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Stella spent her lunch break watching Government videos about votifications. She'd seen dozens over the past year, because she was very anxious not to get anything wrong, or misinterpret the message when it arrived. The voiceover was a kindly old man's voice she thought she recognised — someone from the news? She didn't watch the news much. Everyone knew it was bias.

'Your votification will show both of your local candidates and their name. Underneath each picture is a box. One will have an X in it, and this is the candidate Syster System has decided you will vote for on election day.'

The video showed a votification mock-up with two politicians, John Smith and Sam Jones. Stella didn't recognise either of them. Perhaps they were actors. Or perhaps they weren't real people at all, just pictures made up by Syster System for this example. Underneath Smith's name was a box with an X in it; if it had been a real votification, she'd vote for Smith in the election. The voice continued:

'All decent people must vote before ten o' clock on election day. If you're unable to get to the polling station, contact your local Government office for a decency reassessment. Remember: Syster System takes care of your safety and security, but we must all do our bit to help out. Not voting, voting for the wrong candidate, or discussing your votification with anyone — even a Government official — is crimillegal. Happy election day!'

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She drummed her fingers on the pub table, eyes glued to her phone.

Jon rolled his eyes. 'Will you give it a rest? There are eighteen million people in this country, and seven million voters. It takes time to send votifications to everyone. Now eat your dinner, it's getting cold.'

The dinner was a treat to celebrate her first votification. Jon didn't care about politics, but he knew how important it was to Stella. He'd picked her up from work and brought her for dinner at the King's Head, something she suspected he couldn't really afford. He'd even paid extra for meat — a piece of pork, according to the landlord, grey and as big as two of Stella's fingers — to go with her boiled veg. Normally she'd fall on it with relish, but her appetite was tied in knots.

'Why doesn't the system send them to new voters first? They must know how excited we are, so why not prioritise us?'

Jon's fork paused halfway to his mouth and he lowered his voice. 'Careful.'

She looked from side to side, wondering if anyone had overheard. Complaining about the system wasn't crimillegal as such, but if a decent person gave you a good smack for it, well, you only had yourself to blame.

Her phone buzzed.

She was so excited, it took three attempts to pick it up. Stella took a deep breath and unfolded it carefully, so not even Jon could see, to open the votification. There were the two candidates, Charlie Green and David Brown. She thought she might prefer voting for Brown — it would be unusual and exciting to vote for someone so young, and he wanted to make Britain even greater — but she was thrilled just to vote, no matter who for. She scrolled down to see whose box had the X in it.

They were both empty.

She stared at it for a long time, tapping and scrolling. It must be some kind of glitch in the phone, a rendering error or something. Tap, scroll, tap, scroll. But nothing changed.

'Come on, Stell, put it away and get some food down you. I know you're excited, but it'll still be there when you've finished.'

She looked up at Jon, her brother, the person she trusted most in the entire world, and so desperately wanted to tell him. To show him her phone and ask, what would still be there? How was this possible? What did it mean? And what on earth was she supposed to do?

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