Arrival and departure

“Heaven or Hell?” the young woman with the perfect teeth asked.

“Heaven,” the man replied, his face slightly too eager, revealing a deep nervousness that, until then, he’d managed to at least partly conceal from the others in the long queue that snaked around the concourse. “Definitely heaven”.

The qualifier signified nothing; it was common for people to add a word or two. She’d heard people swear, despair, laugh, and on astonishingly rare occasions, sob. But, worldwide, a billion people a year voluntarily submitted to what was colloquially known as ‘spacing’, as in “leaving more space for others.” A random lottery selected one in seven people on the planet over the age of thirty-five for spacing every year.

And you couldn’t expect everyone to go quietly, but the penalties for non-attendance were severe, not for yourself though. No, the penalties were carried out on your loved ones, the physical and financial ones anyway.

The man was dressed in a pale blue one piece outfit that fitted him perfectly. Everyone in the large area was dressed similarly, only the colours varying.

He handed over his passport and other documentation to the young woman who flashed another perfect smile at him, and efficiently checked the paperwork. She read, stamped, read some more, stamped again, pushed one paper under a scanner which duly bleeped and was about to hand the paperwork back when something caught her attention.

Her eyes flicked to the screen beside her for confirmation such was the surprise, and she ignored the sudden bitter taste of adrenaline in her mouth. Her smile faded for the briefest of moments before her training reasserted itself and only her eyes betrayed any concern as she handed the papers back, and only then if an onlooker had studied them carefully.

“Enjoy your trip,” she said mechanically, but the man was too excited to notice and he moved away, allowing the next person in the queue to move forward.

The woman found her eyes drawn again to the screen, only peripherally registering the guards closing in on the man who’d just left her station.

Her grandmother had told her about such people in the long ago past, but she’d never thought that even in her present employ that she’d ever encounter one.

A religious person. Who’d have thought such people still existed? Someone who by their “beliefs” forfeited both the dignified, gentle drug induced cessation of life or the sudden immediate death by flash burning. She pitied him, genuinely, the rumours of his fate being only that: rumours. Only the control trained into her stopped her shuddering on his behalf.

There was a gentle cough in front of her, and she looked up, again the perfect professional.

The young lady in the state execution centre looked up at the next person in the queue and flashed a smile at the older woman.

“Heaven or Hell?” the young woman with the perfect teeth asked.

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