Not Who We Are

Martin Clark

"Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?"
- Lawrence Durrell - Justine.

Taig brushed driven snow from the sign before stepping back and reading aloud. "This is a Clear Conscience zone. No criminal acts can be performed." He turned to Floyd. "You sure that gizmo of yours is still working? I didn’t come this far only to turn myself in ‘cos it’s the right thing to do."

Floyd shrugged, the gesture almost lost beneath the two overcoats he was wearing against the biting wind. "Don’t sweat it. This heightened sense of right and wrong is a mere slap on the wrist compared to the full-blown justice field back on Harris Island. We’ll be able to move further from my ‘gizmo’, as you call it, but no more than fifty yards to be on the safe side."

Alice shivered. "Then bloody well turn it on and let’s find someplace warm. I’m sick of the cold."

I said nothing. I don’t talk much.

Floyd reached into the bag slung across his chest and I heard the soft thrum of unshielded electronics. He was a genius, but should have been in an institute for the criminally insane rather than the Harris Island Correctional Facility. However, the authorities were so intent on proving the justice field could cope with anyone that he’d been shipped in amidst intense media coverage.

And for a while he’d seemed like the model prisoner; placid, courteous and socially responsible. They’d made use of his talents in the technical recycling department, stripping redundant equipment of usable parts and melting down the rest.

Man, was that a mistake.

Somehow he managed to cobble together a blank-box from scrap without infringing his new-found sense of what constituted criminal behaviour. Harris Island didn’t have walls, or even guards. You didn’t need them when the inmates knew they should be in prison and remained there of their own volition. Floyd’s gizmo negated the justice field over a radius of ten feet, far enough to include the four of us.

The wind howled around us, kicking up frosted snowflakes that stung any exposed flesh like nettles. Although the weather had let up, the leaden skies made for less than ideal flying conditions. We had to find cover before Justice Department drones started scouring the landscape for a group containing two of their ‘most wanted’.

Alice strode beyond the sign and turned, hand on hip. "Are we making a move or what? You brought us all the way out here and I’m still waiting to see the benefit of sticking together."

Floyd put on his patient voice. "It needed four of us to handle the heavy rowboat and we needed a non-threatening woman to knock on the first door we came to. Our little home invasion will no doubt have been discovered by now, so we need a change of clothes if we’re to blend in on reaching the city."

Taig glowered at him. "Yeah, but Fairview? A gated community? High-end means high-risk in my book."

"But with restricted access only on the landward side, Taig." Floyd started walking, a peculiar high-stepping gait as if the snow was somehow contaminated. "Plus, being out of season, residences on the peninsula will be closed down for the most part."

"Like that one?" Alice stood on the crest of a slight incline, pointing down the slope beyond.

The three of us joined her. Floyd nodded. "Like that one."

I said nothing. I don’t talk much.

It was a large house in the neo-colonial style but obviously newly built. The driveway was a sweep of white, unsullied by tyre marks or footprints. Evergreens shielded it from neighbouring residences, with the only open vista being the direction we were approaching from.

Taig sounded dubious. "Turning over that place back-a-ways was one thing, but somewhere this big is bound to have alarms, motion sensors, the works."

Floyd sighed. "No, Taig, it won’t. The owner doesn’t need a security system because no criminal acts can be performed here, remember? We can just stroll up and force entry. Hell, the place might even be unlocked."

So we struggled, rather than strolled, through the snow and round to the back door. Taig went to kick the lock in but Floyd raised a hand. "Wait! Now, listen up. There will be some kind of computerised housekeeping system. Maybe an A-I, but more likely just smart environmental controls. It will be in hibernation mode, meaning we can’t do anything that might trigger an alert. So, no temperature variations, in fact no use of utilities whatsoever."

Alice frowned. "No temperature variations? You mean we can’t turn the heating up? Shit."

"Exactly. No using the cooker either, or running the taps. There’s bound to be an open fire we can light though, and if we need water then put some snow in a pan."

Taig put his elbow through a small glass door panel. "You’re saying that if I take a dump I can’t flush?"

Our genius inclined his head. "Regrettably, yes. However in a place of this size there are sure to be multiple restrooms, more than enough to go round for the limited time we’ll be here."

"Wonderful." Taig reached in, unlocked the door and closed it behind us once we were all inside. He peeled off the shawl around his neck and stuffed it into the empty frame.

Alice shed her outer layers. "What about food? If you say we can’t eat anything then I’ll have your arm off, Floyd, I swear to God."

He smiled. "No, no, that will be fine. Just don’t put any used cartons or cans in the trash, in case they have microtags for automated reordering. Other than that, feel free to make use of whatever you can find."

I said nothing. I don’t talk much.

Floyd placed his gizmo in the living room and we split up. I hit the kitchen for some crackers and cheese while Taig smashed up the dining room chairs to serve as firewood. Once he had it going, Alice came over all domestic goddess and emptied cans of soup into a big pot. They wedged it in place over the fire using a poker, although by the looks of things it would take ages to reach anything like warm. I don’t know what Floyd was doing, probably hacking the house computer and bringing down some international banking system. That’s what he was good at.

I found a bedroom on the second floor complete with en suite facilities. After cleaning up – and remembering not to flush – I raked around for more suitable clothes than my HICF jumpsuit and stolen outerwear. One of the dudes who hung out here was a size or so larger than me, but that loose fit was back in vogue – I watch a lot of TV. I even dry-shaved as stubble didn’t sit well with the herringbone three-piece suit I went for.

The four of us reassembled in the lounge to try Alice’s tomato-chicken-pea fusion soup. At least it was hot. She had scored some classy threads and really looked the part, like she belonged in these surroundings. Taig, well, Taig was just a brute in an ill-fitting suit. Floyd had gone for pants and open-necked shirt, with a sweater knotted casually around his shoulders. There was a slightly crazed smile on his lips that didn’t bode well.

Floyd set his plate aside. "I kept us together to minimise the risk of being spotted and I think you’ll agree I’ve done a good job up to this point. However, now we have to split up. The authorities will be looking for a group of four, or four individuals, so I suggest we head out as couples. I’ll go with Alice, naturally, while you two boys will have to make like a gay couple enjoying a winter break."

Taig sneered at him. "What do you mean, ‘naturally’. I’m the kind of guy who would have a doll like Alice on his arm, not you."

Floyd arched an eyebrow. "Really? I wouldn’t put you together unless it was some kind of car-parking scenario, or maybe carrying her groceries out of the supermarket."

Taig stood, flexing his powerful shoulders in a way that put his new suit under considerable strain. "Everyone says how you’re so smart, a regular genius. Well, you got us out, and you got us here, but all those brains don’t count for nothing now, understand? I was a drug dealer, started on street corners and climbed up by doing what the other guy wouldn’t. I put guys in hospital, put them in the ground, but I got smarts as well, savvy?" He tapped the side of his head.

Floyd sneered at him. "Oh, I get you, a regular Keyzer Soze. Most impressive."

"Who’s he?"

"Never mind. The point is, Taig, that you and simply Alice don’t fit together. You’re trash and always will be. At least she’s acquired a veneer of sophistication through high-end prostitution."

Alice snorted. "Gee, thanks! And don’t I get a say in all this? What about silent-boy here? Parker?"

I said nothing. I don’t talk much.

Floyd dismissed me with a wave of his hand. "Impossible. I don’t know why he was incarcerated at Harris Island but he more properly belongs in a mental institution."

"You’re a fine one to talk."

"Thank you, Alice, that will be enough. At least Parker knows how to follow orders and keep his mouth shut. Behaviour you’d be wise to emulate, Taig."

Taig hit him, straight fingers to the throat. Floyd staggered back, choking, disbelief plain upon his face. Taig lifted a chair leg and struck Floyd about the face as he sank to his knees and fell over.

For a moment the only sounds were Taig’s heavy breathing and the cracking fire. Then he turned to me, brandishing the bloody length of wood. "You step out of line, you get the same."

Alice looked between the two of us. "Aren’t you going to warn him?"

Taig frowned at her. "Warn him? I just did."

She sighed. "Not you, numbnuts, Parker."

I kicked the poker into the air, grabbed the handle and thrust the glowing point up into Taig’s abdomen. All the way in, until the red-hot metal reached his heart. I stepped back as he stood there swaying, staring at me open-mouthed. The chair leg fell from his hand.

Alice smiled. "He’s a serial killer, Taig. The ‘Monday Morning Murderer’ they called him. I recognised Parker straight off as most of his victims were call-girls, but I hoped he’d get rid of you as well."

Taig toppled backwards like a falling log. He lay still on the carpet, sizzling slightly.

Alice took a deep breath and looked me straight in the eye. "Now what? Are you going to kill me as well?"

I shook my head. "Until Floyd showed up I was slated to be the star attraction at Harris Island. A violent psychopath, tamed by the justice field generator. That was all a lie, though. I have an imbedded impulse controller, like an enforced conscience, to keep me from re-offending. I was safe to walk the streets but they wanted a high-profile inmate to show the broadcast technology worked."

"So you can speak, after all. But Floyd’s blank-box, how…?"

"The interference from the blank-box reset my controller to its factory specifications, before any kind of ethical parameters were programmed in. So now I’m a functioning sociopath rather than psychopath, although society may not consider that much of an improvement. I could have walked into the Clear Conscience zone without Jiminy Cricket popping up on my shoulder, and I can walk out just as easily."

Alice folded her arms. "On your own?"

"On my own. I’ll leave you the gizmo but I don’t play well with others. The private security who guard this place are more concerned with keeping people out, so they’ll probably just wave you through. There’s a car in the garage you could use, if walking seems a bit out of character for someone who lives here. You might get past the gate before the LoJack kicks in, but in any event don’t push your luck."

"But you intend to just stroll out?"

I extended one foot. "Walking boots. Obviously someone who lives here isn’t averse to healthy exercise so I’ll just trade on the precedent. And if anyone tries to stop me I’ll kill them."

"Just like that?"

I nodded. "Just like that. The hardware in my head makes me immune to all ethical and moral restraints, just as it suppresses any homicidal impulses. I can kill, or just as easily not kill, as the situation demands. I’m truly indifferent…Goodbye, Alice."

"Bye, Parker."

I turned away, my voice hoarse from so much use. There was a long overcoat hanging by the back door and I took that, although it was too snug to fasten over my suit. I also took a long-bladed kitchen knife from the block, just in case. I walked down the drive and headed for the main road, passing several other residences which appeared closed for the winter.

It took me the best part of twenty minutes to reach the main gate with its guardhouse and single occupant. He was leafing through a girly magazine in front of a battery of CCTV monitors, all showing sections of the perimeter wall. I rapped on the glass door and he started, jumping up and fumbling his cap into place before answering.

"Sorry, sir, just catching up on some, ah, technical manuals. Walking into town? Well, at least the snow is supposed to hold off." He pressed a button and the pedestrian gate swung open. The guard hesitated and I gripped the handle of my knife. "I saw the chimney smoke, sir, but the previous guard didn’t inform me the property was in use. I’ll make sure you’ll be expected back, don’t you worry." I let the silence drag out. He touched his cap. "Good day to you, sir."

I said nothing. I don’t talk much. At the bottom of the approach road, where it joined the highway, was a forlorn bus stop. Well, the hired help for the big houses had to get out here somehow. The timetable screen lit up as it sensed my approach, but there wasn’t a service going anywhere for hours. Just hanging about wasn’t an option, for obvious reasons, so I started walking towards the city.

After a few hundred yards I heard a car engine approaching from behind. Glancing round I expected it to be Alice in the stolen four-by-four, but instead, a neat roadster pulled up beside me. The soft top was down, but it looked more like mechanical dilapidation than stylistic verve. The driver was a young woman wearing a fur coat and last night's makeup.

She smiled. "Need a lift as far as a coffee shop?"

I slid in beside her, noting the short dress and folded red parasol on the parcel shelf. My hands twitched. "You’re a whore."

"Ouch! And hello to you too, mister. Despite the clothes, it’s obvious you don’t belong here, same as me. So less of the attitude or you can freeze your ass off walking to the Metro."

"Merely an observation."

We pulled away, fishtailing in the slush. "Well, for your information, I’m an escort, a paid companion, and that’s completely legal. Anything else which may have occurred was spontaneous sex between two consenting adults."

I shrugged. "I know the correct form of words."

The woman shot me a sideways glance. "I bet. So what are you then, a gigolo? I’m not getting a rent boy vibe."

The road was an empty avenue between rows of pine trees. I shivered slightly, but not because of the cold. "It’s not who we are that defines us, but what we do. That can change from day to day, from hour to hour. All that matters is the thought and the deed."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

In that moment I was my own creation, slave to neither impulse nor expectation. If I killed it was a conscious decision to fashion reality in my image. "Pull over, I need to explain myself. My name is Parker."

She frowned at me. "Well, Parker, I’m Rachel. I’ll pull over, but you better have a damn good story to tell." The car slithered to a halt.

I said nothing. I don’t talk much.

© Martin Clark 2013 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 12:55 Tue 12 Mar 2013
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