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.
"Ira Littleheart, you have been found guilty of
terrible crimes. In your depraved state you have caused a hideous litany of
suffering and horror. The final tragedy for society, for your victims and,
ultimately, for yourself, is that you are not capable of comprehending the
suffering of other souls. It is this defect, this utter failure of compassion,
that led to your crimes and thus to your destiny.
"In the past, serial killers such as yourself were irredeemable. Society's only recourse was to permanently eliminate those with your defect. Today we understand that your evil is not innate, but rather is a consequence of the social construct in which you live. And we understand how to relieve you of your defect, to free you to be a whole person fit to walk in society again. We are blessed with the knowledge that no person has an essential nature, either good or evil.
"Ira Littleheart, I will not lie to you. The sentence you are about to receive is a ghastly one. As grotesque as your crimes have been, it is with a heavy heart and a somber temper that I hand down this sentence.
"Ira Littleheart, I hereby sentence you to seven virtual deaths for each of your victims. Your brain shall be connected the virtual death simulator and you shall once again experience each of your crimes, but this time from the point of view of your victims. You will not recall you are in the simulator. You will feel the fear, the pain, the dying spasms of each of your victims. And, Ira Littleheart, you will experience this horror not once, not twice, but seven times for each victim.
"Once released from the simulator, Ira, you will be freed to walk again in society. For this punishment, horrible as it is, has this good consequence -- it will return to you the decency of human compassion. Having so thoroughly, so horribly, experienced victimization, you will never again be capable of harming another human being."
The judge paused and stared at Ira.
"So ordered, this the fifteenth day of December of the year 2031, in the criminal court of Belle Woods County, Part One, State of Central California."
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!
"Love the sinner but hate the sin, my child! Repent now, in the arms of Jesus, before it is too late!"
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.
"Each death will be just like real death. You
will start in the body of your victim, feeling his emotions, his muscles, his
flesh about you. You will feel his pain and his the ultimate fear. You will
see Ira Littleheart approach and feel terror and dread as Ira Littleheart
tears the breath from your soul. Your consciousness will narrow as the blood
flow to your brain constricts. You will see bright lights and a tunnel.
"But instead of the release of death, all that will await you at the end will be yet another painful, fearful death. This will happen 182 times. When we finally release you, all 182 deaths will be indelibly imprinted on your memory. You will never forget what each of your victims was thinking and feeling as he died. You will loath Ira Littleheart and all he is or ever might be. That, Ira Littleheart, is your destiny."
The warden was merciless.
Ira's cell door clanked open.
"You must strip now, Ira."
The guard's voice was neutral, holding no feeling at all.
"Everything must come off."
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.
"Bend over Ira. I must search you most thoroughly."
The guard's demeanor was neutral, ignoring Ira's distress. Ira bent over and felt the guard's fingers probing for contraband.
"OK, Ira. I'm done. Here, you can put these on."
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.
"All right, Ira. Now, Ira, there are five guards out here in the passageway. They are all big men, much bigger than you, Ira. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Whichever you choose, Ira."
The guard's eyes still held no expression. He stood waiting.
Ira shrugged, then inclined his head toward the cell door.
"All right then, Ira. Let's go. No reason to make this any harder on yourself, eh?"
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
Ira meets his true nature. Ira was indeed born to kill.