The Test
By: Jim Bates

Quinn and his wife Karen lived on the fourteenth floor of the fifty–story concrete apartment complex they'd called home for the six years of their marriage. As he hung his oxygen mask on the peg by the door and stepped into the living area, Karen turned to him from her desk, a palpable tension in the air. Something was up.

"I just sent my test in."

"How'd it go?"

"Not good." She slammed her hand down hard. "Damn it! I don't know what went wrong. I know this stuff.

Quinn rushed to her side, knelt and put a supportive hand on her arm. "Wasn't the subject microbiology? You're good with that. There's probably nothing to worry about."

"Easy for you to say, Mr. Hot–Shot Engineer."

She was right about him being an engineer. He was pretty good with mechanical and electronic devices of all kinds. A hot–shot? Debatable.

Nevertheless, Quinn understood what Karen was worried about. Even though she was brilliant in chemistry and biology, if she didn't do well on the test the company she worked for, Millennium Microbial, had the authority to dock a day off her LifeLine, the mandated life span for humans set at forty years of age by the World Order. She'd already lost thirty–four days during the first twenty–five years of her life and she didn't want to lose anymore. Not like her husband. He had already lost one–hundred and seventy–seven days, nearly half a year, and he was her same age.

Quinn worked at the regional wind energy farm. He was short and wiry with penetrating brown eyes, a closely trimmed beard and a shaved head. Karen was a research biologist. She was a tall as her husband and willowy, with intelligent green eyes, wavy red hair and faint freckles. The year was twenty–two twenty. The world was in chaos as a result of climate change and ninety–nine point nine percent of earth's plant and animal population had ceased to exist. The couple was among those tasked with finding ways to one, in Quinn's case, improve energy production and two, for Karen, find ways to produce more nutritional food. Both energy usage and a worldwide food shortage were reaching the crisis stage and something had to be done. There was even talk of lowering the mandated age limit from forty years to thirty–nine.

Quinn pulled a chair next to Karen's desk and sat down. As they talked, she could tell her normally low–key husband was unsettled. Finally she asked, "What up with you?"

"Well, I did something today you need to know about."

"What?" Karen barked, her test forgotten. "Is it something to do with Matt?"

"No, our son is fine, actually. We had a great time at the Biodome."

She breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

Before he could tell her more Karen's computer dinged, signifying a message. She looked at Quinn."Must be the test results. That was fast."

"Fingers crossed."

They watched the monitor as Karen punched a key calling up her message. "It's from them," she said, opening it. Then she smiled, leaped up and shouted, "Yea! I passed. I won't get docked."

She pulled Quinn to his feet, threw her arms around him and they held each other tightly, enjoying the closeness. Their physical attraction for each other helped off–set the dull existence of the world they lived in.

Just then there was another dinging notification. She checked it. "Shit. Finkelstein wants me to come in early." Jerry Finkelstein was her supervisor. "I better go. He's sending the company Transport Carrier.

"Must be important," Quinn said, poking fun, half joking, half serious.

Quinn and Karen were among a small group of citizens that didn't always play by the rules established by the World Order. They weren't radicals per–se, but they were more free–thinking than most of the population. That attitude sometimes got them into trouble.

"No way. He's just a jerk and likes to show off that he's got enough money to do crap like that."

"I hear you. How about if I walk you down?"

Karen kissed him again. "That'd be nice. Let me grab my oxygen mask. You can finish telling me what you were going to say."

"Oh, it wasn't that big a deal," Quinn said, and grinned, trying to laugh it off. "I'll tell you about it when you get home. For now, let's celebrate you passing that quiz."

Karen was smart, and she knew her husband, but she did have to get to work. She gave him a pointed look. "Okay. But we'll talk when I get home. All right?"

"Right."

After Karen was picked up Quinn went back to their apartment. His shift started in an hour. He had time to go to his computer and check his LifeLine. Yep, that's what he was afraid of. He'd taken their son to a World Order mandated trip to the Northwoods Biodome earlier that day. They'd had such a great adventure that when it came time for the Transport Carrier to drop Matt off at the regional dormitory run for five–year olds, Quinn couldn't help himself. He'd hugged his son, which was a big no–no in the far reaching eyes of the World Order. Showing affection in public was frowned upon. Quinn knew it but didn't care. Hopefully, Karen would understand. They'd docked him two days for his transgression. He was up to one–hundred and seventy–nine lost days now. His life span was getting shorter.

He closed down the computer, went to the sliver of plastic that served as their one window and looked out on the ashen gray landscape of the world he and Karen and Matt lived in. A world he was willing to shorten his life span by a day at a time if necessary, just to have physical contact with his boy. Something he planned to keep doing. LifeLine be damned. It was the price he'd have to pay. After all, he wasn't going to live forever.

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