As Charles pedaled between lines of perfected manicured lawns, he wondered if today would finally be the day. The boy on the mountain bike knew that his fate had been predetermined, but didn’t know when destiny would finally intervene in his life. For this reason, he thought daily about Prop 418.
As he made his way home, an early memory interrupted his thoughts. He recalled the first mention of what became known as the Law to Strengthen Humanity. Between bites of pizza, an older boy warned him that only the best children wouldn’t be sent away. All things adults attempt to hide from children are revealed with whispers in the lunchroom or hallways. But this secret was not about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny— this was a concept that was more difficult to explain to a child. The fear of exile was a hell they all carried throughout their childhood.
Pedaling harder, he felt the wind pick up and he could taste the salt air that blew from the ocean. He guided the bike gracefully against the current of the breeze. Like so many other things, athletics had come easy to him. Charles could ride his bike faster, jump farther, and run quicker than the others in his grade. When they divided up teams at recess, he was always the first chosen and his side often came out on top. Today, his third goal was a beautifully executed half-volley that was talked about throughout lunch— Solomon had even brought over a chocolate cupcake for the winning score. Even now, he could still savor the sugary icing from the prize as he continued on towards home.
Today, his success wasn’t limited to the field. The student council election results were announced and he was now president of the eighth grade. In books and movies, these middle grades were so tough on children, but to him, the years had presented only opportunity. Other kids wanted to be around him, they wanted to follow him— and it felt good to the envy of others’ eyes. This year, he now noticed the girls that had already discovered his tufts of blonde hair. During breakfast that morning, Teresa Dawkins made her way over to his table to drop off a note as he finished up.
Today had been another successful day where Charles earned the highest grades and the praise of his classmates and teachers. Throughout his life, he had never known anything different. Inside, he just knew that he was blessed— physically gifted and mentally superior. Now that he better understood probability, mathematically it made sense that the best chromosomes could assemble into one child.
Turning left onto Palm, he was able to coast as the street took a downward slope. His thoughts drifted back towards Prop 418 and that made him think of his brother. Charles pitied Aidan. Right now, Aidan was probably in the car with mother being driven home. He was not allowed to bike to and from school. Since birth, mother had recognized that Aidan was not physically capable of the things that other children could easily do. His rattling asthmatic cough announced his arrival wherever he went, and was especially bad during this time of year. But it wasn’t just his physical weakness. His brother knew all forms of struggle— the loneliness of being picked on, the challenge of failing assignments, and the difficulty of making friends. Charles had watched over the years as his sibling was met with failure after failure.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, he now had to strain slightly to bring the bike back to speed. Mother had asked him to hurry home because they had an appointment at four. Not wanting to be late and curious about the engagement, he picked up the pace. If today was in fact the day the law intruded in their lives, Charles was prepared. He had made peace with the decision. After all, there was nothing that he could do; it was Darwin who had established these rules long ago. His superiority was no more his fault than a bird taking flight while other animals watched helplessly below. The reality of the law had once made him feel guilty, but now as he was older, he knew better. He had watched other families go through the process and the outcome was one complete child that made society stronger. At this stage, he was ready to begin the process and felt pity for the smaller boy that would never enjoy a full life.
Small beads of perspiration formed on his brow. The fall sun still burned hot and he reached up with one hand to wipe the moisture away. His brother, like usual, would be nestled up to her from the passenger seat as he was driven home. Mother would likely be offering her words of comfort to ensure Aiden that the world was cruel and none of this was his fault. This doting by his mother was more than constant; it was ever present. Mother consoling him with a hug after dinner, mother soothing him with his head in her lap after reading a story, mother tucking him in, and mother wiping tears from his cheek. Although he knew that mother did it out of pity, the pair was seldom apart and this sometimes vexed him. It made Charles wonder if he would actually miss his brother when he was gone— after all, he would be the beneficiary of mother’s attentions once Aidan was disembodied. In spite of the fact that he knew he ought to feel guilty for thinking such things, he could not help but be aware of a growing sense of relief that years of anticipation might finally be coming to an end.
Pedaling harder, he reassured himself that it had to be this way. It was certainly not his fault that he was the one born with the burden of being blessed. Everyone knew at an early age that he was the gifted one. Aidan never stood a chance. He couldn’t compete and for this reason received years of mercy as his consolation prize. This support had softened Aidan into a being that was only composed of sympathy. His brother often rebuffed comparisons and challenges only with syrupy sweet words of kindness. Everyone knew the poor little boy destined for a short life to be a simplistic, adoring child that loved those around him— but little more than that.
The impending appointment meant that it was possible that consolidation might actually begin tonight. For this reason, Charles felt guilty about the slight pangs of irritation directed towards his inferior sibling. The process of consolidation had originated after the last pandemic and arrived at the perfect confluence of threats to survival of the human race and improvements in medical technology. This crossroads gave families the ability to combine the best qualities of their offspring into a single child. This advancement provided the opportunity to bring one teen into adulthood with the genes and acquired immunization that made it possible, but still unlikely, to survive adulthood and be able to reproduce. The world needed consolidation— that was the message that constantly bombarded society. The ads aired regularly and now all families understood that this sacrifice was their best hope at leaving a legacy. This was the sad truth of the world in its present condition, and was certainly not the fault of Charles. The loss of Aidan would be tragic, but his contribution necessary.
Looking up ahead, he could see the outline of his house and an ambulance in their driveway. Pedaling closer, Charles could see the government plate and realized that the moment had indeed arrived. He swallowed hard as a lump formed in his throat as he pulled in the drive. Parking the bike to the garage, he looked back at the vehicle behind him. There could be no doubt: Aidan’s time had arrived. He hurried to open the front door and went inside. Passing through the foyer and arriving in the living room, he saw his mother holding her other child in her lap. They were both crying. On both sides, two men in white lab coats flanked the doorway.
“Mother?” For the first time in his life, Charles was completely off balance and unsure of himself. It was then that he noticed that the two men held tranq guns. At that point, Charles’s quick processing skills made sense of the situation.
“I’m sorry,” his mother clutched Aidan tighter and the tears increased as she closed her eyes.
To his left, the older of the two men leaned forward with the sedative aimed at him. “Please hold still.” The man tried to smile, but his worn face had done this one too many times.
Charles looked around to assess the situation. Just as he was forming an escape plan, he heard the sound of the dart being fired and felt a stabbing in his arm. Grabbing at his bicep, he clawed to remove the dart. It was becoming more difficult to move, but he managed to force his body to turn to his mother. Using all of his strength, a whisper slowly escaped, “I don’t understand…”
The world was spinning and he could feel himself falling. Looking up from the floor, his last vision was of the family Bible on the shelf. At that moment while drifting towards the abyss, a particular verse came to his mind.
As the world went dark, it was only then that Charles realized that he indeed was not to inherit the earth.