When William saw the guy who looked like Ed MacMahon get out of the big white limo parked in front of his house, he imagined that maybe he had been selected as a Big Prize Winner. But he knew that wasn’t it. He had been chosen, but for something else.
It was only moderately surprising; William had been a prime candidate for over a year, and knew that if he lived long enough his time would come. Today was the day. The Enders’ Shepherd delivered the first five thousand New Dollar Magcard, the Enders’ Notice, Toga, and Information Packet.
The Enders’ Notice was printed on a synthetic parchment-like material, much of it in big, bold print, and some of it in print so fine that William could not read it. He had lost his glasses more than a month ago, and had been unable to see well enough to find them. The Enders’ Notice was a blur to William. No matter; the Enders’ Shepherd often dealt with the visually impaired. A pleasant person, he explained the situation in all of its simplicity. William was to be an honored Senior Citizen with enhanced privileges for the rest of his life. He was to be put down two months hence, at shortly after eleven P.M.
When the National Health Care Recovery Program had been proposed more than a decade previously, William had favored it. Care for the elderly had become a major problem, and there were more and more of them, living longer all the time. Something had to be done, and euthanasia had been the answer. There were firm assurances that it would be done fairly: a national lottery, with one thousand winners every day. The pool would consist of all those over seventy, with added points for those without spouses and for those drawing heavily on the Medicare account. Winners would enjoy a privileged status for the remainder of their lives, and receive a weekly stipend of five thousand New Dollars. Even with these special privileges, the resources saved would be astronomical, and would be used to cure AIDS, promote education, end global warming, and ensure honest-to-goodness campaign finance reform. All good works, William was confident.
There was no way to get a deferment. There was no appeal. There was no use whining. Enders could, of course, leave the country; but if they did all their assets were forfeited to the State and they automatically became stateless; no other country would have them.
The Shepherd explained that additional weekly payments of five thousand New Dollars would be deposited directly to William’s electronic account, and could be drawn on as he wished. His Magcard would automatically reflect his current balance, and could be used anywhere in the country. The Shepherd, or one of his colleagues, would come on the afternoon of the end to help prepare William for The Event. He assured William that it would be painless, even pleasant. If William desired, it could be at one of the Happy Enders’ Clubs. In the meantime, any of the Clubs would welcome William and make his remaining time on Earth more pleasant. The nearest club was less than eighty Clintons away, and all he had to do was call. A limo would be dispatched to pick him up immediately.
Even with a thousand new Enders being confirmed each day, there were at any given time fewer than sixty thousand, and they were truly special. They wore their Enders’ Togas everywhere, so they could be recognized and accorded the honors to which they were entitled. The togas were special too: initially deep purple in color with gold trim, they whitened and brightened with age until, by the sixtieth day, they were pure, almost blinding, white.
After the Shepherd left, William decided that his first act as a newly bestowed Ender would be to acquire a new pair of glasses. Maybe even two. He had resisted up to now, because of the long lines of unpleasant people at the optical dispensaries. No longer. Not only would he be given place at the front of the line, his new glasses would be absolutely free. William did not want to go through the rest of his life almost blind. After that, he would check out the Happy Enders’ Club.
Within minutes of his call, the Enders’ Limo arrived. It was the sort of vehicle his late wife had dreamed of, when she had sold cosmetics to her friends and co-workers many years ago. There was no “MelisaK” logo, but there should have been. The limo whisked William to the optical dispensary and waited the short ten minutes for him to return with his wonderful new glasses. Then, in less than five minutes, it was in the Special Traffic Lane (reserved for high Government officials and Enders) and headed out to the closest Happy Enders’ Club.
The club seemed to have something for everyone. There were elegant quiet rooms, glitzy loud rooms, and ethno-centric rooms of every description. There were bowling alleys, shuffle board and tennis courts, and there were even horses for those still agile enough to enjoy them. The sex rooms at first daunted William, but he thought he might soon enjoy that sort of thing again.
The Happy Enders’ Club staff were pleasant and endlessly happy. They appeared to sense William’s desires even before he was able to ask. First, he would go for a ride on one of the horses. Then he would try one of the sex rooms, and after that he would enjoy a big, medium rare filet mignon with mushrooms and a heavily sour creamed baked potato. Then maybe some pecan pie. His worries about cholesterol were over.
The ride on the horse was exciting, and the sex room even more so. His companion couldn’t have been much older than twenty, and she was as beautiful as she was highly skilled. She played William like a fine musical instrument. Veronica looked strangely like his late wife had fifty-some years ago, long before she had died miserably of a lingering disease and his life had become dull. William preferred to think of her as she had been, early in life, and the girl with him now made that easier. Dinner after was probably the best he had ever had.
Finally, William retired to one of the Enders’ Lounges to scan the newspaper and have a drink of brandy. It was not the synthetic, healthy stuff to which he had lately become accustomed. It was good. Damn good.
The Enders’ Limo took William back to his home before midnight. When he entered, he recognized the previously unnoticed semi-squalor in which he lived. He was coming to like being an Ender; he would spend more time at the Happy Enders’ Club, of that he was sure.
Just before bed, William put on one of his new pair of glasses and read the Enders’ Notice in full. It held just one surprise for him: it was not his. Rather, it was for a different William, and bore a different William’s Government Identification Number. A terrible mistake had been made. He did not know what to do. In just one short day, he had come to enjoy being an Ender. True, it meant that he would die in just sixty— no, less than that now— short days. But what days those would be! Maybe he would have some ideas in the morning.
William slept well, and in the morning awoke fully refreshed. For the first time in ages, life was worth living, and he was already excited. He wouldn’t even fix breakfast. He would call for an Enders’ Limo and go to the club, first thing. He would get a better breakfast there than he could possibly fix for himself, even with his new glasses, and then go see Veronica. He hoped she would be there.
But wait a minute. He wasn’t really an Ender. It had all been a mistake, and he had no better idea about how to deal with it than he had had the night before. He wished he could just put it out of his mind. Then again, it didn’t seem right to be usurping the other William’s privileges, and the longer he waited to address the problem, the more difficult it would become. He wondered what the other William would think, and also what Veronica would think if she found out. William was troubled. But he called for the Enders’ Limo anyway and, in less than an hour, was with Veronica. After that, he had a big breakfast and swam in the pool for a while. Then he had a wonderful gin and tonic at the pool side bar and thought some more about his dilemma.
It wasn’t really a great big dilemma. He could probably just go on with the charade and die very happily, without mentioning the problem to anyone. Fifty-nine, actually just a little less than that, golden, wonderful days of life. He would enjoy them tremendously. But what would he think as his time approached; say, on the fifty-fifth day? Or the sixtieth, as night approached? It would just be like it was for all Enders, of course. That wasn’t too bad. But then he wasn’t really an Ender, was he?
There were all sorts of bureaucrats whose job it was to deal with Enders’ problems. Maybe he should go see one of them, and explain the situation. They would know what to do. Then the problem would not be his any longer. William wondered what the solution would be. A new Enders’ Notice, properly made out with his own name and ID number? They probably couldn’t do that; the only way an Enders’ Notice could be issued was through the national lottery. He would almost certainly have to give up his Enders’ privileges, and he certainly didn’t want to do that. He would never see Veronica again. No, there had to be a better way. Perhaps he should go see one of the few remaining non-governmental Enders’ Advocates. But that was awkward; since he wasn’t really an Ender, they would have no idea how to handle his problem.
There had to be someone to whom he could explain his dilemma and get some good advice. It was just that he did not have any idea who that someone might be. Maybe he should find what he could about the other William. It was a long shot, of course, but he did have the other William’s Government ID number; that was a start.
The Chief, Lotteries Branch, Department of Domestic Tranquility, was concerned. He had arranged this sort of scheme before, and it had worked just fine. This time, he wasn’t so sure. First off, the man who had insisted he do it was his ultimate boss, the Secretary. The Secretary had not been pleased to receive an Enders’ Notice, and had demanded that the Chief do something. It wasn’t that the Secretary didn’t believe in the program. Hardly; he had been instrumental in its creation and, as the head of the DDT, was now ultimately in charge of it. It was just that he was very happy in his work, and knew that no one else could possibly do it as well as he did. No, he wasn’t ready to die just yet, thank you all the same. Besides, as the Secretary, he already had access to the Happy Enders Clubs and all of the other important Enders’ privileges. He was no fool. So, the Chief had arranged to pull the Secretary’s Enders’ Notice and reissue it to another man with the same name and of similar age. It would be delivered immediately, and nobody would know the difference, except him and the Secretary. At least it should have worked that way, if he had changed the Government ID number on the fool thing. Somehow, he hadn’t. Therefore, it was possible that the poor simpleton who received it might notice that something was strange. Probably not. Most people who received Enders’ Notices were too shocked, and then too dazzled by their royal treatment, to notice such things. After all, the ID number was in small print, buried in the middle of the Notice, hardly likely to attract much attention. People knew that once they had The Notice there was nothing to be done about it, except to enjoy life while they were still able. The Chief hoped that it would work out that way this time. If it didn’t, and the person made a stink, there could be a monumental scandal. Some people were already complaining about the program and trying to introduce cost cutting measures. Sure, the program had worked as advertised, and the savings in health related costs had been monumental. Still, there could be troubles for the program. And for him personally, of course.
William didn’t think much about the problem for a few days, beyond wondering in a desultory way just who the other William might be. He enjoyed his times with Veronica, and on her day off with one of the other equally lovely and talented young ladies. The food was wonderful beyond description, and all of his desires seemed to be anticipated and fulfilled even before he could ask. He was fitting well into the Enders’ life style, and the thought of giving it up was becoming more and more distressing. He had to die sometime, and there was no way on Earth that his time before then could be as pleasant as being an Ender had made it.
Sometimes, when William could tear himself away from the Happy Enders’ Club, he would go into town and mix with what he had come to think of as the “Common People.” In his increasingly white Enders’ Toga, he was resplendent and everyone was extraordinarily kind to him. Did he seriously think he could revert to existence as a non-entity? Still, he was mindful of the shortness of his allotted time, and realized that he had only forty days remaining until The End. The past twenty had gone by with incredible speed, and he knew that the next forty would as well. Then, it would be all over for him. It pained him to think that others, now mere non-entities as he had once been, would assume his place at the Happy Enders’ Club and, more painful, with his dear Veronica. His sadness was tempered only slightly by the realization that it would happen no matter what he did, and that at least if he did nothing about his misidentification problem, he would not have to worry about it in just a few short weeks.
One evening, over his now customary brandy and newspaper, William read an article about the Department of Domestic Tranquility. He noticed for the first time that he and the Secretary of Domestic Tranquility had the same names. They were identical, first middle and last. That was uncommon; William had never before encountered anyone with exactly the same name as his own. He wondered what the Secretary’s Government ID number might be. He continued to wonder about it as he was driven home, and he had difficulty sleeping that night. Surely, it could not be the number on his Enders’ Notice; that would be just too anomalous. He continued to wonder. He would have to find out.
It would not be easy. Like the old Social Security numbers, the new ID numbers were forbidden to be used for any purpose other than designated Federal Government programs. Unlike the old Social Security numbers, they were not. The laws were enforced, and any non-Federal agency misusing them was deprived of Federal funding. There were criminal penalties for non-governmental use. Still, William knew of some bootleg data banks where, for a fee, he would be able to get the information. Since nearly all of William’s needs were being met by the Happy Enders’ Club, he had found few ways to spend his weekly stipend. He would use some of it to access one of the bootleg data banks.
William was shocked, but not at all surprised, to learn that his namesake the Secretary did, in fact, have the ID number reflected on his Enders’ Notice. Now the question was, what to do about it. The “mistake” could hardly have been inadvertent, William now realized. The person to whom the Enders’ Notice should rightfully have been delivered was not some poor non-entity old fart; it was the Secretary himself. More than likely, the Secretary had orchestrated the whole damn thing. William no longer felt uncomfortable about usurping the other William’s privileges; he was furious. Perhaps, there was some way he could turn the sorry events to his own advantage.
William had a certified copy made of the Enders’ Notice and locked it away in a bank safe deposit box, along with a full account of what he had learned. Then, he called an Enders’ Limo and was driven to the office of the Federal Ombudser, who very politely and deferentially advised him to let it be. It was obviously a simple clerical error, and the Enders’ Notice had, in fact been delivered to him. It was his, and he should not spend his few remaining weeks getting embroiled in an unsettling affair. There was no point to it. It would do no good, and only bad could come of it. So much for the Ombudser. A real toady, in William’s opinion.
William thought briefly of going to a newspaper or television station about the problem, but immediately thought better of it. The best that would happen would be that his Enders status would terminate, and he would revert to being an old non-entity. That was not what he wanted. Not now, not exactly, not after he had become an Ender and knew what real happiness was possible. No, there had to be a better way.
Perhaps he could arrange a private conference with his namesake at the Department of Domestic Tranquillity. The Secretary would probably refuse to see him, but then again he might not. It was worth a try.
The next day, William flew to Washington. He wore his Enders’ Toga, and was accorded every possible deference at the airport and on the airplane. No waiting in long lines, and no crowded seats in economy class for him. When his plane landed at the Washington airport, he called for a limo and was whisked immediately to the DDT offices. The increasingly white toga sure made things a lot easier than they had ever been for him before.
The Secretary was in a meeting, and could not see William. Perhaps he would like to talk with the Secretary’s deputy? She could speak for the Secretary, and could almost certainly deal with any problem William might want to address. No, that wouldn’t be satisfactory. It was a personal matter, relating to the fact that he and the Secretary had identical names.
In a few minutes, the Secretary’s secretary came to fetch William and take him into The Presence. William and William shook hands with some warmth, and then disappeared into the Secretary’s private office. Fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour. The Secretary’s secretary buzzed to let him know that he would soon be late for a meeting with the Vice President, and was told to call the VP and postpone the meeting. The Secretary could not possibly meet with him for at least an hour, maybe longer.
Soon, a breathless and unhappy Chief, Lotteries Branch, entered the Secretary’s office, only to leave a moment later and return three moments later with official looking papers in hand. Soon thereafter he departed, and then so did a very happy looking William. The Secretary finally was able to go to his meeting with the Vice President, only an hour late.
William took the next flight back home, and smiled all the way. He had made the best deal of his entire life. He would not be ended as specified in the Enders’ Notice; not at all. His date had been canceled, but he would retain all of the Enders’ privileges he had come to enjoy. Veronica would remain available, as would the beautiful Happy Enders’ Club and all its amenities. He would have the best of all possible worlds for the rest of his life. “Live long and prosper,” he said to himself as he sipped a cool gin and tonic in the first class cabin.
An Enders’ Limo was summoned by flight phone, and the driver met William as soon as he stepped from the plane. First, he would go to the Happy Enders’ Club and then he would go home for the evening. Even though he was tired, the session with Veronica was incredibly wonderful, better than ever before. Perhaps it was because he knew that he was not going to be put down in just a few short weeks. Perhaps it was something else. William did not know, and didn’t much care. It was grand, and that was all there was to it.
After dinner, brandy and a newspaper, the Enders’ Limo took William home. As they approached his house, William saw the limo and Enders’ Shepherd waiting for him. William wondered how DDT has worked so fast. The Shepherd gave William a new five thousand New Dollar Magcard, a new Enders’ Notice, a new Enders’ Toga, and a new Enders’ Information Packet. William put on his new glasses and checked. As he suspected it would, it bore his own Government ID number. In sixty days . . . .