by R.E Hengsterman


Killing is brutal.

I put my weight into the fleshy seal covering Samuel’s mouth and nose. My hands, stark in contrast to his tender young flesh, are imposters committing an act reserved for the vilest of individuals. I wipe my eyes of the tears and my mind of disbelief. The stress of killing transforms me into a human tremor. And the shake renders my seal imperfect – allowing precious oxygen to slip beneath my fingers.

He gasps.

I want to stop, but I can’t. To suffer is worse than death, and underneath my weight, he’s rabid with fear.

Time agonizes; please forgive me, Samuel.

I scream on repeat until the nails buried in my forearm surrender and hands fall reticent to the floor. Fixed pupils, empty their color and his body sinks. A chill surges through my veins.

I vomit.

Samuel embodied the best of us – smart, compassionate, loving to a fault, and 100% human. His mother, my wife, died in childbirth – a massive hemorrhage fracturing her uterus.

She left us uttering these words, “Please… let him be human.”

These may be an odd choice for one’s final last words, but they are relevant. We belong to a small collection of people fighting modification, similar to the anti-vaccination movement. We fought and won our right to be unadulterated human, living in the hinterlands beyond the city. Our choice was not without risk. Traditional medical care is scarce in a world not much different from yours. Except humans live and die with regularity. Unlike the MODS.

The modifications or MODS as we call them became humans 2.0. The improved version. Everything from hearing to DNA became an upgrade at a kiosk within a MOD center. The technology and the social implications moving at different speeds. This divided couples, families, and communities.

The byproduct of shunning modification is banishment from healthcare. Not traditional healthcare, but MOD care. Traditional healthcare devoured resources at a veracity never experienced in human history. We couldn’t support the sick, aging population any longer. With modification gaining widespread approval, those in power decided little value remained in servicing the unmodified or the human ill. This didn’t happen overnight, but over time everything changed. MODS are living longer, healthier, and in my opinion becoming less human.

We chose the unmodified life for Samuel. One of the many of the choices we make for our children. Pure human is a badge worn with pride in our family. Until Samuel bled from his gums two days into his sixth year on earth. He ran into my room, Superman toothbrush in hand, crystalline blue eyes wet with moisture and mouth filled with creamy paste and crimson. His long eyelashes, slowing the flow of tears and the badge of human losing its shine. I am now aware, being human means being vulnerable.

“Daddy, why am I bleeding?” He asks. His tone is apologetic.

From this moment forward I am awake in a nightmare. Days later a diagnosis, acute lymphocytic leukemia. Within a short time, leukemia entrenched itself in Samuel’s marrow, and the begging began.

“Please don’t let me suffer,” he said daily.

Without medical care, hope faded. I took Samuel to the underground clinics and non-sanctioned health centers. They offered little and suggested I surrender him to the State for termination. State termination is the proper protocol for authentic humans in compromised health. Every time I gave the idea a whisper of life, the words of my wife echoed, “Please… let him be human.”

On a warm day in September, I buried Samuel in the back yard next to his mother. Under a Crape Myrtle. Traditional burial is illegal, so I buried him myself, marking his grave with a simple reminder, a plastic Superman.

Decades pass uneventful, I spend countless hours sitting in the makeshift graveyard under the Crape Myrtle. My mind getting a little foggy, but otherwise I become an old man. An old human.

One day a chair silhouetting the skyline under a Crape Myrtle draws my attention, and I question, “Whose chair is in my yard?” The moment passes.

A day later I am absorbing sunlight in my familiar place. With the passing months, my day’s alternate between florid memories and nothingness. Today a memory. Tomorrow nothingness. More of the same occurs until one day the memories fail to connect. I wander out, dragging the chair back to the house, a gold chain hooking on the leg and a Superman protesting with a hand thrust skyward.

I snatch the unusual items and toss them in my pocket, a mystery to occupy my time. Are they mine? I can’t remember. I can’t remember the time spent living in this home. Time grants no reassurance. So I let the moment crawl away.

Inside I jot a reminder – visit the MOD Center in the morning, memory modification, and restoration. I fall asleep, wondering why I waited so long for the enhancements. I kill the lights, the strange little Superman guarding the necklace on the nightstand as I drift to sleep.

In the morning, I arrive at the MOD Center and place my order. The young salesperson tries to up-sell me on hearing, vision and sexual enhancements.

“A three for one,” he says pointing to his groin and winking.

I tell him my hearing is adequate, and the others, well I laugh. A 15% offer for first time MOD customers is available. He tells me I’m the oldest modification he’s done this year.

“Better to hook em young,” he says.

The sale is complete, and I find myself alone in the modification booth. Only minutes for the procedure they tell me, and painless, a bonus. I await the enhancement giddy with anticipation.

I can’t wait to remember!