Papers Please

Author's Note: This is just an idea for a short story that hit me. Don't worry, this is all it's going to be. I'm going to get back on From the Ashes after this.

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The Inspector shivered as he rubbed his hands together. It was early December and the frost was settling in over Arstotzka without mercy. His son had already gotten sick in late November, with the Inspector barely scrapping enough money together to pay for his medicine. That medicine had cost him though, he had been forced to shut off the heating last night without money to pay for the bill, and his entire family had been cold that night. He needed to make enough money to keep everyone fed and warm tonight, he couldn't afford to pay for medicine again should anyone else get sick.

His work station came into view, the tiny little booth planted directly on top of the border between Arstotzka and Kolechia at the Grestin checkpoint. "Good day friend!" The Inspector smiled and nodded at one of the soldiers at the checkpoint, Sergiu. More than a little overeager and naive, but he seemed to have a good heart.

The Inspector slid into his booth, stepping behind the desk and locking the door behind him and glancing at the clock. 5:57, three minutes until the checkpoint opened. He glanced out of the left window. The line of immigrants trying to gain access to the country was as long as ever. He glanced at the crayon drawing that his son had made hanging on the wall. He smiled as he gently reached out to touch it, looking at the image of a stick figure standing heroically on the border.

Glancing back at the clock, he saw the seconds slowly ticking away, it was almost six. Taking a deep breath, he reached under his desk and pulled out the up to date rulebook that had been administered to him by the Ministry of Admission, flipping it open. Glancing down he fought back the urge to sigh. A new section had been added, everyone entering the country now had to provide proof that they had received a vaccination for Polio to entry the country. Anyone without had to be turned away.

"So, passports, entry permits, ID supplements, identity cards for citizens, work permits for workers, and now vaccinations," the Inspector muttered. "Why did they even bother opening the checkpoint?" He sighed as he saw the clock hit six. Taking a deep breath, he pressed down on the button for the intercom. "Next."

"Papers please." Height and weight were correct, the ID numbers matched, none of the documents were expired, all of the papers were in order. Approved. "Papers please." Weight seemed a little off but not enough for him to be a smuggler. ID number was correct, however his passport had expired. Denied. "Papers please." A card to a brothel was slid in. It was brushed aside. Immigrating to the country. Everything seemed to be in order. Except he doubted that the busty woman smiling seductively at him was a man. Denied.

"Papers please."

"Here you are," the woman said, sliding her passport and a diplomatic authorization into the booth. "You don't need to bother reading those, just stamp them. I've been asked to come here. How is Dimitri?"

The Inspector's heart jumped as the name of his superior was mentioned. "Just a second," he said, opening the papers. "He's doing well I..." he stopped as he looked down at the diplomatic authorization. "This gives you clearance to Kolechia, not Arstotzka."

"Funny," the woman said. "Approve my passport."

"No, you don't understand," the Inspector said, reaching under his desk and pulling out a pink slip. "The Ministry of Information always finds out if I let someone through that I shouldn't and they dock it from my pay. I get payed for every person I approve or disapprove correctly, and I barely make enough to-"

"Do I look like I care?" the woman said icily. "Approve my papers. Or do you want Dimitri to hear about this?" The Inspector looked down at the papers in front of him before taking a deep breath and stamping them. Approved. "Good boy," she said as they were handed back. "I'll make sure Dimitri knows you follow orders.'

"Papers please." ID number matched up, the description matched up, his work permit to be an engineer was authentic. Approved. "Papers Please." Everything matched up. The seals were right, the dates were right, but he had not gotten the news about the new vaccine policy. Denied. "Papers please." He seriously doubted that this skinny young woman was actually a man. Ten awkward seconds later though, he had been corrected. Approved.

"Papers please."

"Please let me through."

The Inspector looked up at the man, practically doubled over in pain. "Arstotzka has the best doctors in the world. I only have a few weeks at the very most, only they can operate on me."

"P-papers please."

"I don't have any, the wait was too long, I wouldn't have made it," the man said. "All I have is my passport. Please, you need to let me in." The Inspector bit his lip as he looked at the passport in front of him. Slowly, hesitantly, he stamped it. Approved. He could afford one pay deduction. Barely. "Thank you,' the man whispered, passing through the checkpoint.

"Papers please." The idiot actually gave him two passports for himself from different countries by accident. Denied. "Papers please." Everything looked right for the most part, but the picture looked different. A quick fingerprint check proved that it had simply been a case of the years being cruel though. Approved. "Papers please." The man tried to get in using an entry ticket. The Inspector distinctly recalled them being required by foreigners for one day before they had been replaced by entry permits. Denied.

"Papers please."

"Here you go."

The Inspector sighed as he looked down at the papers, comparing them to each other. He was almost about to stamp it when something caught his eye. "Sir, what's your name?"

"Um, it's right there on my passport," the man said.

"I saw," the Inspector said. "But the name on your entry permit is different."

"I...I have multiple names," the man said quickly.

"Very well," the Inspector said, taking out a finger print strip. "There's a pad of ink directly in front of you, I need your fingerprints. I'll look your information up on the computer. If everything checks out, you're free to go." The man nodded as the strip was passed under the window. The Inspector sighed as he looked at the ID number at the bottom of the man's passport and typed them into the computer on his desk. After a few seconds of loading, the man's picture appeared on the screen.

"Here you go," the man said, sliding the fingerprint strip under the window. The Inspector took the strip and looked at it, comparing it to the information on the computer. Not only did the second name not appear, the fingerprints didn't check out either. "Any chance we can hurry up? I'm supposed to be coming here to live with my wife." The Inspector didn't say anything as he glanced at a piece of paper under his computer. It had been left there by one of the guards a week ago.

"They give me a bonus every time someone gets detained. If that happens, I'll make sure you get a cut."

The Inspector bit his lip. He couldn't afford to let this man through along with the sick man, he had no food waiting for him at home. Yet if he were to detain him, the loss that he had taken already would be canceled out. He would never had lost anything. Slowly, his hand inched forward, gently fingering the button that would call the guards. "Sir?"

The Inspector took a deep breath. He pushed the button. At once, a set of sirens went off and the sound of boots on pavement filled the air. "What the-" the man said as a guard appeared on either side of him, rifles trained on him.

"In the name of the glorious country of Arstotzka, by the power given to me by the Ministry of Admission!" the Inspector said hastily, nearly tripping over the words he had memorized. "I place you under arrest for the crime of falsifying legal documents!

"But I didn't, I-" the man started, but before he could finish the barrel of a gun was pressed to his head.

"Out," one of the guards hissed. Slowly, the man was led out of the booth and into a building on the Arstotzka side of the border. The Inspector looked away as the next person in line stepped in front of his booth.

"Papers please." A native citizen returning home from traveling the world. All of the papers checked out apart from the I.D. card being slightly torn. Approved. A journalist who tried to force his way in without any of the paperwork with the exception of a passport. Denied. A slightly smelly man who had papers that were drawn in what looked like crayon. Denied.

The Inspector sighed as he looked at the clock. 5:54. Six more minutes and he would be free to go home. With all the people he had gotten through today, dinner would most likely consist of little more than water and potatoes, but right now anything sounded good. He looked forward as the last man for the day stepped in front of his booth. "Oh thank God," he said. "Arstotzka...I'm finally here. I'm finally safe."

"Papers please."

"Papers? Ah, here you go," the man said, sliding them under the window. "I mean Arstotzka, glorious Arstotzka! I'm going to be a citizen of one of the greatest countries in the world. You?" he said, pointing at the Inspector. "We're going to be brothers you and me."

"Um..." the Inspector said, looking down at the man's entry permit. "Sir, I'm very sorry to tell you this, but this permit has expired."

"I...what?" the man said. "When did that happen?"

"Yesterday," the Inspector said grimly. "I'm sorry sir, I can't let you into the country with this."

"What? No...no no no no no no. You don't understand, I need to get in to Arstotzka!" the man said, putting both hands on the booth. "I've got people after me! People in Kolechia who want me dead! But they won't go near me if I'm in Arstotzka! Please! If you don't let me in they'll kill me!"

"I'm...I'm sorry sir," the Inspector said. "But I can't afford to let you in. My family is starving, if I let you in with an expired entry permit, it will catch up to me. I've already been deducted today, a repeat offense will be twice as bad."

"I don't care about your family!" the man shouted. To the Inspector's horror, he reached under his shirt and tore off a pistol that had been duct taped to his back, aiming it at the Inspector through the window. "Please...," he said softly. "I don't want to hurt you...but I need you to stamp approved on my passport right now. There's nothing left for me back on Kolechia. I need to-"

"GUN!" The man spun around to see one of the guards aiming his rifle at him. Without thinking, he squeezed the trigger three times, the bullets tearing through the guard's chest as he fell to the ground. The two other guards at the checkpoint spotted it and started to open fire, the man crouching down as he returned fire.

The Inspector hastily looked at his desk as he ripped the papers that were now strewn all over it from a long day's work off. "Where is it?" he whispered, papers flying around his head. "Where is it?" A bang filled the air along with a cry of pain in the distance and he was sure another guard had just died. As the last of the papers left the table, he found what he was looking for. A small golden key.

Grabbing it, he hastily turned to a safe built into the wall, trying to jam the key into it. In his haste, it glanced off of the front of the lock as more bangs filled the air. Taking a deep breath, he inserted the key into the lock and ripped the safe open. There was a pistol inside. The Inspector grabbed it and flipped the safety off, aiming it at the man who was just visible from his window. The man spotted the Inspector aiming the gun at him and turned. A bang echoed through the air.

The man slowly dropped the gun as he clutched at his chest. There was a hole in his shirt, the fabric around it steadily growing red. He glanced down at it before looking back at the Inspector. Blood began to trickle from his mouth as he fell to the ground. The Inspectors hands began to shake as he hastily put the gun down on his desk and threw the door to his booth open, rushing outside.

As he did, he saw a group of soldiers running towards him. "Inspector, we heard gunshots," the head soldier said. "What happened?"

"I...this man had a gun, he pulled it when I denied him," the Inspector whispered.

"Ah," the soldier said, looking down at the dead man. "Probably a Kolechian terrorist. They've been harassing outposts all over the border. Good riddance." He looked at the inspector. "You know, there's actually a bounty out for them. So..." he reached into his pocked and pulled out a small pile of bills, handing them to the Inspector. "Enjoy Inspector. You head on home, we'll take care of this."

The Inspector said nothing as he looked down at the money in his hands, hardly noticing as the soldiers dragged the body off. He continued to look at the money until a red drop fell from above and landed on the top bill, splattering all over it. The Inspector glanced up and saw that the man's blood had splattered all over his booth. He stood still for a second before silently walking away. He had to buy groceries, pay the rent and get the heat back on. After that he had to make sure he got some rest.

He had work again tomorrow.

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Author's Note: Well, that's just something that hit me. How'd you like it?