by Wil McCarthy
"Aren't you afraid of me?" I asked.
We were alone, in a room full of electrical cords and pointy medical objects. And blunt ones — heart monitors and whatnot. Bars on the windows, yeah, but he'd dismissed the guards like an irritant and sat us both down at a plastic table.
"No," he answered matter-of-factly. Not afraid. He meant it, too, though I couldn't see why.
"You should be," I told him. "Fair warning."
He snorted. "Is that a fact? Well, then, I'm all aquiver."
This guy — this doc-torr — had pulled me out of my cell, or anyway had the guards pull me, without any real warning. One minute I'm staring out the window — smoke trail of a distant rocket launch slowly dissipating in the air, behind a hill of orange trees in full «white» blossom — and the next minute I'm being hustled out of the block to the prison's infirmary.
"They say you never do get used to the heat on Tanegashima," he said, mopping his forehead with a Kleenex. "Southernmost point in the country, eh? This time of day, even the locals start wilting."
"Why so cocky?" I asked him, more out of curiosity than anything else.
His shrug was, what do you say, nonchalant? "In the first place, you're already the center of attention here. Notice my eyes, riveted. In the second place, nothing happens in Ward Nine without your express consent. You're in control, not me. Third place, I'm here to get you out." He paused for effect, then added: "Really."
"What did they tell you? I'm a lobotimist?"
Yeah, that was pretty close. Prison guards are screened better in Japan than some other places, I suppose, but they still enjoy to tweak a man for sport. Who doesn't? Anyway, this was part of the infirmary I'd never seen before. Didn't even know there was a third floor.
"You're a neurosurgeon," I said. "I'm a victim of a badly wired head. If I let you cut on me, I could be eligible for early parole. Is that about right?"
Instead of answering, the doctor gestured, pulling up something on his vid.
"Luis Gutierrez," he said, reading something out of the empty air. "Age 34, IQ 110, guest worker, admitted to Nippon January 2041." He pronounced it Knee-Hawn, like all the suckup gaijin did. "Two felony convictions, most recently for first-degree homicide in the commission of a robbery. One victim tortured and mutilated prior to death. You weren't tried for the other victim, or the robbery. That's fortunate."
Before I could say anything, he cut me off with: "Don't bother lying to me, Luis. Don't bother telling me anything at all. By tomorrow I'll know more about you than the eight million gods of Knee-Hawn, and by Thursday you'll be solidly on the road to recovery. I estimate the full course of treatment at five weeks, after which I'll bounce you to minimum security for the rest of the year, and then a halfway house in the far north of Hokkaido, with open privileges during daylight hours. Then sweet freedom, including the return of your passport."
I snorted. The carrot of freedom was dangled constantly around here, as meaningless as the Aussie chaplain's promise of heaven if we would Only! Just! Repent!
The doc wasn't deterred. "You think I'm joking? These programs are relatively new, but 90% of our patients are released, with recidivism rates only slightly higher than the general public. No one is going to open your skull, and every procedure will be explained to you in detail before you're asked — and I mean asked — for consent. Right now I just have one question: is who you are more important to you than where you are?"
At this point I couldn't help curling my lip at this silly fuck, who looked about as tough as a sales clerk in a «something like Hello Kitty, but not» shop. Short blonde hair fading to white at the temples, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds. Little round eyeglasses, if you can believe it, and one of those pencil moustaches that were never in style anywhere, in or out of the labor-starved islands of Japan. Trying to play the testosterone game with a man twice his size, he just looked like an idiot.
"What the hell do you know?" I asked him, burned at his confidence and half-tempted to strangle him to death right there and then, just to make sure we understood each other.
But his answer was simple: "I've seen twenty-six guys come through this ward, just like you. None of them ever says no. I'm here to help you, Luis."
Which of course was «bullshit». He was present for no reason but to save money for the Nihonjin prison system by neutering me and turning me loose, to labor some more before I died.
He could see what I was thinking, though, and spoke directly to that.
"Based on the diagnosis of your court-appointed psychiatrist, I'd estimate you were, at most, 50% responsible for your crimes. You've served half your sentence already, which meets all the Minimum Appropriate Punishment crap, and while you haven't exactly done clean time, the «warden» has quotas to fill, and I've persuaded him you fit the profile of a redeemable. So we can take some measurements and get started, or you can walk out of here and serve the rest of your sentence, and I'll take the next guy in line. What's it going to be?"
And I nearly strangled him again, because he didn't even give me a chance to answer before he was rummaging around for needles and rubber tubing.
"Going to draw some blood," he said, with a pasted-on grin that reminded me, more than anything, of the prison's Korean dentist. "Be brave, still, and quiet."
Later on there were more people around: a trustee orderly to fetch and carry for the doc, a guard making the rounds twice an hour. A Nihonjin clerk or social worker who seemed to have some kind of office on the floor somewhere. A couple of cleaning robots, too, beige plastic monstrosities that looked out of date even to me, who hadn't seen one up close in thirteen years. The thumping of their rubber feet on the linoleum was as constant as the whirring of fans and the beeping of equipment.
A hospital, you know? I was in a bed and everything, having surrendered my white prison coveralls for one of those vulnerable flowered gowns, all open and flapping.
"My name is Bradley Cunningham, by the way," the doctor told me while he stared off into space, reading numbers on his vid. He offered me a hand to shake, and I saw no point in refusing. "Canadian, not American. Vancouver, specifically."
Then he clucked and said, "You've got a magnesium deficiency, Mr. Gutierrez. Also zinc and copper. Have you ever been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder?"
"Well, it looks to me like you've got it. It's a metabolic problem; even if you get all your RDIs you're not processing them efficiently. We'll start you on some high-dose supplements right away."
Truthfully I'd just been playing along up to this point, but now I felt a weird little shudder of relief right through my bones. "You mean there's actually something wrong with me? Something fixable?"
The doc came back to reality and gave me that thin smile again. "It's an easy catch, Luis. Half the guys that come in here've got it. But I suspect it's the least of your problems. Anyway, it'll be a few weeks before the supplements really change anything. Your brain cells need time to rebuild themselves from the ground up. Enzymes, membranes, the whole thing. Fortunately, omega-three isn't a problem here, given the diet."
"Fish. One thing you've been getting enough of, I suspect."
Well, he was right about that. Three meals a fucking day. Sometimes it was dried minnows over rice, sometimes baked eel over udon noodles. Mostly it was tilapia heads on buckwheat Texas toast, with a side of fresh seaweed farmed right here on the west side of the island.
"For what it's worth," he said, reading my thoughts again, "the head is the best part for guys like you. The kelp, too. Most other countries you'd be a lot worse off."
I started getting suspicious again. "A few weeks, huh? What happens in the mean time?"
"All kinds of things," the doc said, injecting something into my IV line, "more pleasant than staying where you were."
I was given a chalky drink the color of leprechaun piss, wheeled into a noisy CAT scan machine, and informed that I had "maldeveloped frontal lobes" but that my brain was free of tumors, parasites, lesions, clots, and foreign objects.
"I am a foreign object," I said.
Next came a different kind of brain scan in a quieter machine.
"If you're hiding any metal in your body," the doc said, "now would be the time to tell me. The magnets in this thing will rip it right out of you."
I was clean — no shivs up my ass in the traditional felt bag — so he slid me into the scan tube, which bore a remarkable resemblance to the capsule hotel berth I'd lived in my first month in Osaka.
"Home sweet home," I said, but if Cunningham was listening to my jokes he was not finding them funny.
Then he started flashing up words and pictures on a little screen on the tube's ceiling, one after the other.
"Do I need to answer questions or something?"
"No. Quiet, please."
God, I must have been in that machine for hours, and every time I closed my eyes or let them wander away from the screen, Cunningham snapped at me to pay attention. For all I know it may have been a boredom test; when I finally started to really complain, he said we were done anyway and pulled me out, gave me a drink of water, and let me use the bathroom.
This time, the test results gave him a lot more to cluck and mutter about, though he wasn't very specific. "My, my, my. We've got our work cut out. That's probably enough for one day, Luis. I've got some analysis to do here."
Which was fine with me. My hands had been idle too long, and it wouldn't be long before the devil's work started to beckon. Better for everyone if I slept it off.
Female correction officers in a men's prison had always seemed like a dumb idea to me. They usually weren't the thinnest or the best looking, but the inmates weren't too choosy about such things, and didn't have a lot to lose by going after what they wanted.
Supposedly, though, the incidence of attacks on the female guards was lower than the men ones, and there were fewer events on the floors where they worked because they had a civilizing influence. That always sounded like a crock to me — the women on the outside hadn't exactly civilized us! — but what do I know?
Anyway, after the doc was gone an American guard named Shelly came around. What, you think the Japanese would use their own women for a job like that? The shortage here wasn't as bad as in China, but with eight Nihonjin women for every ten men, they were still a scarce commodity. The orient was never good at producing buffalo gals, anyway, and that's what the job demanded.
She held up a set of foot shackles, jingling them at me like they were some kind of reward.
"You want to sleep here tonight?" she asked. "I can put you back in population, but most guys don't want to. Softer beds here, better food. Cunningham wants you eating infirmary food anyway, says he can control your intake better that way."
"You want to chain me to the bed?" I asked, trying not to make it sound sexual. Not that I wouldn't do the conjugal visit thing on her eight ways from «Sunday» if I had the chance, but she wasn't offering, and anyway her monitor would set off the alarm if her pulse got too high. I thought about it — of course I thought about it! — but there was no getting away with stuff like that in here. Guards were a completely different species, yeah. The first thing prison teaches you is resignation.
"To the bar on the wall," she said, pointing. A kind of painted bannister thing hanging just above the floor ran right around the corner, into the bathroom. Not the most advantageous setup, but it beat sharing a cell with five guys. "You can even reach the light switch."
"OK," I said, and next thing she was locking me up. And then, when she was done and off to wherever she went when she wasn't here, I called after her: "Thanks! You know I don't deserve it."
Which was flattery even if true. Like most men in prison, I'd done a lot more than I'd ever been caught for. Didn't mean I wasn't a human being, and of course I'd take whatever kindness I could get. But we both knew if our situations were reversed I'd probably be busting her in the mouth, or worse. Nothing personal, that's just how it was.
But she surprised me by turning around and saying, "Let's just treat each other like real people and see what happens, OK? The guys that come through here have had a pretty rough time." She sounded more tired and impatient than understanding, but it was something.
"Sympathy for the devil?" I prodded.
The question seemed to annoy her. "You know, my daughter's autistic. We've all got our problems. Point is what you do with what you've got. When your brain is all fixed up and you understand the gravity of what you've done, you'll be fully answerable. But she'll be exactly the same."
She sighed, then added: "You like me because you think I can help you. She doesn't like anyone because she's not capable of it. Me, I like everyone, whether they deserve it or not. That's my problem. Do you get what I'm saying?"
I shrugged. "Not really."
"Right. And that's yours."
Sleeping in a strange place was… strange. The warden had moved me into different cells twice in thirteen years, but nothing actually changed except the view. For a while now I'd had a window facing «northeast», toward the space center. Rocket launches nearly every day now, though I had no idea what they were for, or even if there were people onboard.
Here the windows looked out in every direction: toward the «hills», toward the sea, toward the village of «tk» and the distant orange groves.
There's a type of orange tree — the Tanegashima orange, really a tangerine I suppose — that's native to the island and doesn't naturally grow anywhere else. The pulp is bloody, sweet, and so dry that the locals tear the fruit open with their thumbs without spilling a drop of juice.
I couldn't see the launch towers, ten clicks distant and eclipsed by the grassy ridgeline.
from here I could see the rockets when they go up. And hear them, sure, but so can everyone else in the prison, no matter which way they're facing or whether they've got a window or not.»
were noises, flashing LEDs, a faint yellow glow coming from around the corner that was totally unlike anything in the cell blocks. The leg chain was a real change of pace, too; not cruel, but definitely unusual.
It took me a long time to nod off, and I woke up several times in the night, the last time for good. There wasn't a clock anywhere, and without a vid I had no idea what time it was until the sun finally came up. I spent the time fantasizing, which is what prisoners do. Our version of Second Life.
In my fantasy world I was a knight with a motorcycle and a castle up high on a hill. I had three loving kids and a beautiful bitch of a wife, and my pick of the village debutantes. People used cell phones instead of occular vids, and the barbershop had one of those stripey poles outside, whirling like a carousel, and nearly every week some dumbass would ride into town stirring up trouble and I'd have to take care of him. It was my town, see?
Eventually the orderly came around to prep me for the day's accoutrements, which involved shining something in my eyes and then shaving my head. Not that there was all that much to shave anymore; I'd turned thirty and forty in this place already.
Then the orderly brought me breakfast — yes, it was better than the mess hall chow — and watched with a bored expression while I ate it.
"I'm feeling extremely nonviolent this morning," I told him. "You guys are miracle workers."
When he didn't answer that, I said, "Actually, I don't feel so different."
"No, you wouldn't at this point."
I was bored myself, so I asked him the standard prison small-talk question, to which he appraised the standard disclaimers before answering, "The charge that stuck was Driving Under the Influence, which was bullshit because the car was a robot anyway."
How long did he have left?
"Two years. Would've been three if I hadn't've got this job. Good behavior and all that. But you know, I kind of like helping people. When I get out, they say I can do the same job in a nursing home. Maybe even get my CNA and play a more direct role."
And because I had learned new concepts here on the third floor, I asked a new question: "Were you responsible for your crime?"
"No," he answered firmly. "I was an addict, totally out of control."
"Ah. But the doc has burned out that part of your brain, so you can't be an addict anymore. You're not in control; he is."
The orderly — his name tag said "Fred" — frowned at that. That one hit a little too close to home. "Burn is too strong a word," he said. "I'm told I could still partake and enjoy. Just not get sucked in to negative patterns like I used to. Anyway, don't grin too wide, my friend, 'cause he'll do the same thing to you. Fuckin' clockwork orange is what you are. A clockwork Tanegashima orange."
The doc confirmed this when he finally showed up. He had a guard with him to unlock my chains — not Shelly but some old Japanese guy I'd never seen before.
"What's a clockwork orange?" I asked, when the guard had gone.
Cunningham looked at me for a long, expressionless moment. "I see you've been talking to Fred. The quick answer? It's just an ordinary orange; on the molecular level, every living thing is a clockwork mechanism. Now, that's not what Fred means when he says it, but Fred has seen too many old movies. Not in here, of course."
"It's mind control, isn't it."
Cunningham looked at me again. "Which, the movie or the therapy?"
I spread my hands, to say I didn't know what he was talking about.
He continued: "There are governments out there that've tried to adjust people's political outlook with techniques like these, but it doesn't really work. There's no disorder to correct; they're basically just damaging select parts of the brain — necessary parts — with a lot of very predictable, very unfortunate side effects."
"But you're above all that, right?" I said, suddenly angry. "You don't damage select parts of the brain at all."
And then, before he knew what was happening I had one of the machines unplugged, and the cord wrapped around his neck, and the plug pressing hard against his right eyelid, which he'd closed tightly. The other eye, the left one, stared wide open in sudden terror.
"I see I've finally got your attention," I said to him. "Shut up, don't say anything. Just nod your head, yes or no. Are you going to burn all the addictions out of my brain?"
He nodded vigorously, then rasped: "With your permission. Only with your permission."
That made me even angrier. "Shut up. Is violence an addiction?"
"Yes. It can be. Ow. Ow!"
"I said shut up!"
And then, as quickly as it came, the storm was gone. Was there any point in this? Anything to be gained? In fact, I probably just screwed myself. I let go of the cord, and Cunningham pulled away, coughing and rubbing at his eye. Significantly, he did not go for the panic button on the wall, and likewise his monitor didn't set off the automatic. He didn't run away, either.
I clucked my tongue. "I don't suppose it'll help to say I'm sorry."
"No," he rasped, glaring at me with one clear eye and one red, teary one. "I know for a fact you aren't."
"You must hate this job," I said, trying my best to sound sympathetic.
"Of course I hate it, you stupid fuck. Of course I do. But one of these days, one of you guys will put me out of my misery, and that'll be that."
I snorted. "What the hell are you on about? Problems with the wife? Problems in the bedroom? You sound depressed, Doc. Guys like you, I mean, fuck. You've got it all, and still you wave around this white flag of despair. 'Oh, I'm so unfulfilled.'"
His eyes flared angrily at that. "Eat shit, Luis. You don't know the first thing about it. My wife is dead, for one thing. Oh, it's easy for a sociopath like you to pick somebody apart. It's your one talent. But try doing something positive with your life in here. Just try. See how hard it is."
"When you go home tonight—" I tried to say.
But the doc steamrolled right over it with, "I'm not going home tonight, Luis. Jesus fuck, do you think I'm a civilian contractor? Look at my clothes! Look what I've got on under this lab coat. I'm a trustee, like Fred. I'm never going home."
He picked up a metal tray and threw it hard against the wall. BWANG! It bounced and clattered to the floor.
"That's all for today," he said. "Get out of my sight. Have the guards take you back to your cell. If you're really lucky, we'll pick this up again tomorrow."
I figured he'd have my ass in solitary before the day was out, but it didn't happen that way. Through my window I got to watch the clouds turn pink, and then blue, and then bright yellow as a rocket engine lit up the night. The thunder came «forty» seconds later, just as the vehicle was clearing the ridgeline — a black paintbrush on a tower of flame.
Night launches were always my favorite.
A dinner tray arrived and departed, and still no guards hauling me off to the «hole» for what I had done. Finally I just fell asleep waiting for them, and by the time they finally rattled my cage bars to get me up, it was morning.
"Back to neurology," one of the guards said to me in Japanese, while I blinked and sneezed at the light.
"Really? I didn't think I deserved it."
"Oh, so now you're a philosopher? Quit wasting our time and get up."
Why the hell was I in Knee-Hawn, anyway? There was the labor shortage, yeah, the lure of easy money and no-questions-asked employment in a land of low birthrate and aging population. There were only so many jobs a robot could do; for the rest there was foreign labor.
But what made me think life could possibly be better in a country where they still called you gaijin after three generations? The money was not so easy after all (in fact it was sweatier and smellier than anything I'd ever enacted before) and the cost of living was ridiculous, and while trouble was never hard to find for a guy like me, getting out of it here was a lot harder, and as much a matter of skin color and connections as whether you were actually guilty. Or actually alone in your deeds. Even in crime, the worst jobs went to the gaijin — especially the brown ones — while the spoils went up the food chain.
Stupid. I'd made a lifetime of stupid decisions, with a final doozie to seal my fate. Could doctors cure stupidity?
"We're going to get a little more invasive," Cunningham said to me, staring off into his vid, once I'd settled into his clutches again. "In a perfect world we'd be doing this with TMS, but all we have here is hand-me-down equipment from a state hospital in Kyushu. The ultrasonic stimulator takes twice as long, and causes three or four times as much peripheral damage."
"Brain damage?" I asked, this time trying not to get emotional about it.
"Specifically, damage to the white matter of your «tk», about like drinking three gallons of whiskey over the course of a week. Do you consent?"
His detachment was back in place, and if he was scared or pissed or planning to get me back somehow, he didn't show it. He was a resilient little motherfucker, I'll give him that. Not really clinical, but cool and professional as an Osaka bail bondsman.
"What are you endeavoring to achieve?"
"Several things," he said. "Do you want the clinical details?"
"I dunno, Doc. You think my defective brain can handle it?"
He went on to explain that I was not only a sociopath — meaning I lacked any sort of conscience — but a narcissist. In fact my narcisissm was the worst of the two.
"You love yourself too unconditionally, and forgive yourself too readily, to have anything left over for other people. It's a mapping disorder, in essence, and we need to rewrite the map."
He told me I was also a sadist — "No surprise there," — and while my score was only four out of ten, the behavior was deeply intertwined with my pleasure-reward system, meaning it was a kind of addiction.
I also had "impulsiveness issues", "social conduct maladaptive disorder", and "time lag in auditory processing," whatever those were.
The doc gestured emptily at something in his vid. "To some extent those labels are misleading; all it really means is that certain pathways in your nervous system are overactive, and certain others aren't active enough. The good news is, we can fix a lot of that by inhibiting three very small regions in your brain. Burning them out, as you say, though they'll still be capable of carrying limited traffic. If you imagine your brain as a city, we're going to block off a couple of side streets, to force traffic onto the highway where it belongs."
I thought about that, imagining streets lined with whorehouses, crack houses, boarded-up storefronts, staffed by people of color with shabby, hopeless expressions on their faces. Cops in blue Samurai armor at the barricades saying «tk»:Move along, move along. Wouldn't want the yuppie traffic getting stuck down here, no sirree.
"How big are these… condemned neighborhoods?" I asked.
"Well…" the question seemed to interest him. "Larger than the head of a pin, I would say, but smaller than a pencil eraser. Do you know what a BB looks like? That should be about right. We'll start small, of course, and expand as necessary."
"And it'll help me get out of here?"
"Very likely, yes."
"Will it hurt?"
"No. Well, the procedure itself is painless. Some people experience headaches for a few days afterward, again on par with a bad hangover. But it's nothing compared to the pain you've put your many victims through, yes? You might say it's the least you could do."
Like I gave a crap. That was the whole problem, yes, I know: I was supposed to worry how other people felt, supposed to go out of my way to make them all safe and happy. Not hurt them, even if they were asking for it. But I mostly cared about the stuff that affected me personally — something society chose to call a defect, like they were any different! — and Cunningham knew it all too well. He was just tweaking me.
My answer: "I want to be a better person, Doc. Like you."
So we went ahead with the procedure, which involved shaving my head again, slathering it with cold gel, and then putting on a plastic helmet that tightened all around with screws. Finally, with the help of Fred the Orderly, I was strapped to the chair by the arms, waist, feet, and chin.
"How do you feel?" the doc asked. He was behind me, out of sight, working controls on the machine. Fred was in front, keeping an eye on my buckles like they might burst at any minute.
"Like I'm going to be executed." I told him.
"No, seriously. Physically."
"Pinched. This thing is tight."
"That's all? No other sensations? That's good, because the ultrasound is already on. I'm adjusting the triangulation now, so for God's sake don't move."
"Like I could!"
"Don't talk. Talking is a form of moving."
Strange feelings flickered through me like channels on a TV screen. Cold, buzzing, fearful, and then warm, almost laughing. The sound of butterflies, the smell of hot tea. Finally, a sort of tugging sensation, like I wanted to get up and walk around.
"I think that's it," Cunningham said.
"The indicator is green," Fred confirmed.
"All right, then, I'm turning up the intensity…"
Start to finish, the procedure took all of an hour and a half. Afterward they gave me Gatorade and a couple of Advil, then let me hang out until lunch.
"Try a cigarette later," Fred advised me. He was sitting sideways in a chair, letting his legs dangle over the arm. Looked about as comfortable as a bear trap, but there was only one bed in here, and I had it. My arms behind my head, staring out at the anatomy charts on the far wall.
"Just try it."
The Japanese authorities never had succeeded in banning cigarettes from prison, although you had to do it in designated areas.
"I don't smoke," I told him.
"Well, you'll never take it up now."
"Taste bad? Like those pills they give alcoholics?"
"Huh? No, it tastes just fine. It just doesn't give you much of a rush. We had a guy one time, went through a whole pack in a couple of hours and finally just gave the rest away. Said it was like eating styrofoam. As far as I know, he never touched another one. We still get letters from him sometimes."
I said it in a bored tone of voice, but realized afterward that I actually sort of meant it. Prison made people into dilligent correspondents, and it was nice to get something back from people on the outside. Even nicer to get something out of the blue, from someone who gave a damn. I used to get letters from my Mom sometimes, before she died, and once from my brother in Sausalito, the insurance analyst. But it had been a long time.
"This guy," I asked. "He's got a normal life now? An apartment and a job?"
"And a wife," Fred agreed. "And a parole officer, of course, but he's definitely one of our success stories. They've got him changing filters at a sewage treatment plant, and he seems to like it well enough. Pays better than janitorial, he says."
I tried to picture myself doing a job like that. It seemed like I would resent it, cleaning up after other people's shit, but I wasn't able to work up any strong feelings.
Eventually, Fred went out and brought back coffee and sandwiches, which we ate together at a little table.
"Your face looks different," he said to me.
"Honestly. The lines around your eyes… The whole thing is just hanging differently. I suppose I've never seen you relaxed before."
"Well," I told him, "your face looks like someone wiped their ass with it. Give me some of that… what have you got, mustard packets? Yeah, pass the mustard. Please."
The rest of the day was spent in low-key testing — flash cards and Rorschach tests, and then a computer game with mazes I had to solve, with electrodes glued to my forehead and fingertips.
"Frustration scores in the normal range," Cunningham said approvingly.
I slept in the infirmary bed that night, chained to the wall as before, and the next day was set aside for something called "biofeedback training evaluation," which involved putting yet another type of cap on my head, hooked up to yet another box of electronics.
"In a modern facility these systems would be better integrated," the doc told me. "Fewer boxes, fewer wires. But of course modern facilities have more lucrative uses for the equipment. There's not a lot of money in rehabilitation."
I could see that. It even made sense in a way; people like me were a drain on society, and even if we got the help we supposedly needed, we weren't exactly going to be captains of industry. Recycling garbage might be better than piling it in a landfill, but who wants products made from garbage?
"In the good old days," I said, "All they needed was a rope and a scaffold. And a coffin."
"Exactly. Or a little cloth to wipe off the sword."
The training evaluation was another antique video game, where I had to move a little yellow oyster around, gobbling up dots while being chased around by pastel-colored jellyfish.
"He only moves when your brain is in a positive, rational, optimistic state," Cunningham told me.
The little bastard didn't move much at first, but the doc chalked that up partly to "calibration issues" which took half the day to fine tune away. But even after lunch, and an afternoon break that Fred mockingly referred to as "high tea", it seemed like the movements were more random than anything.
"That's all right," the doc said. "That's normal. Biofeedback is the single longest phase in a typical course of treatment. Patients usually need twenty or thirty hours to achieve conscious control, and we usually go for fifty just to be safe."
So except for occasional blood tests, brain scans and interview sessions, that was mostly what we did for the next two weeks. The first few days were awful; I was constantly tempted to smash this goddamn machine and cram the pieces down Cunningham's throat. Even worse, I nearly gave up four times, the last time tearing the sensor cap off my scalp and demanding to be taken back to my cell.
"I can't do this, Doc. I can't. Whatever's wrong with my brain, you haven't fucking fixed it."
Cunningham took this in stride. "You want to quit that badly, I won't stop you. But do me a favor first. Quit right here. Put the cap back on and sit with me for a few more minutes."
As stupid as it sounds, that worked. When he got everything set up again, I was so sure it wouldn't work — so sure that I was going to stay in prison, maybe until I died — that a kind of sullen peace had settled over me. It was enough. With wacky cartoon chewing noises, the little mollusk began to move. Stopping and starting, yeah, but not in random fits. Purposefully, in response to something indescribable I was doing inside my head. Brain stretches.
"See?" said the doc.
I lost it after that, and couldn't get it back.
"But you know the feeling now. Next time will be easier."
And sure enough, I did slowly learn to control the game and therefore, in some way, to control myself. By the end I could move the clam about 90% of the time, even with Fred and the doc banging trays in my ears and such. Sounds like a dirty joke, doesn't it? Moving the clam? But it got to where it was moving like a part of my own body that had gone to sleep. Not easy, not precise, but natural. Moving it felt good, actually.
"All right," the doc said one afternoon. "Very good. I think we can call this phase a success."
"Now I'm a civilized human being?"
He snorted. "Hardly. But you're developing a few of the neural hooks on which civilized behavior can hang."
There was cake with dinner that night, in addition to dog-slop tonkatsu and steam-killed beans, and both Doc Cunningham and Fred the Orderly sat down to eat it with me.
"You're doing well," Fred assured me. "I think you're going to make it."
I shrugged. "I don't feel any different."
"No? By now you should."
"He doesn't know what he feels," Cunningham told Fred. "He's like a man seeing color for the first time. No idea what he's looking at."
"Sure is pretty, though," I said in my spickiest tone. They laughed politely.
That night, though, chained up alone in my bed, I felt anything but good. My stomach in knots, my skin all clammy, I felt like maybe I was going to throw up. But what came out instead were sobs — quiet at first, but building rapidly toward hysteria — followed by a lot of tears, uncontrollable, like a pipe had burst somewhere.
Shit, I hadn't cried since I was a kid, since my other brother died in that motorcycle accident I guess. But there I was, bawling like a baby. In the dark, over nothing. Over everything.
I thought it would soon pass, but it just sort of rolled in and out like ocean waves, never stopping, and an hour later when Shelly came by on 9 PM rounds, I was still blubbering.
"You all right, hon?" she asked.
"'Course," I told her, fooling no one.
She surprised me by sitting down on the corner of the bed, and by meeting my eyes directly in the dim light.
"It's a hard thing," she said, her voice a blend of sympathy and matter-of-fact coldness.
I wiped away tears with the heel of one hand. "What is?"
"Being human. Feeling pain. Are you crying for yourself, or the people you've hurt?"
"I don't know. I hadn't thought about it. How do you tell the difference?"
"You can't. Healthy people can't." She flashed a half-smile that was sweet and sad and knowing. "The burden of what you've done is immense. You had no way of understanding that. Now you do."
And it came to me then that I was never going to win my freedom. I was just being transferred to a different sort of prison — one that offered no possibility of escape, of parole, of anything but bone-weary sorrow at the ways of the world.
We sat there quietly for a while, just being human together. Finally I asked her, "How's your kid?"
"Same as ever," she answered. "But thank you."
"They don't warn you about this," I wept.
"They do," she said quietly. "They did. You just didn't understand them."
In the morning, while Fred cleared away my breakfast and the nihonjin day-shift guards milled around in boredom, Cunningham appeared like an apparition framed in bar-coded sunlight.
"The guards tell me you had an emotional night last night. That's progress, Luis. That means you're getting better. Now, the next problem I'd like to address is an excess of testosterone. This is another easy find, very common in violent offenders, and also easily treated. But it's one of the most important phases of your recovery. Men have a hard time controlling impulse under the best of circumstances. Throw in an excess of male hormone and a history of casual violence, and certain bad habits can be extremely hard to break."
"You're going to cut off one ball?" I asked, waiting for a surge of murderous anger. But what came was milder than that — more a flicker of righteous indignation — which I was able to stay on top of. Not suppress it but, you know, get along with it.
Cunningham smiled. "Opponents of the procedure do call it 'partial chemical castration', but the actual technical term is «tk». It's gene therapy for the androgenic cells in your testes, reducing their activity by about 30%. This will put you at the low end of normal for a man your size and age. Not enough to interfere with sexuality or gender identity, but it should make it a little easier to calm down."
That didn't sound too appealing, but like everything else I had a "choice" of either doing it or quitting the program. It was demeaning, like trading ass favors for protection, and I liked it about as much. I mean, shit, what was the point of being on the outside if I couldn't be a man?
"I'll give you an hour to think it over," the doc said understandingly. "I fully grasp what a difficult decision it is."
I snorted. "You do, huh? I can see why you do all that other shit first, before bringing this up. Pull a guy right out of population and offer to cut his balls off, you're liable to get bent over a chair."
But in the end, what was there to think about? I submitted. It was painless enough, but the less said about it, the better. And to hell with you for asking.
The next phase was the most hardware-intensive, and involved strapping me into this three-axis rig like a Da Vinci drawing, with a motion-capture suit fitted tightly to my body, a haptic exoskeleton over that, and a VR helmet strapped down over my head and face.
"We'll be using direct neural stimulation," the doc warned. "Some people find it disorienting, but it improves outcomes."
This made me a little nervous — an unusual feeling for me — but it didn't turn out to mean all that much. The video was a standard dual-screen mask, and the audio was a set of stereo speakers inside the helmet, the kind of VR that had come and gone several times without ever really catching on. The haptic was pretty good; on the calibration level I felt my way over sandy gray blocks and around roughly chiseled corners that were really just computer-generated forces in the exo.
The NeurealityTM was a load of crap, just a faint sense of motion and temperature that wouldn't fool anyone, but it did put a little edge on things. It was stifling on the ward that day, so humid that I half expected it to rain indoors, but in the sim it seemed a little cooler somehow, and despite a blank concrete sky, I could tell the blocks were "outside" by the way the hairs on my arms seemed to stir, like there was a very slight breeze blowing across them.
The calibration lasted maybe five minutes — not long enough to be dull or anything, and then a new level was loading, and suddenly some little Nip was in my face, yelling obscenities.
A test, right? See how my new mind responds to the stimulation? Couldn't help it, though; I hit him so hard I thought for a moment I'd broken the haptic. Or my hand. The little man spun away, grunting and spitting up blood.
"Shit," I said.
"Don't worry," came Cunningham's voice, muffled and distant through the helmet's snuggly-soft headphones. "He was inside your personal space and overtly hostile. Lashing back may not be optimal, but it's within the range of healthy responses. You stopped after hitting him once, though; that's significant."
I shook my hand, trying to get some feeling besides pain back into it, and looked around blankly for a moment, trying to remember where the doc had been standing. Trying to look at him.
"I felt bad," I said with some surprise. "Little cartoon character and I'm feeling sorry for him. Almost asked him if he was OK."
"No!" said the Nip, waving an arm at me in cartoon fear and pain. "Not OK! You stop! No more!"
I probably lost points for laughing.
After that I faced an angry housecat, and then a friendly one, and then a convenience store robbery from several different points of view. When I found was the robber, I dropped the gun and ran, shaking and sweating with bad memories.
"Good," said Cunningham, over and over again. "Good. Also good." A few of my responses were "acceptable," and one was "behaviorally marginal, with worrying activity patterns in the limbic system. Errors of passion are one thing, Luis, but you're seething here. The legal term is premeditation. Still, this could be worse."
«moving forward, the important and ironic thing is that Luis, a psychopath and career criminal, can actually be cured and released. Cunningham, who freely chose to commit murder, is responsible for his actions and therefore cannot be "cured". This is nearly opposite to our rehabilitation sensibilities today. — WTM»