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Page 7 of 11
A short story by

Robert Brooks

The officer merely looked back and increased the pressure on Shane's shoulder, not exactly trembling from fear. Shane felt his old familiar temper flare up. A red mist settled over his vision. He imagined how the pig would scream while burning alive.

Shane could feel the eyes of the crowd on him, staring and judging. Like they ain't never done nothing wrong. "What are y'all looking at?!" Shane shouted, and was rewarded with an open-handed blow to the side of his head from the officer on his right. Shane snarled at him.

"The defendant will remain silent," the judge said. "On count sixteen, arson with the intent of destroying evidence of a heinous crime: guilty."

In the back of Shane's mind, far from his smirking exterior and growing uneasiness over the long list of convictions, a tiny spark of his consciousness watched the unfolding proceedings with pure horror.

This can't be true. This can't be what really happened.

As the judge rattled off more guilty verdicts, that same small part of Shane's mind tried to deny it all, tried to damn it as another lie or false memory. It wasn't. This was his bedrock. This was the unvarnished truth he had clung to.

Free from the lies, a word finally returned to the surface: resocialization. The Dominion had hid his crimes from him and replaced them with strong, positive memories, layer by layer. Even the very concept of resocialization, the word itself, had been locked up and buried until the scouring of his mind had unearthed it along with all the rest.

He could see how the lies had been fashioned onto his own memories, anchored to something firm and real. Instead of having sentence passed on him for murder, he had stood in front of the Dominion's supreme leader and been sworn into the Marines. Instead of facing the disdain of a vengeful crowd, he had pledged himself in service and been applauded. The pretty fiction had been carefully molded until almost nothing remained of the truth.

Shane desperately wanted to believe this trial, too, was a lie. His trial—no, his conviction; the trial was done and over—had the same sense of weight and truth of his bedrock. This was all real.

The lies were gone. Stripped away.

Stripped away by the zerg. Warning bells sounded in the aware part of his mind.

The judge finally finished reading the verdicts: guilty on all 23 counts. He asked Shane if he had anything to say that might mitigate the heinous nature of his crimes, but the nineteen-year-old grinned sloppily and spat and shouted curses at the top of his lungs until the court officers wrestled him to the ground and clamped a metal device to his jaw, pinning his mouth shut.

That only enraged Shane further. As his garbled vulgarities continued to rise from the courtroom floor, the judge passed sentence, delivering the punishment the crowd had hoped for: death.

Spontaneous applause broke out. The bailiff called for order. The officers dragged the condemned inmate Geoff Shane out of the assembly hall, off to a swift execution. No appeals would be granted. His sentence would be carried out by sunset.

Shane knew what was coming. The aware part of his mind cried out for the memory to stop. He didn't want to experience this again. No more.

They dragged him from the transport. They carried him into a featureless building. They pulled him onto a secure lift that traveled well belowground.

No more, please.

They forced him into a whitewashed room, still manacled. They left him there for hours, ignoring his curses and threats and screams and growing panic about his imminent walk to the execution chamber.

The aware part of his mind knew that he would not be executed. He knew the Dominion had use for him. He knew that soon the military grunts would come and drag him into the dark room with the Dominion insignias. They would shove him into one of those awful, awful tubes. And then the pain would begin, and his memories would change.

That would be his true graduation. His true induction into the Dominion's service. He cried out in his mind for help. Any help.

Soon, it came.

A marine wearing a fully armored combat suit stood in the whitewashed room with him, regarding Shane with emotionless eyes. The light was funny. His eyes seemed to glow.

The two Shanes stared at each other for a long time in silence.

"Let us help," said the marine with Geoff Shane's face.

"Who are you?" Shane said, voice cracking.

"We are what you could be."

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