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Hands: (A Short Story)
McSnivver's Detention Center for the Criminally Insane
Maclarkenview, Oregon 2300 A.D.
Dr. Chandon's Office
An hour and a half ago two guards brought me, straight-jacketed and chained into Dr. Wesley Chandon's office. He was a medical doctor and psychiatrist. He was the physician-in-charge of the facility. It was time for our bi-weekly session.
The two guards shoved me into a chair and left when the doctor gave them leave. They left the various restraints on. I was quite helpless. "Where are my hands?" I ask, as I always do on these occasions.
"In safe keeping," the doctor says, as always. He didn't even look up from what he was scribbling on his laptop computer.
"What are you writing?" I asked.
"None of your business," he said.
"That's not a very professional, nurturing response, doctor."
"It's an honest response. It's what you need to hear."
"Tough truth," he corrected.
I return to the subject of my hands. "I'm sure there's something in the Geneva Convention about this, doctor. It's a cruel and unusual, psychological torture, taking a man's hands away from him and hiding them."
Dr. Chandon stll hadn't looked up. He was still inexorably typing on that laptop of his. "They're not the hands you were born with," he said, "and you used them to destructive effect. Besides, you've been outfitted with other artificial appendages."
"Rubber claws more like it. I can hardly move the fingers. There's no range of movement. I can barely do the basics for myself." These so-called prosthetics were medieval compared to the sophisticated cybernetic hands of my own design and construction.
The doctor ignored my complaint as usual. He looked up at me now and flipped through some screens on a handheld device, his clinical notes no doubt. He wished to pick up where we'd left off two weeks ago, before we'd run out of time.
"So why don't you like the word 'sociopath'?" the doctor asked.
"Ah, 'sociopath,' I said, "that's what they call us killers these days. But all of us who kill cannot be grouped together under the same umbrella. If this were not the case, then a select few of us would not be housed in special detention centers such as this one, here and around the world. Truthfully, I'd much rather you simply call me criminally insane than a mere 'sociopath.'"
"Alright, you're criminally insane," the doctor said.
I smiled. Dr. Chandon could be a brave man in a room, alone with me, bound as I am, with two armed guards standing just outside the door.
"A sociopath can be fairly called someone who kills in the pursuit of a criminal enterprise. He'll rob a bank or sell narcotics, and he'll kill anybody that gets in his way. He's very practical, ruthless, and cold about it. He'll kill without compunction to avoid being apprehended and sent to prison. But with him its business, so to speak, part of the game. But as you well know, doctor, persons such as myself kill for other reasons."
"Yes," the doctor said. He lit a cigarette. "for the reason of mental derangement. That doesn't change the fact of your evil."
"You know, doctor, you have a surprising lack of compassion for a mental health professional. You're supposed to be helping me, aren't you?"
Dr. Chandon gave me a hard look.
"Well, I suppose you just want to make me sane enough to stand trial for my crimes and be executed, right?" I shrugged. I have been served well by extremely able counsel.
"I don't blame you," I said. "I'm not offended. And speak of evil. Well, you can take the boy out of the Catholic Church but you can't take the Church out of the boy, can you, doctor?"
Dr. Chandon had been a Catholic priest. After ten years as a clergyman, he'd suffered an intellectual crisis, which spun him one hundred and eighty degrees into atheism. He left the church, studied medicine, and became a psychiatrist. That road had brought the doctor here, sitting just ten feet away from one of history's most merciless and dreaded serial killers since Jack The Ripper, namely - wait for it - me, Aleqynn Quincy Carmichael III, if I do say so myself.
"You have to admit," I said, "I've always been personally honest. I've never pretended to you to be delusional. I hear no voices other than those actually speaking. And I suffer from no visual hallucinationns which might account for my killings. Some of my kind are delusional, poor things."
"What do you prefer to be called?" the doctor asked.
"I prefer the old fashioned word, the less politically correct, more honest, more descriptive term. I and others like me are properly called 'psychopaths.'"
"You're a psychopath for saying that," Dr. Chandon said.
I note with pleasure that Dr. Chandon has lost his clinical detachment. He is no longer tapping out notes in his handheld electronic notebook. I smile. "Be that as it may, as the term implies, our killing is rooted in our psychological make up."
Dr.Chandon exhaled a long, rude burst of cigarette smoke at my face. "You don't see yourself as a common criminal."
"As a matter of fact, no. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I believe that what separates us from the garden variety 'sociopath,' is the fact that we psychopaths kill in the service of an ideal, twisted as that might sound to you. We do not kill for profit. We do not kill for money, fame, or property. At least those are not the underlying motives."
"You're right, that does sound pretty twisted," the doctor said, growing more vernacular and less professional by the moment. I seem to have that effect on him today.
I continued. "As I said, some of us are delusional and kill because they have been directed to by voices, no one else can hear. They think they're killing aliens or demons deceptively clothed in human form. Some of us kill to perpetually punish abusive parents or authority figures. Some kill to perpetually punish former lovers, who have cruelly and suddenly spurned our affections. I could go on."
"I bet you could," the doctor said, having smoked the cigarette down to its filter. He lit another one. He seems curiously agitated today. I wonder why. "You know, you're shamefully rationalizing. I've sat across this desk and tre-(had been about to say 'treated') interviewed thousands of raw killers like you. And the bottom line is this: you kill because you enjoy it."
I sat forward on the chair and struggled with the bounds, not because I was trying to free myself, but because I, too, was becoming agitated. I feel a sense of urgency today. I was anxious to make the doctor see, to realize, to understand. I want that desperately. Today our conversation is not a harmless intellectual exercise to amuse myself, as is the norm. I wonder why this is so.
"You just get off on it," the doctor said, sounding like some teenager.
At that moment I could tear his throat out for saying that. "I resent the insinuation, doctor. I am deeply offended by it. I have never sexually molested any of my victims."
"That doesn't mean you didn't derive sexual satisfaction," he said.
"I don't consider murder sexually titillating," I said, "and never have."
"But many of your brethren do, you can't deny that."
"No," I said, "I don't deny that. Like the larger population within which we live, our motives for doing what we do vary from the deeply serious and lofty, to the trivial and entertaining. Many of us, though, are about important work."
"You were a brilliant scientiist," Dr. Chandon said, "and you threw it all away."
I smiled at him. "No, doctor, I've merely decided to pursue my art over my science. And I must tell you, I've found the creative life infinitely more rewarding."
The doctor had heard my story before. I grew up in a loving home with two loving parents. I was not neglected or abused, physically, sexually, or emotionally. I came to no harm in their care. I was raised in Washington State, in a lovely, solidly middle class house in the suburbs. My paternal great-great grandfather had been a lumberjack, who'd started his own logging company.
My maternal great-great grandfather had had a multifaceted career. He was a freelance Internet reporter, an independent documentary filmmaker, a novelist, playwright, a book reviewer; he recovered ancient sunken ships, along with any loot, for the purpose of history, adventure, and profit. With this one, mother's family had been subjected to the rollercoaster ride of his luck. It was either feast or famine.
It was with these two men that our family fortunes, or lack thereof, began. I did not inherit millions or a fleet of yachts. With the help of a job (I cut down a few trees myself) and a partial scholarship, I graduated from a fine state university. My performance there had merited a full scholarship to graduate school, and from there I never looked back, as they say.
In my early twenties I developed a strange compulsion that my own two hands, did not, in fact, belong to me. I went to a past life recovery therapist, a government-certified, psychically gifted specialist, who heals the psyche by unearthing a patient's past lives.
Of course there is a history of slavery in my racially mixed family, the black, red, and even white streams of it. In our family tree there were scores and scores, as it turned out, of white peasants from Europe, serfs brought over to the New World, as indentured servants, most not surviving the terms of their nominal contracts, conditions were so harsh.
There were, naturally, the blacks of West Africa, often handed over by other mercenary black chieftains. There were the Native Americans, with no resistance to the diseases brought over with the Europeans, and apt to drop dead from the combination of that and the grueling, forced labor; but they later became the targets for proselytizing by the Catholic Church.
Then came the sharecroppers of the Jim Crow south, and the poor "white trash," and hopeless drunks on the reservations. Then there were the child laborers, condemned to spend ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day in coal mines, to drop dead, sometimes with their lungs as black as the dark mines they toiled in. There was the women's sweat shop labor, in rusty, oppressively hot fire traps of the New York garmet sector, in the early twentieth century. All kinds of unregulated labor.
There were the multitudes of thwarted labor, busted unions, dashed hopes, and crushed dreams. Not to mention the continued land dispossession of the American Indians, and the hundreds of treatises between them and the federal government, that were never honored by Uncle Sam. All of those hands had done all of that work in building up this country. All those hands gave so much without reward. One could even say that all those hands had been made to work against themselves.
My past life therapist unearthed particularly poignant episodes from my past lives that crystallized this for me. I had been profoundly grateful to her for all the help she gave me, and I told her so, before shooting her in the head and burning down her offices.
At the age of twenty five I finally cut off my hands, and replaced them with my exquisite cybernetic beauties. My device, the apparatus I use to do my work, is a chair of my own design and construction, of course, with tubular, writhing, steel tentacles, ending in points.
I chop off the hands of my victims and cauterize the wounds at the wrists. Then I cause the tentacles to remove the victim's head, with the remotely animated fingers of the severed hands, gripping the sides of the head. The victim feels like he's pulling his own head off.
I stand off to the side, observing, trying to maintain a solemn detachment. But sometimes I cannot suppress a cackle, as the last of the vertebrae pop, and the moment of truth arrives. The head comes off and I'm like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning. Terribly unprofessional of me.
We hear a loud explosion and screams of pain, death wails actually. "What was that?" Dr. Chandon asked. The force of it makes the walls shake.
"That sounded like an explosion," I said.
There are no windows in his office, He rose from his desk and headed for the door to take a look.
"You'd better not, doctor," I said. "It might not be safe out there."
He looked at me.
I shook my head. "Better not go out there. Its much safer in here. You might get hurt." No response was forthcoming so I added, "Why don't you turn on the television, doctor. Perhaps we can get some idea of what's going on."
The color was draining from the doctor's face. His face was becoming more drawn by the second. "Why would the television give me an idea what's going on at my own facility?"
Because there might be members of the local and national media covering the event," I said.
The doctor's shoulders sagged. His stance became more tenuous. But with just about the last of his strength he managed to say, "What event?" as if he didn't know, as if he were holding out hope to hear something other than what he knew this was.
"We are taking over this facility, doctor. We are overrunning the place to make good our escape without any hindrance. I daresay not one nurse, not one orderly, not one member of the custodial staff, not one security guard, not one member of the medical staff, and not one member of the administration, will survive it."
"You will never get away," he said. "Where are you going to go? If this is some kind of escape plot, you'll never leave this place alive. The FBI and the state police will surround this place."
"We have no intention of setting foot outside this facility, but understand that we are leaving here, and no one will stop us, try though they might."
"That's madness," Dr. Chandon said.
"Not madness, genius. They say there is a thin line between the two, do they not? And as you know, I am not delusional. We will not set foot outside this place. The question isn't where we will go but when (not when by the clock) but when in time we will go off to. That is the question, doctor."
"What do you want?"
"Honestly, doctor, its like you haven't been listening to a word I've said. There is no bargaining with us. I and my confederates are leaving this place and we mean to kill everyone else. Nothing can alter that. Representatives of the proper authorities have been frantically trying to contact us for some time now, begging to hear our demands, if only we'll stop the slaughter. Listen."
We hear more screams of mortal terror. Bullets firing and hitting their targets. Knives ripping across throats. The thump of bodies falling to the floor. Bones being snapped, broken, and pulverized. Dr. Chandon suddenly moves to lock the door but it is too late. Some of my confederates are coming through it, pushing him back. They are also, I am pleased to see, wheeling in my apparatus, a faithful reconstruction under the circumstances, of my decapitation device. They step over bodies of the two dead guards, who are now missing their eyes, ears, and tongues.
The government maintains a monopoly over time travel, the same way they used to keep space travel nationalized. I developed a plot, and put into play a series of players to wrest information and technology for myself, as a private citizen. I hold dozens of patents in my own right, and I am not ashamed to admit, I've stolen a few. All of this brought me considerable personal wealth.
Combined with an antiauthoritarian bias, a love of travel, and the allure of other times as well as places to visit, do my work, and escape to, if necessary, there was really no question of what I would do. What's a little treason on top of everything else, all the other sins I have committed against God and man?
Plotting from my headquarters in the safety of solitary seclusion, like the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Moriarty, I spun a web that infiltrated N.A.A.T.T, the North American Agency of Temporal Traversement, the director of which holds a cabinet-level post at the White House. Agency personnel at all levels were bribed, extorted, blackmailed, disappeared, whatever it took.
Documents and diagrams were photographed and smuggled out to me. Regulators were caught looking the other way, or else made, through various inducements, to look the other way.
It is always helpful to cap off a conspiracy such as this with a little sex. For that I employed a stunning young woman named Sheila Deveroe: short, caramel-colored, voluptuous, and sensual. And she was quite psychotic, if I am any judge of these things. Armed with a photographic memory, fluency in at least a half dozen languages, and a seemingly inexhaustible ability to improvise, Sheila quickly made contacts and got next to the right people. She finally began a sexual relationship with a young technician, who'd immediately fallen in love with her. And in his post-coital pillow talk, he revealed much more than he should have about his work with N.A.A.T.T.
I built a time pod of my own and before I was apprehended, I sent it to the NetherSphere, a place outside time and space, where it spins and waits, and from where it will come to the place and time of my bidding, which I had preprogrammed. Of course, I took steps to eliminate the players in my industrial epionage plot, those pawns. Without going into detail, let me just say that I did so, collapsing the conspiracy like a house of cards. I was sorry to lose Sheila, though.
Two of my confederates undo my bounds, undoing a series of clamps, zippers, and locks with keys taken off one of the dead guards. I will fashion a new pair of hands, better than before. The time pod will arrive in the game room in exactly twenty eight minutes. I and my confederates will not only escape and find sanctuary, but I, perhaps with the help of some of them, will make all of history a canvass for my art. Now my men are hooking Dr, Chandon up to the apparatus. "Try to relax, doctor," I said, "and put yourself in my hands."