Compassionby Joseph Benford
While this story clearly falls within the realms of sci-fi, it was immediately obvious to us here at ART, why no one else had published it. It is shamelessly politically incorrect (a quality that we admire in literature and people in general) and it veritably drips with sarcasm. We asked Joe his philosophy of ART and he replied, "I just call 'em as I see 'em and to hell with what all those bleedin' heart liberals think." All we can say to this is, "Good call Joe and keep up the good work."--ART
"When?" I ask, shuffling through the desk for my spec-pad.
He's a thin, fidgety old man, stroking at a grease-white mustache for the hundredth time. I make my assessment--chicken-shit. Gutless chicken-shit.
He leans up, that bone-scrawny neck strainin' like he's tryin' to catch me at somethin'. "I believe January 11, 1997 would be best. Early, about 3 am. And can you make sure it's clean? You know, fast and easy?"
I stare at the idiot then. Some nerve. I lean forward too, till we're nose to nose. "Mr. Stevens, every procedure I perform is clean. Now, you just punch in all the info I ask for. You can start with that time and date." I toss the spec-pad at him. It thumps his frail, bony chest and then lands in those skinny, chicken-wing arms. I frown at his obvious trembling while I check out his application on my Interface.
A perfect fit to the desired profile. No kids, never married, and no significant contributions to society. Shouldn't get any complaints from The United Medical Judiciaries on this one.
"You got the date down?" I bark, he nods. "Good. Now give me the locale, and I'm talkin' details here. If it's in a house, I wanna know which room to go to and what to expect when I get there. Is a streetlight comin' in through the window? Is the room on the east side of the house? The west? Are there gonna be people around? If so, I wanna know who. Everything you can think of."
Stevens' nervously pokes at the keypad as I lead him through the specifics. "Don't screw up on those specs, Mr. Stevens. I don't give refunds and I don't run second attempts. It'd be terrible if I made a mistake because of your incompetence." He slows down a bit, but still I note the sweat. As we finish, I punch up the deskcom. "Nell, please put together a payment plan." I turn back to Stevens, not even botherin' to hide my contempt.
They come in here thinkin' they can just thumb a few screens and then wait for me to deliver. Only thing is, I ain't no damn Interface. Besides, writin' specs and such gives 'em a grasp on what it is they're doin'. Lets 'em know it's their hands that's pickin' up the pistol. All I do is help 'em to take aim.
Not that I always go for the gun, mind you. Truth is I hardly ever pull the trigger. Leaves too big of a mess. No, there's other ways. Better ways. Nell, she's good with that part. Just hand her the specs and she'll give ya a run down on every available method. Glanex, Tresorin, pick your poison. Atomic disruptor's good too, vaporizes flesh, bones, you name it.
I take my spec-pad back from Stevens and look over it. It'll do. Fortunately, before we have time for any chitchat, Nell arrives with the payment plan. She hands me the disk and departs. I, in turn, shove it into my Interface and turn to Stevens. "Thumb this." The form is the only one I really care about. Without a peep, Gutless presses his thumb against the screen. I immediately interface with Unimericas International and requisition hard copy of my newly acquired creds. I look back at gutless and smile. "Now, let's get on with it."
I catch hold with my right foot and ease the bottom drawer open. Stevens, he's so damn stupid he don't even notice. I mean, if I was goin' for my cannon, he'd be two seconds from dead. I assign his last duty. "A set of keys, if you got 'em, and a floor plan--complete with graphic representation of every piece of furnishing, as accurate as you can get it. You think you can have all that for me by tomorrow?"
Stevens strokes that greasy white mustache again. "Um, I'm not really sure. Can I have a few more days, Mr. James?"
I give him a dose of my infamous death-glare as I reach into the drawer and come back with a pint. "Take all the time you need, Mr. Stevens. In the mean time, tell me somethin'. You much of a reader?" His head trembles in what could be a nod. "Then what does it say on that door?"
He reads with embarrassment, catchin' his mistake. "Joshua James, M.D. Look, I'm sorry Doctor, I didn't mean any disre--" WHAM! I thump two shot glasses down on the dark mahogany. Guilty! The court finds you a contemptible gutless asshole and sentences you to a well-deserved reaming!
I mean, you go to school for ten years, get licensed, and all that other horse-shit, and, in return, you'd think they'd give ya a little bit of respect. Me, I got two Doctorates, Medical and Psychiatric, but I'm the very embodiment of evil, to hear some tell it. Even the ones that come for my help seem to act like they're better'n me. I offer a legit, not to mention legal service, but still there's that stubborn little group of quacks, most of 'em of the religious variety, that appoint themselves ethical police and do their best to run me in on trumped up charges. I laugh silently as I pour ol' Gutless a shot, and watch as the blood drains from his face, displaced by cold, white fear. This little ritual of mine is gonna be plenty payback for his so called 'oversight'.
I push the ounce of whiskey at him. "Drink with me, Mr. Stevens, and, while we're at it, let's talk about this thing. I wanna know all the pathetic little reasons for your decision. And, more importantly, I want you to know 'em." He touches the shot glass with a fidgeting index. I note his hesitation, and then the relish with which he takes it carefully, lovingly into his hand and then sips slow, savoring every drop. Gutless and weak-willed. I cheerfully offer a refill, which he cheerfully accepts.
I toss back the whiskey, shrink Stevens for a while, and then play out the rest of the game. I can see why you want it done, and I'll do everything in my power to help ... etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Finally, when I'm sure it's all in order, I shuffle old Gutless out the door.
With him gone, I call Nell into my office and hand her the specs. "How soon can you have me ready, babe?" She looks over the notes and then stares at me with those seductive, silvery-blue eyes. "Give me two minutes, Doctor." She leaves my office, providin' that most exquisite view, and comes back with a hypospray. "Try this."
I pluck the hypo from fingers that could easily pass for human. "And this is?"
Nell gets that she-devil grin of hers and moves in closer. I commend myself; Josh, ol' buddy, you are a programming genius. Nell takes the hypo again. She rests it against her cheek and looks up at me with that Marilyn templated face. "The latest little miracle of modern science." Her voice goes low and sexy. "Vedaris. Painless, untraceable death in ten seconds or less."
"Good deal." I take the hypo again and put it in my desk. "Let's get down to business."
She reaches out with one capable android hand and closes the door. The other grabs a fistful of shirt collar and pulls me toward her waiting lips. "Yes, Doctor, let's."
The road ain't much of one. It's out in the middle of nowhere, crooked as a malpractice attorney, and not even magnetized. I slip the Transporter and then the Probe into the pockets of my trenchcoat as Nell parks in front of the house. Most important, I make sure I've got the hard copy of my creds. Unless they go back with me, they'll be lost as soon as I complete this procedure. Made that mistake once, and swore I'd never do it again. Nell puts her head out the door as I snatch up my med-kit and trot off toward the porch. "You be careful, Doctor."
I look back for a moment and wave. "Don't worry, babe. I won't be long." She blows me a kiss as I press on toward the house. Again I commend myself. She's the perfect woman, if there is such a thing--the epitome of beauty, with no mind to rule her but mine. She'll wait there for the five or so relative minutes that it'll take me, and then we'll get back to other duties.
As I step up to the run down shanty, I notice a light in the back window. Stevens' signal to me-- that's the room. 'Course its deserted right now. Like all my patients, Stevens is probably as far away from the scene as he can get. Considering that little shot of encouragement I poured him last week, he's probably been uptown every night, slammin' 'em back and havin' a good ol' time--spending those last hundred creds that I allowed him to keep. I move to the front door and reach into my pocket.
The Probe has two major components, transmitter and receiver, connected by a TTC--Temporal Transversement Cable. Findin' the Probe, I punch in the coordinates, set its transmitter by my right foot and hit the switch. The transmitter, a small black bulb containing, among other things, a vid-cam, parts a section in the space-time and slips through to the other side. The cable then feeds in through the rift after it and sits there, stretching from one time coordinate to the other. The rift closes up tight about its circumference, while I hold the receiver--a concave wrap-around viewscreen--in my left hand and study the picture which slowly forms.
The image is nearly identical to my present surroundings, just not as run down; the dude obviously ain't much for change. I examine the viewscreen for possible problems. I don't see any people. Good. There's a fat Calico starin' over from a corner of the porch. I figure that's Whiskers. Reachin' into my pocket for the Transporter, I thumb the button and wait.
Next thing I know that damn cat's hung up in my boot. It must've noticed the transmitter and trotted over for a look-see. One of its paws ended up right where my left foot materialized, and, apparently, during transport, flesh and leather merged. I reach over and, with the skill of experience, snap its neck. Then I reach into my med-kit, take out my instrument pouch, unzip, and select a scalpel.
A few seconds later I'm wipin' the blade. There's an unnatural mixture of flesh and leather in my left heel, and that stupid cat spurtin' life from where its front right paw used to be. I look down at Whiskers and shrug. You can plan for weeks and still there's gonna be glitches. Hopefully, though, they'll all be minor. Like this one.
I pick up the transmitter, cut it and the rest of my gear off, and check my wrist chronometer. 0300/01/11/97. Right on the money. I come up with the key Stevens gave me, a luxury I ain't always able to obtain, and try it out. The knob turns.
Drawin' on my vast expertise, I move like a shadow down the hall and into his study. I find him slumped over a keyboard, just like Stevens said he'd be. He looks to be about twenty five, full of youthful ambition, determined to make it as a writer, but he never will. He'll write himself ragged, embark on a lifelong love affair with the bottle, and never amount to anything. Except now things'll be different. Thanks to me.
There's a crumpled bag of pretzels by his right hand and an empty beer can in the other. I look over his shoulder at the starfield that emanates from center screen. The second-hand PC's already dated and near obsolete. Then I look at the room itself. The place is a mess. Pages and pages of wasted effort lie scattered on the floor between printer and hard drive.
Curiosity finally wins out as I reach over and nudge the mouse. The starfield disappears, replaced with his latest endeavor. I read to see if he's as bad as Stevens said. He is. If there was ever such a thing as mindless drivel then this is it. Stevens was right to hire me.
I put the hypo to his neck. The moment of truth. Although it seems like I slipped in without a hitch--'cept for that damned cat, of course,--you're never a hundred percent at ease in this line of work. On occasion, Fate steps in and stays your hand. But I'll know in a moment if this was meant to be. If my hypospray doesn't malfunction, it'll be a sure sign that what I'm attempting to do is right. I press down carefully against his jugular and whisper, "So long, turd."
He convulses for a sec, then tumbles to the floor. I shake my head at his last moments. Pathetic. Goin' through his pockets I take what I can. There's a few nice things in the house that I'll likely walk out with, but not much. I don't really need to pilfer, but its somethin' I enjoy. Fringe benefits, you might say.
In the kitchen I notice a half-eaten pizza. I shoo the roaches and grab a slice. All meat and cheese, real food, not that synthetic and vegetarian crap they been pushin' on us in '47. Which, when you think about it, don't make a bit of sense. I mean, just because animal populations are down, we humans are supposed to suffer and diet and do without? I don't think so.
Fortunately, I'm not the only one who feels that way, and there are benefits, as far as the black market goes. Like I've said before, between my medical practice and the poachin' industry, I am makin' a killin'. (Nell loves it when I use that pun.)
Openin' the fridge, I help myself to a cold one. Then, once I'm fully equipped, I try out his recliner and ease back to a little late night. Flip, flip, flip--and can't find a thing worth watchin'. He doesn't have any of the good channels. I stop on a 24-hour news network where a scrollin' headline catches my eye. Dr. Death ups the toll.
It saddens me to see such heartless slander. Ol' Jack K. wasn't a killer. No more than I'm a killer. No, he was a hero. A real pioneer. From the newscast, though, I take it he's in trouble again. I feel for him but there's more than just sympathy. Like the other Temporal Euthanasiologist (the few that there are), I owe him a debt of gratitude for pavin' the way like he did. I raise my beer and toast. Good ol' Jack. I tune out the reporter, taking a hefty swig and followin' it with another bite of that kick-ass pizza.
I relax and think back to when time-travel first became a reality. There was a lotta talk about goin' back and makin' things better, avertin' this disaster, wipin' out that disease, etc. etc. But it didn't take long to find out that it just wasn't gonna happen. Somehow the fabric of reality has an overall pattern that just can't be altered, not to any great extent anyway. Some cosmic force, call it Fate, God, or whatever, has determined that certain things are set a certain way and they just ain't gonna be turned aside or tampered with--unless, of course, they're not crucial to the overall pattern.
For example, there was this group of Jews that tried to kill Hitler, figuring' that would avert the Holocaust. The would be assassin pulled the trigger only to have her gun jam and blow her friggin' hand off. And when they sent back a team of EPA goons with Environmental Purifiers, to slow down the pollution of the past hundred years, every one of those machines, every one, malfunctioned! Even the economy couldn't be altered. When they tried to better the lives of groups or even individuals, by passin' back valuable info or whatnot, even then they somehow managed to fail.
After a number of such episodes, it finally occured to them what was happenin', and that's exactly how yours truly managed to get what the opposition likes to call Retrocide legal. The conclusions of the scientists, I argued, backed up my claims that it was impossible for me to do anybody wrong. If they were to make some great contribution to society I'd trip over somethin' at some crucial moment, my medical instruments would malfunction, or some other mishap would keep me from killin' 'em. Since Euthanasia was already legal, all I was doin' was preventin' an even greater amount of sufferin' that I would through conventional means.
The very fact that I could kill them, I asserted, was enough reason that I should. And with that kinda flawless logic, along with some greased palms here and there, I made Temporal Euthanasia what it is today: A win-win situation for all involved. I toast ol' Jack again for pavin' the way like he did and decide I'd best be goin'.
Outside I nearly stumble over the cat. I promised Stevens that whatever happened I'd take care of Whiskers for him. So I do. I toss the carcass to the nearby woods and hose the blood from the porch. My work here is done.
I trot back down the driveway and send my probe up-time. Nell shimmers onto the viewscreen and waves as I match transporter coordinates with those of the probe. I thumb the button, and, a moment later (or fifty years, if you wanna get technical), I'm back in 2047. I grab the transmitter and coil up the TCT, while Nell powers up the engine. Once I'm in, she pilots us back up that pitiful stretch of backroad.
It's a good thing she's android. A vital thing in fact. Because of the Quantum-rigidity built into her, even though the world around her will change due to my procedures, she will remain aware of all that's taken place. She won't forget about Stevens and what I went to do, and she's always waiting when I transport back. All Temporal Euthansiologists use these type androids, but I doubt if any of my colleagues have anything quite like Nell. Time travel is only one of the ways in which she comes in handy.
I think about Stevens as Nell takes us back into town. It's a good thing what I'm doin'. I mean, they come in, most of 'em middle-aged, some of 'em older like "Gutless" Walt Stevens. Sick of the hellholes they done made of their lives, they try to determine that exact moment when everything just turned to shit. They figure it woulda been better if they'd a just died then, sparin' themselves and everybody else a whole crap-load-a grief. So I do my best to oblige 'em.
You see, unlike some of these other so-called Doctors we got here in 2047, I got compassion. Not only that, I got guts, too--Just like dear old Dr. K. I got guts enough to take a long hard look at sufferin' in all its forms ...
And put an end to it."