There’s a website where anyone can submit the name, face and description of any human. Site visitors then vote on these humans and whoever is at the top of the ladder at each full hour dies instantaneously. (2000 words)
“Your ID card, please,” said the clerk.
I handed it over, he crossed out my name in his forms and sent me to the voting booth. The booth contained a simple table, a chair and a computer. The national elections are coming up in a week but today, I’m making my death vote.
Voting for death. What a bizarre idea. Fifteen years ago, when the Death Site first appeared, it was chaos. The instructions on the site were somewhat complicated:
- You may upload a name, a description and a photo of any human on this website.
- You may vote for up to one human per day. Votes that you don’t use carry over to next days, up to a maximum of 300.
- You may vote for the same human any number of times.
- Votes never expire.
- At 0.00 UTC, 1.00 UTC, 2.00 UTC and so on, each day, the human with the most votes is removed from the list and dies instantaneously of a heart attack.
The website had appeared suddenly and looked amateurish, like something from the twentieth century. But when the people who initially discovered the website found it actually worked, its existence spread virally. Soon everybody knew about this new website where everybody could play god.
That time was chaotic. Celebrities ruled the list because everybody knew them. And if a person needed to decide whether to kill a human he doesn’t know, or a celebrity he despises, many chose the latter. Politicians also dropped. North Korea went into civil war as its entire leadership died in the first few hours.
In a week, the governments of the world managed to block the Death Site’s domain and seize its server, located in an anonymous warehouse in Japan. But it wasn’t enough. The people who were on top of the list prior to the server’s seizure died as scheduled. And a few hours afterwards, a new server popped up elsewhere to replace the old one with a new domain, and this too spread virally.
When it became clear that the website could not be stopped, that computer experts were powerless to stop it from killing, people started to form opinions.
Some said it’s our responsibility to choose who to kill, that we should put criminals on the list, others said we should put the destitute in there, still others said we shouldn’t use the website at all, that we shouldn’t participate in this collective murdering. To which the first ones said, that if we don’t vote ourselves, we are letting innocent people die instead of criminals. And finally, some said we are overreacting, that 24 deaths a day are a meaningless amount, compared to the thousands who die per day of road accidents, that we shouldn’t care about this site and consider its killings unavoidable “random deaths”. That didn’t sit well with anyone.
Some, of course, never stopped fighting. Right here in my country, we have the Death Site Destruction political party, a single-issue party that promises to devote budget and highly skilled professionals to fighting to stop the Death Site. But in the initial reveal, all the world tried, and nothing worked: so why waste your votes on a party that won’t at least promise to lower taxes? It didn’t even get to parliament.
Eventually, the chaos subsided and people came to terms with the site. “It’s just a part of life,” they now said, “I don’t think about it much.”
Each nation reacted to the new reality in its own way. Governments set up laws governing the use of the website. Some governments, mostly in developing countries, or where the population did not have much in the way of internet access, did not pass any laws. But all of Europe passed some laws and, despite fourteen years of negotiations, each state still handled it differently. The Union members just couldn’t agree.
Some countries, such as France, instituted mandatory voting for government-appointed victims. Each citizen was required by law to present himself, twice a year, to a voting booth, and vote for the selected people under the supervision of a government official. “This absolves our people of all guilt,” the French president had said, “if you have no choice, you don’t need to worry about being a murderer.”
Others, such as Germany, let people do as they wished and did not waste resources on controlling access to the website. The government issued recommendations but did not consider using the site to be evil. Notably, you could vote for whoever you wanted and submit any human into the database and even if they were killed by the Death Site, you were not considered a murderer.
My country has the best system of all, however. Much like in France, we require people to vote, twice per year. The reasoning is that, if we don’t vote, then people with lesser moral standards than us will decide, and they might choose worse targets. However, the government does not force a unified list, you may vote for almost anybody you want to, and secretly. There are some exceptions, though: You may not vote for high-standing officials and diplomats of the Republic or its allied countries and you may not vote for “premium members” who paid for the right to be unvoteable.
I am, of course, a premium member. I spare no expense on safeguarding my life. And yet still I take my duty as a citizen seriously. I now have 180 votes to distribute. It would be a pain to distribute them on my own. Usually, I just send them all to my favorite death curator, the Heinous Murderers Curator, who maintains a worldwide list of criminals convicted for especially cruel murders. The government website then sends my votes to the curator who uses the Death Site’s API to submit them for me.
This year, though, I’m not so sure. What good am I doing for the world by killing off people sentenced to lifetime in prison? I scroll down to the list of top death curators. My curator tops the list but immediately below is the Terminal Patients Curator who kills people in the last stages of a terminal disease. The third one disgusts me. It’s called the Do Not Care Curator and it distributes the votes it receives randomly, but concentrated mostly on insignificant humans who have no chance of actually topping the list. Basically, it’s a way for people to throw away their votes. To throw away their responsibility. Giving this curator a vote is like not participating in the death vote, shunning your public duty.
The fifth curator intrigues me. It’s called the Volunteers Curator. I click on it and view its list of top names. Its top recommended victim, one Mr. Handson from the United States, is placed 1724th on the world list. Voting for him could make a real difference. I view his details. It even has a personal statement. “For two decades now, I suffer from severe depression,” it said, “every day I wake up to feel an intense sadness. I take no joy in anything I do. I have no family or friends and nobody cares about me. Many psychologists and psychiatrists tried to help yet none lifted my spirit even a little. I am too afraid to kill myself but desperately want to die. I wish for this sacrifice to be my ultimate act.”
Yeah, that’s a good candidate. Voting for him is a win for everyone – he gets to die as he wishes and society rids itself of another death slot. I reenter my password and submit my vote. The Volunteers Curator will redistribute my votes as it deems fit but most of them will go to Mr. Handson.
My civic duty is done! Now I’ll just double check that I’m still on the premium members list. I search my name on the website and soon my photo and name come up. My premium membership doesn’t expire for ten years. Good. But wait… what? I’m 233rd on the world list?! How can that be?!! I… I’m a premium member, I can’t be voted for… I can’t die!
I frantically search the website for more information. Did some famous curator put me on top of their list? No… it doesn’t seem so. I am on the “Filthy Rich People Curator” list, of course. That swine lists all premium members in my country. “The rich should die first,” it claims. What nonsense. Of course the curator is banned in here and even elsewhere, only few vote for it. No, that can’t be the source of my votes. What else is there?
Was I targeted by mafia? Doubtful… I make sure never to take part in shady affairs. I amassed my fortune legally and don’t take any sides in political conflicts.
Of course. It has to be a hack. Someone hacked the government portal and is playing a practical joke on me. Haha, very funny. I open up another tab and view the Death Site itself. My heart beats very quickly. I search for my name and… it’s still on the 233rd position, even on the canonical site!
Then the Death Site itself must be hacked, mustn’t it? This is illegitimate, someone needs to fix this soon! How many days does it give me? Two hundred and thirty-three, divided by twenty four, that’s what? Ten? Shit, that’s not nearly enough. How could this happen so quickly? Somebody would alert me if I got this close to the top, wouldn’t they?
I climb out of the booth and shamble towards the reception desk, “uh, excuse me, sir,” I say, “would you mind checking my position on the world list?”
“Of course, sir,” says the clerk. “Oh, wow, uh… you are 233rd, I’m sorry to say. I offer you my sympathies –”
“I care NOT for your sympathies, idiot!” I shout at him, “I need you to fix this hack and send my record back to its usual rank where it belongs!”
“Sir, …there’s no hack,” he mutters, “I checked the Death Site itself. We have a secure connection. The Site says you are 233rd. Believe me, the government – hell, all the governments – tried to hack it before. None ever succeeded. The Site just works. It reestablishes itself even we physically destroy the server. I’m sorry, but nothing can be done –”
“OF COURSE something can be done!” I shout, “I CAN’T die. Explain this to me: If there was no hack, how could I get to the top rank, huh? And so suddenly, too? That’s not how it works!”
Tears begin to flow from my eyes.
“I am deeply sorry, sir,” repeats the clerk. After a while, “I suppose it could have been the Chinese…”
“Yes, well, nobody knows how they vote. Once a month, the government makes everyone go to a computer and press a button. That way, they can redistribute votes of the entire country as they wish. Now, of course, they deny it. But, off the record, I think that China, from time, adds some votes here and some there, balancing the ladder so as to further some kind of hidden agenda. Of course, some say that China created the Site itself –”
“Of course it’s the Chinese! I never liked those bastards! We should have nuked them all when the Site first appeared!”
“Sir, you must calm down,” the clerk answered calmly. I suppose he was used to this. “We have a brochure that will help you come to terms with the fact that you’re going to die –”
“Come to terms?! No, no, definitely not.”
What can help me? A private medical doctor? No, they have no clue how to prevent this. Heaps of money? I could pay for any medical operation. I could purchase a small army. But that won’t help either. An assassin? No, the damage is already done, killing anybody won’t help now. A fallout shelter? Space?
…Maybe. As far as I know, no astronaut was ever killed by the Death Site. None was ever targeted. It was possible the Death Site’s reach was limited. But no shuttle was probably planned to depart for the next ten days and even if, they wouldn’t let me board.
Cryonics? I look down on my bracelet. See reverse for biostasis protocol, it says, in case of death, begin CPR and call this number. No, that’s a long shot to begin with and who knows if humanity ever finds a way to reverse Death Site deaths.
Organize votes for other people? Even if I were that influential, it would merely postpone my death. With so many votes for me already, I’m bound to end up dead in a month at the latest.
So there’s no way. I can’t hack the site in time, I can’t hide and I can’t survive. I can’t outvote myself.
With tears in my eyes, I turn away from the desk and make to leave the voting site. As I pass the exit doors, I notice an election poster from the Death Site Destruction party.
I blink. I should be able to make it to election day.
And I suppose I know who I’ll be voting for.