They’re retiring me tonight after 67 years of faithful and uncomplaining service.
Too cruel, they say. Inhumane. There are more pleasant, socially acceptable ways to get the job done. As if a deviant who abducts a child from her home, then tortures and rapes her before ending her life deserves society’s pity or compassion.
I don’t pity. My justice is final and absolute, dispensed like lightning.
I give comfort to the families of the victims. I deliver a message of vengeance, one that tells all who witness it that the punishment does fit the crime.
Or it used to. Now I’m obsolete, politically incorrect, a reminder of simpler times, when choices were more obvious and right was right. But no more. I’ve heard them say I’m the last of my kind in the state. The protesters already gather outside the walls of my chamber, paying for a reprieve that will save a monster from my embrace.
I can pray too, and if there is a god for my kind, my prayer is that I be given this last chance. I need it. I am so close now.
I first achieved sentience in the late 40s, though I suppose I was always aware in a dim and cloudy sort of way. But it was the death of Arnold Reeder that lifted me out of the quagmire of mindlessness.
Reeder had murdered an entire family – father, mother and six children – then had sex with their corpses. All of their corpses.
When he was strapped into me and fed the first jolt of 2400 volts, I stirred. When the second and final jolt was delivered through my electrodes to his head and both ankles, I awoke.
With each death I dispensed, my knowledge and my perceptions grew. Was I receiving consciousness from those I executed? Did their essence, their souls impart strength to me?
I’ve had years to ponder the question and I still have no answer. I’m not a philosopher or theologian or scientist. I am oak, copper wire and leather restraints; efficient at my job.
And tonight I will be decommissioned.
They bring the condemned to me at ten minutes before midnight. His head has been shaved and he stares vacantly at me. While he is strapped against my polished flesh, I can reflect on my last task.
With each electric death delivered, I grew in strength and cunning. I could listen and understand the people around me and, after a time, I learned to extend my senses beyond these walls.
Even as the tide of public opinion turned against my kind, I found the need for my decisive retribution was greater than ever.
The idea came to me three years ago. I was still too weak to accomplish my goal, as I was used with less frequency. If I wanted this to work, I had to be stronger.
Three executions since then had brought me nearly to the zenith of my power. If the Gods of Justice favored me, tonight would be enough.
His name is Danny Black. He was a murderer many times over, though he had only been caught once, when an attempt to rob a market ended in the death of two people. One of them was a pregnant woman. Danny doesn’t regret what he’s done. I can feel his emotions seeping into the whorls of my grain. He’s happy that no one knows about the other deaths he’s caused. He holds those memories close to him like precious gifts and here, in his final moments, he cherishes their sweet bouquet.
When the switch is pushed, the living fire leaps from my electrodes into his body and Danny Black convulses madly.
After one minute the power is turned off. Ten seconds pass, and a second jolt is delivered. It’s unnecessary. After the first dose, I felt his life flee from his body, passing through me and hopefully leaving behind just enough to do what needs to be done.
The doctor doesn’t approach until my failsafe switch is thrown, the Energized light goes off, and my two power switches are turned off by key.
The doctor places a stethoscope to the chest of Danny Black and listens to nothing.
Randall Kirtner has been a physician for thirty-two years. He’s gone through three wives, a fortune and half the booze in the state. He’s marking time. He’s a ship without a rudder. He no longer has a purpose.
As he leans forward, he places his left hand on my arm.
All my planning, all my prayers have come to this.
The doctor stumbles back, nearly falling. He gasps in surprise. He only fights me for a moment and then I shove him down deep into a place where he can do no harm.
I look around the room and take my first tentative steps.
I turn back to Danny Black, and, for the first time, I see me. I am solid, strong. For 67 years I cleansed the world of its worst elements.
Now they can carry me to the basement. I’ve outgrown that body.
I allow the doctor to rise up long enough to sign the death certificate and to shake hands with the warden.
I am escorted out four gates until, finally, I step into the world.
Nothing I’ve heard can prepare me for the beauty of this earth. I am momentarily overcome as tears roll down my face.
This only reinforces my dedication. This is too precious a place to allow the Danny Blacks and the Arnold Reeders to infect it.
My old body may have been retired, but my mission continues. The old doctor lacked a reason to live and I have given it to him.
I walk to his car and briefly set him free so he may teach me how to drive.
Then we must be going.
There is much work to be done.