Excerpt from ‘The Cost of Living: A Life for A Life’

“It should never have happened. Less than a one in a million chance,” Janice said to the med-tech.

“Actually, point seventy-three million to one, to be precise,” he corrected. “What you’re claiming isn’t totally impossible, but I’ve never seen a verified case.”

She couldn’t believe it, but she could feel it—the changes in her body—nausea, bloating, odd aches, and pains. She came into the clinic this morning believing she’d caught a virus. Not for a second did Janice suspect she could be pregnant. She stared in shock as he snapped a red pregnancy band around her wrist and locked it on.

“But I never skipped an injection.”

“If so, I’m very sorry.” He exhaled a long sigh but didn’t look the least sympathetic. More annoyed and impatient.

Janice realized he didn’t believe her. Birth violators probably all say the same thing.

“You can go now. The authorities will contact you,” he said, then turned and left the exam room.

She wanted to scream at him. No! It isn’t fair, dammit.”

But he was already gone, and she was already marked. This new life growing inside her had no Donor, which meant she needed to find one quick, or the Donor would be her. “A life for a life—it’s only fair.” In this overcrowded world, there was no arguing with the math, or the law.

Her mind raced to think of someone with enough influence to help. Her mother would appear the obvious choice, obvious for anyone who didn’t know her as intimately as Janice did. No, Alexa is the last one I should trust. Franny, her closest friend, came to mind. They’d grown up together at the Children’s Center. Janice graduated to become a Children’s Center Advocate while Franny went on to become a glamorous holo-star with millions of fans. Their lifestyles were nothing alike, but they both held Class A privileges and remained close. I’ll call Franny. She should be able to help.


Janice sat in the café and searched the faces in the crowd surging past the window until she spotted her friend. With an extended arm, Franny squeezed out from the sea of people and entered–her pink hair in a high bouffant, layers of ruffled skirts flying, silver heels clicking sharp on the jade-colored tiles. All heads seemed to swivel in unison to catch a glimpse of the glitzy holostar.

“Darling, I’m so glad you called. It’s been ages.” Franny clutched Janice by the shoulders and delivered an airborne peck beside her cheek. She plopped into the chair across from Janice and snapped her fingers for service. “I just love this place, don’t you? Like old-time Paris.” She turned to the automated server when it rolled to her side, “Tea, iced, with lemon.” The server blinked green in acknowledgment and rolled off to do her bidding. “And you, Janie…you look wonderful. What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Well, I—”

“Such a glow about you. Oh, I simply must tell you … I’ve just returned from the Golden Lake Spa in Switzerland. I had a complete bloodbath.”

“Bloodbath?” Janice grimaced.

“Oh, I forget how squeamish you are. Really, it didn’t hurt a bit. Circulated all my blood through a nano-screener or whatever it’s called. Gets out all the little nasties. I signed on for a series of ten. I was assured the treatments easily add another 30 years youth-life expectancy. With no reconstructions,” she added pointedly. “I absolutely insist you come with me next time. It’s fabulous, absolutely fabulous. You’ll feel like a child again.”

“A child,” Janice echoed the word, fighting a rising panic. She pushed it back down and smiled. “Well, you look beautiful, Franny, as always.”

“You’re sweet. So, what do you think about my newest fashion choice?” Franny batted her thick multi-colored eyelashes.

Janice studied her for a moment. The hair was a brilliant shade of silvered hot pink, which wasn’t new. The drumming of Franny’s long fingernails pulled her attention downward. Stainless steel with one delicate gold stripe. Ah ha, that’s it. Janice pointed. “Classy, but a bit understated for you, isn’t it?”

“Ugh. Downright dull. My agent insists I tone down my image. Less flash and trash, more earthy sophistication. Wants me to broaden my audience appeal.”

“Well, that makes sense. It should put you in an even stronger position when it comes time to renegotiate your standing.”

“Maybe. But I rather like my Trashy Flashy Franny personae. Anyway, you did just fine by me last year, Love, and I’m sure, you’ll do equally well the next. After all, you’re the best.”

“Thanks. Assuming I’m still around to represent you.”

Franny scowled in mock amusement. “Why would you say that? Are you leaving the planet?”

“If only I could. That would be one solution. But no.” She lowered her voice. “I’m pregnant.”

Franny’s eyes grew wide, and she smiled. “Oh Janie. How marvelous. You’re going to be a mother? I had no idea you’d even applied. But how did you get approved so quickly? Never mind, I can guess. Your mother called in some favors for you, didn’t she?

“No, Franny. I’m afraid this is nothing to celebrate. It’s out of turn.”

Franny gasped. She leaned forward and lowered her voice to a horrified whisper. “Oh my god, are you serious? Why would you—?”

“It was an accident,” Janice cut her off. Her eyes smarted with the unfamiliar sting of tears. She blinked them away and took deeper breaths.

“What? But how? Nobody has accidents anymore.”

“Well, I did.” Janice picked up her wine glass and gulped the contents. To hell with the fetus growing inside her. She didn’t ask for this. “I don’t understand it either. I’ve never missed an injection. But here I am, and I’ve only got six months left before it’s due.”

“Only six? How dreadful.” Franny’s eyes shifted away. “Surely, you weren’t thinking that I … I mean, of course, I love you darling and I’m terribly sympathetic, but— ”

“Relax, Franny, that’s not what I had in mind. I was thinking with the circles you travel in, you know a lot of people and have all those fan connections. There ought to be someone out there desperate enough to volunteer.”

“You want to find an Independent?” Franny looked at her incredulously. “Those arrangements are terribly risky. Can’t your mother get you on the approved list?”

“For heaven’s sake, Franny,” Janice snapped. “You know I can’t ask her. And even if she did get me on the waitlist, there’s not a snowball’s chance I’d be matched with a Life Donor in just six months. No. I have to figure this out on my own. Come on, if you put the word out, it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone. At my level A rating, I’ve got a lot to offer, as you well know.”

Franny shook her pink coiffed head and her silver eyebrows pulled together. “I still think it’s a bad idea. You really should try calling your mother first. If anyone can pull strings, it’s her.”

“Those strings tie people up in knots. Alexa’s the last person I’d ever ask for help.”

“Okay, okay, I understand. I guess.” She paused for a moment then whispered again. “I know it’s illegal, but have you thought about … abortion?” Franny mouthed the last word silently.

Janice sighed and shook her head. “Not an option. The med-tech who gave me the news this morning alerted the authorities. It’s probably all over the net by now.”

Franny pulled out her phone and called up the newsfeed. Janice’s face floated in the air between them under the headline “Who’s the Newest Birth Violator? OMG, It’s Little Janie!”

“Shit.” Janice saw people in the café shooting furtive glances in her direction. “Put that away.” As Franny shut off the phone, Janice pulled her sleeve down to cover the red band on her wrist. “My only chance now is to find an Independent.”

 “But you know they’re the lowest of the low—liars, cheats, conmen, criminals of the worst sort— and you’d be responsible for them, and even when it comes time, you can’t be certain they’ll fulfill the contract. They can renege at any time.”

“I know, but the stats show hardly any of them ever do. No one wants permanent resident status. The end of all hope for redemption. I still can’t understand why permanents aren’t allowed to volunteer.”

“They’re more valuable as slave labor. You know that.”

“But it would open up so many more spots for births.”

“Sorry. We’ve had this debate before. I don’t think you’re going to change the world in the next six months.”

“No. Sadly not. That’s why I need an Independent. Someone willing to trade their life for six months of total freedom.”

“They’re hard to find. Even if you do, you’d be taking a big risk. If they act out while under contract with you, the fines are astronomical. You could lose all your privileges.”

“Oh, my gosh!” Janice clasped her hands to her bosom and adopted her most melodramatic voice. “No more front row theater seats. What was I thinking?” She dropped back into her normal sarcasm, “Then again, maybe I was just hoping to live a little longer than six months.”

“Yes, well, there’s that. All right. I’ll give it go and see what happens. I suppose there’s no harm in sending out a few discreet inquiries. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Hardly anybody’s that desperate. I’m sorry, Darling, really I am, but you should have been more careful.”

“That’s just it. I was careful.”


[Want to read the rest of this story? The full novella is available here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D3YY45Q]