Imagine waking up one day unable to recall who you are or where you came from – only to find you are serving a sentence as a convict conscript for crimes you have no memory of ever committing…
Other words distracted him, appearing on a screen shimmering into his vision. His unwanted guest sending another message, asking him – telling him – to follow a new line of questioning. Vane gritted his teeth and looked back to the man standing before him.
“I would like to know why you feel you would be better able to serve the community in civilian life. You have been given the chance to remain in the military but still express a preference against that. If you mean what you say about service, about wanting to serve the Coalition, don’t you think your skill in warfare would suggest the military as the better option?”
The green eyes were steady now, holding his own in a gaze, direct enough to be taken as a challenge. He hoped it was not meant to be one. For an irrational moment, Vane wondered if the man somehow guessed this question came from a different source.
“I want to try civilian life. I have never known any other life than the Legion, sir.”
“Exactly. And many people might say that is an excellent reason for remaining with us – albeit in a less rigorous capacity. What would you say to them?”
“I do not think many people have lost their entire life history and woken to find themselves paying for crimes they cannot even recall. I would like to experience what those ‘many people’ would consider a normal productive life as I have not yet had the chance to do so. Sir.”
More words flashed up. At the back of the room the observer still watched, Vane could feel the pressure of their expectation. He suppressed a sigh and read his autocue.
“Have you thought about your own safety? Your terrorist colleagues will not have taken kindly to your public denunciations. Not all the friends and relatives of your victims are law-abiding citizens. You are not entitled to any extra protection in civilian life and the Coalition won’t guarantee your safety once you have been discharged.”
A good question and one Vane realised he should have considered asking himself. The issue of safety, in the case of this man, ran very much two-ways. For a moment he thought he saw Revid’s lips curve with irony, but before he could be sure, the blank mask resumed.
“I understand I will be on my own and am prepared to accept the risk. I do not consider it to be in excess of the risk I have faced every day of my conscious life so far in active service, sir.”
Which was hard to deny. Beside him, Sergeant Hynas shifted his stance again, unimpressed and wanting to comment. Vane ignored him. He could guess what Hynas wanted to contribute and besides, more questions were appearing on one of his screens.
“Normal life means having family and loved ones around you. Do you have any family to go to?”
Behind the holofacade, the unwelcome observer leant forward as if trying to see more clearly.
“I have no family, sir. I have been informed my parents died some years ago. Due to Central guidelines on family size at that time, both were an only child, as was I. My grandparents, I have been informed, all made it clear they don’t wish to have anything to do with me after I was responsible for the murder of my wife and their great-grandchild.”
Vane knew about the murder, of course, but he still felt the hairs on the back of his neck lift as this was delivered with a complete lack of emotion. The neurocologists had cleared this man of being a psychopath, sociopath or having other dangerous anti-social mental disorders, but to hear him speak of murdering his family without any external reaction at all, chilled the blood.
“You killed your own child?”
Despite himself, Vane knew the question came out laced with disgust.
“I did, sir.”
Still no emotion.
“And you feel nothing about that?”
The green eyes moved back to their previous middle-distance focus.
“I have no memory of my family, sir, or of taking any life before I joined the Legion. It is difficult for me to see myself as someone who would, act in such a way. But I know I committed the crime. Right now, I feel deeply ashamed I was once the kind of person who would do such a thing.”
Vane tried to imagine waking up one day with no memory of his past and being told he had committed mass murder. Was it possible to become a completely different person by such means? Or were the fundamentals of who we are ingrained deep below levels of personality and memory? He knew the neurocologists said this man was now a different psychological individual from the murderer, but as a normal human being, it remained incredibly difficult to accept.
From Trust A Few – book one in Haruspex, the second Fortune’s Fools trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook – which is only 0.99 to buy throughout November.
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