The man holds a grimy hand to her mouth and whispers something I can't hear. She squirms against the alley wall, and she shrieks, muffled through fingers. I pull out my gun.
The man's face jerks my way, and I look to his forehead. In the late evening darkness, glowing from his bald scalp is a violet tattoo: an X overlying a large circle. He's a Delinquent Archetype. A Thief.
"Step away from the woman!" I walk closer.
The Thief's eyes widen at my gun, but without missing a beat, he puts the girl between us and pulls her close. He has a knife pressed against her breast, where the tip pierces her blouse.
"You aren't going to do anything to this girl, are you Thief?" I say. "That wouldn't make your handlers too happy, you know." I press a button near the back of my gun, and the small, mounted screen blinks to life, displaying an ID number and a series of readings. One registers fear. It pulses. The Thief pales, almost to the girl's chalky degree.
This close, I can see past the girl's blonde bangs to the black tattoo on her forehead. She's an Academic, a half circle with two sunbeams. She's most likely a student at the Universitysmarter than me, anywaybut she's much too naïve if she's walking downtown Lansing alone, wearing such a high-cut skirt with a white leather purse this time of night.
"Put the knife down," I say. "It's not too late for you to back out of the pit you're digging."
The Thief's chin is perched on the girl's shoulder, clutching her close as if he's about to drown and she's the final, albeit feminine, floaty. Tears streak the pretty girl's cheeks. The Thief's mouth trembles. "You
you'll send me back to Detox, won't you." The fear and self-preservation levels skyrocket on my gun's little screen. He's going to run.
I make my way closer, goading him. "I don't know. That's for your handlers to decide."
The man gulps. "I don't want to go back there."
"Well, I promise you're not helping your case, sticking that knife into her." Just a few feet away, I nudge my gun. "Now let her go."
A crazed look passes the Thief's eyes (the screen flickers with emotional activity). He shouts, "I am not going back!" Keeping hold of the purse, he shoves the girl at me, turns on a heel, and runs down the alley.
I holster my gun to catch the young Academic. She clenches to my uniform and trembles as I help her to the ground. I ask, "Are you okay?" I make sure she isn't bleeding where the knife cut her blouse.
She nods, and her fingers loosen. I say, "I'll be right back, okay? Stay here. I just have to make sure my partner's got everything handled." She slowly nods again, her fingers slip off, and I walk after the Thief.
The Thief is to be found near the end of the alley, pinned to the ground by a behemoth of a man in officer blues. As I confronted the Thief, my partner and senior officer Bill Gallagher had been sneaking about the back alley to cut off the escape. It was his idea, of course. Bill has nearly thirty years of experience in the Lansing Police Department, and in that time, he's dealt with more than his share of Delinquent Archetypes.
"He's gonna spook," Bill told me when we spotted the Thief. "They all do, but the Delinquents just out of Detox are wired high. He'll bolt the moment going back comes up." He grinned at that. "Spooks them real good."
I find the purse by some trash cans, tossed by the Thief sometime between the moment he met Mountain Man Gallagher and when his cheek scraped pavement. I collect it as Bill lifts the Thief to his feet. The Delinquent is limp now, face and eyes blank. He has to be dragged down the alley to reach our squad car.
"Hey, Bill," I say as I look down at the emotionally silent screen of my gun's scan system. "Did you have to hit him that hard? I think you damaged his chip."
Bill gives the Thief a light smack to the cheek without response. He looks over at me and shrugs, flashing the Peacekeeper mark on his brow, a circle within a circle. "The chip's fine, Nicholson. The skittish ones always get like this. Too shocked to function, I figure, knowing they're going back to Detox."
"We don't know if they'll send him back," I say.
"Well, it's either that or they put a bullet in him. He's already committed a crime, so it obviously isn't working for him." Bill shrugs. "Actually, that's probably more likely. Look here
" He points under the Thief's Archetypal mark, where his two Attributes are listed. The vice reads as "Lecherous." His virtue is "Humorous," but I hardly find it redeeming.
"He's a dangerous one," Bill continues. "More Thief than Rapist, but that doesn't mean he's beyond it. We're lucky we got here when we did."
As Bill shoves the unresponsive Thief into the back of our squad car, I bend down to help the Academic to her feet. She accepts the purse, but her fingers once again grip my sleeve. Her vice reads, "Reliant," so I put an arm around her, which seems to calm her.
"I was so scared," she says, choking on a sob.
"I know, but it's okay now. He's off the streets for good."
She turns to me with anger in her eyes. "But why was he even on the streets? None of the Delinquents should be
They should be locked away forever!"
I give her a reassuring squeeze. Lucky for us, the worst ones are.
After Bill returns and the young Academic's tears wane, we learn that she's a student at the University, living in an apartment complex not too far away. Because she lives so close, she didn't see any problem with walking home alone, but after tonight, she vows to never do so again.
One phone call and ten minutes later, the girl's boyfriend arrives to pick her up. He's a Citizen Archetype, average in all aspects except his muscular build and handsome face. When he gets out of the car, the Academic releases my sleeve and hurriedly transplants herself into his arms, rousing a snide smirk from Bill. I can't say I'm disappointed, however, so I ignore his jeers as we get back in our squad car and drive away.
It is as we round the corner that we get the call.
Before I had my Archetypal mark, before I even knew I was a Peacekeeper, I was just a kid. We all were. Adults looked at us, saw our bare foreheads, and they didn't know what to think.
"Is this child to be an Academic?" they'd wonder. Or, "Will he be a Leader? An Artist?"
They had assumptions, but until Scan Day, that's all they were. Poor guesses. We were, as children, in a stage of mystery and opportunity. We could be anything from Leaders and Peacekeepers to Clerics and Caregivers; our futures were bright with possibility. However, they were equally foreboding. Among the pool of Archetypes, three have always been thought vile: the Delinquents.
There are always a few in each grade. Murderers, Thieves, Rapists. We were, as all children, terrified that we may be a Delinquent and not even know it. Most don't have a clue. On Scan Day, when the sixth graders line up before the whole school and don the scan cap, there is nothing but shock and horror on a child's face when a Delinquent's mark pops onscreen. As the other children wait in line, many break into tears, while the rest sniff and tremble.
The only exception I ever knew was Jim Gideon.
His name was James, but no one ever called him that. He was just Jim, the one we looked up to, the one we admired.
There were many sides to Jim. Some thought he'd be a Peacekeeper, as he always played the mediator when teacher's weren't around, stopping fights, exposing cheats. But that wasn't quite right, as he was also a great Leader. With a single word, he could persuade any of us to follow, win over any heart; yet he lacked ambition. Perhaps, instead, he would be an Academic. He was at least that smart, and some went so far as saying he'd be a Genius, that he'd been acing college-level exams since third gradebut Jim waved those off as rumors, nothing more.
No one could really pin down just what Jim Gideon was. He was loved, he was adored, but he was far from understood.
Each year on Scan Day, there was an unavoidable activity among the children. A guessing game not unlike the adults'. As each child was hooked up to the scan cap and its mess of wires, the rest in the stands would begin to whisper their predictions: "He's a Laborer, too stupid for anything else." "She's so going to be a Caregiver, with how she's always playing house." "Did you see his drawing? He's an Artist for sure."
We all played the game, although we were rarely accurate. Often enough, the scan cap would surprise us with completely unexpected results. It would turn out, for example, that the boy who failed every subject was just a lazy Genius, or the girl who couldn't paint was an Artist needing sheet music, not canvas. It was this inability to see into a person's nature that caused our inaccuracy.
But Jim, he was different. With one glance, Jim knew you. In the Archetypal guessing game we played, he almost always guessed correctly, and when he was wrong, it was intentional. I was the only one to notice. When I confronted him about these "mistakes," he told me to keep it to myself.
"It would terrify them, Eric," he said. "If I were always right, everyone would come to me and ask, 'Hey Jim, what's my Archetype?' I could tell some of them real easily. Most of them, in fact. But others
" He shivered. "Eric, I don't want to be the one to say it."
I really thought the best of him.
One year, finally, it was Jim's Scan Day. He stood in front of the whole school, buried in wires, and the whispers were fervent. What was Jim going to be? A Leader? A Peacekeeper? A Genius?
What would he be?
The only one who knew, of course, was Jim. So when the Archetypal mark of a violet skull atop an X appeared on screen, he was the only one not surprised.
Jim, the one we all loved, was a Murderer Archetype.
In our squad car, the picture and name of an escapee appears on our dash screen. It's been twelve years since he was cuffed and dragged out of Scan Day, leaving an entire school betrayed, but I recognize him. His head's been shaven and his Murderer's mark spreads violet across his scalp. His grin is still charming, but something about it is twisted, deceitful. The flashing name confirms it.
According to the transmitter, he escaped from a transfer bus en route to the Michigan State detention center. He's armed, and the emotional feeds show his violence and anger levels to be maximized without a speck of self-preservation. His brain chip's tracker shows him in eastside, downtown Lansing. He's approaching a house.
Jim's excitement levels peak.
Bill flips on the siren, broadcasting its wail, its blue-red lights, and floors it.
"He's close," Bill says. "Put in his ID number and be ready. We'll be there first, and we're not waiting for back up." He grimaces at the dash screen. "No time."
I hide the slight tremor in my hand and comply. James Gideon appears on my gun. I swear he laughs at me.
You're a Murderer, I say to the phantom. You're not like the Thieves. You were never meant to be allowed back in public.
Yet he's escaped. Jim's free, and he will kill. I tighten my grip on the gun. Why couldn't he have just stayed where he belonged?
The Thief in the back stirs, and he peeks at me through the hole-punched Plexiglas. His nose is caked in dried blood from when he hit the ground. "W-where are we going?" he asks. "Why's the siren on?"
I consider what to say. "We're going to pick you up a friend" would be appropriate, but I'm not really in the mood. I'm not even sure Jim will let himself be taken alive.
"Just a detour," Bill grunts, saving me the effort, "so don't you worry. You'll be at the station in no time."
The Thief slumps, and his pitiful whimpers continue.
Ignoring him, I look down at the dash and watch the bleeping dot that represents Jim rush into the house. I imagine that whoever cracked open the door will be dead in a minute. After all, I can't remember a single activity in which Jim proved inefficient.
My eyes wander to the homeowner's name.
Bill looks at me from the wheel, brow risen. "What?"
I lean back in my seat, rubbing my eyes. "He's going to kill Senator Godfrey."
Bishop Godfrey is a relic and a legend. Over one hundred years old, he still treads the Senate Chambers, still commands respect and power and wealth, and he still marries, conceives, outlives. He forever expands his empires, whether they be political or genetic. He is a man of accomplishments, a superior breed. The epitome of Leader Archetype.
We ascend the front steps of this man's mansion, passing dark stone pillars, and approach the heavy-set door. It's slightly ajar. Bill and I check our gun screens for Jim's location.
He's deep inside the mansion, a few floors up. We slip inside.
Within the foyer, a single lamp sheds its light across maroon-painted walls, casting gold over the dark wood floors and rug. At the center of lamplight, the body of Natalia Godfrey, the senator's latest wife, is sprawled.
I sigh, grieved but unsurprised, and crouch beside her. Brush aside her auburn hair. She's young, still in her early twenties. Pretty face, with eyes closed and lips parted. Hardly a mark on her. Her Archetype is Caregiver, a circled cross, which draws my gaze to her baby-swollen stomach.
I wonder how Jim could have done this. But the answer, I know, is tattooed to his scalp.
I'm about to stand, to press on after Jim, when a slight movement catches my eye. Natalia. She's breathing. Alive.
"I'll be damned," Bill mutters, looking over my shoulder. He reports her condition over the radio, while I stare at her rising and falling chest, unable to believe.
Bill puts away the radio and notices I'm still crouched over her. "No time to gawk, Nicholson. We've still got the senator to worry about."
I look back at him, then hastily rise to my feet. "You're right. Let's go."
Following the tracker, we ascend the staircase to the second floor, then the third. On each landing, as far as we can see, every light has been clicked off. Darkness floods the halls and doorways, while the gun screens send dull glows upon our faces.
Bill and I proceed down the hall. Carpet muffles our steps, and we breathe carefully. When we come across another staircase, we stop breathing all together. At the top is a closed door, with bright light seeping through the bottom (our first light since the foyer). According to the tracker, Jim stands beyond it.
Bill takes point, and I follow closely behind, stifling the returning tremor in my hand. To keep my mind occupied, I switch my gun from tracker to emotional feed. Jim's excited, I note. Heart pounding. Murderous. He's going to kill Senator Godfrey. He's just about to slit his throat.
We reach the door. Bill puts a hand on the knob and holds up three fingers. A countdown.
Two fingers. I swallow.
Bill throws the door open; light floods. I charge in.
Senator Godfrey sits within his office, and pressed to his throat is the blade of Jim Gideon.
Years of rejuvenation treatmentsan assortment of pills, transplants, and skin lotionsrewind Godfrey's clock by sixty years, gifting him with a youthful vigor while cursing with tight skin and a plastic pallor. His forehead bears the Leader's mark, a half circle atop a second. He looks sick, sweating and glistening behind the desk, the blade glinting under his taut jugular. His mouth has been duct taped shut. His eyes cast hatred.
"Welcome gentlemen," says Jim Gideon. He stands behind Godfrey's chair, before the window, wearing a prisoner's orange jumpsuit. He has a gun pointed at us, the violet skull a sharp contrast on his pale scalp. His eyes flicker between Bill and me, but there's no reaction to my face. He doesn't remember me.
"Put the gun and knife down," Bill growls, his own gun trained between Jim's eyes.
Jim smiles, and it's quite friendly. "Sorry, officer, but it's still too early for that. I have business to conclude with you all before anything like that happens." He leans forward and puts his cheek against Godfrey's. "Tell me. Do you two know what this man has done to me?"
Bill takes a step forward, and I see annoyance pulse on the gun screen. Senator Godfrey groans through the tape as Jim draws a thin, bleeding line across his throat.
"Please," Jim says. "Don't come closer. By all means, keep your gun, but that's all the freedom I'll give you." He nods. "Move back to where you were."
After a moment's hesitation, Bill complies.
I tighten my grip on my gun. Jim's the same. People never questioned him when we were kids, and even now no one can stand up to his presence. He hasn't changed a bit.
No, I realize. He's worse now.
I look at his Attributes. He is "Philosophical" and "Defiant." After his betrayal, neither surprise me.
The blood drizzles down Senator Godfrey's plastic flesh throat, and Jim catches some on his knife. "So, officers," he says as he smears the gore across Godfrey's neck, "will you humor me?"
My response is immediate, a gut reaction that I have no control over. "No, Jim." The room falls quiet, and all eyes are drawn to me. "We're not going to play any games, we're not kids anymore," I say. "You're going to put down the knife and the gun, and you're going to come with us."
Jim smiles. "Eric, I thought you'd pretend to not know me."
My smile is a little more forced. "I have no reason to."
"You have every reason to. But if you thought calling out like an old friend would warm me into submission, you're wrong. Look at my emotional feed. I know you have it, otherwise the surgical scars on my head would have been for naught."
I plan to ignore him, to give him no ground for command, but the emotional feed is my greatest tool. If I don't look, I am ignorant of the situation, and I can't be so uninformed when facing someone like Jim. I give the gun screen a glance.
"Notice how I do not have an ounce of self-preservation?" Jim asks. "I couldn't care less if you shot me. However, I'm sure my hate and anger levels are nearly maximized. I could easily kill." He looks upon Senator Godfrey with venom. "And I deserve to do it, Eric. Do you know what this man has done to me?"
In that moment, Jim has plucked away control. We're back in Jim's conversation, driving towards whatever point Jim wants to make. I feel helpless, like a kid. Bill doesn't look any happier. With a bitter tongue, I ask, "What has he done to you?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Jim says. "Everything. The mark on my forehead, the mark on yours, the reason I'm locked away while you walk free. It's all because of this man, this
" He struggles for the word, tapping the knife against Godfrey's throat. "This beast. When the Archetypal system was first being introduced to American legislation sixty years ago, he was the driving force behind it. He made it happen. Without Bishop Godfrey, I'd be a free and happy man. So it makes sense, doesn't it?" he says. "Why I hate him? If there is any person in this world I desire to kill, it is Senator Bishop Godfrey. Even now he fights to have us Delinquents executed upon discovery. I would love to see this man bleed."
Bill and I tense up. "Jim, we will shoot."
Jim laughs. "Once again, I couldn't care less. But if you're so keen on keeping him alive, Eric, tell me why I shouldn't kill him."
"There's no point," I say. "It's senseless blood.
"But I am a Murderer, correct?" he says. "Therefore, isn't it only natural that I kill him? Or rather, isn't it only logical that I commit the crime for which I am punished?"
How do I respond to that? I glance over at Bill, and his lips are taut with frustration. He hasn't a clue what to do either. Realization creeps upon me. Senator Godfrey is going to die.
Jim grins. "No objections, then?" The knife twitches.
With a start, Bill and I prepare to shoot
and Jim's weapons clatter to the hardwood floor.
My trigger finger stops. I stare, speechless, as Jim puts his hands behind his head and kneels to the ground. He meets my eyes with a face firm and impassioned.
"How strange," he says, "for a Murderer to never kill."
James Gideon is apprehended without further resistance, his wrists easily bound, his transfer into the squad car effortless. The sea of officers surrounding the Godfrey residence appears to be a waste of manpower. After all, the escapee is eager for his return to the station. He's grinning, even.
A look at his emotional feed confirms a sense of satisfaction. Whatever he sought to achieve has been achieved.
Authorities are pleased with the night's results. Besides a thin cut across the senator's neck and a bruise on his wife's head, no harm has been done. Not a single person was killed on this Murderer's rampage. They call it a miracle. God's mercy. No one seems to care it was all the wish of James Gideon. To them, the fact is irrelevant.
The moment I walk through the door that night, my wife embraces me and asks if I'm alright. She's seen the news on TV and heard all about the Murderer James Gideon. When I tell her I was the one who arrested him, she gasps and asks me to tell her the story as she heats up dinner. I pace as I talk, unable to keep still. It is only towards the end that I sit down at the counter.
"Kristy," I say, "I just can't believe this guy. Do you have any idea how hard it is to break away from state custody? The wardens have an alert system in every brain chip that goes off if a Delinquent feels too much excitement, anticipation, or fear outside of Detox. Had it gone off while he was on that transfer bus, they would have drugged him on the spot and thrown him in solitary the moment they arrived. There was never any a chance for him to escape. No one ever has escaped."
Kristy looks back from the stove as she stirs the heating stew. She has light brown hair that parts at the middle, revealing her Citizen's mark. "But he did escape."
"I know, but
" I shake my head. "That's not even the strangest part."
"Then what is?"
"He didn't kill the senator. The emotional feed doesn't lie, and his was maxing out in ways I've never seen before. He wanted Godfrey dead, but he still didn't do it."
My wife pours some stew in a bowl and brings it over. "Maybe in the end," she says, "he realized that he wanted to live." Although she's only a Citizen Archetype, I know Kristy is easily as intelligent as an Academic. The only reason she isn't one, I believe, is because she's so well-rounded in nature that a specialized Archetype just didn't fit her. As she rounds the table to sit by me, I watch the bulge of the baby under her tank top. At the very least, she's as much a Caregiver as an Academic.
"I thought that too," I say. "As a Delinquent, his life would have been forfeit the moment he killed the senator. But the emotional feed showed no will to live. He didn't care, he just
." A disturbing thought crosses my mind. "Maybe
Kristy, maybe he wanted me to see that."
Kristy raises an eyebrow. "And why would he want you to see it?"
I haven't told her about my relationship with Jim, nor do I plan to. So I shrug. "Not me in particular, but someone. He wanted at least one person to see the discrepancy. I just don't know why."
Kristy shrugs right back at me. "And until you talk with him, you'll probably never know. Even then, you may not understand his reasoning. He is a Murderer, after all."
I stir my stew, nodding slowly. Kristy's right. But as I bring a spoonful of stew to my mouth, I realize that such an opportunity will probably never arise.
The next morning, I wake up to the phone ringing. Reaching out blindly, my hand slaps down on the receiver, and I bring it to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hey, Nicholson." Bill's voice. "We've got someone down at the station that wants to talk to you."
I sigh and rub my eyes, looking over to see Kristy turning to the other side in her sleep. I arch my back, stretching. "And who would that be, Bill? It's my day off."
"Yeah, yeah," he says; I can hear the grin in his voice, "but it's your old buddy Jim. The Chief says you'd better get down here and talk with him."
I nearly drop the phone. "What? Why the hell would the Chief want me to do that? I don't even want to."
"Because the two of them made a deal," Bill tells me. "Gideon says he'll reveal how he escaped from state custody, help patch up our security. But that's only if he can talk to you."
"And why does he want to talk to me?"
"Hell if I know. You're the one he's chummy with."
." Just last night, a part of me wanted this. A part of me needed to talk with Jim so its curiosity could be satisfied. But whatever part of me that was, it's gone quiet. I look at the clock. Finally, I say, "Forget it. I can be there in an hour."
As I enter the interrogation room, Jim has the biggest grin on his face.
"Eric, welcome! I'd greet you with a hug, but as you can see, I'm a little restricted." He lifts his hands a couple feet before chair-mounted handcuffs tug at his wrists.
I take the seat across from him. "I'm afraid we're not that close anymore, James." The interrogation room is sparse, its walls white and stinking of bleach. There's a one way mirror, behind which resides an audience of officers, and in the corner, where the white tile floor depresses, is a grilled drain. For the occasional cleanup.
"Now don't be like that," Jim says, "calling me James. We both know you still think of me as Jim."
I don't know why I'm surprised he knows. "You're right, always right. But still, you have to admit things have changed."
"Have they?" He presses a hand to his chest. "I haven't. I've always been the same. Have you changed, Eric?"
He sounds so sincere. I ignore it. "Look, why did you want to talk to me? It's my day off, and I can't say I'm excited to be here."
"Because we're friends," Jim replies, "and I enjoy your company."
"Of course. I've always been a simple individual. The real question is why do you want to talk to me?"
"Oh," he says, blinking stupidly. "Sorry, I didn't know. We can be done if you'd like."
I smirk. "Funny." Jim watches me expectantly. He just reads, and reads, and reads the rest of us like books, doesn't he? I ask, "Why didn't you kill him?"
"Ah," he says, nodding. "A good question. The means of reaching that answer, however, lie within the question you dodged just a minute ago. Have you, Eric, changed?"
Always so roundabout dealing with Jim, never the direct answer. "No," I say.
"I agree," says Jim. "I know you, Eric, and what's changed is not you, but the world. Its perceptions. So you may not have changed, but you are still choosing to perceive through the world's ever-changing and distorting lens."
"You're a Murderer, Jim. The world's perceptions have nothing to do with it."
"But that 'Murderer' label is the worldly lens I speak of. Just for a moment, can't you look at me and see the man, not the Archetype? If you do that, can't we stay friends even though the world's perceptions have changed around us?"
"I'm sorry," I say, "but I haven't considered you my friend since Scan Day."
He leans forward, earnest. "Why is that, Eric? What have I done? Tell me, so I can make it right."
"You and I both know it's not what you've done, it's what you're capable of. What you will do."
"What I will do?" Jim bursts into laughter. "And herein lies the answer to your question. Yes, I escaped from the state, evaded my trackers, and brought a blade to Godfrey's throat. You saw my emotions. I wanted to kill him, and damn it, I still believe the right is mine. Maybe that's why I'm a Delinquent. But even then, I did nothing. I let him live, and that act of restraintnot Godfrey's deathwas my goal. See me as I am, for I've proven to you and the world that I am not a Murderer."
"You proud idiot," I say. "That was your goal? Did you think it would convince them to ignore your Archetype? As far as the world's concerned, you're still just a Murderer, Jim, and a dangerous one too. If anything, you've bought yourself a lifetime in solitary."
"And that's if I'm lucky," Jim agrees. "But I didn't do it for me. I did it for the rest, so there could always be one definitive example of when the Archetypal System went wrong."
"What will that change?"
"Probably nothing. But I'm willing to try it, changing the world's perceptions. And in case you haven't noticed, I've chosen to start with you."
I laugh, although my hand tremor returns. "You're free to try."
He grins. "Then we'll start with this: What makes the man? Is it the desires he holds or is it the choices he makes? Or is that a little too broad? For some color and specificity, let's add an illustration.
"Dick and Jane are locked in a room. Dick desires to kill Jane, but he chooses not to. Jane, in contrast, has no desire to kill Dick, but in the end she chooses to slit his throat. Who is evil?"
"Don't be stupid," I say. "Why would Jane kill Dick if she doesn't want to?"
"Yes, and why doesn't Dick kill Jane even though he does want to? Both are very good questions, and their answers coincide. It's because Dick and Jane both made the choice. The power of choice trumps nature, Eric. Take me, for example. According to the Archetypal System, I am programmed to kill, yet I choose not to kill. Therefore, referring to the originally posed question, choices make the man. Can't you see that?"
I shake my head. "Jim, you just don't understand."
"Oh?" He looks amused. "Then tell me, Eric, where I go wrong."
"Choice may be able to trump nature," I say, "I'll give you that. But you're forgetting that the driving force behind choice is nature. What you've done is great, Jim, admirable even, but I'm afraid overcoming nature is beyond the rest of us. We're stuck. So if a man desires to kill, for the safety of everyone else, we lock that man up. Lives are saved, the people feel safe. That is something worth protecting, even if we have to take away a few men's freedom."
"But you take so much more than freedom!" Jim says. "You're all so caught up in the results that you never give thought to the price. Imagine, just for a moment, Eric, what it's like to be not just visually but emotionally monitored every moment of your life. To be ripped away from family and friends as a child, to be thrust into incarceration, where the food tastes like shit, the treatment is abusive, and your waking hours are spent in endless sessions of Detox. Detox,"he spits the word"with its torturous mind games, hallucinogenic injections, and relentless brainwashing, all for the sake of 'detoxifying' our minds of evil thoughts and urges. They break your soul in Detox, Eric. They crush you until there's nothing left, and then they build you back up as a mindless, generic shell. Tell me, how can we go against our nature if the ability to do so is taken away?" He pauses, then quietly says, "Eric, is your perfect little world worth it?"
In the pit of my stomach, I feel hollow. I ask, "What would you have us do, Jim? Would you have us let the Delinquents go free? Would you have us await the inevitable?"
"You don't know what's inevitable," he says, "until you give us a chance."
Silence hangs in the air. It's stifling. "I'm afraid that won't happen," I say. "That's a price we cannot pay." I stand and am surprised to find my legs weak. "Goodbye Jim."
He smiles, nods. "Goodbye Eric. Thank you for the conversation."
I sit behind the one-way window with the other officers, sipping a cup of black coffee. My hands have stopped trembling, but my foot taps a caffeinated jig.
Jim is about to finish detailing his escape to the interrogator. Just a bit longer and he'll be packed up and shipped to a high-risk detention facility. Then, hopefully, this nightmare will be out of my life for good.
This nightmare. Even though I call him that, the fact is I can't bring myself to hate him. He hasn't changed; talking to him has proven that. He's still a good man, still the same old Jim I knew as a kid. I suppose that's what makes him so terrifying. He's a fluke in the system, the exception to the rule.
But fluke or not, it changes nothing. He's a Murderer in society's eyes, and society will never change; not for him, not for any Delinquent. Not with this little act of rebellion, anyway.
Some part of my heart wrenches, but its pain is smothered. The world is as it should be. When there's a single tragedy in a nation of protected and happy people, nothing needs to change. In fact, that's a damn good record. Nearly perfect. I lean back in my seat and take a drink of coffee. It's bitter.
I glance back to see Bill's looming form at the door. He beckons with a couple fingers. "Come here. Chief's got an order for you."
I finish the dregs of my coffee then follow Bill out of the dark observation room into the hall. "What's the order?" I ask, but he waves me off and opens the door to an empty office. Suspicious, I follow him inside.
As he closes the door, I ask, "What's all this about?"
"A quick job," Bill says, shoving something into my hands. It's metallic and smooth. I look down to find an execution pistol. "The Chief wants you to shoot Gideon. Too dangerous keeping someone like him alive."
The gun is a cold, dead weight in my hands. "But
he hasn't killed anybody," I say. "We can't execute a Delinquent until he's done his crime."
Bill puts a hand on my shoulder. "Look," he says, "I know that's the rule, but if you don't want to get fired, you'd better not make a fuss. It's not just the Chief behind this one. Senator Godfrey's got a hand in it too, and those are two people you don't want to cross."
Bill frowns and looks me over. "Why do you care in the first place? You're not doing anything wrong finishing off Gideon. You're just making the world a better place. So get on with it." He opens the door, pauses, then looks back at me. "I mean, shit, Nicholson, the guy's just a Murderer."
"Eric? You're back?"
The door closes behind me, and I make no effort to hide the execution pistol. It only takes Jim a moment to notice. "Ah," he says. "I see."
I walk to where he's chained, and I put the barrel to his forehead, right into the mouth of the violet skull. My hands have never trembled as they do now. I click back the hammer.
It's for the best, I remind myself. There's no such thing as a perfect world, but with this, we'll be as close as it gets. Somehow that doesn't help. Somehow it makes me feel all the worse.
Jim notices my hesitation. "You don't have to do this, you know. It may cost you your job, and I'll still be killed by someone else. But you don't have to be the one to do it." I watch as his emotions stream onscreen. He pities me.
" I say. "It should be me."
Jim studies me for a moment. He sighs. "Then it appears you have your answer."
Despite the situation, I smirk. "I wasn't aware there was a question."
He matches my smile. "Yeah. Why Jane killed Dick."
The room goes quiet. "Goodbye Jim," I say.
He nods. "Goodbye Eric."
And I pull the trigger.
Archetype, by Inkfish7 - Michael Bjork