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Bob Williams knew when he woke that it would be another perfect day. April had brought him in espresso coffee in bed, made just the way he liked it.

After his brain was moving at full speed, Maria and Anna, his two daughters entered, their hair in perfect golden pigtails and dressed in their school uniform. “Love you, Daddy.”

“Hurry, children,” April said, herding them to their family car, which drove the children to school.

He went to the bathroom to clean up, smiling at the crisply ironed pressed US Public Health Service that was waiting for him. After showering and shaving, he grabbed his briefcase and headed into the kitchen. April was flipping through recipes on her tablet. He kissed her gently. “Hi, gorgeous,” he told her. “You are the most wonderful wife in the world.”

She handed him his kale banana protein smoothie in a large travel mug. “I wanted to make your field day extra special. What would you like for dinner?”

“Every night with you is extra special. Surprise me.”

She smiled slyly. “I intend to, as soon as the children are in bed.”

He saluted the flags that hung from his house. He really wanted to flip them off, but the Uniform Code of Military Justice had no sense of humor or mercy. A robot automatically raised and lowered the flags. He hated it because he too was just another robot owned by the Public Health Service and controlled by the State computers.

He sat in the doggie van as it drove him to his destination. That’s what the girls called it. It only had one bench seat in the front, but there was a security partition between the front seat and the rear compartment. That made it perfect for taking Thor and Sif to the dog park. The office computer had chosen and downloaded to his tablet, the same as any freshly commissioned ensign. Most captains over field divisions stayed behind their desks. Bob believed in leading from the front and tried to spend one day a week in the field.

His morning cases were at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. Some of the doctors at the staff entrance gave him nervous glances and hostile stares, but he was used to it. The hospital security staff waved him around the line. He smiled and thanked them. It made doctors nervous when the metal detector sang.

“Bob, how are you,” said Dr. Chan, the Chief of Psychiatry at Saint Mary’s.

“Alen,” Bob said, extending a firm handshake to his longtime friend. “Hey there, how are you? How are Mei-Mei and the kiddos?”

They stepped into the elevator. Bob punched the floor to Oncology.

“Great. Angel won the state-wide High School poetry contest.”

“Maria told me. She was so excited for her.”

As he stepped out of the elevator, Bob felt pangs of envy for Alen’s perfect children and illustrious career. Then he remembered he had to accept life on life’s terms and to be glad for everything that his friendship with Alen had given him. Friends help friends, and Bob always repaid that friendship.

Bob’s first case of the day was Francis Anthony Czernwinski. Tony was an Afghan War veteran who had served with distinction for forty years with the Reno police department. Now he was a dried husk, lying in a hospital bed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Only one final gift was possible for Tony Czernwinski, and Bob intended to give it to him.

As per the law, the computer notified Tony’s closest next of kin. Angela Grabowska sat, holding her father’s hand. Bob was a consummate professional who always studied the immediate family before going in. Understanding their circumstances made it much easier to relate.

He went to Tony and looked into his dull eyes. “How are you doing,” Bob asked, using his disarming Texas drawl to the maximum.

“Pain. Make it stop.”

“That is what I am here for.”

“Please,” Mrs. Grabowska said, glancing at her father. “May we talk outside?”

“That would leave out the person most involved with this decision.”

“But I am not ready to see my Papa go.” She squeezed her father’s hand. “There must be some way besides this.”

“There is. If your father sent me away. I would be required to do so unless he called me back. But think of what will happen. As much as your father’s medical expenses are, we estimate he will exhaust the health care savings fund he earned over a lifetime in less than four months. Based on our experience, we think he will live for seven months. If you as next of kin accept responsibility for him after those funds are exhausted, you have to pay for his medical bills.”

“But I want my Papa.”

“That’s very selfish of you, Mrs. Grabowska. Please think of your children. You have two fine daughters. Their teachers say both girls want to go to college. You are behind on your house payments. If you pay for hospitalization through the bitter end, you will lose your house and be bankrupt. Accept this final gift from your father. Let him cash out. What’s left in his medical fund will pay off your mortgage so your children can to live with you at home and get their college education.”

She held her hands over her face. “This shouldn’t be happening.”

“No, it shouldn’t. Your father was a good cop and a faithful party leader. He loves you, and he loves this country. Let him have a hero’s death, not for you to sentence him to months of slow torture. One final sacrifice to crown his life and give your children a chance at the life they deserve.”

“Stop the pain,” he coughed. “Now.”

She looked at her father and then at Bob with sad resignation.

“Mrs. Grabowska, is there anyone else here who would like to attend?”

“Let me get the girls.”

When the two of them were alone, Bob double checked his recorder. Everything had to be done legally and properly. “Tony Czernwinski, do you want to cash out now?” “Yes. Now.”

“How do you want your cash out distributed?”

“Angela’s house. Pay it off. Give her the rest.” He struggled to speak, then took a breath. “My funeral.”

“You will be given a full State funeral, with 21 gun salute and bagpipes and internment in the Field of Heroes.”

“My monument?”

“Lifesize, I guarantee it.”

“The police one carrying the little girl, my face and Angela’s.”

Bob nodded. “Of course. The perfect choice.”

Angela returned with two girls in the latest ugly teenage fashion. Both had tears in their eyes. “We love you, Dziadju,” they said as they hugged him.

“I love you,” Tony said. “Time to go.”

One girl turned to Bob. “Will it hurt much?”

Bob unwrapped a package with two syringes. “Not a bit,” he said as he injected the first hypodermic into the IV line. Within moments, the pain left Anthony Czernwinski’s face. He looked peaceful. “My duty is to end suffering. Your grandfather is now in a deep coma.” He pulled the syringe out and administered a next one. The monitors in the room rang. A nurse came in and switched them off, checked her patient and noted the time.

His morning was successful. With a sense of perverse pride, he released four people from their suffering and eliminated the risk of them being a financial burden to the State. As he ate April’s avocado sprouts sandwiches and filled out the paperwork, Bob pondered his next article in Public Health Reports. “Voluntary Conversions Among Low-Income Substance Abusers.” Publish or perish, they say. He wanted to give April a Rear Admiral’s mansion. Consuelo had been invaluable, but Bob didn’t want his wife scrubbing toilets.

It took less than half an hour to get to his next destination, Lois Allen Elementary School in Sparks, the worst school in town. The student’s name was Miguel Garcia. Bob called to verify with the principal that Miguel was on campus. Principal Pacheco and Manuel’s teacher had opened the service request. After reading the file, he wondered why they waited so long.

The meeting was in the classroom of Miguel’s teacher, Mrs. Torres. Her class had let out. All the students had left. Bob paced back and forth. He hated interventions. As Bob nervously circled the room, Ms. Pacheco sat at Mrs. Torres’s desk, idly playing with her bleached blonde hair as she flipped through messages on her phone. Mrs. Torres quietly sat in one of the small chairs, nursing a spectacular black eye. She looked fragile and depressed.

Eventually, two school guards wrestled Miguel through the door. One guard’s nametag read Martinez and the other read Cooper. Most school guards were retired military trying to get easy money or newbies looking for experience so they could enroll in the Police Academy. Martinez was the former and Cooper was the latter. Neither was up to the task. Miguel kicked and snapped at the guards as he growled and shrieked like a beast. A toothpick-thin woman with dank, patchy hair pounded on the guard’s second chance vests as she followed them. “What is this,” she said in Spanglish, advertising to the world her lack of education as well as her decayed meth mouth. “The principal said I had to come. What are you doing to my Miguel?”

“Sit down,” Bob said firmly. His Spanish had the accent of a professor.

“You can’t do this,” she babbled. “Let Miguel go.”

Bob nodded. The guards released him and withdrew to the counter behind the teacher’s desk. Cooper rolled up his sleeve to inspect a bite mark while Martinez rubbed his shin. Miguel sat, rocking back and forth as he played with his phone, seemingly oblivious to everyone around him.

“Miss Garcia, the Public Health Service was called in because of your son’s violence against school staff. This school year, he has been suspended three times. In the latest incident, he broke Mrs. Torres’s nose. We have turned a blind eye to his bad behavior and abysmal academic performance before, but he is a menace to society. He has been ordered to be transferred to a re-education center.”

“You can’t take my baby,” she screamed with horror, eyes darting around the room frantically. “Everyone knows what happens there. They go in, but they don’t come out.” Her eyes had the look of complete desperation. “He is just sensitive. You have to understand him and give him more time.”

Bob sighed. He sincerely felt sorry for Miguel. The kid didn’t ask to be born a sociopath, and his mother couldn’t stop loving him, but Bob couldn’t let his feelings sway him. His professional duty was clear, and he knew the impact on his family if he deviated in the slightest. “No more time. Miguel’s brutality and aggression prevent other children from getting the help they need.”

“Please, a different school with new teachers. He will do better.”

“Ma’am, the State’s computers predict a greater than 99% chance that he will murder someone within the next fifteen years. Based on that and his proven history of violent behavior, Miguel must go to a State re-education center.”

“No,” she shrieked, grabbing for Bob only to be restrained by the guards. “Let me go.”

Without any warning, Miguel snatched a heavy Martinelli’s cider bottle that had been a decoration on Mrs. Torres’s desk. He smashed off the end and savagely slashed at Martinez’s throat, leaving the guard with a gash that ran from his ear to his collar. Instinctively, the guard let go of the woman to stem his bleeding.

Bob drew his service pistol. “Drop it, now.”

Miguel stabbed at Cooper, who frantically tried to defend himself with his riot stick. The club and an itty, bitty can of MACE were all that Washoe County School District allowed their guards to carry. Cooper struggled to control Miguel’s mother as he defended himself from Miguel. He was fighting for his life, and the growing red stain on the sleeve of his uniform proved that he was losing. Bob fired twice, puncturing Miguel's head with one shot and destroying the classroom’s SMART Board 3D interactive display with the second. Miguel fell backward, a large hole in his head. Bob knelt over to check Miguel, but there was no pulse. He stood in a daze, then shut his wide, unmoving eyes and absent-mindedly holstering his weapon. The loud blasts left his ears ringing. He barely made it to the sink before his stomach heaved and violently emptied. It wasn’t the first time he had to use his pistol on the job, but it always made him sick.

Cooper released Miguel’s mother. She knelt by her fallen child. “You monster,” she cried, then leaped onto Bob and smeared Miguel’s blood on his neat, white uniform. “His blood is on your hands. You murdered him.” Despite their injuries, the guards managed to cuff her and toss her to the floor. She lay next to her son, tears mixing with her son’s brains and blood on the linoleum floor.

Holding his wounds with both hands, Martinez turned to Bob. “You saved my life. Thank you.”

“You did,” said Cooper, squeezing the injury on his arm.

Principal Pacheco put her phone down from calling 911 for the injured guard. “An ambulance is on the way. Nurse Kelly is coming.” She looked Bob straight in the eye. “Who is going to pay for the smart board you shot? We don’t have the money to replace it.”

“I will buy a new one, out of my own pocket.” He sighed, knowing that the money would have to come out of the family vacation fund.

The principal nodded. “Good. Yes, yes, then. You were the hero that saved everyone from that monster. Nothing else could be done. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Torres?”

Mrs. Torres was trying to bandage Martinez’s gash with the little classroom medical kit. By now, she had broken down in heaving sobs, but she nodded in sad agreement.

“I will tell them,” Miguel’s mother shouted as Cooper sat on her to keep her down. “You can’t hide the truth. You are a murderer. I will kill you for this.”

Bob shook his head as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and reported the incident to Angela, his administrative assistant.

Two cans of Dr Pepper washed the bile taste out of Bob’s mouth. By the time he left Lois Allen Elementary, he had ordered Principal Pacheco a replacement Smart Board and had cleaned up the mess. The corner hauled Miguel away for disposal. His mother had been taken to jail on the charge of assaulting and threatening the life of a Federal officer discharging his duty. If her drug test came back positive, she would go to the re-education center at Yerington.

Even though both the police and Vice Admiral Goswami in Los Angeles ruled that the shooting was justified, Bob felt sick. Then he remembered why he worked for the US Public Health Service. He loved his family more than he hated his job.

He was late getting home. Before he even got out of the van, Thor and Sif chirped their happy bark. Frantically dancing tails and the smell of lasagna greeted him. When the day went well, April cooked to keep him on his diet. When days were truly awful, she made lasagna. This was definitely a lasagna day. “Are you alright, Baby?”

He nodded. “It will be alright.”

Thor leaned against Bob and put his head in Bob’s hand. Maria and Anna joined the group hug. Erik ran in, running in circles and hands flapping. “Daddy is home, Daddy is home.”

Bob looked down at his son’s long, thin face. Except for those huge ears, he looked so much like his mother. “I have some bad news, kids,” Bob said.

“What,” the girls asked.

“I don’t think we can afford to go to visit Grandma this year. Daddy broke something expensive at work and had to pay for it.” He turned to April. “How was Erik today?”

“No seizures. I think the new medications are helping. Consuelo spent the day on his speech and in behavioral therapy.”

Bob smiled. As long as he stayed on the job, everything would be alright. He was so fortunate to be able to get Consuelo. She had been an autism specialist before the New Order eliminated that job. His position allowed him to expense her as his full-time servant. As much as Consuelo helped Erik, April didn’t mind doing the housework. With friends like Dr. Chen around town, Erik got his medications under the radar. Even if Bob had to do wet work every day, he could sleep knowing Erik was safe and the girls wouldn’t be sterilized. He hugged his family close. “We are good people. We always sacrifice and try to help others. Sometimes things don’t go our way, but they will work out in the end.”

Written by DrBobSmith
Content is available under CC BY-SA