Saturday, November 19, 2016


A Taste of Life Sentence

by J. M. R. Gaines Copyright@2016

Our new novel available now on Amazon Kindle

     The judge wriggled uncomfortably in his robes as he read the scrap of paper, then passed it back to the bailiff and said, “Foreman of the jury, in the case of the state against Wilhelm Klein for first degree murder of Feldwebel Schmidt, Kommissar Lebov, and Inspector Ciccolini, how find you the defendant?”
     “Defendant, have you anything to say before sentence is pronounced?”
     “I was framed,” answered Klein in a deadpan delivery.
     “Mr. Klein, really! We have satellite photos of 1 to 35 resolution showing you pulling the trigger on two of these three auxiliary security personnel who periodically served as loyal contractors to the government. If you hadn’t decided to murder the third one in a lavatory, we’d have a photo of that, too. In that, DNA proves your presence. It’s true all three were off duty, but their contracts afford them the same protection as full-time servants of the state. How can you possibly say with a straight face that you were framed?”
     “What can I say? Do you always trust a camera a hundred miles up in the sky to give you the full story? You asked me if I had anything to say, and I say I was framed.”
     “Since there are no mitigating circumstances, I shall pass directly on to sentencing,” said the judge, smoothing his moustache and ignoring the argumentative prisoner. “The court of the United Nations, District 12, Circuit C, Region 35, sitting in the city of Athens has found you guilty of murder. This is a capital crime and calls in principle for the death penalty.”
     Suddenly the walls of the courtroom erupted with protestors waving signs and chanting “Save a life! Save a life!” and “No more Justice with bloody hands!” The contrast between the projected images and the relative tranquillity of the little court chambers was acute. Inside the room sat only the judge, the bailiff, and the robotically restrained prisoner. Even the foreman of the jury was only holographic, attending the trial from his home hundreds of miles away in Bulgaria. But the streets around the Palace of Justice were filled with angry activists.
     “This is Kent Phillips reporting from Athens where yet another death penalty has set off demonstrations around the Acropolis in protest to capital punishment. As might be expected, the majority of the protestors are Greeks and Turks who have been here all week for this session of the assizes. But there is also a sprinkling of Brits, Poles, Germans, and French, since this batch of hearings includes an overflow from the courts all over Circuit C. Our psychometric reaction scale shows a reading of 67, which makes this one of the livelier responses of the week and may portend the outbreak of some minor looting and the torching of automobiles in the nearby neighborhoods. Now over to our on-site analyst Demetrios Palamenides!” The screens shifted from the blond, Californian traits of the announcer in the streets to the darker, more elegant face of a man clad in a designer suit.
     “Kent, we see this as a very controversial verdict. Before we cut away to commercials, I can tell you that our viewer audience rates confidence in the judge at only 22.7%, lowest of the past three weeks. And now a word from Muellerwurst, the fine old-world sausage founded in 2075.” Dancers in lederhosen filled the screens, weaving their way through the happy chaos of Oktoberfest, while in a little corner window, the producer counted down to cue in the magistrate.
     Judge Brock whispered “Shit!” away from the microphone and then turned back to his most dignified courtroom manner. “As I was saying, the death penalty is mandatory IN PRINCIPLE in these cases, but I am willing to indulge the public abhorrence for further violence and commute the prisoner’s sentence to life if any authorized body will claim him for a prisoner. Is any authorized agent in the audience willing to make a clemency bid?” There was suspense on the view screens and the digital display of Judge Brock’s approval rating shot up 10% on the courtroom master console. The public loved this moment almost as much as the crowds in the Coliseum must have loved waiting to see what the emperor’s thumb would do. But none of the incoming data sources lit up. The bailiff, who was off camera and off audio, sneered in Klein’s face and said, “Nobody wants to take a chance on a con with your rap sheet!” Watching the approval points erode from his digital display, Judge Brock suddenly added, “Since we are too close to dinnertime to evaluate all the offers coming into our studios, I have to say tune in tomorrow to find out the results of this sentencing, followed by the fantastic details of the LoBello rape case. This is John Gabriel Brock saying that’s all for this issue of Criminal Court Drama!”

     Klein slouched against the wall of his cell. He would not turn on the view screens, and he was tired of reading. He set his antique first edition of As I Lay Dying on the table next to the bunk. He had stolen it from a merchant in Colonial Williamsburg several years ago and never had a chance to really get into it before he was incarcerated. Rossellini the trustee rolled up the prison library cart outside the bars. “That’s pretty depressing crap to be reading in your cell,” he remarked. “How about this to cheer you up? Two Tibetan girls and an orangutan?” He held up one of the generic black holodisks that were loaded with prison porno.
     “Unlike you, I don’t fancy sex with animals.”
     “Huh, you’ll be lucky to get an animal where you are going” pouted Rossellini. “You’ll be happy to get an orangutan. Or even a mangy monkey!”
     “What do you mean where I’m going?” Klein knew that the trustees were often privy to all sorts of news that the cons could not normally get.
     “I mean you have been claimed!”
     “No shit! Where?” Klein’s mind raced. Maybe one of the platforms in the Arctic or Antarctic. He could face that. They said Kerguelen Island wasn’t so bad if you had warm clothes. Even the moon. That would take some adjustment, but he could take the moon. Just no asteroid duty. An endless spinning of stars in the black void would get to him in a matter of weeks. Anything but asteroid duty.
     “I said Domremy. You are about to become a proud citizen of the colony of Domremy.”
     “Where the hell is that?”
     Rossellini started to chuckle. “Wellll, they say you tie your ass to an ion accelerator, take a deep breath, fly out to Way, Way the Hell Out There, then turn left and go as far as you can till you run out of fuel!”
     “Funny man. I’m going to recommend you for a merit badge in geography.”
     “No kidding Klein,” said the trustee, turning serious for a minute, “You have any final desires, you better try to hook up now. They gonna ice you down for a good many months to send you out to Domremy. I know because I seen the requisitions for the suit. You’re facing one hell of a long nap, man.”
      “Nuts,” said Klein, looking at the floor. “In that case, give me the damn holodisk.”

     It was worse than Rossellini had predicted. The next day they put him on the Jet-Cat for the trip across to Alexandria. Klein had hoped they would launch him up from the platforms from Woomera so that he could experience the exhilaration of lifting off from Earth. But it was not to be. They were treating him strictly as cargo. He would be iced down on Earth and launched in a container with a hundred other stiffs from the big mass driver that Olivetti had just built in the desert down near Mogadishu, almost exactly on the Equator for minimum orbital thrust. He would have liked to look out on the Mediterranean whisking by at 80 knots, but he was to be locked in a windowless biologicals hold with an armed robotic guard and case after case of the latest Ebola mutation serum. He shuffled down the gangplank at Alexandria, right onto a bus for Port Said. There, in a ratty little lab, they handed him over to a pair of sadistic technicians who didn’t give him enough tranquilizer to put him to sleep. They laughed and laughed as his panic grew. Few people who have not been iced can imagine the feelings that go through you as your body systems shut down one by one and paralysis creeps up from your toes to your head in an almost discernible line until it reaches the face. The mouth shuts down first, as you gag on your last attempts to articulate a word, any word, before you can speak no longer, then your nose, as you frantically dilate, gulping for a last breath of air, then, last of all, the organs of sight, slowly numbing and dying while you strain until it feels like your eyeballs are going to pop out of your head as you grasp at the last few twinkles of light.
     He became vaguely conscious of still being alive when he was somewhere out in space, cramped onto a shelf in a transport compartment, still in his clammy shipping suit. After a while he began to panic again, as it seemed that he would soon exhaust whatever air was slowly pumped into the suit, asphyxiating before he could move his arms and legs. Shouting did no good, but just as he thought he would go mad, a crew member came into the room, turned on the light, and nonchalantly went down the shelf unzipping suits, quickly passing on from Klein without comment to finish the row. The man had already opened the hatch to head for other chores when Klein was able go croak out, “Is this, is this Domremy?”
     “Where?” said the puzzled mate. “I got no idea where you carcasses are going, but this is the spaceport at Tau Ceti. You’ll be reprocessed and sent out again from here.”

Klein felt a wave of nausea sweep over him as he realized he would have to go through the icing process all over again, maybe more than once, before he got to wherever Domremy was. He must have fainted after that.