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by Richard Tornello



Richard Tornello

Throughout the planet crime levels and the fear it inspired, had increased to the point that the punishment for almost any infraction dictated extended prison sentences. In this new world order, prisoners had to work for their keep. So, in essence, they became slaves of the states in which they were housed. This new economic paradigm was readily accepted as a sop by the frightened populations.  The unintended consequence of these new laws was a boon to the world economy.

However, families wanted to keep in touch with their loved ones even if they were incarcerated. But many of the millions of convicts housed were terminated due in part to physical infirmities or for political reasons.

The officials had no way of addressing these extra-legal actions and were straining to rationalize their activities. Bad press like this, especially within a republic, was not something any political entity desired. There were ways the populations could discover this and raise a protest. It was not something that could be completely hushed up.

 A group of engineers, scientists and psychologists working within the penal system proposed to physically, and psychologically map each individual incarcerated. The data would be fed into the main computer. This advanced system allowed the state to project a holographic image of the prisoner to who ever wanted to speak to that person. The caller would never know the person they were talking to was only a computer generated representation of that person. Housing data was cheaper and easier than warehousing people.

The program was introduced and was total a success. The prisoners were always accused of additional crimes against the state. The punishment meted out forced them to remain incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives. There was no recidivism. It was a win-win situation. The states made up the costs of incarcerations and then some. The application of this new technology seemed endless.


Two figures stand at a console in a dimly-lit room, their eyes fixed on a glowing array of flat screen monitors. Some screens show views of another room, this one is empty except for a platform with built-in restraints made to hold a human subject in place. Some show graphs and charts that display data in real time -- voltages, heartbeat, respiration, temperature, electroencephalographic tracings. Their clothing conceals everything except their eyes, and even these are half-hidden by protective goggles.

They have worked together for years, but neither knows the other's name. Its part of the employment protocol.  Call them A and B...

A: "Did you see that spike? Wow that had to hurt."

B: "No kidding. Who's next? Get the clean up crew in there so we can plug the next one in and keep going. We have a bunch more to move. We'll look at the data later. You have the video running to record the reactions?"

A: "Yeah but that was a real spike there. I haven't seen one like that in a while."

B: "I guess we hit a nerve."

A: Laughs.

By noon that day

B: "OK, how many have we been through?"

A: "A dozen. You want to make it a baker's dozen, and then go to lunch?"

B: "You are a sick one... Sure, why not." Into a microphone mounted on the console, B says, "One more, please. Then we'll take a break."

In the sound-proof and shock-proof booth the cleanup begins. The body is removed, sliding easily into an easy-seal bag with convenient carrying handles. The ceiling and wall spigots spray the disinfectant and water. The spray is strong enough to peel the skin off a living animal. The room is coated with a non-stick application that allows for quick cleanup and turn around time. It was invented by the company that designed the flushing system for ball turret gunners killed in aerial combat during the early planetary battles.

That clean up application was a godsend for this experimental exercise. It would normally take hours to clean up after each test. With this system, it took maybe fifteen minutes, including drying time.


A: "Let's go over today's results. Twenty subjects terminated as per State orders." Said A. A thinks, luckily for our purposes, nobody has any say in how the condemned are terminated once the paperwork is sealed. The families have no say at this point. These people belong to The System now, as they should. They violated the edicts of the State -- now they pay the price, and serve a useful purpose at last.

A (dictating into a personal voice recorder): "In order to further the understanding of the human mind so that we as scientists may contribute to the welfare of our State and The System, we have begun a new set of experiments. No other tests like these have ever been conducted. But the technology now exists, and thanks to The System we have over two million subjects in our pens to ensure the accuracy and statistical validity of our results.

"Our goal is to record the functioning of the brain, catalog the unspoken thoughts and detail the level of that thought throughout the entire process. Eventually, we will be able to recognize patterns that apply across multiple subjects under the same stimuli -- perhaps even to the point of truly 'reading minds'.

"We will be using a variety of methods that are tried and true. One goal is to make the termination process more humane. The System is not an abomination. We do have a higher goal in mind here."

B: "What does the brain/mind really say in these conditions, what does it actually feel, what does it emit as far as electrical and chemical reactions to the stimuli given? How long does the mind continue to function in a meaningful way? These questions must be answered. And we are now able to do it. Thank The System."

Six weeks later

Reports of significant progress have brought a great honor to the laboratory: a visit from a high-ranking Officer of the State. A and B have heard that the Official may report directly to those at the very apex of The System in the CORE.

The Official wears clothing similar to that worn by A and B, but the fabric is obviously of much finer quality. His face is entirely visible, as is appropriate for someone of superior genetic stock.

B: "We now have the ability to synthesize actual voice simulation from brain waves. This gives us an actual representation of the body's thoughts while the designated activity is being carried out. We are the first. This will be a breakthrough in neuroscience and psychology, not to mention the criminal justice system."

A: "We ran a few this morning. It was the first ever. It was fascinating. Here's a sample, thank The System." A, Speaking to The Technician said, "Skip the preliminary and go direct to the event, please."

The Technician: "Yes sir."

A: "The recording is clear, but the synthesized voice is uninflected. Emotional content is probably clear from the context, of course."

B: "Did the brain recognize its own death? We're about to discover this for the first time."

The Technician: "From the first series. Termination by puncturing or laceration of the torso and limbs, leading to rapid exsanguination. The subject was sedated, but not fully anesthetized."

Synthesized voice (diminishing in volume and with increasing intervals between words): "SHOCK! SHOCK! PAIN! Pain! Pain ... pain ..."

The Technician: "The subject has no coherent thoughts, only a sharp but rapidly abating pain response as blood flow to the brain declines."

B: "Apparently sedation has no internal effect. Next please."

The Technician: "The second series involved termination by electrocution. Conductors were attached at the usual points on the head, wrists, and ankles."

Synthesized voice: "Pain! Pain, fire, burning -- oh my god it..."

The Official: "Enough! I read about this but to witness it, this is criminal."

A: " But, sir, all the others like that were pretty much the same, although that particular example is unusually coherent and appears to include a possible religious reference. In general, however, the only thoughts -- if they qualify as thoughts -- are expressions of overwhelming pain and anguish and..."

The Official: "I said enough! You will terminate this study. You will not ever speak about it. Do you understand? I will file a report on my findings as soon as I return to the CORE."

A: "Yes sir. I understand that you may have found our results to be somewhat disturbing. But please remember, we were following the expressed orders of the Council."

The Official: "You are to dismantle this facility. All data and recordings are to be placed under seal, to be accessible only with authorization by a majority of the Council. I will be back in a week to check."

The Official strides out of the room. He is accompanied by his entourage of data recorders and bodyguards. Only A, B, and the Technician remain in the room.

B: "What's with him? He could use an enema or something. The System ordered these experiments. He should know that. We can't just stop because he says so -- not when we are learning so much!"

A: "I know, I know. A feel the project has so much potential. He says to B, We'll try hanging and see if that is any different. I'll take care of The Official. Ignore him. A  pointed to the door the Official just egreessed. I have a direct line to the CORE. I didnt get this far without family connections, and neither did you. The less said the better. Lets leave it at that."

B nodded and said nothing. He was thinking of dinner. Then to the Technician he commanded, "Prepare subject number 1920."

Read more stories by this author

2012-10-26 09:19:05
It is truly potential in the technology,but still a bit scary!

2012-10-14 06:56:36
lanopulosnick -

2012-10-07 11:03:24
micheledutcher - As a friend of the author, I know there's another section called, "Experiment 1920" that brings the real horror of this topic out. Maybe we can talk him into drawing it out of obscurity.

2012-10-03 06:19:51
Methinks this is a reprint, as I've read this story before. Still decent though...

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.

by Richard Tornello

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