Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Super Rich Patent Attorney Brutally Batters Impoverished Inventor - Long listed SFX Pulp Idol short story

"Would you like to confess?"

Who would have thought that prisons still sent in priests to see the condemned man in this day and age? Not me, that's for sure. A charming anachronism in these godless times he might be, but he is completely genuine. It's there in his eyes. He's a believer. A true believer. I didn't ask to see him. If I'd known it was a possibility I would have actively refused it.

"What for? You've read the headlines."

Everybody has read the headlines. 'Super-rich patent attorney brutally batters impoverished inventor' is my personal favourite. I like the alliterative quality. I have it framed in my cell. The defence lawyers tell me that it makes me look bad, but it's hard to see how I could look worse. All the tabloids played up the financial angle and I don't blame them for that. How else do you make sense of it if you don't know?

"Besides, I've already told the jury that I did it. They found me guilty."

"I meant confess to God," he says, no hint of impatience or irritation. He's seen it all before in here; all the smart-assed killers headed for the injection room displaying their cynicism to hide their fear. "Ask for his forgiveness."

"His forgiveness?" And there I was, thinking that nothing could surprise me any longer. I could hug him for that at least. If I wasn't chained to the desk that is. "Why would he forgive someone who failed so completely?"

The priest looks confused and uncomfortable so I signal for him to sit down. He's an old man. All men of faith are old these days. Old men are the only ones who can remember what that means anymore.

"I don't mean failed to get away with it," I clarify for him, "I mean that I failed to do it right."

"Do you want to tell me?" he asks and suddenly I do want to tell. Not to unburden my soul or find redemption or anything like that, but simply becuase he's someone to talk to and I don't have a lot of time left to talk to anyone.

"What do you want to know?" I offer. After all, he's the one with the questions.

"What do you want to tell?"

That's not a lot of help. What do I want to tell? How I killed my victim? Everyone knows that. Why I killed him? Keeping that inside until now hasn't stoppped anything.

"Try the start," he suggests helpfully, but what is the start really?

"I only knew him for an hour before I killed him."

That sounds a bit too melodramatic for my liking, but it's as good an opening and I can think of right now. Given a couple of more hours I could probably do better. No, I could definitely do better. Unfortunately, I don't have a couple of more hours and that's proving to be a bit of a distraction. The start?

How my apparently impoverished victim had arrived at my house unannounced on the day I bludgeoned him to death was something that the security firm supposedly securing the neighbourhood never managed to satisfactorily explain. Of course, I was later never in a position to complain to them about it. It was a neighbourhood of big mansion houses set in secluded woodlands with gates on all the approach roads and a wall that was monitored and patrolled. The houses also had gates and walls that were monitored. It was a neighbourhood of the 'super-rich'.

"The leaves were turning. Autumn golds and reds." Funny the details that you recall. I can't remember what the man looked like before I took a poker to his head, but I can still see the leaves shimmering in the light breeze.

I don't (or at least didn't) receive people on business matters at my home, but I made a point of never saying 'no' to inventors. I had people that I paid quite handsomely to do that for me. Since he had somehow managed to get as far as my fortified front gate I let him in to make his pitch. That's what I did as a patent lawyer ('attorney' as my favourite tabloid quote would have it), but you don't get as rich as I used to be just setting up patents and resolving patent issues. Any old legal hack can do that (and I used to have a lot of those on my staff for just that purpose). No, I offered more. I found investors, partners, manufacturing bases an even alternative applications and new markets for the clients that I chose to take on.

"I have a bit of an eye for seeing the possibilities of any given product."

Even possibilities other people couldn't imagine. That's how you get as rich as me.

As my visitor was laying out all the charts and diagrams and schematics (as if any of them would mean anything to me) on the table, he could see only the medical miracle that he had acheived. He would be able, he told me excitedly, to extract the healthy minds trapped within bodies ravaged by MS or motor neurone disease or any other degenerative condition and place them into the healthy bodies of those declared braindead or terminally comatose. If there was no physical damage to the donor brain then they would be able to live some of their lives in a functioning body.

He saw so much good.

"And what did you see?" the priest asks. He's shaking slightly. He clearly knows a thing or two about people. Perhaps he can see what I saw.

"Immortality," I tell him simply, " and the roadmap to Hell."

It would start small perhaps, with incurable coma victims, willing would-be suicides, convicted killers on Death Row...

The priest starts visibly when I mention that, as well he might.

"...but then it would turn to the desperate - the man who can't feed his family, the mother who can't pay for her child's expensive operation."

And the rich would be there with their pocketbooks. "Of course we'll pay," they would say. "Whatever you need. And you have to do is step aside when the time comes."

The priest looks shocked, but I keep on. There's no turning back now.

Before too long that wouldn't be enough. Who would want secondhand, used bodies, bodies that showed the scars of whatever killed the minds? That's when the farms would start. Ward upon ward of women having baby after baby. Children brought up in sterile, safe conditions to ensure their perfection when it becomes time for some bloated rich cat to trade in for a new ride.

Someone like me.

And eventually even that won't be secure enough, cost-effective enough. Eventually the children will be sedated at birth and never allowed to reach consciousness. Fed by tubes, exercised by servo-mechanisms, quiescent and controlled utterly.

"Dear Lord" the priest mutters, perhaps in prayer.

This process was the Holy Grail of patent lawyers. It would have made those who controlled it the richest men in the world and given us all the time in the world to spend the money. So, whilst the inventor of this marvellous process burbled on about his medical advance, I picked up the heavy brass poker and prodded around in the embers of the fire, just for the look of the thing.

"And then I smashed his skull into 136 pieces," I quote coldly from the admirably thorough coroner's report.

The priest is visibly shaken. Exactly by what I can't say. Eventually he speaks, "God will forgive you. How could he not?"

Does God forgive failure?

Leaving the body on the floor, the blood ruining a very expensive Arabian weave rug, I went straight to the stranger's home, directed by the address on his driver's licence. I thought at the time he could never have afforded the road use pollution permit to actually own a vehicle, but it later emerged that he paid his bills as a public service driver. A warehouse turned into a makeshift laboratory in a rundown section of town was where this patent attorney's Holy Grail resided. I smashed his computer, destroyed his equipment, piled up his notes and burned them, burned the whole place to the ground.

"I'm not a criminal, not normally," I smile as I add, "though my business rivals have been known to call me crook..."

He manages a weak smile at that, but in truth neither of us have anything to smile about.

" I didn't think about relatives he might have shared his plans with or internet-based backup servers or other patent lawyers he might have contacted. Not until it was too late. I killed him, but not his idea."

"It might not come to that," the minister tries to say after a long silence.

"Oh but it will," I assure him and he knows it too because it's already started, "and I am glad that I will not be here to see it."

And I won't be here to see it. Whilst the usual appeals have been delaying the inevitable end it has finally arrived. The Medical Rehabilitation Act has been passed allowing a revolutionary medical process to be carried out on those prisoners condemned to lawful execution.

So, tonight, at a little past ten o'clock a 'super-rich patent attorney' convicted of murder will become the first subject of the process to replace his own mind with that of another, more deserving one.

Even I can appreciate the irony of that.

They won't tell me who is going to get my body, and I certainly asked, but I'm willing to bet it's not some penniless MS sufferer.

Darren Humphries

The Last Hunt - unsuccessful 2007 Pulp Idol Short Story Entry

The hunter moved slowly through the undergrowth, every movement calculated to make the least noise, every footfall placed to avoid twigs and dry leaves that might crack or rustle under his boot and alert his prey. Patience is a hunter's greatest attribute and this one possessed it in abundance. Minutes might pass between each step as every inch of the surroundings was re-examined and every sense turned to the task of stalking. Few men possessed the inner calm and sense of purpose that allowed for such painstakingly slow progress, but then few men would have taken of the task that drove this one forward.

Most people would have thought him insane, but the amount that he cared for other people's opinions of him could been placed on the head of a pin between the feet of the dancing angels. The few who had guessed his purpose had thought he was crazy, except for the Order and they had tried to kill him. He'd made enough money in the world of the 'normal' man that he no longer had to care what anyone thought, no longer had to conform to their limits.

In anything.

A night bird shifted on a branch nearby, preparing for flight and the hunter immediately became still, as immobile as his body would allow, the breath caught in his lungs, his heartbeat slowed to a rate that barely sustained his physical needs. The owl tested its wings and then took to the warm night air, off on its own hunt. The hunter raised his heartbeat slowly and allowed his breathing to return to a more normal state, but one that made no sound. Again, he started his studied advance.

He was close now, closer than he had ever been before. That fact would have flooded his system with adrenaline had he allowed it. Instead, he focussed on the job at hand, on the disciplines that had taken decades to master. A lifetime had been spent in pursuit of the skills that he needed, a lifetime in which normality had played little part. For a long time it might have seemed to be a normal life to the casual observer who would have seen only the remarkable success in financial and business affairs leading to extreme wealth. All that had been nothing more than a carefully constructed facade. The money had been a means to the end that hoped to see tonight, and the business merely a way of gaining that wealth. There had been no wife, no family, no friends, only the contacts that were necessary to his success. He hadn't missed them. In fact, he had barely noticed their absence.

The ground beneath his feet started to rise and he slowed his pace even further. His destination was now within his sight. There was no longer margin for error. To fail within sight of his goal would be too much to bear. He would perhaps not have the mental strength to start all over again if he lost his target again so close to success.

He breathed in the pre-dawn air and savoured it, but all was as it ought to be. The wind was as predicted, barely a light breeze but enought to take his scent away from the lair of his prey. That lair was just beyond the ridge that he had so carefully climbed.

As he approached the top, he sank to his knees and covered the last few metres fully prone. The red light of dawn was colouring the mountains to the east, but there was still time.

Time enough.

At the top of the ridge, he stopped his advance and became as still as it was possible for a human being to be whilst remaining conscious. Only his eyes moved as he surveyed the narrow gully below. They wore contact lenses that coloured the whites and prevented reflections. Nothing had been left to chance. Slowly, he brought the purpose-built customised rifle around to bear on the land below. He did not look through the sights as the light that was painting the sky above had not yet reached the gully and the equipment had no light-enhancing technology to get in the way. The shot will be taken with light enough.

A brook tumbled down a rocky course between the trees and dense undergrowth. A ground mist hovered somewhere between the moist earth and the crowded ferns, tendrils moving sluggishly in the faint eddies of air. There was a silence that seemed quite unnatural and yet was simply the land waiting to awake. There were few places like this left in the world, seemingly unable to survive the the urban sprawl of overpopulation, but persist they did despite humanity's best efforts to poison the planet.

Immobile, silent, the hunter watched the golden dawn slide down the trunks of trees like amber. His pulse quickened despite his will, but his breathing remained virtually undetectable. It would be here soon, come to welcome the dawn and exult in the birthing of the new day. The certainly of success came to him and with it a calm that he had believed was beyond his ability to acheive. Certainly it was beyond the hopes of the many teachers who had instilled so much self-control in both body and mind, but never quite managed to coach him to attain the ultimate inner goal.

And then it was there.

He did not see it come or hear the approach, but it was there nonetheless, stood to its fetlocks in the stream, drinking from the water. Thirst slaked, it shook its mane and lifted its head to the approaching sunlight.

The hunter placed his eye to the sights of the gun and waited. His aim was not direct, but to shift the gun was to make a noise that might warn his target. His prey would enter into the sights itself if he waited long enough. Patience and purpose had ruled his life for as long as he could remember. A few moments more and both would be dispensed with.

The morning light seemed to pause at the edge of the gully, almost as if preparing itself, and then leaped down to illuminate the stream bed and the beast that stood there. Its coat gleamed the purest white, almost painful to behold, and its long single horn glittered brightly. Few had believed in it during those long years of obsessive research. There had been times he had not been sure he believed it himself, but the Order had learned of his plans and the assassination attempts had begun. There was, though, no pleasure in being proved right, only his target and his purpose.

The unicorn reared up to greet the day, glorying in the sunshine.

The hunter's gun spoke once into the morning. Once was all that was required.

The journey back out of the forest was more rapid and relaxed than the previous night's progress had been been. The weapon was discarded, broken and bundled up with other equipment for which the hunter no longer had any need. Someone else would be despatched to collect and dispose of it. The body in the streambed would also be disposed of, though the hunter was not sure that any remains would ever be discovered there. That was not the way it seemed to work.

The car journey back to the nearest outpost of what men referred to as 'civilisation' was made in total silence. The hired driver knew well enough not to speak, though he resented the rich foreigner's arrogance. The flight back to his adopted homeland was equally silent, the flight crew locked away in the cockpit and he the only passenger in the main cabin. Within a day of that single shot the hunter was back in his apartment, half a world away from the gully and its stream.

It was already working, though. The effect could already be felt and was spreading. The old differences were heating up again, divisions thought to have been healed breaking open, arguments thought to have been resolved once again being debated hotly. The Middle East was once again burning, the Basque seperatists were once again making demands, religious sectarianism in Ireleand had led once more to demonstrations and riots, the Tamils had struck against the Sri Lankan government and Africa was again a continent at war with itself. At home there had been more violent killings in 24 hours than the whole of the previous year and the police were being attacked from all sides. Neighbourhoods were fracturing and the army had already been called in. The suicide rate had soared overnight causing aid agencies' phone systems to collapse under the burden. Even the churches seemd to have no message of hope, only rhetoric against the other religions.

Here, in the cool darkness and quiet of his home, the hunter allowed himself to consider the reality of his success. Drink in hand, he sank into his favourite chair, the tiredness of one weight on his soul removed to be replaced by a new one.

"I know you're there," he told the room and a figure stepped out of the deeper darkness, but remained wreathed in shadow. "The Order?"

The figure nodded.

"You failed."

"You succeded," the intruder countered.

"So, you're here to kill me?"

"No, " the intruder took a pistol out of his coat pocket and placed it on the table beside the hunter's seat. "To ask a question: do you think she would have approved?"

The hunter allowed his thoughts to turn to her at last. She had died so very long ago, killed whilst trying to help others, murdered alone, in fear and without hope. He had tracked down every one of those directly responsible and dealt them the same fate. That had been the easy part. Those men, though, had not been alone in their guilt. They were not responsible for the environment that created them, the systems that made them capable of such an act, the conditions that made them monsters. The whole world had played a role in her fate. Governments had turned away, nations had failed to act, populations had failed to demand resolutions to the problems that she had, in her own small way, fought to aid against.

But how do you bring a whole world to justice? How do you make them feel as desperate, terrified and lonely as she must have felt in that last hour? How do you take away a world's hope?

He had found the way and now it was done.

She would not have approved, would not have wanted it, but the dead do not revenge themselves. That is left to the living. It had been left to him and he had done it for himself, not for her.

Faintly, sounds of breaking glass, gunshots and screaming reached him through the window that the intruder had left ajar. On his way from the airport the hunter had seen fires and looting.

He considered the gun on the table. It was exquisitely customised for this purpose, as had been the one that killed the unicorn, the source of mankind's hope. At length, he placed the barrel to his temple and brought the story to an end.

Darren Humphries