First published in Bewildering Stories (2008) - read editor interview
Julian held Ramona close to him for the last time. His hand traveled a familiar path down her spine to below her waist and back. He inhaled the peach aroma of her hair; and when his lips touched hers, he relished the strawberry taste. He placed his chin on her head and sighed; for theirs was a forbidden love, he being a Six and she a Seven.
“Do you know when I first fell in love with you?” Julian asked.
“At the Rating Ceremony?” Ramona pulled back and smiled. “Why the surprised look? Didn’t you think I noticed you?”
Julian laughed. “Was I that obvious?”
She kissed him then laid her head on his chest.
“How did we let this happen?” Julian said after a few seconds.
“We didn’t have a choice. The heart wanders where it must. It’s the twelve members of The Supreme Council who think they can control our destinies.”
Yes, The Supreme Council, he thought. An outcome of the Great Cleansing of 2136, they ruled the planet like Greek gods sitting on Olympus. All laws were strictly adhered to, especially the Rating System. The Supreme Council and their immediate families were Tens. Monied friends of The Supreme Council were ranked Nines. The majority of the population was rated from Eight to Three and assigned professions accordingly. Those deemed mentally or physically unable to provide a beneficial service to The Supreme Council were rated Twos and sent to prison for life. Anyone who committed a crime, spoke ill of, or threatened The Supreme Council was rated a One and executed.
“What insanity,” he said. “I thought the idea was to create a world where people got along.”
“No, the idea was to make the rich richer. They could care less about us.”
Julian smiled. He’d heard the rest of her speech many times.
“You know why they don’t allow cross-rank mingling?” Ramona continued. “The Supreme Council wants to perpetuate the idea that people in the various ranks are different, fanatical even. They want us to hate and distrust one another. That’s what keeps them in power.” She looked up at Julian with fire in her eyes. “I’m surprised they haven’t removed the word tolerance from the dictionary and forbidden its use.”
“We could run away,” Julian said.
“It would do no good.”
“True.” Julian tilted her head up and gazed into her eyes. “So we stick with our original plan.”
“Yes, my love,” Ramona said.
They held each other as the sound of advancing boots grew louder, and the people on the sidewalk parted like the Red Sea. Public displays of affection were against the law. On Julian’s signal, Ramona pulled the Fazer 27 from his waist, placed the weapon to his chest and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. Before the guards could get to her, Ramona fell to her knees and, knowing they’d beaten The Supreme Council, turned the weapon on herself.