“First public execution in the United States since that long-forgotten August fourteenth of exactly a hundred years ago: Nineteen thirty-six,” spewed from the overhead speaker as they shuffled us into that holding chamber. I looked through the solid glass wall ahead and spotted the handsome newscaster lifting his sleeve toward the three of us, his designer sweatshirt as vibrant as a peacock. He swiveled his face squarely to the handcam and resumed his obnoxious monologue. “And the first triple execution since the bygone days of traveling judges and their territorial hangings in the dusty old towns of the Wild West. But many things are different nowadays, and naturally for the better. For instance, what most of the hype’s been about in anticipation of this fateful Friday afternoon is the latest capital method of flash disintegration. Absolutely painless. The quickest and most humane form of punitive-execution method ever devised. These new state-of-the-art Golgotha models behind me are so reliable that we’re able to bring you this live broadcast with only a millisecond delay.”
The camerawoman banked her realitycam into the room beside ours. She reminded me of a hotrod model, her slick blue jeans sleek and yet curving into a perfect figure eight. I imagined she should have been the one posing in front of that handcam, her v3D replication broadcast right onto the palm of any loyal citizen sporting a newly implanted PI.
Boris Norris, the taller, fatter and sloppier of my two fellow convicts schlepped his big black head at the wall to our right and snipped nervously. “Yeah, ‘T-totally p-painless.’ As if anyone knows f-for sure. And especially that pr-pr, that pr-pr . . . that pr-pretty boy.” He raised his chins and shook a gigantic fist at the glass. “Just try standing here in this st-stinkin’ holding tank and waitin’ for that last d-door to open.”
I finally glanced to that portal myself. It was as bland and heartless as the plain wall it centered, but it still made my gut wretch. I stroked the radical divot of oxford brown hairs disguising my chin and focused a deep hazel brown gaze into the eyewitnesses.
“They can’t hear a word you’re saying,” George West stated from below my opposite shoulder, a little runt of a troublemaker who had somehow remained as calm as could be. Finally, he exposed his weaker side, craning his scrawny neck at that imposing white door while that protrusive Adam’s apple gulped nervously up and down.
That’s when I realized how everyone present was staring at that final threshold. The padded door hung flush to the wall and was broken at eye level by a smoky-gray rectangular window. We all knew what loomed behind it. “Anything as swift as those superconductive cubicles has to be painless,” I stated in order to calm Boris, and maybe even myself. “One instant you’re there; the next you’re an insignificant wisp of ghostly vapor.”
“M-my chaplain kept r-remindin’ me how some of its d-designers lost fingas without r-realizin’ it right away,” Boris released spontaneously, sweat beading on his upper lip. “Yous both heard that. At the t-trial. When that guy swore we didn’t need to be sh-shaved like they used to d-do for them old electric ch-chairs. Th-that’s what’ll happen in less than one of them little kinda seconds, r-right? I mean, most of ’ems didn’t even knows their fingas was gone. At least not until they f-felt w-warm blood running down their hands and r-realized they’d just heard a f-faint zappin’ sound. Or when that other guy said he r-reached to pick something up and swiped r-right through the air instead. Th-that’s what he swore when he yanked off them f-fake fingas and held up them nubs. About how painless it’s gonna be for us. R-right?”
“Yup, we’ll be just another fading memory before anyone out there ever knows it,” George sardonically reminded us. “A puff of dissipatin’ mist. But don’t forget that this is the first time these novel contraptions is ever being used on live humans. So who can say for sure? You heard that wired-haired physicist testifyin’ how this peculiar kinda radiation might alter electrical firings in our brains, distorting our sense of space-time and making that last instant feel like an eternity: A slow . . . molecular fry. Drawn out in a quantum consciousness. . . . Absolute hell.”
I felt a familiar burning sensation in the birthmark gracing my right ribcage.
Boris’s jaw dropped and his big cow eyes bugged out at me.
I replied peacefully, my mellow tone again sedating Boris. “Yeah, but that was just a rebuttal to the state’s request for the death penalty.” I stroked the radical divot of fuzz covering my chin and strove to appear undaunted, turning to West. “And even he said these newest Golgotha units disintegrate entire live cows in way under a picosecond. Way under. So every cell in our bodies will be gone in half that time. Long before a human nerve impulse can even begin.” I smiled reflectively. “And that’s a fact.”
“Maybe so,” West responded, exuding his twisted satisfaction. “But don’t forget that most people usedta think the clean slice of a guillotine was instant death. Especially the doctor himself. Until the mobs gathered at them eighteenth-century executions kept gossipin’ ’bout how them severed heads looked ’em right back in the eyeballs if their executioner lifted their twitching faces from those bloody catch baskets.”
Boris fidgeted copiously, unleashing a world of hostility in my direction. “I-It’s all b-because of y-you, ya know. SIH is r-real scared of people like you. Th-that’s why they’re so keen on making examples of us three. Because of troublemakers like you who d-don’t knows when to keep their b-blessed mouths shut. And for someone who done so much pr-preachin’ at that trial, you sure clammed up r-real good when it c-counted the m-most.”
George whined as the animated golf ball on his neck slid vertically. “It sure as hell don’t take a genius to figure you’ve known that we was suckered into that hotel room that night, just like you. It ain’t no coincidence you showed up just seconds after we picked that lock. And you saw by the looks on our faces that we weren’t the ones who cut up that sleazy whore. . . . Well, at least not that one, anyway.”
As much as I hated to admit it, those two pathetic dissenters were right. I knew exactly who our two exalted rulers of SIH had been hunting all along, the leaders of our new GOV, and why this particular slashing had been so conveniently swept aside. But I didn’t dare let on. Even though I really didn’t put it all together until the court clerk played that damning deposition from our late buddy, Jud A. Steele, projecting his impetuous image onto the witness seat in virtual 3D--you know,v3D--raising his bloodied hand and at last perjuring himself with that dying testimony.
Despite that most graphic death of the world’s first FC--our inaugural and already former global Funding Czar--Jud’s painful denial was my kiss of death. But I realized right then and there that I shouldn’t implicate him. As soon as I heard his closing words. Words that brought me back to our final day at Redemption Community College together. The day this darkest of all natures was first truly revealed to me--though I was much too naive and way too close to recognize the problem back them. It all hit me the moment I relived holding that razor-sharp blade in my hand--and remembered exactly who’d put it there.