While the free book event will not provide me any profit, my hope is that it can help drive paying customers who want to buy my book to the places where they can buy it. I’ll keep writing — and keep working to both improve my writing and make my writing more inclusive — regardless of the outcome of this event. I’ll do the same regardless of my book sales prior to now or going forward. But any help that you, or others, could give me, would be greatly appreciated.

Jealousy and Confusion

I’m almost always excited when I see people I know succeed. It’s gratifying to see people I’ve worked with, people I’ve learned from, people I’ve mentored, or even people I’ve influenced become successful in their own way. It’s also great to see people who I’ve looked up to be successful. In some cases, they were already doing well for themselves when I heard of them. In other cases, that person was as anonymous as me when I first met them, but they’ve made something of themselves. It’s an awesome thing to see.

Yet, for some reason I cannot fully explain or comprehend, I find myself jealous of that success. Instead of solely being happy for my friend or colleague, I’m wishing that I had received that book deal or that I been the one to get that promotion — even if their triumph was in an area that has little to nothing to do with what I’m good at doing or what I enjoy doing.

As a kid, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up (as most kids are wont to do). At various points, I wanted to be a history teacher, a pro football player, a race car driver, an author, and a famous musician. Somewhere in there, around the age of 11 or so, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. The urge to be a wrestler didn’t last any longer than the other things that I wanted to be when I grew up[1], but it sticks out to me as an adult because of how vividly I had thought things through. I was going to go wrestle for the WWF, where my ring name would be the Juke Box Hero — an odd cross between early 1990s Randy Savage and HBK-era Shawn Michaels —  and my finishing move would be a knee drop from the top turnbuckle. My dad even got mad at me when I broke my brother’s bed by performing said knee drop on one of my pillows. My entrance music? Clearly already picked out for me.

I obviously didn’t become a pro wrestler[2]. I have zero regrets about not being one either. But I think the appeal to that childhood ambition was to be noticed. When you’re in the wrestling ring, the focus is, by its very nature, on you. The better you and your opponent are at putting on a show and telling a story, the more the crowd cares about what you have to say. Professional wrestling is just as much about story telling as it is feats of athletic prowess. Just don’t tell that to pre-teen me.

As an adult, I’ve learned that I don’t always want the spotlight on me. In an age of social media panic, every action we take is judged and misjudged until the meaning is largely lost. Yet that same technology is also the technology that allowed me to get what I had to say out to the masses — be that this blog, my book, my podcast, or just the random bullshit I spouted off for whatever reason.

I know these people I see around me being successful are becoming that way because they’re working their asses off. I know I do the same — just not to the same extent. It’s not to say I don’t try hard. I definitely try hard and I definitely care a ton about the creative work I create. If I could be someone who just creates meaningful content for a living, be that my own work or something educational like Crash Course, that would be the ideal job situation for me.

Yet I haven’t completely found the thing that moves me so much that I want to create content about that thing and nothing more. I haven’t found that idea that sparks me to want to develop that pro wrestling persona that I thought up as a child (or at least its adulthood applicable equivalent). And that fact is both inspiring and depressing. On one hand, I know I have a lot of time to get to the point where I am inspired. Yet, on the other hand, I know the longer that inspiration goes unfound, the harder it’ll be for me to act upon it.

Adult responsibilities kill time. There’s only so much time to be had before you have no free time left. And to create quality work, you need time to focus your energy on that work. That means for me, and for many others, if you’re working a full-time job and trying to create creative content, you need some time to unwind. It works out great if you never sleep. That said, I’ve found that sleep deprived content rarely turns out positive.

I want to see my work be successful. I want to achieve some modicum of greatness with my life. I want to make an impact with the work I do. I wouldn’t be jealous of the success of others if I didn’t want these things. I’m just confused as to the direction I need to go.

Episode 11 Show Notes

Check out the show notes for the newest episode of my podcast, Everyone Is Funnier Than Us. We’re trying the show notes format to see how it works. Feel free to leave feedback and let us know what you think.

Everyone Is Funnier Than Us

So we thought we’d try this thing where we do show notes with our episodes. We’re not really sure where this will go yet, however it’s always worth trying. Plus, if we have polls going forward, we’ll direct you here (potentially) so that you can just get to the polls easily.

Haven’t downloaded episode 11, entitled “Money is Funny (At Least Something Is)”? You should click on one of the links below to download this episode now. We’re also available on Pocket Casts in addition to those below.

iTunes
Google Play Music

We mentioned a few resources that you might find use to help yourself out with money in the podcast. Samantha specifically brought up the online programs Mint and Digit. Mint and Digit are neither a sponsor of Tim nor Samantha individually, nor EIFTU as a show. That said, we wanted to share a bit about them.

Mint is a…

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Fire Emblem Direct Thoughts

A little over a week and a half ago, Nintendo held a Nintendo Direct event for the Fire Emblem series of games. As you might be aware, I like Fire Emblem just a little bit. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the four games discussed in the event below. If you haven’t watched the event yet, you can find the full video below.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Shadows of Valentia is a game inspired by an earlier entry in the Fire Emblem series, 1992’s Gaiden. While I’ve played quite a few games in the Fire Emblem series, Gaiden is not one of the titles I’ve played to this point. From everything I’ve gathered, the gameplay mechanics of Gaiden differ pretty drastically from other Fire Emblem games, which is a disappointment. Gaiden combines the turn-based strategy of a typical Fire Emblem game with a navigable world map similar to games in the Legend of Zelda series. I love the turn-based style combat of Fire Emblem, so seeing a Fire Emblem game deviate from that — as three of the games on this list are expected to do to some extent — is a bit disappointing.

With that said, Shadows of Valentia appears to have a good storyline, at least from what little we can glean from the Direct event. The game itself is reported to copy Gaiden‘s gameplay style nearly directly, though an updated story inspired by Gaiden will be introduced with Shadows of Valentia. Part of me is tempted to get my hands on an emulator copy of Gaiden soon to see if I like the style. But there’s two main things holding me back from that.

  1. Gaiden never received an English translation
  2. I really hate Zelda style games

The Direct event shows a scene around the 5:15 mark where you appear to do a dungeon crawl level that really turns me off to the game. As much as I love Fire Emblem, I have no desire to play hack and slash or dungeon crawl games. That said, a lot of the other scenes focus on more traditional Fire Emblem game play. My hope is that Shadows of Valentia focuses more on the traditional game play than the overworld.

Shadows of Valentia will be releasing on May 19, 2017.

Hype Rating: 3 of 5

Fire Emblem for Nintendo Switch

We don’t get a title for whatever the new Fire Emblem game coming to the Switch is, but that’s alright since the game won’t be releasing until 2018. We don’t know much about the new game other than it’ll be the first full console release of Fire Emblem since the Wii. Even in the Direct event, all we got was a 45 second blurb about the game coming out in 2018. That said, of the coming games, it’s the one I’m most intrigued to learn more about and eventually play.

Hype Rating: Incomplete, though likely at least 4 of 5

Fire Emblem: Warriors

No.

But really though. Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash series that I have zero cares about. If you want to see an example of exactly how hack and slashy this game is, go to the 7:50 mark in the video at the top of the post. The art in Warriors looks amazing from the preview video, though I’d have to assume that’s console gameplay we’re looking at, not handheld. While Warriors will be released on the 3DS and 2DS in addition to the Switch, I do get the impression that either there will be less stellar graphics on the handhelds, or we’ll see a degradation of play quality. Since I can’t imagine Nintendo allowing the latter to happen, I’ll assume that the handheld versions will have lessened graphics qualities.

But hey, at least Chrom is in the trailer?

Hype Rating: 1 of 5

Fire Emblem Heroes

This game screams Brave Frontier or Final Fantasy: Brave Exivus. Bad. To the point where I had to go back and watch the Direct video a few times to make sure Alim wasn’t part of the development for Heroes.

This is Nintendo’s first foray into the mobile market with a Fire Emblem game. Heroes — at least from what we can tell from the Direct video — looks to combine some of the turn-based attack strategy game from Fire Emblem’s other games with summoning type mechanics found in mobile games like Brave Frontier.

Of all the games announced so far, Heroes is the only game thus far where I’m disappointed with the released art. I don’t know if this is because I’m so used to seeing newer Fire Emblem games like Awakening and Fates, however the actual gameplay art of Heroes is subpar. The non-gameplay art (in particular the summoning art) seems to be pretty good, so perhaps it’s just the preview that I’m bothered with.

Not shockingly, Nintendo has decided to go with the microtransaction model for acquiring the in-game currency needed to acquire units in this game. As much as I’d like to try Heroes thanks to my love for the Fire Emblem series (as well as the aforementioned Brave Frontier), I don’t think I’ll find myself picking up Heroes when it releases on February 2, 2017.

Hype Rating: 1.5 of 5

In Her Majesty’s Silent Service

“Mom, I want to get a picture with him!”

“Kaitlyn, he’s doing his job. Leave the poor man be.”

“Puhleeeeease!”

“Terry, make your daughter listen to me.”

“Kaitlyn, please listen to your mother and leave the guard alone. I’m sure he’s had to deal with enough tourists trying to get pictures with him today.”

Terry was right and wrong, all at the same time. I, along with nearly every other member of the Queen’s Guard, have tourists take pictures of us at a seemingly endless rate. I’m fortunate enough to begin my duty at a relatively early hour of the day, meaning the majority of people who cross my path are commuters rather than tourists. However, the sentry who takes up the guard after my tour of duty in the rotation ends deals with far more people than I.

The Americans are the worst. Loud, brash, insistent on spelling words like colour and aeroplane improperly. The Americans are the visitors that drive the less experienced sentries mad. I personally have a hot and cold relationship with them. On one hand, their country’s repressive drinking age means that young Americans are more likely to be drunk tourists. Drunk tourists never cease to add amusement to my day. On the other hand, I cannot interact with them. I cannot laugh, smile, nor otherwise act in such a manner that distracts me from my post.

‘You may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty.’

So it is. So it was. So it shall be. All in the service of our majesty, the Queen.

“I wonder when he’s going to move next.”

“The internet says they’re supposed to move every 10 minutes.”

“Oh what the fuck. It feels like we’ve been here an hour already.”

The second young lad was right, while the third was wrong. I, like all other members of the guard, do march every ten minutes at my post. The group had only been standing watching for a little over three minutes. It’s peculiar the details you begin to remember and which you begin to forget when your task is largely to remain silent for two hours at a time. If bystanders don’t say their names or don’t do anything to cause me to yell at them, they all blend together as voices in my memory. By the same token, I’ve learned to tell the amount of time that has passed in a ten minute increment within ten seconds in my head.

“Try saying something funny to him.”

“Wanker!”

Heard it. Your mum said it better.

“It didn’t work. Try again.”

“Fuck off. You want to make him laugh, you try.”

“WANKER!”

Saying something louder doesn’t make it funnier. It just makes it louder. That’s how science works.

“What if we ask him question until he answers?”

Won’t work.

“Do you like it when I do this?”

The first lad grabbed the second lad’s leg and began thrusting his pelvis at it rapidly and rhythmically. This led to the second boy smacking his friend, then running off while the first boy chased after. If I didn’t see that skit nearly every day from a teen, I’d probably find it funny. Instead, it just bored me.

Every once in a while, one of the passers-by will ask a question I wished I could answer. While the wording my vary by person, the six questions I hear the most frequently are asked in a manner similar to the following.

  • Are you a real solider? [Yes.]
  • Do you like your fuzzy hat? [My uniform is a representation of my country and my duty. I love my country and I honour my duty. Therefore, I love my fuzzy hat.]
  • Are you hungry/thirsty/tired? [It’s irrelevant while I am at my post.]
  • Have you ever had to use your gun? [Fire it? No. Port arms for someone not heeding my warnings? Only twice so far. I don’t particularly see this number rising, as my post is no longer one that the public can walk directly to. A rope prevents the public from getting closer than ten meters from my post.]
  • I want to take him home with me. [Not a question, but the answer is no. This answer remains the same independent of your attractiveness, at least while I’m on my tour of duty.]
  • What would make him smile?

That last question — as innocent and simple as it may be — is one that brings a particularly high level of consternation to my mind. As I mentioned before, we are not to stand easy while on guard. The intense focus necessary to perform our duties is more than just a solider’s training. It is about protecting and honouring the Crown. That’s not to say I was immune from cracking a smile as a guard. But every day I endeavored to be as serious about my job as possible.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“Why isn’t the man in the funny suit moving?”

“He’s a guard for the Queen.”

“But I don’t see the Queen.”

Children like that small girl confused about the lack of the Queen’s presence bring me the closest to smiling or laughter. One day, very early in my time as a member of the Queen’s Guard, a small girl from somewhere in the Commonwealth (I believe Canada based on her accent, but time has faded the memory) walked under the ropes and started making her way towards me. Her parents yelled after her, causing the child to stop mere paces from where I would have been forced to shout at her to stand back.  For the next few seconds, the parents pleaded with the child to cross the ropes, while the girl insisted that she wanted to hug me. Had I not been on duty, I would have immediately walked up and embraced the child. However, had I not been on duty, the entire event would never have occurred.

“Daddy?”

Our present day child had more questions for her father.

“Yes?”

“Can I pet the kitty cat?”

A small kitten — likely no more than three or four months old — had crossed the street, strutting under the ropes like it owned the whole of England. It walked up to me, rubbing itself against the leg of my trousers. I could hear it purring loudly, in spite of the sound of the public around me.

“No, the kitty is on the other side of the ropes. You can’t go on the other side of the ropes.”

“Do you think he’ll pet it?”

I could not pet the cat, as the child had asked. That did not, however, stop my heart from being warmed as the cuddly grey feline snuggled up against my legs. The cat circled me, its tail reaching up and tickling the backs of my calves lightly. Its purring with rhythmic and fast. I found my own breathing speeding up so as to match the purring in time.

After a second pass, the cat stopped in front of me. It stood on all fours, patiently staring up at me as I glanced back down at it. The kitten sat, wrapping its tail around its tiny body. It cocked its head slightly to the right, never breaking its gaze with me.

“Meow?” said the cat, questioningly.

I smiled, first at the cat, then at the man and his daughter watching us. The kitten, seemingly content with my response, sauntered away, chasing after a fallen leaf that had blown by a few moments prior.

A Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America

United — it’s a funny word, isn’t it?
Joined together for a common purpose or by common feelings
Our similarities are so obvious yes?
They’re the things we see at a glance
Skin and bones, prayers and penances
These are the things that make us our best

And to the republic
For which it stands

We stand for a republic
A state whose power is held by the people
That’s all we are — people — every one of us
Gay or straight
Liberal or conservative
Atheist or religious

But you’re not here to stand for a person
You are but one of a larger people
Linking our arms together as we protect
All humans, who by definition, were created equal
And if we leave one man or woman behind
Raising them up powers our republic

One nation, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all

Our hearts sing for compassion
Our hearts sing for equality
Our hearts sing for acceptance
Of our pledge’s final refrain

Our hearts sing for unity
Our hearts sing for altruism
Our hearts sing for freedom
With liberty and justice for all