Life or Liberty

Brian Boettcher

Third place, fiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Center writing contest, August 2019

            It had happened — worse than anyone imagined possible… Another celebrity president was somehow elected into office.  After Donald Trump weaseled his way into a second term, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson slid into the Oval Office with an unexpected landslide victory.  Yes, The Rock became the Commander in Chief of the great United States of America.  The political climate of 2025 had changed quite a bit in the past few years.  Things like E-currency and crypto-currency legislation and rights over social media accounts, likes, tweets and followers have replaced the age old issues like health care and gun control on the House floor. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber and Twitter now ran the free world.  The Rock happened to be just the face and personality that “Big Web” (as it came to be called) needed to pacify the people into clicking, liking, following, spending and ride-sharing their incomes and lives away.  Convenience and social media had become the new opiate of the masses.

There was a small issue though.  One that nobody in the public knew about… really only Dr. Raj Patel — who was Dwayne’s Surgeon General, Kassandra Linder — his VP and a small team of specialists knew, but “The Rock” was dying.  As a result of some moderate use of experimental steroids many years ago, his kidneys were failing.  Dr. Raj had just given him the news that he now has a year to live.

“This is bad,” said Dwayne as the bad news was dropped on him.  “I mean really, really bad.”

“I can’t possibly become president now, not with the mess with Big Web now.  I just can’t… how is this even possible?!” Chimed in Kassandra from across the Oval Office where the three of them were having a very private meeting.

“Well, we’ve come up with a scenario that ends with a possible solution by next week,” said Dr. Raj.

“Possible?!  I don’t need possibilities from you Doc!  I  need facts and actual solutions! If Big Web gets wind of this it’ll be just what they need… they’ll twist it somehow and become even closer to completely controlling this country!” Dwayne yelled as he pounded his fist on his mahogany desk.

“Well, we have a solution then… Sir, but its going to have to involve Big Web,” said Dr. Raj.

“Does it involve me living long enough to finish my term… and the uh, next one too?” asked Dwayne, under the illusion that his government really was still in control of the US.

“Absolutely Sir… and many more.  We have made arrangements and have a team of specialists standing by, waiting for your word.”

“Do it then.” said Dwayne, not really even sure what he was committing to, also not even caring as only a dying man could.

“Just sign here Sir.”

The next day at Western State Penitentiary, Ty Shaw, inmate #900372, was waking up for his morning jog around the rec yard.  Ty was 23 months into his 15 year sentence for selling narcotics.  This was his third offence, and all things considered, he was just starting to accept his fate and stay positive.  Hey, at least I’m finally clean he told himself.  At 29, and in peak physical condition Ty hardly ever used his Big Web sponsored state health insurance, but all it took was one time 2 years ago.  One doctor visit for all of Ty’s medical information, vital data and DNA to be stored on a Big Web database.  An algorythm was run, a match was made, sent back to the White House and that was it.  Ty was a perfect match, litterally one out of 100 million with an exact match to blood type, organ stats and DNA profile.

Ty was walking out of his housing unit on his way to his jog when a guard yelled to him “Shaw!  Visit!”  Caught off guard Ty fired back “What the hell?!  At 9 am?!”

“I dunno bud, but you’re going.  Sarge said its mandatory.”

“Uhh, okay,” said Ty.

Walking into the visiting room still confused, Ty sees two non-descript, almost identical looking men in plain black suits and shades.

“Have a seat Mr. Shaw” says the one on the left.  Ty apprehensively approached the table they were sitting and takes a seat across from them.  “Uhh… whats up fellas?  Someone die?” says Ty, expecting the worst.

“We have a proposition for you Mr. Shaw.”  The proposition went something like this:  “Give up one of your healthy kidneys as a matter of national security, and you walk a free man.” Said the man on the right.  Followed by his partner saying “The procedure takes 3 days.  You could be a free man by next week… You have 10 minutes to decide.  Sign here, and you’ll come with us.  Right now…”

“Shit.” said Ty.

Of course Ty went… would you?  Everything went according to plan, Ty walked a free man, a free with a shorter life expectancy.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson finished his term, even ran for a second one.  There was one pretty big unforeseen consequence of the whole ordeal though.  Big Web found another way to exercise even more power and control. A new system was developed to keep the wealthy alive longer, and the poor shorter.  Modern medicine came a long way, certain organs, even bones, joints and limbs could easily be transplanted.  Now the nation had an alternative to continuing to overcrowd its jails and prisons, which were already bursting at the seams.  The only thing left to figure out was:  How much time is a kidney worth?  An eyeball?  Would someone rather do 10 years in prison or go home on probation with one hand?  Should a right hand be worth more than a left?  How many years of ones life is the ability to procreate worth?