Sixteen-year-old Audrey is pregnant and scared to death. What she chooses to do next will change her life forever.
Five female state troopers dressed in black, pile out of a van parked on the side of the road and block my path.
I stop running and pull my AirPods from my ears.
This can’t be happening. Not now, I’m not ready.
Mature northern oaks, which line this stretch of road that I run daily, sway and surge in the hot summer wind. The relentless humidity and dark grey clouds above warn of the coming storm.
I step back and look for a way to escape, but it’s no use. In sync, the troopers hover their hands over the gun in their holsters.
‘What do you want?’ I call.
The trooper directly opposite me steps forward. ‘It’s time.’
‘You’re being replaced.’
My bottom lip quivers and nausea overwhelms me.
There’s no denying I knew this moment would come. They explained the conditions to me all those years ago. I was told what would happen from the very beginning. They kept nothing hidden – there were no secrets.
Still, the possibility that I could outlive the others had crept into my mind. Maybe I would be the exception to the rule. Perhaps I would be the last one. It seems so cruel to have it all come to an end. There’s so much left to experience and so much left to give. It’s such a waste.
I lean forward and rest my palms on my thighs. I think I’m going to be sick.
The talkative trooper comes closer. ‘The updated version of you got home ten minutes ago.’
My chest tightens and the gravel on the road blurs. I fall to my knees and shut my eyes. I can see my husband and my daughter at home now; they’ll be making pizza in the kitchen, laughing and joking with each other as always. It’s movie night, and it’s Ellie’s turn to choose what film we’re going to watch.
The trooper hooks her hand under my arm and pulls me to my feet. ‘You should be proud,’ she says. ‘You served your country well and for much longer than most. What did you get? Five years? Five-and-a-half?’
I’m escorted to the back of the van and my throat aches. Is that all I get? Five and a half years to explore what it means to be human?
I stop walking. ‘Can I say goodbye to them?’
‘Why would you need to say goodbye? You haven’t gone anywhere.’
I clamp my eyes shut. I imagine Ellie’s kisses on my cheek and her arms wrapped around me. God, I’ll miss her. ‘What happens now?’
‘You know the drill.’ The trooper pats my shoulder and it starts to rain. ‘I know it’s hard but try to remember that with every cloud there’s a silver lining.’
‘And what’s that?’ My jaw tightens.
The trooper lifts her chin and her cold grey eyes pierce mine. ‘You may get deleted, but the improved version of you will get to live forever.’
© Michelle Upton