The Lifesavers showed up to Sherri Hill’s apartment bright and early the morning of June 21st. Though her mother argued and protested, “She’s only 10,” both she and the Lifesavers knew that arguing was moot. Sherri was a match. That was that. Lifesaver KS-392 looking Sherri’s mother in the eyes and used her empathy training judiciously, “I understand how you’re feeling. My mother-in-law was matched last year and she took it like a true patriot: steel-eyed and stoic. You can trust us. We deal with this every day. We’ll have —” here KS-392 paused to look at her phone, “— uh…Sherri…yes, we’ll have Sherri back here tonight. It’s the Lifesaver guarantee. The clocks are always ticking for us.”
Sherri, for her part, did not struggle with the Lifesavers. She sat in the back of the blue and and white striped van and quietly watched the trees and the joggers and the cars go by. KS-392 looked at Sherri in the rear-view mirror. “You’re doing great, Sherri. Nothing to be scared of.” Sherri replied, “I’m not scared. We learned about matching in school. Plus, momma says in our family we have take care of each other.” “Hey, that’s a great attitude to have. I’m real proud of you. We’ll have you back home in your own bed tonight and I’ll be sure to tell your momma how excited you were to give the gift of life.” “Well, I’m not excited. I’m just not scared.” Sherri turned her gaze back to the window. KS-392 said, “You know what I mean. I’ll tell your momma what a good kid you are.” “OK,” said Sherri.
KS-392 eased back in the passenger seat while KS-876 drove in silence. He was always quiet. He didn’t seem too thrown by the fact that they’d had to pick up a ten-year-old. Truth told, he’d never seem too thrown by anything as far as KS-392 could remember; the pregnant lady, the quadriplegic, the young woman so neurodivergent that they’d had to tranquilize her first. The law was the law. If you matched, you slashed. Macabre meme, but inescapable. KS-392 hated when she had to pick up kids. She’d always felt ten was too young even though they were always right back home as promised. Since becoming a Lifesaver she’d picked up 1-2 thousand matches, maybe. Only a handful of kids. No, she didn’t like it. But KS-876? Just another day in the van. She’d long-since learned not to talk with him about it.
392 had been matched herself last 4th of July. Perfect timing. Duty to God, Country, fellow Citizen. Home in time for fireworks. Her mother had been a donor before conscription, when recovery could take 4-6 days. But her mother hated the ruling. Congress knew that would be a non-starter when it came time to legislate life-saving. The impact to productivity allowed for too much corporate pushback. 392 didn’t know where her kidney had gone. Medical privacy rules and all. 392 had done what her country had asked. No complaints. No regrets. She stared at the road ahead then glanced in the rear-view toward Sherri. I wasn’t ten years old, though, damn it. God, she hated when kids got caught up in this. It complicated what she thought she was doing.
Lucille von Klempf had elected to have the procedure at home. Most recipients elected to have the procedure at home. Lucille waited without a whisper, surrounded by staff, family, and the familiar soft, silky sheets that adorned her four-post bed. The hospital’s operating crew were en route as were the Lifesavers. So convenient. When the doctor told Lucille that her kidneys were going sour fast, they’d not even discussed dialysis or other available options for maintaining function. The choice was no choice and that was the right choice; to live, to live, to live. A transplant. It’s what Lucille wanted. It’s what her doctors recommended. Had the situation been reversed, surely she would have matched with a salute and a smile.
The surgery team arrived first and started by setting up their mobile station in the modest alcove that adjoined Lucille’s bedroom. The team begin to prep Lucille’s body: swabbing and sticking, taping everything in place. All activity carefully timed just for this particular instance of lifesaving. The surgery team arrived only a few minutes ahead of the Lifesavers (measured by a next-gen location tracking algorithm). This allowed for prep, sanitization, and sedation of the recipient before the surgery team split into an extraction team and a replacement team before the Lifesavers arrived. In ideal conditions, the matched were only under the knife for less than 15 minutes, since the law stipulated certain time constraints, based upon the recipient’s existing health condition, the matched’s occupation, and other such variables. Standard protocol had the procedure team sedating the recipient within 45 minutes of arrival. Standard protocol had the matched arriving between 14-23 minutes after sedation. Clocks are always ticking.
Surprisingly, today the Lifesavers were late and that meant a dock of pay for this run. $100 a minute. Clocks are always ticking.
The tracking units had no visual explanation for the van’s route deviation. The van’s internal cameras had been on the fritz for over a month now. No explanation at all. And that’s how 392 felt: without explanation. Something had driven her to take over the wheel from 876. Something that she’d describe as an intuition, but which she could never explain to a court of law. Now 876 was on the floor of the van, unconscious, while 392 drove and Sherri Hill stared at her. 392 didn’t have much of a plan either. She was taking Sherri back home, albeith by a very circuitous route to avoid tipping off HQ altogether. Once HQ found out, 392 would lose control of the van. 392 wasn’t the first Lifesaver to get cold feet.
392 called out, “Hey Phone: call Mom.” The phone complied and 392’s mother answered.
“Hello, Cassie. Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“Yes, I am working, Mom. I had to pick up a little girl today.”
“Oh – oh no. That’s – oh no. How did it go?”
“Umm…well, she’s still in the van and I’m running about 2 minutes behind schedule – aaaaand, after we get off the phone I’m going to drive her home and then I’m going to have to run. And I wanted to tell you I love you because I don’t think this will end well, however it ends.”
“Cass, this whole thing was never gonna end well, was it?”
“No. No, I suppose not. I just wanted to do the right thing – want to do the right thing. But I’m not sure I understand what that is.”
“It’s a piss-poor understanding of how right and wrong work that got us here and that’s the shame of it. Get that little girl home, Cassie. Then run. Run fast.”
“I will. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” 392 hung up the phone and looked in the rearview. “Ready to go home?”
Sherri nodded. “What are they gonna do to you?” she asked.
“I guess we’ll find out when they catch me.”
“Do I gotta run too?” Sherri asked.
392 didn’t answer. As the van approached Sherri’s apartment, the dashboard lit up with a blue/white light and a soft voice filled the vehicle: “Auto-pilot engaged.” 392 put the van in neutral, killed the engine, and steered the vehicle to the side of the road. She jumped out of the van and into the street. She pulled on the passenger door handle but found it locked. “Climb out my door, Sherri!” 392 yelled at the deeply tinted windows. The front door slammed shut and the van’s engine sprung back to life. 392 banged on the windows and screamed. The van pulled away from the curb and 392 ran alongside it, then behind it, until the van vanished into traffic.
From afar, 392 heard the sounds of sirens. She ran. She ran fast.