Szyggi stands in a line that coils toward a low, brick-clad building. Beside her a rigid red and blue poly carbonate campaign sign hangs on a lamp post: “VOTE! Are you registered*? Of course you are! VOTE TODAY!” An asterisk leads to finely printed text at the bottom of the banner: “*Unregistered citizens will be immediately deported by law. Registered citizens that do not vote will be penalized 800 credits.” She sighs nervously.
“I don’t see the point,” states Tucker before pulling a deep drag on the vaporizer attached to a lanyard around his neck. “They already know how the election is gonna turn out.” The odorless white smoke billows from his nostrils. Szyggi steps ahead a few paces as the line edges forward. She looks down at her device, and flips through the Voter’s Instructions app that was pushed to her phone last night.
“Shut up, Tucker.” She blurts out, after scanning the dense terms of service paragraph titled Dissent and Revolting Behaviours. “This is my first time voting so just…. don’t be an idiot.” She puts her phone back into her shoulder bag.
“I don’t know why you read that stuff. None of it matters.” Tucker leans in closer: “I heard the president who’s in there now, he’s watching everything. He’s like a machine, a robotic overlord, in a room full of screens and monitors with the votes being tallied in real time, right in front of his face. And if he doesn’t agree with how the majority is leaning….”
“Then what?” Szyggi crosses her arms, rolling her eyes at Tucker.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to suggest anything, you know, dishonest.” Tucker tightens up as a security drone flies overhead. He clears his throat and straightens his fluorescent yellow button down shirt.
“I don’t know why I hang out with you,” Szyggi mutters, looking at the people around them, dressed in muted blacks, olive drabs and greys. “Where did you even get that thing?” she asks.
“This shirt? Vintage shop on Earlscourt. Why? Is it too subtle?”
“Pfft,” she dismisses him, before he grabs her in a headlock, rubbing his knuckles in her hair.
“Admit it: you love hangin’ with your big bro!”
“Ugh!” She wriggles out of his clutches as the line moves forward. They are nearly at the door. A recorded message plays in a loop: “Please prepare your scan code for verification. Remove all jewelry, opaque or patterned clothing from the coded area to ensure a positive scan. Thank you for participating in today’s election.” Obliging the message, Szyggi pulls back her sleeve, exposing a small, blue-black checkerboard-like tattoo on her inner wrist.
She shoves her hand under the red laser scanner, as she does several times a day -- to ride the subway, to mark her attendance at school, to pay for something at a store, to unlock her front door -- and the turnstile-like machine ejects a small ticket and opens the metal gate, allowing her into the voting area.
“See you on the other side,” she smiles, giving a little wave to Tucker.
The grey, stone room is cave-like and empty, except for a set of white, curtained voting booths across the back wall. Brightly lit from below by white LEDs, the booths appear to hover like ghostly monoliths. She looks at her ticket, which is imprinted with a single digit: “8”. She walks into the curtained voting booth labelled “8” and, again, submits to a scan. An opaque plexiglas panel slides open, revealing a list of candidates, each with a small slit next to their names. The same, pleasant voice prompts her: “Please insert your ticket into the slot corresponding to the candidate you would like to vote for. You have 40 seconds.”
Szyggi pauses, thinking of what her brother said about the outcome being fixed, regardless of who she chooses. “How would anyone ever know?” she wonders, as a voice encourages her: “30 seconds remaining.” She slips her ticket into one of the slots, and the panel covering the voting terminal closes. “Thank you. Your selection has been recorded. Please vacate the voting area."
As she steps outside, she sees her brother being escorted from the building by two security clerks. Tucker plunks down on the curb, puffing at his vapes. Szyggi sits down next to him.
“Was that everything you thought it could be?” He asks, with a note of disdain.
“I dunno. I mean, I thought about what you were saying, about the all-knowing overlord junk, and I just can’t get into that. My vote counts for something. It has to.”
“Well, that idea of subduing the masses totally worked on you,” Tucker suggests sarcastically. “I cancelled my vote. I let the time run out, then these security hose-bags came in, scanned me, and took my ticket away. I asked them what they were going to do with my ticket and they said it would be destroyed. But y’know what? I never saw them destroy it. I bet they turn it into a vote for themselves!”
“Gawd, Tucker. Who are they supposed to be anyways? Don’t you think it’s naive to believe in that conspiracy stuff?”
“Great,” Tucker, only half-listening to his sister, swipes at his phone with contempt. “I just lost 800 credits.”
“Really? Lemmie see… ” As Szyggi tugs at his arm, a quadricopter silently descends to a low hover above them. Tucker notices the drone quietly buzzing in the reflection on his screen.
“Szyggi,” he mutters quietly. “Crap. I’m sorry. I’ll be back soon.” He steps away from his sister. She looks up and watches as the bulky, armoured drone releases a puff of air, shooting out a net that envelops her brother before quickly ascending, whisking him away.
Looking up into the empty sky, Szyggi notes: “Mom is gonna be pissed.” In the distance, she hears the monotonic voice, still broadcasting: “Thank you for participating in today’s election.”