Daniel C. Smith
The stench of moneyed sex filled the room rented by the hour, holding the occupants hostage in the uncomfortable silence following their mechanical coupling. Outside, a tramcar roared down the street, rattling the windows and jarring Jameson Scott Pierce back to reality. The probably-legal little whore sprawled across the single bed with no sheets perked up when she saw that he was coming back from his daydream. She slid off the bed, crawling towards him -- but her shadow crawled the other way, slithering up the barren wall stained with the room's filthy history and yellowed with faded time, dancing slow and sultry like to the rhythm of his barely beating heart. He couldn't take his eyes off of the shadow dancing on the wall while the girl at his feet traced circles sloppy wet on the inside of his thigh with her tongue.
Finally she looked up at him and he looked into her innocent young eyes, tried hard to smile and for a moment he even thought about caressing the side of her face with his fingertips, then decided not to.
She asked sweetly, "What was it like?"
Of course she knew.
Everyone knew. The red dots outlining his face from the neural interface during rehabilitation were permanent, and why wouldn't they be?
Two days ago he was a citizen, today an ex-con with four decades of the hardest of time under his belt, fully rehabilitated through cryo-static suspension and neuro-conditioning, ready to be reintegrated into society's fold. The new Constitution guaranteed swift justice, and even swifter punishment.
It also guaranteed rehabilitation… and reintegration.
Another tramcar zipped by… and he was on it.
It was his first day of school, the day of the accident -- the last time he ever saw his mother alive.
The car jerked to a halt in front of the school, and his mother knelt down on one knee, pulling a lipstick-smeared napkin older than her marriage from her purse, spitting into it and using it to dab away at some imaginary stain at the corner of his mouth.
Kissing him lightly on the forehead she said, "Don't let 'em put too much of their crap in yer head, love."
She shoved him on his way into the world like she always had to, watching patiently as he hesitated by the door, waiting to be the last one off like he always did. She watched him standing there, amazed at how fast the mileposts in his life seemed to be going by, embittered by the realization that the markers of her own life were racing by almost unnoticed, her marriage a joke and her stagnant career a cesspool of office politics and infighting. She was passing the time of her life adrift on a sea of denial, her true course forever obscured by a fog of nicotine and alcohol.
Maybe I should focus more on Jamie… she thought.
Jameson looked back at his mother, wondering why she looked so frightened. He wanted to run to her, to hug her and to tell her he loved her but decided not to -- he had to go to school. The car jerked forward just as he stepped off the platform, and he fell flat on his face in the mud. The laughter of the other children resonated inside his skull until he heard bombs going off, their taunts ricocheting around him like gunfire.
He wished that he could leave his body, just fly away with the birds and disappear into the sky.
He felt someone grab his hair, pulling his face up out of the mud.
"I love you, Mom… "
"Jesus fucking Christ, Pierce! What the fuck's wrong with you? We gotta get outta here, boy! Move!"
There were bombs going off. And gunfire.
Belarus, 2037, the year the United States and Russia finally dropped the pretense of alliance. The year Jameson Scott Pierce para-glided out of sub-orbit with ten thousand other poor unfortunate bastards in support of the renegade republic.
"Move it, Pierce! Now!"
Sergeant Dixon Hunter.
Standing six feet nine, Hunter was the meanest sonofabitch Jameson ever knew. The sergeant was also the only person he ever knew that really cared about him.
Besides his mother.
But he didn't have time to think about his mother; their position was being overrun and his company was withdrawing -- everyone except for Jameson. He knew Hunter was risking his life to come back for his sorry ass (even after he failed in his duty on the battlefield), and he was grateful, but he couldn't move; he was pinned by fear and the rockets' red glare.
Then a hole exploded in the sergeant's chest and Hunter fell over almost on top of him, blood spurting from his wound.
"You gotta run, boy… You gotta survive…" Hunter stammered.
Jameson wanted to cradle the sergeant in his arms and tell him everything was going to be okay -- there was a hopter landing, he was going to be e-vacked, but he could hear the Russians advancing, and he was too frightened make a sound, too weak to run. Once Sarge quit breathing, Jameson pulled his body (and the bodies of some of his fellow soldiers) into a pile that he crawled under. He thrust his fingers into the sergeant's still-fresh wound to keep them warm and laid there buried beneath the dead for he didn't know how long.
Russian soldiers came and looted the bodies of his fallen comrades (and his own) while he lay paralyzed with fear, wishing he could rise with the smoke from the smoldering ruins of the city and disappear on the wind.
Ultimately, it was the Russians who retreated as Allied forces gained control of the province; they found him lying there amongst the carnage, dying pleasantly of hypothermia, lost in dreams of escape and flight.
Jameson Scott Pierce was the sole survivor of the Battle of Belarus.
They gave him a medal.
The gavel cracked with the final sound of judgment, bringing him home from the bloodied tundra.
Sure, he'd be reintegrated in two days, but for him that was still four very dark and very lonely decades away. At first he thought that he might not survive the harshness of the punishment. Then he realized that was just wishful thinking.
Everyone was reintegrated.
It was the law.
"What was it like?" the Reintegration Officer cooed across her desk.
Jameson wanted to cry, to tell her how horribly lonely it was, running through the darkness for forty years, drowning in his memories and losing himself in time. He wanted to tell her how scared he was that it might not be over, that this might all be a hallucination, his mind having finally snapped by the isolation.
He started to, but he couldn't; he simply shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something unintelligible.
"Ummhmmm," the Reintegration Officer smiled, making a notation on her pad.
His non-response seemed to please her.
"Are you angry?" she demanded.
The question frightened him, and again he barely responded.
"Ummhmmm," she purred, making another notation on the pad.
Then the svelte blonde woman rose, her Amazonian frame slinking its way around the desk, where she parked her body directly in front of Jameson, burying her stiletto heel in his crotch and ripping her blouse open, revealing bare breasts.
She leaned down and shook them in his face.
"Would you like to touch 'em?" she teased.
Yes. He would.
He wanted to grab her nipple and pinch it 'til she squealed bloody murder, dragging her down to her knees, and ask her, "What's it like? How does this make you feel, bitch?"
He wanted to listen to her spill her guts and watch her look at him with those big baby blues and plead for understanding or direction while he muttered a disinterested "Ummhmmm" and made notes on the fucking pad. He wanted to share with her the way it felt when the tentacles of the computer pierced his face, sending nano-tendrils crawling through his hollow facial bones and up into his brain and wrapping themselves around his mind, holding his consciousness trapped like a fly in a spider's web.
For forty long dark years.
But he couldn't.
Instead he started crying, humiliated by the mess in his pants.
Jameson wished that he could disappear -- just fade from time like a good memory.
Somewhere between his tears and his semen, the Reintegration Officer grew insufferably pleased with herself; she buttoned her blouse back up and returned to her side of desk.
"I believe, Mr. Pierce, that you are ready for reintegration into society. How does that make you feel?"
"G-gr-grateful…" he stuttered.
"The State provides for criminals like you, Mr. Pierce. The State gives you a way to pay your debt to society and still lets you have enough life to live, a life that still gives you an opportunity to be a contributing member of society. How does that make you feel?"
"Gr-grateful…" he stuttered once more.
Suddenly she was back on his side of the desk, her blouse half undone and her now-bare foot back in his crotch. Leaning in closer, she handed him a Fed card.
"A hundred creds," she said, slowly licking her full red lips and gently massaging him with her foot. "Why don't you go get you a little whore? Forty years is a long time!"
Then she slapped his face, hard, kicking him over in his chair.
"Now get out of here! Criminals like you make me sick!"
Back on her side of desk again, she propped her feet up and smiled. Another successful reintegration. She felt proud to be part of a State noble enough to do away with the brutal prison systems of the last century, a State that believed everyone had a place in society, a State that forgave and left none of its citizens behind -- even if it required… extreme measures.
Such as reintegration.
The cryo-static suspension and neuro-conditioning process was fairly simple: dump forty years worth of dark solitude into the cerebral cortex and hippocampus areas of the brain and produce a totally submissive individual, his sense of a will a blank slate, his ability to act independently, or even express emotion, forever muted. The perfect proletariat, a disposable and replaceable automaton where once there was a human being, now willing to perform the menial and dangerous tasks that their industrio-technocracy demanded without question as to his own safety or condition.
She was proud of her place in society, of her part in the process.
It's a fortunate irony, she mused, that enough people in our enlightened age still turn to crime…
But before she could complete her thought, she started laughing, thinking about Jameson walking for hours until he would find a whore, or maybe one would find him, perhaps a younger girl, skin fairly unscarred from the ever-lingering radiation, willing and eager to pretend to be in love.
And such a creature did find him.
She led Jameson to a hotel where he hesitated, unsure and uncertain, wondering why he felt so afraid. But she wouldn't take no for an answer -- she knew he had a least a hundred creds -- like all cons fresh on the street.
Sex was just like he remembered it -- clumsy and awkward followed by long periods of uncomfortable silence. Afterwards, he sprung from the bed and sat in the room's only chair while she lay back, waiting patiently for him to return. Even though he barely (if at all) 'performed his duty' in bed, he still had sixty creds left.
Jameson just sat there, trying to forget the darkness -- but it would always be with him.
Perhaps it always had been.
But there was something in the darkness that he knew he needed to remember, and until he did, he dared not let it go.
He perked up when he thought he heard voices calling to him from outside in the street; he strained to hear them better -- more than once in the darkness he heard voices, leading him this way or that, always when he felt closest to breaking. If he ever could identify the voices, he did not know -- but he tried desperately now to attach the voices to faces -- he felt he needed the connections to ground him in reality, but the connections would not come. Just the deep baritones of a man, a big man, a mean sonofabitch at least six nine, and a woman's voice, soft and sweet but smelling like burnt lipstick and rum, always guiding him through the long dark night of his convicted soul, back to sanity and survival.
Jameson knew now that he had to survive, not just for his own sake but also for the sake of those forgotten faces behind the voices, and he had survived, but he decided then and there that to merely survive was not enough. He exploded back into the present -- just in time to witness his shadow escaping his bony frame, creeping up the wall, almost hesitant in its surrender to destiny.
Jameson sat there mesmerized by the two shadows performing their lusty kabuki dance until (in perfect syncopation with his now-racing heart) they merged into one and began peeling itself free of the wall. He felt as though someone were stretching his eyelids back over his skull, tearing his skin from his bones, exposing the deepest scars, the ones hidden beneath the flesh he always hoped no one would ever see.
Just when he thought he couldn't take it anymore, the shadow curled into a wisp of smoke that floated out the window, disappearing into the night from where the voices had ceased calling.
He looked down at her again as she looked up at him (a little older now, her eyes reflecting something less than innocence) and smiled when she pleaded, "Now will you tell me what it was like?"
Smiling, he caressed the side of her face with his fingertips.
"It's over," he said.
© 2006 by Daniel C. Smith
Bio: Daniel says, "In the arena of speculative fiction, I have published over seventy short stories and poems in various publications, including Aoife’s Kiss, AlienSkin, Bare Bone, Beyond Centauri, Tales of the Talisman, Not One of Us, Outer Darkness, The Leading Edge, Ilumen and Revelation.
Most recently I won an honorable mention in the 18th Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for poetry and will be the featured poet in the May ’06 issue of Scifaikuest, as well. I am also working on a chapbook of short stories with Silverthought Press (tentatively titled “Adventures in Dystopia”), which should be available by summer ’06."
E-mail: Daniel C. Smith
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