“Unnecessary” – A Dystopian Short Story

The other night I came up with an intriguing story idea and had to write it down.  I feel as though this has the makings of a novel, but I wanted to place a scene down as a self-contained short story to see what other people think.  At the bottom of the short story I’ve also included some photos that I used as a reference for creating the world of the story.  The story has a kind of ’60s Futuristic vibe , blended with a crazy, state enforced, religious eugenics program.  Basically, it’s in an alternate history of the 20th Century where something happened (this will be included in the novel) which allows a new Grand Emperor to come to power in China and he develops his own Empire based on being Evolutionarily viable.  Please let me know what you think about this story.  Thanks.



by Joel Nickel


I was 8 months before a wedding or an execution.  My time before becoming unnecessary was racing nearer and nearer.

“You could always marry a random,” my friend, Xi, said casually, taking a sip of his Pori.

“I’d rather die, thank you,” I wasn’t about to be a “fix” by Random Match.  No, I still had a couple months before I had to make that choice.

That night we were at the Amber Club in lower Ming Yu.  We sat on the balcony overlooking the domed dance floor where the tardy frantically moved from person to person, trying desperately to make some kind of connection before their time in Ming Yu ran out.  The Amber Club was the place to be for the tardy, those who were two years or less from becoming unnecessary.  At first I was hesitant to visit the Amber Club.  It had the reputation for being a haven for undesirables.  I didn’t think of myself as an undesirable.  I had almost been engaged once, but . . .

I didn’t want to think about it.

“I don’t know,” Xi drained the last of the Pori from his glass, and waved over for an attendant to come deliver him a fresh one. “If I hadn’t already been engaged to Lei Shu . . .”

“Really?” I swiveled in my chair to face him.  “You’d actually just marry some complete stranger, just so you’d be necessary?  I hear most of the fixes through Random Match are undesirables.”

“It ain’t much better here, Bao Long Wei.” He used my full name.  I hated when he used my full name.  He was only two years older than me, yet he always seemed to treat me as a child.  Maybe that was because he was necessary and I hadn’t yet proved myself to be.  It wasn’t only that.  The way he’d said my name reminded me of the way my parents would, in that condescending, authoritarian tone; that was before they became unnecessary.

Xi Hua’s parents were executed in the Great Purge of ’53, along with 2-billion-some others.  Mine were only executed six years ago, when I turned 18.  My Mother was past the healthy child bearing age and, being 40, my Father’s sperm was considered to be past its peak in quality.  The entirety of humanity is now down to a population of around 10 million staggered throughout the various Bio-Domes around China.  Grand Emperor Fei Min Sheng declared that he was given the divine responsibility, by the goddess Shi Jie, to make the Earth clean.  Humanity had been dangerously close to choking the Earth into submission with its overuse of natural resources and overpopulation. The Grand Emperor was tasked with solving those problems.

He gathered everyone from the other races, everyone over the healthy childbearing age of 40, everyone who planned on never having children, and everyone who biologically couldn’t have children, and called for them to be executed.  The result of the Great Purge created a much more stable human population on the Earth and the cities that sprung up from the ashes became a peaceful, harmonious paradise.

If you were necessary.

If you were unnecessary it was a different game all together.  Those who were mentally or physically deficient were killed in infancy and those parents who had birthed consistently unnecessary offspring were executed so as not to contaminate the future stock of Humans.

An individual had until his or her twenty-fifth birthday to find a suitable mate, get married, and pledge to procreate within the next year.  Those who reached 25 and who were not engaged were not in a position to advance the Great Emperor’s plan for humanity and were thus executed.

Extensive testing began at the age of 20 to monitor if you were physically capable of procreating, and if you were found to be incapable, you were also executed.

The Great Emperor set out the laws the goddess Shi Jie had tasked him with enforcing in the book, the Deng Yu Sheng, which every citizen was required to memorize and place prominently in their home; most carried a copy of it in their pocket.

“Did you hear about Hu Shi Ning?” Xi asked, taking a sip of his Pori.

I heard a muffled song coming through the thick glass of the dome over the dance floor.  I remembered that song.  It was our song.

Feng Xiu Lan.

Even thinking her name made the veins in my neck pulse angrily and caused hate to bubble up like dark bile leaving an acrid, acerbic taste in my mouth.

What did he have?  Was he better stock?  Would he create a baby that better suited the Grand Emperor’s ideal?  Did love have no place?  Did she ever even love me?

I shook my head, angered at myself for buying into such a stupid notion as love.  We’d been together since we turned 20 and she let me believe we were going to be engaged; let me believe that I had nothing to worry about.  But then I learned she’d accepted an engagement from Cao Fu Hua.

How could she?

And especially with my being 24!  She left me with only months before the big choice: an undesirable, Random Match, or death.

“Hey,” Xi was waving his hand in front of my face.

I blinked, unsure of how long I’d been lost in my dark thoughts.

Xi laughed heartily.  It angered me.

“I said, did you hear about Hu Shi Ning?” He repeated.

“No,” I admitted.

Hu Shi Ning was a mutual friend of ours.  He was older than both of us, and had been married for six years.  He’d had one child with his wife, but every child afterward had been born with a disability.

“He’s being reviewed,” Xi said.

I swallowed hard.


That meant he’d endure a bevy of tests to determine what was the cause of his fathering consistently unnecessary offspring.  If it was found that there was something genetically wrong with Hu Shi Ning, he’d be executed.

“That’s too bad,” Xi said, taking another sip of his Pori. “I really liked him.”

“Well, they haven’t found that it’s genetic yet,” I pointed out.

Xi just looked at me like I was a naïve tardy and took another swig of his drink.

“Hao Hong reaches the end of her healthy childbearing years this summer,” Xi said.

I just nodded.  I didn’t know how else to respond.  Xi knew that Hao Hong had been like a Mother to me after mine had reached the end of her healthy childbearing years and been executed.  Now she would be 40, and would also be killed.  It seemed to me that bringing up Hao Hong was particularly hurtful.  But that was the Pori.  I didn’t like being around Xi when he was drinking, but I didn’t have anyone else to come with me to the Amber Club.  Anyone my age would be with their respective fiancés, planning their weddings and getting all their tests done.  Or, they would be out trying to find someone and wouldn’t want competition hanging about.

All night I’d been sitting with Xi, looking down on the dome and dreading an excursion into the midst of the undesirables.  I cursed Feng Xiu Lan, and downed my entire glass of Pori.

I stood up from my chair and smoothed out the wrinkles in my suit.

“Ready?” Xi looked at me with a grin I wanted to punch off his face.

I just shrugged.

He stood up to follow me down into the dome of undesirables. “You can still just get set up with a woman from Random Match and -”

“I’d rather die.”


3 thoughts on ““Unnecessary” – A Dystopian Short Story

  1. Some thoughts on reading just this first bit. This is a good, solid, well-written piece that inspires me to want to look up a bunch of older literature. Some might help shape this dystopia a little more:

    – the Emperor’s edicts seem too soft. Age 20 is old to start testing young people for child bearing capability: in classic literature and throughout human social history, people were married off as young as 12 or 13 – at least royalty was. Shakespeare’s Juliet was not 14 and engaged to Paris. See anything by Jane Austen: people were looking to marry off their daughters at 15 – ALWAYS there were arranged marriages: see below

    – why the fuss with letting people choose their own spouses? I can’t really buy into this. Why doesn’t the government make those who test healthy enter into arranged marriages leaving no choice? Arranged marriages are STILL done in today’s society in many cultures, even our own, under the guise of parental and social pressures.

    – the emperor’s goals are a bit confusing. He wants to keep the human population manageable but producing offspring constantly. You must make a decision early on in the narrative. There’s some of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale here (read if you haven’t yet) but some of that episode of Star Trek: Next Gen where everyone who reaches a certain age must jump in a capsule and launch into a pulsing sphere of light. Seems like life is valued, but then it’s not. Read anything about the 2nd WW Holocaust and the Ukrainian Holodymor – Hitler and Lenin – what were their goals? What’s the emperor’s ultimate goal? With all these tough rules for execution, why is he giving people a choice when it comes to marriage? Benevolent tyrant? Wishy-washy and not convincing.

    Have you read:
    – Ursula K. LeGuin – I understand she’s the must-read for dystopias – can’t stand her but read Left Hand of Darkness
    – Philip K. Dyck – anything
    – William Gibson – anything
    – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility (NOT with Zombies or Seamonsters – that crap slows down the action and makes Austen boring.)
    – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller – I have a copy if it’s out of print – this one’s a MUST and a testament to how important it is to know about the past before you can convincingly mess around with the future. And a little Latin never hurt…

    Good work and good luck!

    • Thank you so much, Christine! I really appreciate your input. 🙂 As soon as school finishes I’ll start through those book suggestions. It was nice to finally meet you in person. How was the rest of the reunion? I had to leave because I had a bunch of homework I still need to finish tonight. 😉 Have a great rest of your week!

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