Going Zero

Anthony McCarten

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Going Zero, by Anthony McCarten, a high-concept thriller in which ten Americans are selected to test a mysterious government spyware system, with potentially deadly consequences. In the following passage, we meet Kaitlyn Day, a competitor with secrets of her own that belie her unassuming appearance.



The full-length mirror in the lobby, there to lend a sense of light and space to the cramped entrance hall, is spotted with age, the corrosive grime picking at the silvering like a scab. Still, it works well enough for the rent-controlled residents—teachers, low-level civil servants, the owner of a bakery, and half a dozen retirees just grateful that the elevator works most of the time. They can pause and check themselves before going out, take one final glance to make sure skirt hems aren’t snagged in stockings, flies are done up, chins bear no toothpaste, hair isn’t hysterical, toilet paper isn’t clinging to shoes before they stumble into the street to be judged by their fellow citizens.

It’s useful for the end of the day, too. As the residents shake off the chill of the windy streets, loosen their coats, and empty their mailboxes, it’s the old mirror that will give them a first look at the damage the day has done.

The woman who has just come in glances at it reflexively. Here’s what the mirror shows: midthirties; black hair in a bob; big glasses that became fashionable again last year; long, wide-fit trousers with sneakers; and, under her good late-spring last-season coat, a stiffly ironed black blouse with a swirling floral print. She looks a lot like what she is—a librarian, or someone’s idea of the same. Bookish in her buttoned-up-ness, but independent-minded in the details: a huge pendant necklace, jangly earrings, a signet on her pinky. Could be on her way to a church bake sale, or to a #Resist event, impossible to say.

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She unlocks her mailbox, pulls out a handful of envelopes, presses the little door closed until she hears the snap of the latch, which is when she sees that the mailbox label is slightly askew, so she squares it.

K. Day
Apartment 10

The K is important. Not the full Kaitlyn. Just that single initial to identify her: call it Single Woman Trick 273. Comes right after walking home with your keys (weaponized) in your hand. Write Kaitlyn Day on the mailbox or directory, and you’re asking for trouble; every passing creep now knows there’s a single woman in the building and could start hanging around just to see if she needs saving, mocking, following, fucking, killing. She sorts the mail over the recycling bin. Junk. Junk. Junk. Bill. Junk.

Bill. And then . . . Oh my God. It’s here. It’s actually here.

The envelope has Department of Homeland Security printed on it. There’s even a frigging seal on the back; she thought that kind of thing went out with the Tudors. Inside, however, shitty government-grade paper where she had expected wedding-invite quality. Still, an invitation nonetheless.

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Going Zero Beta Test, it reads across the top of the single sheet. That part is bold and underlined.

Dear Ms. Day,

Congratulations! You have been selected as one of ten participants in the Going Zero Beta Test of the Fusion Initiative, a WorldShare partnership with the U.S. government.

Per instructions, the Going Zero Beta Test will begin at 12:00 noon on May 1. At that time, you and nine other randomly selected participants will receive a message at the number on your application telling you to “Go Zero!”

At 2:00 p.m. the same day, your name, photo, and address will be provided to the joint task force of the Fusion Initiative at Fusion Central in Washington, DC.

While this test is in operation, you are at liberty to take whatever steps you feel necessary, consistent with the laws of the United States, to avoid being detained by the Capture Team dispatched by Fusion Central to find you. Any participants of the Going Zero Beta Test who are still at liberty at 12:00 noon on May 31 will receive a tax-free award of three million U.S. dollars ($3,000,000).

We thank you for your patriotic efforts, and for playing an important part in making your country safer.

Special Notice: Upon penalty of disqualification, you are not permitted to declare, announce, or claim to be a participant in the Going Zero Beta Test until you are cleared, in writing by this office, to do so. Please refer to your application for further details of your nondisclosure agreement (NDA), legal responsibilities, and possible penalties. 

Kaitlyn looks up and sees her own reflection in the mirror again. Just an ordinary woman, a dime a dozen. But for the next five weeks, she needs to be exceptional.

Are you ready to be perfect, Kaitlyn Day? she asks herself. For that’s what she’ll need to be now.

Her reflection gives nothing away.

Go upstairs, she tells herself. Check everything. When the order comes to Go Zero, then she must be ready to disappear in the wink of a knowing eye. Erase herself. Vanish.

Who does that? Vanishes? Well, it happens. Hell, she knows that better than most. People can just—poof—be gone.

She needs to rest. This might be one of the last nights she’ll sleep easy in her own bed for a very long while. The reflection in the mirror doesn’t move for a few moments as she considers what lies ahead. Then it moves fast.



The clock seems to have stopped. Time crawls, collapses, and just when she’s sure that something is wrong, that there is a wrinkle in its weave, the second hand ticks forward again. She curls up at the far end of the sofa, a blanket over her knees and a book in hand, a book she can’t even remember picking up, long ignored on the overpiled coffee table, slippery with magazines twisted over one another like strata after an earthquake—the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker.

But she isn’t reading, she’s debating: This is a bad idea, this is a brilliant idea, this is insane. This is her best chance, her last chance, roiling like waves, crashing and receding.

Forget. Remember. The thoughts break and shatter over her too quick to latch on to.

Sleeping bag
Hiking boots
6 T-shirts
1 extra pair of jeans
Anna Karenina

 Breathe, woman, she tells herself. Breathe slowly. Remember who you are. I am Kaitlyn Day, she whispers, like a mantra. Thirty-five years old, birthday September 21, Social Security number 029–12–2325. These familiar facts are a healing oil, a balm, a prayer wheel, a tether to hold on to, and finally she can feel the air filling her lungs, reaching her blood.

Road maps
Pup tent
Gas stove
Cooking pot
Face mask
Phone K
Phone J

Canned food
Trail mix
Can opener
Water bottle

Kaitlyn Elizabeth Day. Born and raised in Boston. Parents gone. Two brothers—lost touch with both. They like sports, she likes books. They got jobs in construction, she became a librarian. They shout at the TV, she writes to senators. They have no imagination, Kaitlyn has too much. In fact, Kaitlyn has way, way too much imagination. Sometimes so much that her brain spins too hard and has to be regulated with little white pills.

She has a plan. And it has to work. It has to. It’s gonna be fun, she tells herself. It’s also gonna be terrifying.


From GOING ZERO by ANTHONY MCCARTEN. Copyright © 2023 by ANTHONY MCCARTEN. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, HARPER. All rights reserved.

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