In the year 2031 serial killers still exist. Even the death sentence still exists, but with a technological twist. The Law has found a new and vengeful use for virtual reality: killers are executed not once, but many times, each time experiencing the agony and terror of their victims. But true death, with its release from pain and fear, is withheld. Virtual Death in the infamous Chamber is more dreaded than ever were the older methods of hanging, electrocution, or lethal injection for the virtual death goes on and on. Now Ira, a merciless serial killer, awaits his sentence. Except that this time Ira's destiny intervenes. 

Ira Littleheart was a short, bald­ing, rather dumpy little man. His watery blue eyes seemed un­able to focus, me­an­der­ing always down­ward as if un­worthy of your at­ten­tion. What hair he had was a non­de­script brown, laced with fine lines of gray. His nose, while not gross­ly over­siz­ed, still re­mind­ed one of a flaw­ed beak as it hung over his dis­cour­aged mus­tache and re­ced­ing jaw. All in all, Ira ap­pear­ed to be the most com­mon­place mote of a man.

No doubt his appearance had made it easier for him to find his victims.

Ira sat now in his gray cell, wear­ing his gray pri­son uni­form, await­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of his sen­tence. The prison bar­ber had al­ready come and gone, me­ti­cu­lous­ly shav­ing tiny patch­es of Ira's scalp, ready­ing him for the place­ment of the elec­trodes. Soon, soon the guards would come and escort Ira to the in­fa­mous Cham­ber. They would strap him into the Chair and at­tach the elec­trodes me­ti­cu­lous­ly to his scalp. Then would Ira Lit­tle­heart know ven­geance for his crimes.

Ira's first time had been less than two years ago, in 2029. He could still remember it, as if it had happened just yesterday.

Ira had been walking through the woods near his home. This in itself was unusual, for Ira rarely ventured away from his rooms except for work and essential shopping. Even now Ira was uncertain what had drawn him out that night. He sensed only a mysterious force that impelled him to skirt the edge of danger, to hound the unknown of this suburban wilderness. He had heard stories about these woods, of course, from scandalized neighbors. And just a few weeks before there had been a sensational story on the local TV news about the sexual escapades of the men who frequented this dark place. A local preacher was leading a petition drive to force the police to drive the perverts permanently from Belle Woods.

So Ira surely knew some of what he would discover in the woods that night. What Ira did not know was what he would discover inside himself.

Ira drifted down the trails of the woods in a seemingly random walk. He felt the cool night breezes waft through his thinning hair, felt the brush of damp leaves against his arms and legs. Each turn, taken with no apparent deliberation, carried him deeper into the thicket, further from civilization. Ira felt himself detached from the wild reality about him, yet felt coupled with it too, both driven and seeking. Seeking something, he was not yet sure what.

Ahead Ira saw a campfire, heard the murmur of benign voices penetrating the night. Prickles ran up Ira's spine. He knew, without knowing why, that he must not be seen! Carefully, silently, Ira slipped from the trail. He fell first to his knees then descended to rest his weight on his palms as well. The hushed susurrations were there still, now clearly recognizable as the soft voices of two men. There was a languid intimacy to their tender discourse, an enticing allure to their gentle laughter, an engaging promise in the rustle of their compassionate embrace. On his hands and knees Ira crawled silently forward, driven to witness the scene as well as hear it.

Ever so carefully, ever so silently, Ira advanced, knowing only that he must proceed, not knowing why or for what purpose. There, darkly through a husk of bedewed leaves, Ira at last saw the couple! They reclined naked before him, their flickering campfire casting lustrous shadows across their bodies. Ira saw the two men embrace, saw the two men kiss. Then, in the softly glimmering light, Ira saw the harmony of their mutual hardness, now exposed, now hidden, then again resplendently revealed.

Then did Ira feel his breath grow short. Even as he felt himself detached from this scene, Ira felt himself integrated into it. To his shame and alarm Ira felt his body begin to react. He watched in fascination the delicate play of muscle and sinew as the two bodies met in an ancient communion. One of the lovers, subtly coated with fine dark hair, rolled to his back and passionately wrapped his legs about the other. Then Ira saw the two bodies join, with a gentle fervor. Slowly, rhythmically each man gave to the other in polar reciprocity.

Ira watched in fascination. Never had Ira imagined such an erotic scene. Never had Ira imagined he could be so aroused by two men making love. Amazed, Ira looked down between his legs. Still on his hands and knees, without conscious thought, he had exposed his own hard organ, was massaging it with a mad frenzy! What was happening?

Ira looked up again, his eyes coursing across the tableau before him. The campsite was filled with the detritus of an earlier meal -- a discarded wine bottle, dinner plates, forks, a hunting knife. The two men were moaning now, their bodies bathed in a moist sheen from their exertions. The discarded hunting knife glistened ruddily in the firelight. Ira stared first at the men, then at the knife. In a daze, Ira felt hands, his own hands, remove his pants, expose his own flesh. The knife and the men became the center of Ira's being.

Silently, ever so silently, Ira crept forward, first to the knife, then closer to the men. The knife and Ira were behind the man who was penetrating his lover. Neither man could see Ira approach. But Ira could see them. Ira was outraged at their perversity. Ira was ashamed too at his own arousal. It is the fault of these two men, so wanton, so evil. He recalled the words of the preacher men who have sex with men are unnatural, the spawn of Satan. If they were not there, then Ira would never have known his own sin! It was then that Ira was first aware that his destiny was to make them pay for their sins, for his sins!

The knife was in Ira's hand now. He looked upon his body and was amazed to see himself naked. When did that happen?

The man on his back suddenly shouted -- he finally had seen Ira. Ira leapt to his feet then and thrust the hunting knife viciously into the neck of the lover closest to him. Ira was certain that Divine Providence had guided that thrust, for Ira had severed the man's spinal column with a single wound. The man flopped voicelessly upon his lover, blood seeping darkly from the wound at his neck. The night air was suddenly fouled as Ira's first victim's bowels released in his death spasm.

The other lover was shrieking something, Ira could not tell what. He was struggling to free himself from his suddenly dead lover's corpse, wild to attack Ira. Ira knew what must follow. Deftly the knife struck again, this time laterally across the struggling man's neck. Blood again gushed and his head flopped loosely as the tendons were severed. But his eyes ... his eyes remained aware, staring at Ira in loathing and horror.

Ira, still naked and aroused, looked upon the two bodies. He pushed aside the dead lover and lowered his lips to the genitals of the other. Gently his tongue explored this forbidden flesh, taking it into his mouth. His head burrowed lower, deeper, his tongue probing into the depths of the dying man's body. Then Ira withdrew slightly, and feathered the knife against the man's genitals, watched to be certain the man was still aware, grinned at the terrified man, twisted the blade and gave it a yank. With the single jerk, Ira severed the offending flesh, grabbed it, grabbed the dying man's mouth, pried it open, and shoved it in, pushing the bug-eyed man's mouth shut over his own genitals.

Finally, Ira found his orgasm inside the wounds of the man he had just mutilated -- fucking the cockless crotch like it was a woman's cunt. Ira had found his destiny.

Spent, Ira stood and surveyed the scene before him. Something was incomplete. What? Smiling with certainty, Ira urinated on his prey like an animal marking its territory.

That was Ira's first time. The next morning Ira had been uncertain if it had really happened. But that night there it was on the TV news -- two men had been found brutally murdered in Belle Woods. The preacher was there on the news too, confirming for Ira that the men deserved their fate for their willful defiance of God's holy plan.

Ira was unafraid, but was not impelled to return to the woods for many months. The next time he was approached by an older man who led him into the darkness. There Ira received his first oral sex and the man received his final absolution. The next time was only weeks later, this time a young hustler who took Ira's five dollars in return for opening his body. Afterwards Ira recovered his money from the hustler's corpse. And so it went, victim after victim, in an accelerating spiral of fascination, lust and blood. Ira lost track of how many men there were. At the trial the prosecutor had said twenty-six, but Ira knew there were more. He had stopped counting at forty-one. Some of his victims remained unknown and nameless, except in God's and Ira's merciless memory.

Eventually of course Ira was caught. Undercover policemen flooded the woods. When Ira was finally was captured he fought with an insane ferocity, fully expecting to be martyred. But Ira had the fortune to live in more civilized times than earlier serial killers. Or perhaps more cruel times. In any case, knowing that the punishment would fit the crime, the police were careful that Ira survive.

The trial was short. Ira's genetic fingerprints puddled at every crime scene -- his hair, traces of skin and, of course, his semen in the wounds of his victims. There was no doubt that Ira was guilty. The penalty phase was only slightly longer -- Ira's court appointed attorneys vainly argued that he was insane and that punishment was therefore inhumane. The prosecution countered that Ira's punishment was also his redemption -- a cure for his insanity. The defense attorneys wearily fought, stubbornly loyal to the ideal that everyone deserves a defense. But Ira's attorneys felt no loyalty to their client.

When the judge read the sentence, she took great care to insure that Ira fully understood what would happen.

The judge paused and stared at Ira.

The judge banged her gavel and the guards took Ira away.

Not long after, at Ira's request, the preacher who had been his inspiration visited his cell. The visit was disappointing to Ira. The preacher had condemned Ira as if he were as bad as the perverts Ira had cleansed from the Earth!

The preacher was an earnest fool after all -- even Ira knew the unity of sin and sinner. Ira knew with a quiet certainty that he had nothing to repent, that the depraved sins of those he had killed had been their condemnation. Ira had merely been the instrument of their redemption in blood.

So now Ira sat in his cell and waited to be taken to the Chamber. The virtual deaths, all 182 of them, would take less than a day of real time, although he understood that it would seem like nearly a year of horror to his entrapped mind. The warden had taken pains to explain the process to him. The warden had even arranged a brief virtual reality trip for Ira so that he would understand just how real his punishment would be. It was true -- during the trip, Ira had no awareness of unreality, every sensation, every emotion, was fully real to his programmed spirit.

The warden was merciless.

Ira's cell door clanked open.

The guard's voice was neutral, holding no feeling at all.

Ira stood. They had explained all of this to him. He would strip and be searched to insure he was carrying no contraband, nothing that might permit him to avoid his sentence. He removed his shirt, then his shoes and socks. This would be embarrassing. Ira felt his maleness grow hard at the prospect of being naked before this guard. He looked imploringly up, then dropped his eyes. Without looking up again, Ira removed his pants and his shorts and stood before the guard, naked, aroused, humiliated.

The guard's demeanor was neutral, ignoring Ira's distress. Ira bent over and felt the guard's fingers probing for contraband.

The guard handed Ira a pair of blue jeans and a denim shirt. No underwear, shoes or socks. Just like men condemned to the old gas chamber at San Quentin. Ira slowly put them on, delaying as long as possible.

The guard's eyes still held no expression. He stood waiting.

Ira shrugged, then inclined his head toward the cell door.

Ira shuffled down the passage to the Chamber. The heavy door stood open, menacing. The entire room was painted a pale yellowish green, vaguely reminiscent of vomit. Inside Ira saw the Chair with its ponderous leather straps. Hovering over the chair were the electrical probes that would soon enter his brain. The rest of the machinery -- the thousands complex and highly parallel microprocessors -- and the technicians who would manage his sentence were out of sight, behind the heavy steel walls. Through narrow windows Ira could see the witnesses, come to watch his sentence carried out, come to behold his suffering. The preacher was there, his hands gripping his Bible, his eyes devoid of any compassion for Ira, who had after all failed to repent in the preacher's arms.

The straps were fastened about Ira's legs, arms and chest. Next his head was clamped into place and a rubber gag was bound into his mouth. Finally, the electrodes were lowered, probing into his scalp, then delicately penetrating, their way cleared by microbursts from lasers. Ira, immobilized and helpless now, smelled his flesh cauterized as wisps of smoke burned his nostrils. The acrid odor of seared flesh and charred bone filled the chamber.

Then the door to the chamber clanged shut. All that was left were the clamorous sounds of the ancient prison -- steam clanking through pipes, water dripping, electricity humming. Soon Ira would be in his virtual sentence.

The lights dimmed. The witnesses watched silently.

The Virtual Ira sees a momentary flash of light. Uncertain, disoriented, he briefly looks about. His body is younger than he seemed to recall, and far more lithe and athletic than he had ever been. Then Ira sees his lover inviting him, lounging naked in the light from the crackling fire. Ira's heart swells with emotions. He is deep­ly in love with this man, fill­ed with a de­sire to please him, to join with him body and soul. Ira ap­proach­es and the two men kiss, mur­mur­ing their love for one another. Ira feels their bod­ies in­ter­twine, mu­tu­al engines of pass­ion and con­fir­ma­tion. Ira never ima­gin­ed that life could be so vivid, so ful­fill­ing. 
xx The witnesses saw the real Ira flush. A solitary trickle of sweat ran down his temple, hesitated at this jawline, then splashed to the chamber floor. 
His lover rolls onto his back, then embraces the Virtual Ira with his legs, pulls Ira toward him. Ira kneels, then lowers himself atop the hard mus­cles of the young man beneath him. They kiss, Ira's tongue gently probing his lover's mouth, caressing the flesh he finds there. Then Ira opens his own mouth to his lover, even as he feels his male organ begin to slip inside his lover's guileless body. The two men's bodies merge in a euphonious melody of passion and love, their spirits confirmed by their mutual giving and receiving.  
The real Ira's hands clenched the arms of the Chair. His jaws thrashed and his face turned first crimson then ashen. The wit­ness­es sensed the conflict building, certain that Ira was about to undergo the first of his many virtual deaths. The hid­den mi­cro­proces­sors and Ira grap­pl­ed across their elec­tron­ic in­ter­face as waves of in­choate data flowed back and forth. Some of the pro­cess­ors fail­ed and re­boot­ed, others be­come trap­ped in end­less loops of un­ex­pec­ted iter­a­tions, their par­al­lel­ism strange­ly con­found­ed. 
The Virtual Ira is in a rhapsody of sensual joy. Suddenly his lover starts! What is this? Ira turns and sees a short, dumpy naked man ap­proach­ing, gripping his hunting knife! Ira twists suddenly and attacks! The dumpy man shrieks his surprise, urinates on himself in fear! Ira twists with the blade, fighting the dumpy man, then feels warm wetness flood across his chest. He clenches tightly still with the naked man, then the clench releases slowly as the naked, bald, dumpy man slides to the earth, limp, dead. Ira looks upon the death scene, holding the knife, and sees that he has cum, the remains of his orgasm merging with the blood of this pathetic attacker. Ira looks at the knife in his hand, then at his naked lover. Blood is everywhere. Strange and cruel images cross his mind.  
The real Ira finished writhing in his chair. The wit­ness­es, though, still could hear his muff­led groans. All present were cer­tain that the Vir­tu­al Ira was now in a mon­u­men­tal death strug­gle. It was true a mon­u­men­tal struggle was occur­ring: Ira's soul was in con­flict with the clever tech­no­lo­gy that in­fest­ed his mind. That tech­nol­o­gy, built on the pre­mise that Ira had no in­nate nature, had en­coun­ter­ed the un­ex­pect­ed. For Ira was a kill­er nei­ther by chance nor by choice. Ira was creat­ed as he was by Nature and not by Culture. For the likes of Ira the com­put­ers had no pro­gram. More pro­ces­sors drop­ped out to re­boot, others were lost in in­co­her­ent loops of il­lo­gic.
The virtual Ira grips the knife firmly and strides toward his lover, driven by something, he knows not what. Ira slips on a trail of the fat man's guts in his haste to apply the blade to his lover. Sud­den­ly there are bright lights. Ira sees a tunnel. What? What is happening? The number of functioning processors fell below the threshold needed to control events in Ira's virtual reality. After an instant, a safeguard program kicked in and Ira's brain received a massive reboot signal. The witnesses saw Ira's body thrust again against the leather straps. Wetness appeared between his legs. Ira's cheap denim shirt and pants were suddenly soaked with his sweat. The witnesses realized only that the first transition had occurred, but not that the sentence had gone unexpectedly wrong. 
There is a flash of light. The Virtual Ira finds himself lounging on his back, looking up at his lover. Ira runs his hands in wonder across the finely etched hairy flesh in which he resides. He is filled with the passion of the moment. He sees the pathetic naked man in the bushes, jacking off. No matter. Ira gestures to the man he is with, making sure the hunting knife is within reach. The two embrace, the sex is passionate. The fat dumpy man is approaching now, his eyes wild and his hair in a halo of disarray about his head. Ira shouts, distracting the man who is penetrating him long enough to slit his throat. Then he turns to the pathetic man with the big nose and no chin and disembowels him. Ira pauses, uncertain, then severs the genitals from both corpses and finds a dual orgasm, inside the wounds of each. Ira begins to urinate on the bodies when he sees bright lights, leading him down a tunnel. He is confused.  
The witnesses saw Ira lurch again and foamy drool seep from one corner of his mouth. The warden mutters, 

    "God have mercy on his soul. We have just begun."

The processors, again having fallen below the threshold of control, sent another massive reboot signal to Ira's brain. 

There is a flash of light. The Virtual Ira is in the woods, looking for blood and mansex. He sees a pathetic bald man trolling through the woods, an easy victim for the blade in Ira's fist. Ira is certain what he must have -- Ira knows he is born to kill. 
And so Ira's sentence, his destiny, echoes in this virtual world, resonating out of control in an aimless spiral of death and destruction. Here, despite the cleverness of technology, despite the na´ve theories of the Judge, despite the blind faith of the preacher, despite the malevolence of the warden, despite even the infinite mercy of God, Ira finds neither punishment nor redemption -- Ira finds only the indifferent hand of fate.

Ira meets his true nature. Ira was indeed born to kill.