Short Story

The System

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“Factories have been trying to fully recover from the sudden chain of natural disasters…” 

“The nation is suffering after what is the worst tornado in history has hit us unexpectedly, wrecking more than half of all the factories and farms.” 

“…hurricane weather all across Asia…the US depends on many of the affected countries exports…” 

“Did you hear? The number of poverty cases has almost tripled! This is scary!” 

“Please. We’re starving. I’ve been out of a job for months – no food available anyway – help – help…” 

“November 15, 2094..the United States has declared itself in a state of distress…” “This is your president speaking! We have a new plan to be put in action starting in 2095!” 

In 2095, after an unexpected series of natural disasters changed the nation forever, chaos gripped the nation as people came to terms with the scary reality that there were minimal resources and too many people to support. Despite the workers who struggled to produce as much as they could, the rapid growth of the population just couldn’t be caught up with. As the social circumstances of society diminished every day, the government resorted to a new system to keep resources as plentiful as possible. 

Every year, the nation’s eighteen-year-olds would take a test, determining their aptitudes in many areas. From cognitive quizzes analyzing the subject’s thinking skills to fitness challenges determining their physical abilities, the test determined who met the standards…and who didn’t. Those who didn’t were considered a burden to the rest of the population. Why waste resources on them, when they weren’t as fit for survival anyway? They were taken out of their city and moved to a facility where they received the bare minimum needed for living. 

It was a cruel but effective system. By stripping the unfit away, there were more resources to go around for those who did meet the standards. Food production caught up to support the larger part of the population, those who were not taken to the facility. Society flourished at the cost of the suffering of the weak. 

Those who didn’t pass were forced into a lifestyle of unfair treatment and discomfort, for the government tried to waste as little resources on them as possible. Their lives forever stayed like this, and they were never seen again after being taken away. Some tried to rebel, some tried to protest, but they never won. 

Those who passed the test were relieved it wasn’t them who had to suffer. They never intervened with the government or demanded equality for those who were less fortunate. Why fight what doesn’t affect you? 

Nobody ever questioned the system.

Layla doesn’t realize how long she’s been knotting and unknotting her fingers together until an elbow rams into her side. 

She turns, met with the concerned expression of the girl next to her – her twin sister, Amira. “You’re making it way too obvious that you’re nervous. Stop assuming the worst, would you?” Amira hisses. 

“You can’t blame me for being nervous!” Layla protests, unable to mask the blatant wobble in her voice. “In two minutes, we’re going to find out if we’ll live a happy life of comfort, or…or….” The terror of the other option steals her words before she can manage to get them out. 

“We’ll be fine, Layla.” Amira’s voice isn’t laced with any sugared-up soothing. She says it like a statement, a fact. Something they have to be sure of. 

Amira has always been Layla’s anchor, pulling her away from the black holes of hopelessness every time she gets too close. 

Layla nods and tries her best to force her face into a smile mimicking her sister’s. She knows she needs to hold a sense of confidence and show off to everyone that she has not a single doubt that she’ll be perfectly fine. Still, she can’t control the red-hot panic zipping through her veins like electricity. They’re about to find out their future – and there’s no guarantee that it’ll be what they hope for. 

Today is the day every eighteen-year-old in the city is gathered inside a huge auditorium. Some are buzzing with uncontrollable nerves, others letting out strangled sobs, others sitting high with surely fabricated confidence. 

Today, they’ll find out their fate. 

The rapid chatter looming among the clusters of teenagers suddenly falls away, like water thrown over a raging wildfire. Heads whip around to stare at the door at the back of the room. 

Layla cranes her neck to spot what has captured everyone’s attention. 

President Miller has entered the room. 

A sudden awareness seizes Layla as it sets in that this is really happening

President Miller starts her path up the stairs, headed to the stage. Each bounce of her black hair, each click of her white heels against the steps, each movement, is a moment closer to a future of possibilities – or a future of misery.

When she reaches the microphone, she doesn’t give an introduction. There’s no need for that. Every individual seated in the room knows exactly what is about to happen and any unnecessary word, any extra minute, is excruciating. 

She simply calls the first name. 

And the nightmare begins. 

“Luna Ahmed…pass.” 

Nobody reacts. Nobody cheers or does so much as clap lightly. Everybody is waiting for their turn to find out how they will live the rest of their life. The silence is heavy, laced with the tension hanging in the atmosphere. 

“Jo Black…pass. Sana Blair…pass….” 

It’s a cruel experience to endure, waiting for the moment your name is read off the list, knowing your whole life is about to be set in stone. 

“…Ina Cay…fail.” It’s the first person to have failed. Amira twists into her seat until she spots Ina. The girl seems to be falling into herself, face crumpling and knees hugged to her chest, like she’s trying to hide from reality. There is no change from the quiet in the room, but looks of horror wash over the faces of many. It’s obvious that the same thought is blaring in each person’s mind – That could be me. 

Layla sucks in a slow, shaky breath, a miserable attempt to calm herself before her mind explodes. Each name announced is nothing more to her than a degree closer to hers. It’s inevitable that she’ll have to deal with her fate, although she wishes there was some way to rip this scene of her life out of time’s hold and give herself just one more painless day before she’s subjected to whatever future she’s deemed deserving of. 

“Karla Jacobs, pass…Noor Jans, pass…Cece Jekel, pass…Nicholas Joy, fail…” 

The nerves humming underneath her skin become rapid-fire, and she can feel her vision going blurry. Paranoia is beating hope in the battle inside Layla’s mind. She could fail, and be taken to the facilities…She’s heard about those awful, dirty, crowded places…she’ll be nothing more than the label ‘burden’, the word ‘unworthy’… 

“Jonas Naber, fail…Stephen Naber, fail.” President Miller reads out. 

Jonas and Stephen are only a few seats down. They don’t make any noise, but expressions of horror wash over their faces. They’re twins, and they’ve been inseparable for as long as anyone can remember. But now…both will be forced to reside in the facilities, living a lifestyle of discomfort – surviving off the bare minimum.

They lean closer to each other, as if transmitting the invisible message that, even if they’re both in unfavorable conditions, at least they’ll have each other. At least they’ll have something they love to hold onto. 

More names are read off the list. More teenagers saved – and more futures tossed away. And then – “Layla Zain…pass.” 

With the ringing in her head and the stress burning inside of her, Layla is barely able to process the words – but when she does, warmth embraces her. The fear drilled deep into her stomach finally begins to chip away. She passed. She’ll be okay. 

She passed. 

The thought replays through her head like a beautifully broken record. She passed. 

Layla plants her feet on the ground, ready to cut this awful day out of her mind and move on with her life. She’s dwelling in a newfound sense of elation, like the clouds looming over her for too long, have finally been shoved away. 

But then President Miller reads the last name off the list. 

“Amira Zain- fail.”

Layla freezes in place. Just like that, the weight of the world plummets down on her shoulders again, the relief that she had felt replaced by the same thick anxiety. She never considered that this would happen. She didn’t think she had to. 

Tears burn the velvety circles under her eyelids and then she’s sinking back into her chair, grabbing onto the arm-handles and folding over like the ground could tumble away any second. 

Like rapid-fire, her mind shoots off a variety of possibilities because there’s no way this is real life. Maybe they got the wrong results. Maybe they mixed up names. Maybe….maybe some mistake was made. That has to be it. 

But it isn’t. The system makes no mistakes, has no flaws. Those words have been repeated throughout her entire life. 

Layla may have passed. 

But her sister didn’t.

Asiyah is a freshman in college, majoring in Informatics at UT Austin. She has been writing since she was 5, and has won awards for her writing at MIST Nationals and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In her free time, she can be found reading poetry, practicing video editing, or drinking boba tea.


  1. Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem, Wow, that was insane. It’s interesting how people start to care for themselves when a beautiful lifestyle is given to them.

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