Ty opened his eyes.
It was exactly six o’clock in the morning.
His job required him to be good with numbers. He could tell the date without looking at a calendar, he could tell the time without looking at a watch or a clock, and he could tell precisely how many people there were in the world.
Seven billion to be exact — not a person more, not a person less.
When Ty arrived at work, only a few of his colleagues were in the office.
Ty opened his case file.
His first case was a couple who wanted another baby.
He analyzed their financial status, marriage happiness and living conditions.
He was content with the results, so he stamped LIFE on the application form.
The couple could go to the Life Centre and receive their baby.
The big screen in the office with the number 7,000,000,000 changed to 7,000,000,001.
Ty sighed and pulled out another file that said DEATH.
The file was filled with information of people who wanted to die, who had been sentenced to death and who had reached their life limit.
Ty was in a good mood that day, so he decided to grant death to a young girl who was bullied at school so badly she wanted to commit suicide.
People from the Balance called this kind of death “Mercy”, while death sentences to criminals were called “Justice”.
Sometimes the lines between Mercy and Justice got blurry.
How could granting euthanasia to children be mercy?
How could punishing a man who committed petty crimes with death be justice?
Ty didn’t know. He never questioned the Balance.
In the year 2020, scientists decided that the world could only hold seven billion people to provide every person with a comfortable life.
If the population was more or less than seven billion, the balance of the world would be destroyed.
A group of scientists established the Balance so that the world population would always remain constant. To achieve this, they began controlling life and death.
A person’s life no longer belonged to himself or herself but, rather, to the Balance.
If the population decreased, sick people were allowed to receive organ transplants, and couples were allowed to have more children.
If the population increased, more criminals were executed, and death was granted to those who did not want to live any more.
It was a cruel system, but it was a fair one.
Good people had a higher chance of getting saved in hospitals and living longer, while bad people had to face death sooner.
Only the Balance had the power to determine who was good and who was bad.
This all happened 30 years ago.
Now it was the year 2050, and the Balance had branches all over the world, such as in New York, London, Sydney, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro and many more cities.
Ty worked in the Hong Kong branch. He found his job quite relaxed.
Hong Kong people were easy to work with. They didn’t want many children, they didn’t really care about the well-being of the elderly, and the crime rate was pretty low.
It was a city that thrived on fame and money, but Ty loved it for all its flaws.
He loved the noise, the bright neon lights at night and the smell of rain and fish balls.
Most of all, he loved how the city burst with life.
The number dropped back to 7,000,000,000.
Ty sighed with relief. He wasn’t really good at his job.
His co-workers called him soft-hearted, which was just another word for coward.
He granted more lives than necessary and was always scolded for upsetting the balance.
The number dropped to 6,999,999,999 suddenly and continued to decrease.
“A bombing in Turkey!” someone yelled.
Ty huffed in frustration. He hated emergencies; they always changed the number too much.
He had to work extra hard to return the number to normal. On that day, 90 babies were born.
“Hey Ty! Here’s your new case.”
Han handed him a black file case. Black was the color of death.
Ty opened the file case and took a sharp breath.
The name “CALLEN HOLSTER” was printed in bold, black letters.
The name left a bitter taste in his mouth when he whispered it.
It was a name as familiar as his own.
It was a name that brought back memories of two little boys playing together on a warm summer afternoon, two teenagers getting drunk and laughing like crazy — but then the happy memories faded and were replaced by memories of betrayal, blood, death and darkness.
Those memories faded, too, and only emptiness remained.
Ty hadn’t seen Callen for 10 years, not since that horrifying night that changed everything.
But now he had to meet him, his brother in every way but blood, his brother who had betrayed him.
* * *
Callen Holster lived in a shabby building located in a dark alley.
Ty walked up stairs that creaked under his footsteps and threatened to collapse at any moment.
He knocked on the door of Apartment 4B and waited with a pounding heart.
The door opened, and Ty came face to face with a man who looked nothing at all like Callen.
He had a thin and weary face and tired, bloodshot eyes and reeked of smoke and alcohol.
Ty composed his face into an emotionless mask.
“Mr. Holster, I’m here to inform you about your execution.”
Callen stared back blankly.
“I’m from the Balance,” Ty said.
This time, Callen reacted. His mouth twisted into a sneer.
“You think you are God, don’t you? What gives you the right to take away my life? It’s my life! Mine!”
Beneath his angry and harsh words, Ty could detect a hint of fear. He realized that Callen was afraid.
“A life for a life,” Ty said. “You need to pay for your crimes with death.”
Callen’s eyes shone with anger.
“My crimes? All I did was sell some drugs! I never murdered anyone, I never killed –”
“What about my parents?” Ty demanded. “How dare you say you never murdered anyone?”
“I didn’t kill them. I only gave away their location to the people who were after their lives.”
The way he said it, as if he had nothing to do with Ty’s parents’ death, as if he didn’t even regret what he did, made Ty want to punch him.
The only thing that stopped him was a young, childish voice.
A small girl stood behind Callen.
She had Callen’s light-blue eyes, but hers were filled with innocence that Callen had lost a long time ago.
“Go back to sleep, Misty,” Callen said softly.
The little girl obeyed.
Ty watched the exchange in shock.
“You have a daughter?”
“What — what will happen to her if I — if I die?” he asked in a trembling voice.
“The Balance will make arrangements to send her to a care center,” Ty answered. “She will have everything she needs.”
“Except for a family. Except for a father.”
Ty had no reply for that. He felt a stab of pity toward Callen.
Of course, he hadn’t forgiven Callen for what he had done, but his desire for revenge had faded over the passing years.
He opened his mouth hesitantly.
“Mr. Holster … Callen … Perhaps I could help you, if only –”
Callen cut him off with a sharp laugh.
“Ha! I don’t need help, and I certainly don’t need your help!”
“As you wish,” Ty said coldly and left, slamming the door behind him.
“He deserves to die,” Ty thought angrily. “He deserves it.”
But that night, as he was tossing and turning in his bed, all he could remember was Callen’s voice shaking with fear, his daughter’s innocent blue eyes, and so many memories of him and Callen growing up together.
He loved Callen, of course he did, even after all Callen had done to him.
Callen still was his brother, and now he was letting his brother die.
Ty secretly observed Callen for a few days and decided that no one was less worth saving than him.
He did drugs, started fights and frequently got drunk.
He didn’t even try to change his ways.
And yet, Ty went to Han to beg for mercy for Callen.
“You know the rules. Mercy is only given to good people; bad people deserve punishment.
“We cannot upset the balance between death and life just because you feel sorry for a criminal.”
The day of Callen’s execution drew near, and Ty was still torn inside.
He couldn’t go against everything that the Balance had taught him, but he couldn’t let his friend die either.
He couldn’t help Callen escape, because the Balance could track anyone, anywhere, any time.
Ty thought and cried and shouted in frustration for days.
And then, just the day before the execution, he knew what he had to do.
“Callen Holster has been charged with the crimes of drug possession, drug trafficking and distribution, physical assault and public intoxication.
“Tiberius Somner, are you certain that you are willing to transfer these charges onto yourself?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Tiberius Somner, you are guilty of drug possession, drug trafficking and distribution, physical assault and public intoxication.
“Your punishment for your crimes is death. Do you have any final words?”
“No, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Bring him to the execution room.”
It was Han who accompanied Ty in his final moments of life.
“Ty, what are you doing? Have you gone mad?” Han demanded furiously.
“It’s the only way to save him.”
“You’re upsetting the balance! Death and life should be balanced by rewards and punishments, not by idiots who sacrifice themselves for criminals who deserve to go to hell.”
“There are more important things than keeping the balance,” Ty said.
“Healing every person instead of letting them die when the balance requires it.
“Pardoning people for their crimes so that they get a chance to redeem themselves.
“Helping depressed teenagers instead of granting their death wish and calling it ‘mercy’.
“Allowing couples to have as many children as they want, because children are gifts from God.
“I cannot break the balance, but I can do something to change it.”
Han was silent for a few moments.
“I know what you’re doing, Ty. You’re trying to act as a hero. But is it really worth it?” he asked.
Ty shook his head.
“I’m no hero. Heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
“They die to protect people, good people, but I’m dying for a criminal.
“A dirty scumbag who doesn’t even know what I’m doing for him.”
“Because he is my brother. Because I love him.
“Because I cannot bear to let his daughter become an orphan like I did.
“Because I want him to get a chance to change even though I know he couldn’t care less about me.
“I don’t know. Maybe I don’t even have an exact reason.”
They had arrived at the execution room.
The moment Ty entered the room, he would slowly fall into a dreamless sleep and never wake up again.
Han turned towards Ty.
“This is it, I guess. Be brave, my friend.”
Ty smiled faintly.
He knew he was supposed to be afraid, but instead he was filled with a sense of peace.
Perhaps the reason he was not scared was that there was nothing in this world to live for any more, but in death, he could see the people he loved the most again.
His parents, his wife, maybe even the young and innocent Callen from his memories, who had died when the real Callen grew up.
Ty opened the door, stepped inside the room and let the darkness swallow him.
Callen watched Ty enter the execution room from afar.
His fist clenched around the small, white package in his hand, and slowly dropped his newest batch of drugs on the ground.
Callen turned around, walked toward home and never looked back.
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