by John C. Wright, Esq.
I’m sorry that I smiled at him when he came in, all dripping from the rain. I know it will make my thought-testimony look bad in court. But when you work the late-night shift at the Recruitment Center, and a handsome stranger comes in, even if he is a little sad and grim, it’s hard not to have idle thoughts about him.
But I wasn’t helping him, even if I liked his looks. He shook his coat as he took it off, sending water everywhere. His hat made a puddle on the counter.
“The operation to become a citizen. Is it painful? Does it take long? I’m in sort of a hurry.”
He looked back to the plate glass window. Maybe he was looking at the courthouse and Town Hall across the street. Maybe he was looking at the rain.
“Brain tissue is not sensitive,” I said, smiling, looking up at him. “The major part of the operation, correlating your individual patterns to the standardized symbols, takes less than a minute. It takes longer to decided what to do first, to go cast a ballot or go buy a gun, they say!”
Sometimes men smile when I say that. Sometimes not. He did not. I wish I understood them. Men, I mean.
Did I mention how blue and deep and penetrating his eyes were? And you could not look at lips like his without wondering what they would taste like, cruel and passionate, perhaps with a hint of lingering champagne, as strong arms picked you up and carried you away . . . .
(That doesn’t mean I was helping him. What girl does not have idle thoughts?)
I hit the button which folded back the wall to the inner room.
Beyond, the chair was a black with padding and shiny with wiring. Above the headrest, like a chandelier, were the probe¬arms, the injector, and the surgical array.
“So there it is,” he muttered, staring.
“There it is!” I agreed, cheerfully. I got up and led him over toward the chair. “When you sit down, you sit down all alone; but when you get up, you’ve got the whole world with you. No more lies and no misunderstandings! At least . . . ” My enthusiasm stumbled, for his dark, sardonic gaze was on me. “Other citizens can’t lie to you. Other people in the same circuit. And the circuit has to be on . . .”
He was smiling now, but I couldn’t tell if it was a friendly smile or not. “I’m aware that there are limitations, miss. I’ve never thought technology was magic; it doesn’t change human nature, or make the users of it more wise.”
“My name’s Kelly. Sit down. Are you going to tell me your name, or what? I’ll find out anyway when you do your paperwork.”
Now he really was smiling at me. “Or, if you just wait a few moments, I’’ll have a circuit in my head, and you can read my name there. It’s Aristoteles Haksos.”
He put out his hand to shake. I shook. He held onto my hand for a moment too long.
I bustled about, making small talk and making connections. I fitted the array over his head, made an adjustment, turned on the sterilization radius, activating the first sequence. “Hold still.”
He sat in the chair, drumming his fingertips.
I tried to make conversation. My old boyfriend told me that women talked too much; but the truth is that men never talk enough, not enough to find out what they’re really thinking; not even enough to find out if there’s anything you have in common to talk about.
So I talked: “Maybe it is a kind of magic, you know. I mean, we have the first truly honest society in history. No more innocent people wrongly accused; no more politicians telling lies. I mean, voters can look into a candidate’s head and see how sincere he is. You can look into a criminal’s head and actually see what’s wrong with him. I know that a lot of people are afraid to become citizens. But I say who needs privacy anyway? People wouldn’t need so much privacy if other people weren’t so quick to judge, you know?”
“Someone has to do the judging if the judges won’t,” he said softly.
The medical monitors were on-line at that point, so I saw the sudden tension in his parasympathetic nervous system. His fists were clenched on the chair-arms.
“Is–is something wrong . . ?” I hadn’t meant to offend him. I wanted him to like me.
“Nothing’’s wrong. I was just thinking how stupid that old expression is, ‘to know all is to forgive all’.”
“You won’t feel that way once you can read minds,” I told him cheerfully. “You’ll see how everyone has their own point of view; how their own values and judgments seems just as real to them as yours do to you. It’s impossible to be so judgmental once you see inside of someone else’s head.”
“Just get on with it please, miss . . . Kelly.”
I swung the array up away from his head. He blinked in the light. “There’s nothing more to get on with,” I said. ““It’s done.”
“It’s done . . ?” He reached his hand up to where the scanner-reader thought-port glistened like an oriental gem in his forehead.
“I told you you wouldn’t feel anything. Now, then: until you get used to controlling the circuit, you’ve got to be careful not to . . .”
Not to do that. Suddenly, it was me, it might as well have been me, laying in the chair, watching the cute blond bend over me. She had one fist on her cocked hip. I wondered if she had any idea how hungry I was for her, how I was boiling with rage, how close rage is to lust . . .
As if some wild force shoved us, we were in each other’s arms, hungry mouth on hungry mouth, each passion in each mind reflected and doubled by the passion in the other. I kissed her lips / He bruised my lips.
And then . . .
(Why rage, I wondered? Why so much anger?)
And then I was remembering my earliest memory, of warm hands and a soft voice, of being tucked into bed at night. And I was remembering eyes which shined with love and pride at my grammar school graduation . . . high school . . . and, later, at Academy . . . that same unchanging look of motherly love.
Those hands would never touch mine again. That voice was silent, forever. Those eyes were dark. That love was gone, destroyed, leaving nothing but an aching void.
For I was also remembering the blood-soaked room at my mother’s house, with police robots picking carefully though the stinking mess, like fastidious spiders. My mother’s entrails had been sprayed across the wall, and dripping letters formed political slogans and words of mindless hate. A detective was wrapping a pair of needle-nosed pliers into an evidence bag, wet with vitreous humor and shreds of flesh; and the voice of the autopsy computer was estimating how many hours she had been in pain before the many cuts and lacerations and puncture-wounds had put her into shock.
And I was remembering the trial. That detective was a citizen, of course, and so his secret thoughts and childhood fears were put on display by the defense; his lurking race-prejudice was explored; as was the burning sensation of righteous spite with which that detective heard that the murderer had been indicted.
The jury also experienced hour after hour and day after day of the murderer’s hellish childhood. They saw the slow build up of rage and frustration during his troubled teen-age years. They felt the stabbing pride of hope and conviction, the zeal, which led him to join with more and more radical factions of the terrorist political group which gave meaning to his life. The group which also had set his quota of random murders.
And I remembered standing in the rain. The jury foreman, with a look of smug pity and pious condescension on his face, was talking to a gaggle of reporters after the trial. ” . . . and so we could not conclude there was malice aforethought, not after we saw examined his thoughts. While nobody advocates political violence or racial terrorism, of course, once we understood the defendant’s reasons for his acts, we couldn’t help but realize how deeply sincere he was. After all, hadn’t he been tortured too, by his unhappy past? In his own mind, he was right. Who are we to judge?”
All this flashed through my mind in an instant.
I stepped away from him, breaking the field contact. I felt disoriented and sickened. I was leaning against the panel behind me, my hands in front of my mouth. It took me a moment to realize the slim hands and slim wrists were mine.
He stood up from the chair.
“You can’t just go out and take the law into your own hands!” I said.
“I would not need to, my dear, if those we trusted to keep the law in their hands had not thrown it on the garbage heap.”
“You just came in here to get the right to own a gun . . .” But I knew that was not true. He already owned a gun.
“No. I came in because I wanted to feel his thoughts screaming as he died.”
But I knew that that was not quite true either. I had seen something in his mind. It was something so cold, so austere and so absolute . . . so demanding . . . that there was no name I could put to it. Certainly it was not the warm and compassionate thing I called ‘justice’. For him it was a matter of icy logic, that those who kill must die, for no other penalty equals the crime.
And I saw his love for me dying in his eyes. His lust, I should say. I had been thinking about what to name our children; he had been thinking about my breasts.
And when he saw how much more I felt for him than he felt for me, that thing happened.
It was that thing, that infuriating male thing which makes boys never want to call girls who call them. It was that thing that makes it so we can never ask them to dance, never ask them out, never ask them to wed. It was that thing that make men only want the women who don’t want them. I don’t know what that thing is called, but it happened.
And in his mind, I saw his emotion toward me go cold and vanish like a blown candle.
He said, “I would take time to explain, but they may be bringing him out from the courthouse now, so I must go. Now that I am a citizen, it is both my right and my duty to protect society, no matter what the pain to me will be.”
“But you don’t make the law . . .” And I was more embarrassed than I have ever been, because we both knew that he could see in my mind how infatuated I was with him. I turned my back and put my hand over the interface gem in my forehead, to break the contact off. My thoughts were suddenly my own: I was alone again.
He smiled. “The law? The law these days says that anyone can get away with murder, if only they are sincere enough. Well, miss; I feel pretty damn sincere right now.”
I didn’t turn around as I heard him leave.
And you can’t think that I wanted to help him commit his murder. It took me a long time to get up the nerve to call the police; that much is true. But I didn’t know, didn’t really know, he was going to do it. I knew that he intended to do it; and I knew he sincerely had no present intention to change his mind. But just because a person is sincere, doesn’t mean they are right, does it? He might have changed his mind, mightn’t he?
Eventually, slowly, I moved over to the phone. It was my duty as a citizen, I suppose, to turn him in. But it hurt.
John C. Wright works as a writer in Virginia, where he lives in fairy-tale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children: Pingping, Orville, Wilbur, and Just Wright. His many novels include his Nebula Award finalist, Orphans of Chaos.