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Department of Truth

Jennifer Jorgensen is a married mother of two with, as per her children's calculations, a 91 year-old dog. This is her first published story.

Emmett Wright had never told a lie. In the year 2230, employed with the Department of Truths, 20th Century Historical Accuracy and Time Travel Division, he needed to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Until this morning.
He increased his hover-car's speed. An unfamiliar black Cadillac followed. He had spotted it hidden behind his neighbor's Department of Language van. Emmett wished he worked for Language--much easier to practice good grammar than to always be truthful. He could be looking for signage infractions, instead of being trailed by a middle-aged man in a dark suit.
Why had he lied to his son Jack? His mistake could follow Jack all his life. He ran his hand through his greying hair and pulled until it hurt. The knot of guilt hurt more. He had lied to his impressionable five-year old who wanted to follow in ol' Dad's footsteps.
The man was probably a member of the Truth Squad--the Government police that apprehended employees who broke their pledges to always tell the truth. If he detoured and the Traffic police stopped him, he couldn't justify a convoluted route. It would be his second lie of the day. He had heard what happened to serial liars--maximum security.
How could they know? The Privacy Department forbade spying in citizens' homes; unless it was different for government employees.
He gripped the wheel. The next light turned green--or the light turned "wavelength 545 nanometers" as the Department of Specificity called it--their mandate to rid the nation of ambiguity. The Department so specific its full title was 20 lines long.
The Department of Cleanliness, the oldest of the current 300 departments, was sweeping the sidewalks. Store signs flashed past--MEAT TO EAT; TOYS FOR BOYS AND GIRLS; BLOOM ROOM. Citations waited that store. How did they get their name registered? The sign had images of flowers but didn't clearly imply it was a florist.
Emmett arrived at work without the Cadillac--it had disappeared. Were more police inside? He'd better hurry; he didn't want a late fine. He stepped inside and braced for the arrest, the disapproval shadowing his colleagues' faces. What he confronted surprised him.
"Morning, Emmett."
"Hey, Emmett."
The usual nudge, slap on the back, not the type of reception he expected for a fibbing, flouter of rules. Maybe they wanted a quiet arrest. He would concede. He wouldn't tarnish the integrity of the department with boisterous apologies or declarations of unfairness.
"Good morning, Bernie." Emmett scanned his pass and frowned. Did he lie again? No, he was just greeting the security guard.
"Morning, Emmett. How are you?"
A question, the words spilled out. "Our sick dog will be euthanized today." He'd told the truth, but felt worse than when he had lied to Jack that Rusty was going to a farm.
"That's unfortunate. Our pet died last month. Would you like the GPS coordinates for the service we used?"
Emmett realized he hadn't given thought to where a dog could be put down; veterinarians only kept animals alive.
He accepted the scribbled coordinates; his fingers folded and unfolded the note. He hoped Jack wouldn't miss Rusty.
When Emmett reached his office he looked around at the mementos from trips back to the 20th century. He imagined Jack sitting in the heavy, antique, oak chair--finding and responding to requests for the truth.
He should work while waiting for the authorities. He opened a truth request from the public: "Was Princess Diana's death an accident?" Their field officers had traveled back in time to confirm that issue. The next questions read: "Did man walk on the moon?" "Who shot J.F.K.?"--celebrity gossip and conspiracy theories still popular.
Then the most common request: "Did Elvis die from an overdose?" Often worded differently, it led to the same response. "Yes." Requesters never asked for the date, the drugs used, or the circumstances surrounding the death. Otherwise, Emmett would have transferred the file to the 21st century team or responded with "Elvis died in 2012, after the Hollywood Times announced a holograph maker planned to "resurrect" him to sing with Justin Bieber." The aged king of rock had become so distraught he overdosed on Viagra. But Emmett couldn't provide additional information.
By 5:00 p.m. the Truth Squad hadn't come. Maybe they wouldn't for a first offense. He shuddered, thinking of Jack learning his father--his hero--had lied.
"Rusty's worse." Emmett's wife pointed to a tattered blanket, housing a crumpled bag of fur.
"I'm a horrible father," Emmett admitted his lie. He didn't feel better.
"Let's go before Grandma arrives with Jack."
As Emmett left the driveway, he saw his neighbor's Department of Language van. He also saw the Cadillac hidden behind. He understood. He had to complete his lie with Rusty put-down--then they'd arrest him. He fought the tears. The Cadillac followed. He looked at his wife and then Jack's photo attached to the sun visor. He imagined Jack looking down in disappointment. Why had he said Rusty was going to the farm?
"Where are we going?" his wife asked.
Emmett passed her the coordinates. He would have searched MicroGoogleplexApplePi Names/Maps but once he'd justified the reason for his search and proved his identity they'd have arrived.
He parked near a white, nondescript building. Emmett glanced at the Cadillac and then at the building--standard-issue letters advertising, THE PHARM: pharmaceutical solutions for your pet's humane end. He turned to the Cadillac; it was gone. He looked back at the building and realized why. The PHARM. He'd brought Rusty to the PHARM. The Department of Specificity might issue a fine, but he hadn't lied.
The man dropped the Cadillac's keys on the desk and steadied himself--time travel made him dizzy. He turned to his client, sitting in the heavy, antique oak chair.
"Did my dad really bring Rusty to the farm?" asked Jack Wright, now 85 years old.
"Yes, your Dad really brought Rusty to the PHARM."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Author Comments

The premise of the story was easy to envision; once you have kids you realize there are actually three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and Parental Guilt (and maybe Elvis sightings). The difficulties came during the editing process. My original draft was more than twice this length; cutting it down to a more manageable word count without losing key elements was my biggest challenge.

- Jennifer Rose Jorgensen
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