The infant on the table lifted a tiny fist into the air, its mouth flopping opened and closed like a groggy little fish. The nose was straight. Cheeks rounded and rosy. Ten fingers, ten toes, two ears, and one curly strand of blond hair plastered to its shiny forehead. Healthy, perfect even. Except for one thing.
Its eyes were red.
“You’ve trained for this, you know what to do,” said Dr. Harnsby, barely giving the child a second glance.
I did know. I was still a lowly intern, but this was one of the first things we learned. This task was rare, and never pleasant. But it was an important part of the job. Perhaps the most important.
After birth, every newborn was given an implant behind their eyes. Its purpose? To keep the planet as crime free as possible by providing a permanent window into the soul. A window that revealed a person’s true colors. Literally. For 30 years, the implant had been a success. Crime was the lowest it had ever been in recorded history. Murder rates cut down by nearly 95%, cases of rape down by 85%, and even petty thefts cut in half.
Parents were aware that only children with clean souls were given back. If the eyes remained shades of blue, green, or brown, they were considered “Normies”, and returned home. Eyes of gold represented a more pure soul. The golds received special privileges in their lives, and were often designated to places of power, such as public office.
If an infant’s eyes turned black after implantation, they were not allowed to return with their parents. Instead, they were handed over to the government, to be raised in special facilities and assigned to menial jobs and hard labor. These souls were considered more likely to break the law and had a penchant toward violence. Thus it was prudent for the government to monitor them as closely as possible.
But red. Red meant the darkest soul of all, a soul considered to carry a 100% chance of committing heinous crimes within their lifetime. And it meant death by lethal injection, for the future protection of society.
This was my first red.
She was a girl. I’d heard the parents talking. They said if she was clean, they’d want to name her Charlotte. I couldn’t help but think the name was fitting somehow.
How could this angel, this perfect cherub face, have red eyes. How bad could she possibly be? But they were red. Red as a hot stove, glowing like the end of a lit cigar.
“Leena, I was talking to you.”
My head snapped up toward his voice. “Yes, sorry Doctor.”
My hands were shaking. The red-eyed baby cooed from below, a most innocent sound. “I know you’re still an intern, and this is a difficult task. But you know why this has to be done. This child will grow up to kill people, maybe worse.”
“But we kill people.”
“Oh, Leena, sometimes I forget how naive you still are." I bristled at that. I hated when he talked down to me. Maybe I was young, but I wasn't stupid. Or naive. This... this was different, and no amount of learning about the procedure could brace you for the first time you actually had to do it yourself. "What we do here is only for the greater good, Leena. You know that."
“This is a big test for you. They’re watching. You’re nearly done with your internship, you know what this could mean.”
I locked eyes with Dr. Harnsby. They were brown, like mine. A Normie. Swallowing hard, I nodded. I could do this. It was, after all, for the greater good. “I do. I will prove myself, Doctor. I know why it needs to be done.”
“Good. Then get to it.”
With a quick smile, he removed his surgical gloves, clapped a reassuring hand onto my shoulder, then left me alone in the room.
The beating of my heart thumped louder in my ears, so loud it nearly drowned out the sound of Charlotte’s soft cries.
No, not Charlotte. Just a nameless infant. A monster with red eyes that would murder as soon as it was old enough to get the chance.
That’s what I kept telling myself as I crossed the room on wobbling legs toward the steel drawer unit. When I opened it, the drawer made a loud metallic shriek that reverberated throughout the small room. Several syringes lined the inside, and I clasped one between trembling fingers. With my free hand, I wiped a bead of sweat from my brow as I prepped the syringe.
Then I turned toward the infant.
What crimes was I stopping? Did it already know it was a monster? Could it feel? Did it understand that its short life was about to end?
The baby stopped crying and looked up then, its red eyes locking with mine and burning into my soul. It reached out a teensy hand toward my face, and a giggle escaped its lips. A perfectly human-sounding giggle.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to live,” I said to it. “But the world will never know the atrocities you’re capable of, and that’s a good thing.”
I raised the needle.
EIGHT YEARS LATER.
Dinner was ready.
I scooped some roasted chicken onto a plate, golden brown and perfectly seasoned with rosemary. I spooned some peas and bow-tie pasta onto the plate next to it.
Sliding on my boots and slipping into my winter coat, I took the plate out with me into the frigid air. Crossed the yard over to the cellar. Snow clung to my cheeks as I fished in my pocket for the keys, expertly unlocking the wooden doors with one hand. Removing the lock, I swung one door open, then the other, and descended the steps.
I found her curled up on her favorite rug near the space heater. A worn children’s book was open nearby, a decapitated Barbie doll lying lifelessly on its pages. The smell of blood wafted towards me.
“Mommy, you’re home!” She squealed, jumping up from the wool rug and racing across the room to hug me. I cringed, because I knew her hands were bloody. The previously mouth-watering aroma of roasted chicken was tainted by the rusty nail smell that seemed to permeate everywhere.
“Did you find another mouse?” I asked.
Her head dropped, blond hair obscuring her face. But she didn’t answer.
“Did you hurt it?”
“Only because I wanted to see how its heart beat, Mommy.” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger, staining it red.
“What did I tell you about hurting things?”
“I’m sorry. I just get so bored, Mommy. Can I go outside soon?”
“Soon, but only with your sunglasses. And only if you stop hurting things. Ok?”
She nodded. “Ok, I promise. This time will be different. I swear.”
I sighed and handed her the plate of food. Her face lit up, and she lifted the chicken to her mouth, not bothering to clean the blood from her hands. I probably should have told her to wash up first.
But she scared me more and more every day.
She tore into the chicken like a lion tears into an antelope, with a ferocity that wasn’t normal for an eight-year-old girl who ate three full meals a day.
Just then, something across the room drew my attention. I spotted the mouse on the floor. Its tiny body unrecognizable, the white fur barely visible beneath all the red.
Red that matched the color of her eyes.
When I tore my gaze away from the mangled rodent, those eyes locked with mine.
And Charlotte smiled.