Edition 16: Internal Exile by Jim Lee
What if your worst memory or your most regretted action was replayed for you over and over again. Welcome to corrective therapy, the capital punishment under the current planetary government. Jim Lee’s science fiction world shows us that it is our ideas which can be dangerous to the powers-that-be. SY
They roused Sidi Mohamed Daoud from a very old nightmare—one he once dared imagine he’d left behind with his troubled and far-distant adolescence. Ironically enough, it was the one that had driven him into social activism in the first place. And now, with a secret and shameful certitude, he knew it would be used against him.
And the ones who were about to do this unspeakable thing to him had no idea, no conception what he faced. If they did, perhaps they would understand his attempted suicide. But would they care—even if they knew?
He looked at the Senior Attending Physician’s impassive face and doubted it.
Two brawny orderlies, one of either gender, deactivated the restraints. They slipped his naked form into one of the new ‘smart’ hospital gowns—one that would detach itself and slither away upon the Senior Attending Physician’s order.
With the SAP, the orderlies escorted Daoud from the temporary holding cell. They ushered him down one final hallway to Corrective Therapy Room D427.
“That many?” Daoud blinked, turned to the SAP. “Doctor Sayem? Each inmate does require a separate room?”
The SAP curled a heavy lip. “Must I remind you again, Mr. Daoud? You are a Treatment Subject or simply our patient, if the generic term is more attractive to you. But ‘inmate’ is definitely not the preferred term here.”
“Of course not.” Daoud sighed. “But still, my question? With all the equipment needed to maintain your ‘patients’ in a trance—”
A man of South Asian appearance with a British accent, the SAP raised a finger in correction. “Another misnomer. We chemically induce and maintain a dream state, tailored to access specific memory nodes in a sort of repeating feedback loop. What laymen call ‘trance state’ is quite different.”
“Doctor—all I’m asking is, am I one of over 400 such patients in this facility?”
“In D-Ward? Yes.”
The bland, matter-of-fact reply startled Daoud. He came from a region where his level of open defiance was still quite uncommon. “I had—no idea the Modified UN faced so many, uh, ‘dangerous’ enemies?”
The SAP ignored Daoud’s mocking tone. “It’s a fairly large planet. And just now, we have three such facilities operating. Or had you forgotten?”
Daoud, in turn, let that jab pass.
The SAP gestured them into the room. Whole banks of high-tech equipment were deployed on all sides around the ordinary-looking hospital bed that occupied the center of the room. A cadre of technicians bustled about, checking readouts and adjusting settings. The SAP murmured and the orderlies tensed, but Daoud crawled onto the bed without incident.
He frowned when a nurse drew near with a spray-hypo, but the SAP patted his arm in synthetic reassurance. “Merely a sedative, Mr. Daoud. To relax and prepare you.”
“But my lawyer—”
“Your Attorney-of-Record is running a bit late. These A-Rs make a habit of that—stalling as long as possible. Typical lawyer’s trick, huh? But I like to keep on schedule as much as protocol allows.”
Within moments Sidi Mohamed Daoud’s consciousness faded into a deep and thankfully dreamless sleep—the last one he’d be allowed for the duration of his sentence.
Two people watched from behind the recently reinforced doors as a Personal Transport Pod detached itself from traffic and headed towards them.
The man was tall and looked slightly younger than his 37 years, thanks to his first few Slo-Age treatments. He wore the inevitable white lab coat. His combination name-tag and ID read ‘Ponce’ and he stood a meter back from the quadruple layers of transparent plasteel that formed the Cayey Institute’s main entrance.
The woman seemed slightly older, though the opposite was true. Her lesser pay level meant less frequent access to the still-new treatments. She sat at her workstation, two meters to the right and a bit less back from Ponce and wore the even more traditional dark blue uniform of a Security Guard.
Together they watched the squat vehicle glide to the designated Pod Stop. The Pod’s side opened. A short dark man in neatly tailored robes and matching head-wrap emerged. His face was full, round and clean-shaven. He held a portalegal in his left hand with easy familiarity. This stranger retrieved his ID from the pod’s credit slot, straightened his robes and turned.
“That him?” Ponce asked. “Must be,” he added, mostly to himself.
“Better be.” The Security Guard sneered. “That asshole’s on me for updates every couple minutes!”
Ponce grunted understanding. “That Doctor Sayem, he’s one impatient bastard. Don’t take it personally, Maria.”
She shrugged and turned her full attention to the scanner readouts. The Pod withdrew itself to the nearest parking spot as the new arrival approached the allegedly blast-proof slide-doors. Ponce crossed his arms in an attempt to seem nonchalant. A boot-heel edged backward as inconspicuously as possible—the new doors had never faced an actual bomb.
Outside, the stranger halted. He nodded at the security camera. Put the palm of his right hand against the scanner grid. He tried not to blink excessively as the pulsing red light of the retinal scanner washed over his face.
“Identify yourself for voice-print confirmation, please.”
“And stress analysis as well, I expect?” A sardonic grin creased the man’s smooth face as he peered through the blast glass. “Oh don’t frown so, young woman! Terrorists, I expect, seldom joke—even inappropriately!”
It had been only two weeks since Buenos Aires, so he was not surprised that she didn’t see the humor in his remark. “I am Jean-Leopold Kante, Attorney at Law, from Niamey, Niger State, Federated West Africa. I’m Attorney-of-Record for one of your—uh, treatment subjects. That is the current euphemism, yes?”
The grin flashed again then disappeared without awaiting reply. “Specifically, I’m handling the case of Mr. Sidi Mohamed Daoud, also late of Niamey. I have his Commitment and Assignment Codes, and all other relevant documents in my portalegal. If necessary, I’ll call them up and read—”
“Not required,” Maria said. She fingered an icon and a slot opened beside Daoud’s A-R. “Place any and all non-personal items, including the portalegal, on the conveyer for Security Scan.”
Kante did so and gestured for the guard to continue.
“Declare any personal items presently in or on your body, but not native to your physical self. This will help avoid further delays and searches. Our sensors will, of course, detect them in any case.”
Kante dutifully listed his wrister, his wallet with ID/credit disk, all articles of clothing, an inexpensive ring, a non-cloned replacement cornea and his artificial kidney. The last two items caused the guard to blink and turn her head, meeting her companion’s gaze.
The man in the lab coat shrugged. It was a bit odd for a lawyer to decline therapeutic cloning in favor of the older, more expensive and less efficient techniques. But such eccentricities were not unheard of and not necessarily suspicious—even so soon after Buenos Aires.
“I believe that’s all,” Attorney Kante concluded.
“Very well.” Maria hit another icon. The first pair of blast-proof doors whooshed open. “Step in, Mr. Kante.”
He did. Then he stood quietly, ignoring the barely audible pulse sound that accompanied the next scan. A soft, reassuring tone sounded from the guard’s console. She double-checked the readouts and nodded, hit the control that opened the last two sets of doors and waited as the attorney stepped through. She dabbed another icon.
Both pairs of doors closed and locked.
Swiveling in her chair, Maria faced the new arrival directly for the first time. Emerging from her bulletproof enclosure, she returned the attorney’s property. She gestured in the direction of the man in spotless lab whites. “Attorney Kante, this is Dr. Franklin Ponce of our staff. He will be your guide—”
“And minder?” Kante followed this characterization with another grin, to show he wasn’t seriously objecting.
A hand resting on the hilt of the neural-stun wand that dangled from her belt, Maria stared at him a moment before resuming her pre-packaged speech. “He will be your guide and answer any questions, address all requests. Please don’t wander off without his explicit permission, sir. This is a high security establishment.”
“I noticed,” Kante said. Scratching his earlobe, he shifted his gaze to Ponce.
“Thanks, Maria.” The doctor stepped forward. Offered his hand in the Western Fashion.
Kante took it. Gave it the standard quick, light shake.
“Come with me, Mr. Kante. Your client is on the opposite side of the Institute, I’m afraid. That’s the new part—used to be a branch campus of our State University. We took it over very recently. The slide-walk is up and running—faster than walking, you know.”
“I prefer to walk. Work the stiffness from my legs—unless that’s a problem?”
Ponce frowned. “Of course not. This way, sir.”
The corridors were wide, painted in soothing pastels and profoundly clean. Except for the occasional Institute employee and the trio of security checkpoints the two encountered, they were also predictably empty. The two men moved swiftly, silently down one after another of the depressingly perfect corridors.
“I trust the local hotel facilities are satisfactory?” Ponce finally asked.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh? You called ahead just once to say you’d be late. Then I saw the PTP and assumed—”
Kante shook his head so vigorously he had to adjust his colorful head-wrap. “Had trouble getting here. The sub-orbital to San Juan was fine. But the Skyport rental car proved defective—brought me only halfway before dying. You know a place called Caguas, north of here?”
The doctor nodded.
“It’s in the shop there. Clogged fuel cells. There were no other cars for hire. A convention in town—swarms of Slo-Age marketing execs had everything tied up. Had to settle for a Pod.”
“That far in a PTP?” Ponce made a sympathetic noise. “Why didn’t you explain when you called? We could’ve sent our copter…”
“I didn’t set out to be late. On the other hand,” Kante admitted, “I was in no hurry to arrive. My presence occasions my client’s internal exile.”
“Please don’t call it that, Mr. Kante.”
“What then, Doctor?”
“Special Corrective Therapy. Bad enough when the person in the street tosses that other phrase around. But when a knowledgeable individual such as yourself uses it—”
“Does the official name change its inherent nature?”
Ponce turned his head. “Well, at least you made it. And the sooner Therapy starts, the sooner your client can resume normal life.”
“Normal?” Kante snorted. “I had a case like this before. Back when your Corrective Therapy was just starting to replace regular imprisonment for selected offenses. She was a citizen of Dakar, Senegal State. Quite the rabble-rouser, actually. The local attorneys wouldn’t touch the case, so I was assigned. Fifth person ever sent to that first institute of yours up in Italy.”
Ponce winced. “This isn’t Florence. They were slipshod, I agree. That’s why they were shut down, in the end.”
“After considerable damage was done.”
“Oh, I quite agree. The lapses were shocking—a blow the program was fortunate to survive! But much was learned. Mostly about what not to do, I’m afraid. And here, we’re very careful. We follow the protocols—all of them, sir, and to the letter! Counsel is always present, as required. And we never risk the injury of Treatment Subjects.”
“Oh?” Kante stopped in his tracks. Glared. “One might ask what else your precious Corrective Therapy is supposed to do but injure? Turning a person’s own memories against them! And for what—expressing ideas the Modified UN feels threatened by?”
Ponce’s eyes widened, his brown cheeks darkened several shades. “We can’t have people running around, throwing bombs—” Images of the Institute’s South American counterpart in mangled ruin were still fresh in his mind.
“Which neither of my clients did, Doctor—though I admit the earlier one came close. Still, I wonder if even she deserved better. There are some things that are just plain wrong, regardless of the provocation. And the man I’m here for today, have you met him, by chance?”
“Sorry, no. I work B-Ward, normally.”
Kante took a deep breath. “Not violent, but quite passionate, Doctor. Stubborn. Sidi Mohamed—Mr. Daoud—got all the usual polite ‘suggestions.’ Then the not-so-polite ones. Followed by the fines—for conducting meetings without a permit, that sort of thing.”
“Political permits? But if some local authorities rejected his legitimate requests, he should have filed a com—”
“My client refused to file for permits—on some obscure principle.” Kante made a face. “I said he was stubborn, yes? Foolishly so, even. But Daoud’s a person of ideas and ideals. An intellectual, a man of reason.”
“They don’t sentence people like that—”
“Oh, but they do now, Doctor—don’t fool yourself! The Modified UN fears certain ideas, far more than the isolated suicide bomber.” Kante had the grace to look shamefaced. “My condolences about Buenos Aires, by the way—it was a cruel jest on my part. In any event, the powers-that-be have reason for such concerns. Consider history, Doctor—it wasn’t terrorism or even conventional war that brought down the old Communist states a century ago. It was ideas. One after another they fell—some violently, others not. But one after another, populations said ‘No!’ and whole governments collapsed.”
“I know.” Ponce’s face darkened again, anticipating the standard follow-up criticisms. “And while my people first celebrated then became obsessed with fighting their era’s comparatively petty terrorists, deeper and more universal problems went untouched. The climate changed, pollution continued, populations grew, over-stressed fisheries collapsed, we let the space industry that had fueled most of that time’s technical advancement decay to a mere shell of itself.”
“Indeed.” Kante gestured. “Shortsightedness was more the rule than the exception. Unlike you, I’m old enough to remember the last days of it firsthand. Even the Fourth Indo-Pak War didn’t fully wake us up—and yes; I mean ALL of us, not merely traditional great powers like you Americans. Even before this island became your nation’s 53rd state, the truth was plain to see.”
“Unite and live,” Ponce muttered. “Or stay separate and die on the vine, like so many over-ripe and rotting melons.”
“Not an unfair analogy.”
The men resumed walking. They made a final turn, reaching what the UN-mandated sign in four traditional languages and one very new, nontraditional one identified as D-Ward. Kante stared at the Pan-Human lettering and wondered how soon humanity would be required to speak a single, supposedly unifying language by order of their ever-more-demanding World Government.
“The Reforms and Consolidations saved us,” Kante murmured. “A decent life is now within the reach of almost all. Even a comfortable one is not entirely out of the question. There’s no disputing that—unless you’re a fanatic. But officially at least, the Modified UN’s full rule is only temporary and will end whenever the planet-wide emergency has passed. But what government gives up its powers willingly? I don’t mean individuals, you understand—elections, candidates come and go. Even dictators finally die; bureaucrats retire. But the departments and agencies—the systems and structures? They’re self-perpetuating. So tell me, Doctor, 49 years in, what sign of a lingering planet-wide emergency can you name?”
Ponce chewed his lower lip.
He advanced to the duty nurse, spoke briefly and received a paper-thin—the latest thing in patient readouts. It contained a single person’s total medical record, not to mention an almost absurdly detailed personal history. It was said there was a time, surely long ago, when the notion of ‘privacy’ was not a feeble joke. He fingered the icon for the relevant data set. “Room D427,” he said. “Down this way—”
“He’s not in the holding cell now?”
They reached the room.
Several individuals hovered about, fiddling with the equipment as Ponce and Kante entered. A middle-aged man, nude and unmoving, drugged, lay in the hospital bed around which the tech team swarmed. Electrodes were attached to various parts of his body, as were feeding and relief tubes. The arcane devices that were to periodically exercise Daoud’s body during his five-year Therapy Cycle also stood ready, their arms retracted.
“What is this?” Kante turned on Ponce. “You assured me—”
“A second,” the doctor begged, and snagged the elbow of the nearest technician. He turned back to the attorney after a few quick whispers. “It’s okay. He’s only sedated. The equipment is all on standby.”
“Only sedated? I was supposed to be able to see him before—”
“Well, there he is,” announced a chunky individual with bushy eye-brows, olive skin and an overbearing attitude. He strode into the room and paused with hands on hips, a self-satisfied smirk on his lips. “And now you’ve seen him. Shall I proceed?”
“Uh, Attorney-of-Record Kante, this is Dr. Mujib Sayem, your client’s Senior Attend—”
“Our final automatic appeal is still in progress,” Kante interrupted, aiming his displeasure squarely at Sayem. “My colleague is at the World Appeals Court as we speak, as per standard procedure.”
“Yes,” Sayem sneered. “And also as per standard procedure, that appeal will fail. It’s all a ridiculous, legalistic dance—a tiresome one, frankly.”
“I expect to hear from her at any moment,” Kante pressed on, raising his portalegal and stroking its side meaningfully with several fingertips. “We wouldn’t want to deprive my client of any of his rights, would we?”
“Oh, of course not.”
“Then kindly revive him. I need to apprise him of the status of his case.”
“Sorry but no, Mr.—Kant, is it? The letter of your precious law requires that you observe your client’s condition at the onset of Therapy. But unless his appeal is granted—which it won’t be—you have no specific right to communicate with him, I believe?”
“My name is Kante—with an ‘e’—and the standard courtesy—”
“Not here. Not on my ward. And not now, after Buenos Aires.”
“Neither myself nor my client had anything to do with that. And just who is doing a legalistic dance now, Doctor?” Kante smiled unpleasantly.
Ponce stepped between them. “I assume you’ll need a place to set that up?” He nodded at the portalegal.
Kante nodded and was shown into a smaller room directly across the hall. They left the door open as he opened the portalegal. Kante left all but the sat-fax and transceiver features on standby. “This won’t disrupt any equipment, I trust?”
“No. We have lawyers here using similar systems all the time.”
“Good. I’ve seen what can happen, when the equipment—”
“This isn’t Florence.” Over his shoulder, Ponce made sure the Sayem was paying them no notice. “But with that one still closed and the South American Institute so much smoking rubble, everyone’s a bit stressed.”
“Stressed?” Kante glared across the hall at Sayem’s back. “That’s one word for it, I suppose.”
“I apologize for Sayem—”
“He violates the spirit, if not the letter of the protocols.”
“Agreed. But—look, you know he’s probably right about the outcome?”
Kante nodded discretely. “It’s my responsibility to do all I legally can for my client. If all that’s left to me is seeing all the ts are crossed and every i is dotted properly, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Ponce took the seat opposite the attorney.
Three minutes later, Kante’s wrister and portalegal chimed simultaneously. It was his colleague, Ms. M’Beka, from the World Court in Geneva. And she had the expected result to report—Appeal Denied.
“Shall we tell Sayem to proceed?” Ponce asked softly.
Kante nodded. Got slowly to his feet and followed Ponce back across the hall.
Slowly, Sidi Mohamed Daoud seemed to return to consciousness. But something was wrong. He was no longer a fit and sturdy man of 65. No more was he the leader of the fastest growing, peaceful but increasingly militant faction of the National Democrats. He was not the man who defied the Modified UN—daring them to have the moral courage to carry out their dirty, whispered threats.
Now, in fact, he was not even a man!
He was just a boy—9 years old. And he was thin and weak, almost devoid of energy. But his mother was far weaker. His father and younger sisters were already dead. Most everyone that he’d ever known—nearly the entire village—was dead.
He knew little and understood less about the recent nuclear exchange involving those far-off nations, Pakistan and India. Sidi Mohamed had no conception of how most of the planet had breathed a sigh of perverse relief for the resulting dust clouds—radioactive poison or not—that had momentarily slowed the devastating march of Global Warming.
He also didn’t know that relief efforts for that shattered sub-continent meant there was even less than usual available for the desperate elsewhere. And he had no clue that he and his family were caught up in the last great wave of outright famine in world history.
He was only 9 years old.
But he could see; he knew his mother was dying. And he knew why.
It was his fault.
“Sidi Mohamed,” she now whispered, her voice cracking. She was too far gone to even brush the flies from her prematurely old face. “Take it. Take it all and eat. Live! Grow. Be the great man, the leader you can be. Live for the sake of others, my son!”
“Mother,” Sidi Mohamed mumbled, and his eyes burned—the acid tears of his pain, his guilt washing over them. He brushed the flies away, kept them off her for the next week.
All the while, he told himself the lie that there was still some slight chance for them both. If they shared what scraps of food they still had, perhaps the aid trucks would finally come again.
If they could only hang on, he told himself.
Of course that would happen only if he forced her to eat. He knew that he could do so—weak as he was, he was the stronger. And he knew that he should. There was no doubting it.
But he was young—and so hungry!
And he did want to live, whether or not his mother was right about his future.
So Sidi Mohamed ate. He ate all the food. He forced it down, almost gagging on his shame all the while. He sat and ate, and watched his mother die.
She was two days cold as he brushed the flies from her face that last time.
He heard the rumble of trucks—a new relief convoy, finally arriving. And with so few left alive, there would be enough for all. Yet he did not rise nor call out nor try to signal them in any way. Instead, he put his head down beside his mother’s. He closed his eyes. Prayed for them not to find him—not to realize he still lived.
Sidi Mohamed knew himself to be a monster—an unspeakably evil thing that had chosen his own life over his mother’s. He knew himself unfit to live and sobbed pathetically when the aid worker turned him over, lifted him up and forced the wondrous horror of nutrition down his unworthy throat.
The guilt, the guilt—how could he ever escape it? How could he survive the awful, burning guilt?
He cried out. And the aid workers’ attempts at soothing him only made it worse.
Maybe when he was older, he would come to understand. Maybe he could help others. Be a force for good and earn back his right to exist. Maybe then, when he was older, Sidi Mohamed Daoud could convince himself that he wasn’t the filthy thing that had killed his own mother.
But for now, he was only 9 years old and caught in the private, unspeakable hell of his own guilt.
Then, for just a fraction of a nanosecond, it seemed to have ended.
Yet now time had twisted into an inexplicable closed loop. He was trapped. Unable to awake from the old familiar nightmare. There was no escape.
Slowly, Sidi Mohamed Daoud seemed to return to consciousness. But something was wrong. He was no longer a fit and sturdy man of 65. No more was he the leader of—
Jean-Leopold Kante settled back into the chair. His fingertips caressed the side of his portalegal as he stared absently across the hallway.
Dr. Ponce cleared his throat. “I was wondering—”
“How soon I’d be going? You’re anxious to return to your regular duties?”
“No, not that.” Ponce glanced at the chair on the other side of the desk. The attorney gestured invitingly and Ponce sat. “I presume your earlier client had to be…permanently institutionalized?”
Kante nodded. “Like almost a quarter of that first group, yes.”
“A terrible thing.” The doctor looked at the polished floor. “Of course it’s better now.”
“We know far more about the mechanics of memory storage. It’s rather amazing, you know—particular biochemical telltales existing for every emotional state.”
“Which you use to locate the single most painful, most guilt-producing moment in a person’s past. You find something that very likely has nothing to do with the offense he’s supposedly committed—absolutely nothing, Doctor!”
Ponce turned his head, briefly looked across the hall. “Any idea what that might be in this case?”
“Sidi Mohamed knew. He wouldn’t tell me. Something buried so deep, the prospect of facing it again terrified him. So much he tried to kill himself. But you know what, Doctor? We’ve all got awful things locked inside us, real or imagined. I was a city boy myself, during the last famine? It was hard. But those in isolated villages, like Mr. Daoud, had it much worse. People—just to survive, people did things you would scarcely believe! I know I did. Maybe it was something to do with that? Anyway, there’s pain enough in life—even these days—without you manipulating a person’s mind. You make him experience that most horrible of all moments, over and over again. You allow him no peace. No respite for the duration of his sentence. And what are they like afterward?”
“The early failures—”
“No, Doctor.” Kante rose, snapped his portalegal shut. “I don’t mean her. I’m talking about today. That man right across the hall. Sidi Mohamed Daoud. What awaits him after five years of internal exile? Yes, he’s only my second such client. But I’ve researched others—the successful cases, Doctor. They’re never the same people, you know.”
Ponce pursed his lips. “With respects, changing a person is the whole point. So they don’t repeat their crimes, huh? And it isn’t like we’re physically torturing people, cutting off limbs or executing them!”
“No. They just come out passive, cowed and self-loathing. Broken, Doctor. They’re never a threat again. But they’re never whole, either.”
Ponce rose. Turned his head and stood beside the attorney for a moment. They stared silently at the figure across the way. Then they took the slide-walk back to the Cayey Institute’s main entrance.
Dr. Ponce offered the attorney a parting handshake. “Will we be seeing you again, do you think?”
Jean-Leopold Kante sighed. With the Puerto Rican facility one of only three still functioning on Earth and discontent simmering, it was unlikely to be their last encounter.
Jim Lee is from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing an early Olympic swim champ/movie Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller), the DJ who popularized the term rock ‘n’ roll (Alan ‘Moondoggie’ Freed) and tons of coal dust. He’s been a freelance writer and editor since 1982. His recent publications in the include issues of Tales Of The Talisman, Strong Verse, Dark Eclipse Magazine and the House of Erotica erotic steampunk anthology, Valves & Vixens. Crimson Frost Books of Canada is soon to publish his short novel as an e-book. In 2012, he co-founded a non-profit corporation assisting the needy in his area.
Jim Lee has been previously published in SQ Mag 11 (Flagman)