3LBE #13
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The Felon

by Woody Carsky-Wilson

 

He walked the streets in silence, a solitary man of medium height with chestnut hair and saffron skin, hazel eyes unblinking and forehead faced into the wind like the mast of a wooden ship. Appropriate. He was a ship adrift on unfriendly seas. Good-looking but rough, Mark Kunnet was not permitted to wear a hood or hat, because that might conceal his intentions, so the rain poured down his sweater in little rivers. Wisps of vapor puffed from his mouth and he rubbed his hands together, chafed raw by the cold. He owned no gloves. They were confiscated after the arraignment. His sweater was dark brown, crafted by machine from the upland beasts called cattle, but which resembled no Earthly bovine.

He wore no chain, of course.

Marc Kunnet’s people lived on a world of severe tremors and rake storms, with unpredictable sun flares. The planet and its atmosphere were tamed, but only after a long struggle, and old lessons refused to die. If the day was sunny, the natives wore raincoats. If it rained, they donned body armor. The risk-taking gene had died out. They took no chances, especially with dangerous men.

Mr. Kunnet was a pedophile.

A theratec named Hawthorne dropped the shades. Outside his small office, the rain fell in merciless sheets. He rented the office by the half hour, would likely find another tomorrow. Variety was his vice, unusual on the colony planet. He knelt on the shami and accepted a cup of hot krosul from Lessie, his contracted fiancee. She was thin, Roman-nosed.

He blew on the warm brown liquid and waved off sugar.

“How did you get stuck with that creepshow?” Her nose curled in the cute expression of disgust she often got. She wore a dress that caressed slight curves. Her nipples were perfunctorily rouge-ringed in the latest Earth style, not his style, but he did not complain.

He shrugged. “A case is a case.”

She shifted atop the shami and kicked out thin legs, tanned from the booths. “You don’t need his murries.”

“True, murries are not my worries,” he quipped. Murries. MREs. Monetary Resource Equivalents. A stupid Earth fad name for money. It would change to something else by the end of the week. He shrugged. “I don’t need the money. I need the challenge.”

She seemed not to hear. Her own challenges were all controlled and surmountable. Her environment brought no surprises. She liked it that way.

He took another sip. It was sharp with caffinite — caffeine times ten — and sent a jagged spike up his left eye into his brain. He’d nurse hell’s own headache the week he gave up the habit. “It’s a hard case. No one else wanted it.”

“That should tell you something. Anyway, he’s a pervert.” She looked at her timeslick, adhesed to her thin left wrist. “Gotta run! Meeting in San Francisco.”

He blinked. “You’ve only been here ten minutes. See you tonight?”

She shook her head. “Schedule’s too tight. And my second needs some time. I’ve been neglecting him.”

He frowned. “I really don’t like sharing you.”

“Get over it. This is the modern world. Bye!” The womanish puppet went slack and the eyes became vacant. The morpher let go the singular curves, returning the gel form to a standard body style. Lessie had withdrawn through the web.

He eyed the lifeless puppet, so ghastly creepshow when vacant. It shambled off toward the closet, pulling the door shut behind. He thought of nailing the door shut just to see what it would do if trapped. The door chime sounded.

“Come in,” he said, setting aside the malicious thought of puppet-baiting.

Marcus Kunnet’s shaggy, rain-streaked head appeared. He looked like a dog, but not a beaten dog. Somehow that was worse. A man who did what he had done should be openly contrite. “I’m here for the ’pointment.”

“Good. Perhaps we’ll work on your diction, too.” The therapeutic detective, trained to handle such dangerous men, sat back on the shami.

Before the hour was done, he’d probably have to kill the man. Oh, well. A job’s a job.

They got the preliminary administrative business out of the way and focused on facts.

“I jus’ got outta creche ’fore it happened,” said Kunnet.

Hawthorne’s sympathy was feigned. He was a hundred sixty years old. Creche was an unremembered episode from his early life.

Kunnet talked. Hawthorne listened, sipping krosul, wondering idly why he had taken the case. There really was no way out. Why put himself in such a bind? He was good, but could not do the impossible. Anyway, why protect a pedophile?

Because there is something about him that reminds me of myself.

He clamped down hard on that thought, spilled a little of the hot liquid down his chin, and coughed unexpectedly. Kunnet looked up.

“That surprise you?” asked the criminal mid-sentence, having told him something no doubt important.

“No, go ahead.” Hawthorne waved him on. His thoughts had become a problem of late. They were uncontrolled, spilling out when and where he did not want them.

The pedophile continued his tale.

Hawthorne listened for forty-five minutes while the man told his story. The theratec ignored most of it, gameplanning instead how he would present the case to a jury. It was hard to get past the nature of the crime, though, but he kept telling himself that a therapeutic detective solved problems. He should never judge his client. That’s what the courts were for. Judging and punishing.

Kunnet droned on about things that did not really matter. He expressed intense romantic love for his victim, a feeling of helplessness when he could not continue to victimize her, and anger at the society which prevented him from doing those things he most wanted to do. Jurors could relate to none of these emotions, except for anger, but their anger would be directed solely against the defendant. It boded ill for the case.

Hawthorne set his third cup of krosul on the floor. His brain hummed along logic tracks set high above the physical plane. “Let me interrupt. Why is a person considered a child before his thirty-fifth birthday, Marcus?”

A twitch of irritation touched Kunnet’s left cheek. “Hormones make us crazy?”

Hawthorne nodded. He enjoyed this part, the slow unmasking that yanked out the emotional crutches and made proud men fall, stripped of unearned dignity. It was a minor perk of the job.

He continued. “Until a man or woman reaches a certain age, he or she is a wild, which is to say unmanageable, beast. That is why creche dwellers travel in packs. It’s also why nothing they say or do is considered a crime.” He pointed. “Until they reach the age when they are released into civil society. You underwent the entire conversion process, Marcus. You have no excuse for what you did in the eyes of the law.”

Kunnet glared and turned aside. “Yeah, right, I been civilized real good.”

Hawthorne let the sarcasm slide. “You know the rules.”

“I know they beat me with sticks,” he hissed. “They ’lectrified parts of my brain ’til I thought I was on fire! Is that civilized?” Remembered pain slid down over his face like a veil.

Hawthorne shifted on his shami. “You raped a little girl. Are you so civilized?”

Kunnet’s hands became fists and he stood, raising them. “It wasn’t rape. She wanted it!”

Hawthorne silently willed the man to attack. Do it, bastard! he thought. I’m not some defenseless, little girl cowering in fright.

Kunnet seemed to hear the unspoken plea, and took an aggressive step forward. Hawthorne sighed, touched the personal chain worn on his hip, and sent a command.

The pedophile’s heart stopped and his eyes bulged. “I didn’t… didn’t rape nobody!” He fell to the floor gasping, until the life drained from his body.

Time passed while the theratec sipped his drink and waited for the medical team. It took thirty minutes before there was a knock and the medical team entered the room, which now stank of urine and feces.

“What was he guilty of?” asked the bored supervisor, who just happened to be out with his automated unit, checking up on things.

“Bad grammar,” said Hawthorne, and walked off into the dark, rainy night alone.

Later that night, Hawthorne lay on suspensor field in a new transit apartment. He burned up a lot of murries that way, hopping place to place, and no one understood why. Most homes and apartments on the colony planet remained under the same family ownership for centuries. It was safer that way. Walls could be reinforced, security systems upgraded, all environmental variables cataloged, controlled and forgotten. But it was not Hawthorne’s way.

He rarely spoke of it. Unlike other theratecs, he did not discuss personal issues with friends or colleagues. Indeed, he did not have friends or colleagues.

He shoved the unhappy thought aside, and took a deep breath. The suspensor field adjusted for his weight shift. This apartment was perched high up in the Fringe, a new development paid for with hopeful, but futile, capital. Few locals used it and the corporation financing the venture had gone bust. The Fringe looked down on the hollow of a domed city. Hawthorne directed his gaze upward, saw the twinkling lights of low orbit habitats, owned by offworlders or planetary latecomers. A native would not live up there, even now after expensive Van Allen belts were installed.

He laughed. To speak of installing Van Allen belts, as though installing a ceiling fan. We are a powerful people, he thought. But we are primitive, too. Every man must attempt the journey from creche animal to civilized human during his life.

Some of us don’t complete the journey.

He flicked on the wall viewer, saw Marcus lying peacefully in a hospital unit. The man’s face was unlined in sleep. They would revive him during next shift, later than necessary, thereby squeezing out the maximum number of murries allowed by law.

Why bother? Soon, Marcus would be killed and stored ’until the last extant colony member was terminal.’ In other words, after his upcoming trial and execution, as long as the colony lived, Kunnet would stay dead.

He watched the man’s peaceful face in sleep. An automated orderly trundled through the ward, checking on patients.

The closet chimed, jarring him awake. The apartment’s puppet opened the door, walked over, bowed and waited. What would it do if he taped its legs together? Fall over? Cry? Whine? He could kick it if it fell over.

“Incoming call,” it said, oblivious to his cruel thoughts.

Its features morphed into a familiar body and the face animated. “—-and then this guy is telling me I can’t cash my options, but I’ve been with the company for a month. I hate when they try to stick me!”

Hawthorne frowned. “What? The transmission was cut off.”

She nodded, hair bouncing. “Don’t interrupt. Anyway I don’t care how many times they’ve been sold in the last two days. A contract is a contract.” She made chopping motions in her hand. “So what do you think?”

He sat up and turned off the suspensor field. It floated him to the floor. “Whatever you think, sweetheart.”

Her eyes lost a little of the manic sheen. “You’re such a good listener. You know, things aren’t going too well with my second. He’s—”

He leaned forward, hoping for the best. Maybe her second had died in a tragic hover accident. Maybe he’d been arrested for embezzling and would be locked up in the finance prison on Mars. He licked his lips. “Yes?”

She shrugged. “Well, he’s been cold and unreceptive lately. He claims it’s not my fault, but I wonder.”

He frowned. “I see.” Maybe he doesn’t love you! he thought.

“A little voice inside of me wonders if he hasn’t, you know, taken a second of his own.” She looked to him, as if for confirmation.

He should, thought Hawthorne. You’re a loveless bitch.

He squelched that purely random thought hard. He did not even know her second, had only seen a picture of a man who looked so much like her, that it brought to mind a Narcissus complex. “So… how does it make you feel?”

She cocked her head. “Oh, it makes me angry and confused… hey, are you analyzing me? You know I hate that!”

He blinked. “Sorry, I just thought that—”

She shook her head, pursed latex lips. “Look, I don’t need you to think. I just need you to love me. I’m out of here, jerk!”

He frowned. “Wait, when can I see you? For real, I mean.”

She put trim hands on puppet hips. “Are you joking? You want to pay exorbitant star fares? This is all you get until my career takes off and I can make time to travel. Or you could come here. Your choice.”

A shadow crossed his face. “You know I don’t like Earth. It’s so crowded.”

“Then this is the way we have to do it.” She didn’t even say goodbye. The dollhead flopped onto its chest. Fake drool dripped from its lips.

He felt like an idiot, turned the suspensor field on and the light off, and took great pleasure as the hapless puppet bumped into the furniture trying to find the closet.

He could have sworn he heard it curse.

The next morning, rain had cleared a hole in the sky, but the welcome patch of blue soon shrouded over and it was gray once again. The ability to control the weather did not imply the weather was always pleasant. Hawthorne walked with shoulders hunched to nestle his cold neck. The excursion to the hospital unit was brief, but he felt a krosul headache coming on, its first tenuous feelers tickling his scalp.

An automated orderly took him where he wanted to go. He stopped in front of a medical suspensor. Kunnet was awake and staring, face carefully blank.

“Let’s talk about love,” Hawthorne said.

Marcus sat up in his hospital bed and stared. Anger shone barely concealed in the back of his eyes. “Go ahead.”

Hawthorne rubbed his temples. The headache was coming fast. He reverted to university speak, information he had learned long ago in a simulated lecture hall. “Love is a complex process, Marcus. It occurs over a period of many years, through compromise and boundary setting. There is nothing mystical about it. It is hard work.”

Marcus snorted. “You sound like a nun talkin’ ’bout sex. Sorry, but you jus’ ain’t qualified.” He laughed.

The theratec clenched his hands. A creature of pain backed its way down his neck and made him raise his shoulders. “I have had far more sex than you will ever have, Marcus. If you must know, my copy of the Kama Sutra — the Burton translation with all the illustrations — has handwritten notes on every page.”

Marcus laughed low, as though at a secret joke. “But you weren’t talkin’ ’bout sex. You were talkin’ ’bout love. There’s a difference. You ever loved anyone in your whole life?”

The question hung there. The headache began to throb in Hawthorne’s brain, a deep thrum-thrum that beat time with his heart. “Look, if you want to permanently die, then treat me like the enemy, Mister Kunnet.”

“So I’m Mister Kunnet now, not Marcus, huh?” The felon slowly adjusted his robes. “Why shouldn’t I treat you like the enemy? You are, aren’t you?”

The headache mounted. He felt it in his eyes now. Slow tremors started in his hands. He opened his mouth, but it was dry, and he could think of no satisfactory answer.

“You got a life partner?” asked the criminal.

Hawthorne nodded, tried to clear his throat. A red haze had begun to filter over his eyes, like a mist creeping in at night. It was a krosul headache, all right, a real killer. He thought the puppet might like to know that, might even chuckle inside its dark closet.

“You love her?” asked Marcus.

“Love a puppet?” Hawthorne peered as though from a great distance.

“The hell you talkin’ bout’, puppet? You love your woman?” repeated Marcus.

The headache spiked. The theratec clamped his jaw hard, bit down on every treasonous thought that spewed from his brain. His eyes were alight with something that rarely saw the light of day. “Goddamned pedophile.” Hawthorne pressed the chain before he knew what he’d done, sending his command.

Marcus Kunnet cried out, eyes rolling into the back of his head.

Hawthorne left the room, hurried down the hall searching for the cafeteria. Maybe they’d have krosul strong enough to knock his headache at bay. He growled at the automatons who blocked his path running errands. He hissed to himself.

Behind him, orderlies hurried to the writhing patient in his medical suspensor. Marcus Kunnet, a pedophile who had made love to a twenty-seven year old girl after illegally reentering creche, grimaced in agony, his heart once again betrayed by the device implanted in him. The orderlies made the equivalent of an electronic tut-tut, then prepared the patient for another revival.

 

 

Woody Carsky-Wilson is a mobilized reservist who once was able to write prolifically, but alas it appears that geopolitics has conspired against him… at least for now. Meanwhile, as he toils in defense of, cough-cough, democracy worldwide, he will continue to view the world in that warped and perverted way that sets him apart from most normal people on the planet. And what the hell; the US Army pays a lot better than writing ever did! Uh… not that’s it’s ever about the money… right?”


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ISSUE #13

Summer 2003

FICTION

ART