Science finds a new way to punish criminals in a futuristic world in this thought provoking Science Fiction Short story by Ryan Putley.
For most people nightmares end once they’ve awoken; the vivid dream reaching its horrifying crescendo, and the sharp cry blasts from their lips as they are jarred back into consciousness. Slowly the details fade as their mind readjusts to reality, leaving only an impression of the terror that had held sway mere moments ago. It becomes a minor talking point with a loved one and then recedes, called to mind only after a repeat performance. Consider that moment however, that instant of pure, undiluted joy, and relief upon awakening when you realize it was but a dream. It is a pleasure that Judas hasn’t experienced in a long time.
Each morning began much the same way, Judas awoke to a shrill, piercing scream that wasn’t his. From the instant he opened his eyes, there she was; a haunting presence that was not content to remain in his fevered dreams. She watched him constantly, her imploring gaze always hovering in the corner of his eyes. Her tremulous voice rattled through his head, a low and continual drone of pain and despair that rang in his ears like the worst case of tinnitus.
No matter where Judas went or what he did there was no respite, but then again that was the idea. In a world where there were not enough prisons to hold the dregs of society, the judicial authorities had searched for new and potentially more effective methods of ensuring that criminals were punished. They turned to Anamnesis Industries, a medical company that specialized in accessing the Hippocampus, the memory centre of the brain. Using cutting edge nano technology and decades of research, Anamnesis had found a way to effectively treat Alzheimer patients, injecting nanochips into the brain that not only assisted in pulsing signals between the neurons but also opened the door to lost and treasured memories.
This breakthrough lead to even more applications. The company branched into other financially beneficial areas. Downloaded memories could now be digitally replicated, packaged and sold back to their clients; if you wanted to experience the happiest days of your life again you could sit and watch them with your family like a home video streamed directly from your brain. This was an area of specific interest to the Judiciary system. Not only could they now definitively prove a defendant’s guilt by using their own memories against them, they could now ensure that the thugs, thieves, murderers and other flotsam that were brought before them would carry the guilt and the memories of their crimes with them every day for the full length of their sentence.
It was thanks to this arrangement that Judas now had two microchips stuck in his head. On a bad day his scalp still stung from the insertion of the two implants, even though no trace of an incision or injection could be seen. With chips connected directly to his auditory cortex (the Temporal Lobe) and his visual cortex (the Occipital Lobe), he relived the events of his crime every morning, and carried his victim around with him wherever he went. Once again he flashed through the events of that fateful evening.
It was a mugging born of pure desperation, gambling debts with unsavoury characters had begun to stack up. Judas had run out of options. He needed an instant cash injection and so, armed only with his father’s old pocket knife, he made his way into the Upper District of New London. All he needed was one loner with a platinum card and he was set; he knew a guy who could rewrite them and would pay a tidy sum for stolen credit cards. Besides that, any toff who lived in this part of town could easily replace it so what harm would be caused in the grand scheme of things? He wandered through the drenched reclaimed cobbled streets for an hour before he found a possible target, a tall woman in a cream trench coat stood on her own, camped out at an empty bus stop under a large, red umbrella. He watched from the corner of the street as she waited expectantly for an oncoming bus. The bus sped by however, whether it was full, or the driver was purely ignorant. It streamed past;, its hoverplates blasting downwards at a large puddle, inverting the umbrella, and drenching her.
Glancing at the timetable on the post, she seemed to contemplate whether it was worth waiting for the next one but obviously decided against it as she turned on her heel and headed off down the street, towards where Judas positioned himself and sat waiting. Pulling up the hood of his jacket and glancing around to make sure the street was deserted, he pulled the knife from his pocket and waited for her to draw closer. In the moment the next few seconds went by in a blur but thanks to a few targeted impulses from his nanochips the replay was deliberately slowed. He watched as she rounded the corner, heard her scream as he grabbed her by the arm, brandishing the knife. Their voices amplified to compensate for the torrential downpour were they stood in that night. He yelled at her, demanding she hand over the small bag slung over her shoulder. She begged him not to hurt her. She cried out for help. In the struggle her high heeled shoes slipped on the sodden pavement and she slammed into him.
In his mind, this moment always lasted the longest, as he lay in his bed Judas clamped his eyes shut as tightly as he could, but it didn’t help. The sudden silence was what always got to him, that terrible moment as both slowly looked downwards at his hand, and at the small wooden hilt gripped within that was now sticking out of her chest. Her legs folded out from under her and she collapsed to the ground taking his knife with her as his arms weakened and he lost his grip on the hilt.
“Nonononono!” he whimpered, both aloud and in the memory, panic overwhelming him as he stared down at the now small and motionless woman at his feet. The umbrella blown away, he could now see her more clearly. Her long red hair flowed downwards to the spreading red stain that was enveloping her lower half. He knelt, and desperately pressed against the wound, as though trying to push the blood back in. Her hazel eyes stared tearfully up at him as he begged her, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please no, I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry!”
Someone cried out in alarm behind him and terror overtook him, he sprung to his feet and hurled himself forwards, scrambling to get away. Judas bolted upright in bed; the memory finally played out for another day. Judas ran a hand through his sweat drenched hair, a long and anguished groan escaping his lips. A year into his sentence and it still hadn’t gotten any easier. It had been the worst day of his life, he contemplated how he had kept running, desperate to get as far as he could but with no clear direction in mind. He hadn’t run fast enough as it turned out, the Police caught up with him just a few streets away and, covered in blood, he was promptly arrested.
He crossed the bedroom and headed down the hall to the bathroom, passing his flatmate’s door on the way. Screams were echoing from the room, blood curdling and pain ridden. He’d never asked his roomie what he saw each morning; partly because it was a personal thing, private to each individual, but mostly because he was too afraid of the answer. He had his own nightmares to worry about without piling on someone else’s.
He reached the bathroom and splashed cold water onto his head and face. He actively avoided looking into the mirror above the sink. That had been the worst thing to acclimatise to at the beginning; he’d glance into the mirror and would be shocked to see what glared back at him. Instead of the close-cropped black hair, sharp nose and blue eyes that he was used to, it was her, her red hair plastered to her face and her terrified, pain-stricken brown eyes cutting into him. After a few seconds the chip would readjust, returning his usual reflection.
Although he had gotten used to this by now, he still limited how often he checked his reflections. It was difficult enough to constantly see her in his periphery and to hear her voice in an undertone all the time, it was another thing entirely to look directly into the eyes of the person he had killed.
If there was one upside to Judas’ situation, he felt that it was probably the safe monotony of his new day to day. After his trial he’d been relocated to a correctional city up country and placed on work detail as a farm hand. He didn’t get paid but money wasn’t really an issue; he had his own place, food was equally rationed out among his fellow residents, and there were no shops to speak of. Plus, as unnerving as it might have been to live side by side with murderers, there was something comforting about the fact that they were enduring the same kind of hell as him. He’d noticed that some clearly had it worse than others too. On his first week in Pariah he’d bumped into a poor sap that everyone called Twofer, his crime being so heinous that he cycled twice a day. No-one was quite sure how many victims he saw but he was in a constant state of agitation, flinching and wild-eyed every minute of the day. From what Judas could gather he was three years into a forty-year stint. It was a safe bet that he wasn’t going to make it.
As Judas headed to work, he caught sight of Twofer across the square. He was curled up on a bench, one hand covering his eyes, the other hitting out at the air around him. She was sitting next to him, mournful and still drenched from that night in rain and blood. He looked sharply away and sped up a little, but he could hear his name being called from behind. It took him a few moments to realize that it wasn’t her voice.
“Hey Judas!” his flatmate puffed as he caught up to him, red-faced and out of breath. “Hey, slow down would ya?”
“Sorry Trist,” Judas grinned apologetically, “got wrapped up in my own little world again I guess.”
“Yeah, ain’t we all?” Trist replied, “You’ll be glad I found you though, this arrived for you.” He handed Judas a small envelope with the Judiciary Crest on it. “Reckon your appointment’s come through?”
Judas nodded as he tore it open and pulled out a pink business card. “Well it’s about time.” he muttered. As a rule, visitors were discouraged from parole zones and it was only really Government appointed Rehab Officers who were given access. They would then pass on messages from friends or family, as well as check on the progress of the convicts. Judas’ last visit had been postponed due to a minor case of the flu and he’d had to wait three months for it to be rescheduled.
“So? When is it then?” Trist pressed as Judas slipped the card into his pocket.
“Tomorrow it looks like.”
“Wow that’s great man, lucky you! You got the day off work?”
“Nope, it’s during my lunch break.” Judas shrugged in mock sadness, “Not that lucky I guess.”
The following day and a half passed agonizingly for Judas; although he tried not to show it, he was nervous. On the day of his conviction, his family had cut ties with him, and what few friends he’d had distanced themselves. He’d not received any communication since, but he always held onto a sliver of hope. The next morning, his co-workers commented n how skittish he was, assuming he’d had a particularly rough cycle. He didn’t bother to correct them. Finally, the lunch call was sounded and as everyone filtered towards the town mess hall, he made his way back to his apartment.
The Officer was waiting for him in his room, a different man to Judas’ previous visitor. This wasn’t unusual but he couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. He was heavyset, in a blue pin striped suit that looked about a size too small for him. He stood in the centre of the room was already taking notes on a clipboard, his narrow eyes casting a cool gaze around as he did so. As Judas entered, the man pushed his horn-rimmed spectacles onto his brow and an empty smile spread across his face. “Ah yes, just in time. Please take a seat, won’t you?” He gestured to the bed.
Obediently Judas did so, and the man glanced back down at his notes. “So, I gather you’ve been unwell, all better now though I hope?”
“Yes sir, all better thanks.”
“And how is Miss Lang?”
Please don’t hurt me, please stop, someone help
“She’s still here.” Judas grimaced, glancing over his shoulder.
“Yes, of course. The chips aren’t interfering with your work at all?” He ticked something off as he asked.
“Good, good.” There was a pause while the Officer took some more notes, and Judas fidgeted, wondering whether to ask what was really on his mind. The man cleared his throat, however, and beat him to it. “Well that’s all the formalities out of the way, apologies for that. The bureaucrats back home do prefer us to fill out every available space on their blasted forms. “Now,” he said, reaching inside his jacket pocket, “you’ll be pleased to know I have some correspondence for you!” Judas heart soared; it was just as he’d hoped.
“It’s a joint message really, from the Lang family and your friends at the Whitechapel Casino.” He pulled out a gun and aimed it squarely at Judas’ heart. “We do not forget, and we do not forgive!”
Judas didn’t hear the gunshot. He barely felt the punch to the chest. He fell back, rolled off the bed, and hit the floor face down. Instead of the dry wooden paneling, he felt wet, cobbled paving. He was back in New London, the torrent pressing him into the ground, and he was face to face with her. They lay staring into each other’s eyes, tears washing away with the rain. He struggled to speak, to beg one last time for her forgiveness but he couldn’t breathe. As everything darkened around him, he could have sworn she nodded; an almost imperceptible movement that told him it was okay. They were even. His last thought, as his eyes fluttered closed, was that his nightmare was finally over. For his killer, it was just about to begin.
Ryan Putley, is a 28 year old sci fi and comic book geek who lives in Folkestone, in the UK. He is an aspiring author who’s currently working on self-publishing a collection of humorous short stories based on first hand and family experiences.