Two men sit at a table across from each other. At one end sits a thin sickly looking man in worn clothing. At the other, sits a well-dressed man holding a file. The sickly looking man is nervously fidgeting. The room is sterile and white. There are no windows or cameras; just two chairs, a table and a door through which the sickly looking man had entered just a few seconds ago.
“Mr. Devlin, is it?” The well-dressed man pronounces. His voice bounces off of the empty room’s walls making it sound far more imposing than it truly is. After a few moments of silence, the well-dressed man speaks up again. “Come now. There’s no need to be nervous. This is all very routine questioning. If you comply, you qualify for a ration supplement. So, then, your name is Mr. Devlin, correct?”
The sickly man bites his bottom lip and sits up in his chair. He taps his fingers anxiously on the table before answering. “Yes my name is Jack Devlin.”
A menacing smile creeps over the well-dress man’s face. He closes the file and places it on the table in front of him. Leaning forward, he breaks open his smile to continue his questioning. “Good. Good. So, Mr. Devlin, why don’t you tell me about your childhood?”
Jack becomes confused. “My… my childhood? I don’t see what that has to do with anything, Mr…. I don’t think I got you name.”
“My name is not relevant Mr. Devlin. What is relevant is your background. It helps us with our study. We need to create a profile of each candidate.” The well-dressed man sits back in his chair, making himself comfortable.
“Candidate for what?” Jack inquires.
“Candidate for free rations, of course. We can’t have just anyone walk in here claiming to need food. As I’m sure you know, it’s ruthless out there. We want to make sure that the rations are going to people who need them, not those who will exploit our generosity. That being said, if you’ll just answer my questions, we can get you your food and you’ll be on your way.”
Mr. Devlin, still suspicious, reasons that he doesn’t really have a choice so he begins telling the well-dressed man about his childhood. “I’d say it was relatively normal. We grew up in a small city without a lot of money. We meaning me, my mom, my dad and my two sisters.”
The well-dressed man interrupts. “Where is your family now?”
Jack answers without hesitation. “Parents were dead … before …y’know. My sister June disappeared not long after, Kerrie was killed by raiders at a settlement not far from here.”
The well-dressed man opens the file again and begins writing while urging Jack on “Interesting, interesting. What was the incident like for you?”
This question visibly stirs Jack. “What was it like for me? What do you think it was like? It was horrible. It didn’t all sink in until a few days later. When things finally calmed down a little bit, when I actually had a chance to walk around, I remember walking through my neighborhood and thinking that this can’t be the whole world; that somewhere has to be unaffected. Now? Now, I know better. Everything has gone to hell.” Mr. Devlin stares down at the table. He fails to notice the smile swell back up on the well-dressed man’s face.
“Your sister, Kerrie. Where were you when she was killed?”
Mr. Devlin bites his bottom lip as if trying to hold something back before finally letting out a heavy breath and answering the question. “I was there… I… I was hiding. I saw the raiders coming and I knew if I tried to go warn Kerrie, they’d see me. I didn’t want to risk it. I’m… a coward.” Jack breaks down. Tears swell up in his eyes. Unprompted, he continues. “I should’ve done something. I could have done something. If I died, at least I would have died with her.”
The file, once again, closes. The well-dressed man pierces the silence. “Thank you, Mr. Devlin. This information is most helpful.”
Jack looks up, eyes red and puffy, face contorted with confusion. “That’s it? What was the point of all of this? Do I get my rations now?” The well-dressed man responds to Mr. Devlin’s questions by tapping on the table twice with his knuckles.
Two soldiers open the door and restrain Mr. Devlin. Before Jack has a chance to speak, they place a black hood over his head and drag him out of the room. The well-dressed man shouts into the hall before closing the door. “He qualifies for test #302. Once he’s clear, please send the next subject in.” The order is barely audible over Jack’s muffled screaming.
He begins shuffling papers within his file as the door opens several minutes later. A woman walks in dressed in makeshift armor. She has bruises on her face and an angry look in her eye. This seems to please the well-dressed man immediately. The woman slides the chair out, deliberately dragging it across the floor releasing a shrill sound before she finally takes a seat.
“Ms. Gracie Grey?” The well-dressed man asks.
The woman let’s out a chuckle and retorts “You’re the one with the file. Why the fuck did I fill out that paperwork, if you’re just gonna ask me the same questions in person?”
The well-dressed man closes the file and slides it to the side of the table. “Right you are. Let’s move on to some more interesting questions. What was your childhood like?”
The woman kicks her feet up on the table “I was smaller than I am now, there was less blood, and I could go a day without shooting something. What else ya got?”
“Family?” The well-dressed man asks.
Gracie begins staring at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. “Had one, don’t now. Is this going somewhere? Can I just get my can of overly processed slop and get out of here?”
“All in due time. What was the incident like for you, Ms. Grey?” The well-dressed man leans forward and crosses his hands on top of the table.
“Ugh, call me Gracie. ” she replies in an irritated tone.
The well-dressed man politely concedes. “My mistake, Gracie. Please. The incident.”
“Truth be told, life before the incident wasn’t exactly perfect. I was never good at anything. I worked shitty retail jobs for shitty pay in order to live in a shitty apartment. You want to know what the incident was like? It was an education. People either found out if they were good at surviving or they died. I’m better at staying alive than I’ve ever been at anything else. Sadly, that also goes hand in hand with being good at killing, but the way I see it, it’s me or them and I never liked most people anyway.” Gracie states as she scrapes dirt off her nails.
The well-dressed man seems extremely satisfied. “Ms. Gr… Gracie. Are you admitting that you’ve killed before?”
“Well, yeah. Judging by your creepy ass smile and your clean suit, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you don’t know just how bad it is out there. People don’t have many options. So what do I do? Option ‘A’ is I find a settlement and live some watered down semblance of a life while I wait for a clan of jackasses to storm in and kill us. Mind you, if they kill you right away, you’re one of the lucky few. The second option is I armor up and do what it takes to survive. If I can avoid killing people who don’t deserve it, I do. Truth is, though, that most people these days deserve what they get.”
Gracie lowers her legs off of the table. “So do I get my food now, or was this all a scam?”
The well-dressed man stands revealing a tall, scant frame. He adjusts his tie and places his hands on the back of his chair. “How would you like a job?”