ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

The cell was spacious, well-lighted, and comfortably furnished. Indeed, I was a little surprised at the lavish-ness of it. There was a network comscreen for news and entertainment, a chute from the library where stat copies of articles or reprints of novel tapes would be delivered on request. The toilet was enclosed and at the far right comer. When the standard melodrama relates a picture of the average modern prison as a hell-hole full of rats, lice, and sadistic jailers, it is giving the viewer a representation of the standard prison of the Fifties, maybe even through the Seventies and early Eighties. But prison reforms have been drastic in the last couple of decades, and prisoners are no longer treated as animals.

The Clancy led me to the cot, backed me into it until I understood that I was to sit. I plopped backward, and was pleased with the springiness, the softness of what had looked like only a mediocre bed. The cuffs opened, fell away to hang at the Clancy’s side. It floated back to the dilated door, went through, letting the portal spiral shut in its wake.

Seconds later, the central mail delivery chute next to the library receptacle made a buzzing sound, and something dropped into the tray beneath it. I got up and went to the wall, picked the small, blue square of plastic out of the tray. It was a penitentiary credit card with my name and number. The jailer had submitted my name to the central city banks and had discovered, within a minute or so, that I was a good credit risk and had plenty of cards already. Upon discovering this, he had punched the prison computer to issue me a card for my stay in jail. With it, I could order anything over the phone (which was set next to the wall of the bathroom) and have it delivered by mail. The bill would go to my wife (if I had one, which I did not), to my lawyer (if a professional firm handled all my credit payments, which Alton-Boskone and Fenner did for me), or to my bank, where, the moment I had been checked into my cell, my accounts had been frozen by government order. In the end, the prisoner paid, but at least he lived well enough during his confinement.

That day, my lawyer, Leonard Fenner, came to visit me in my cell. Using pressure in the right places, he managed to bring Harry with him. We sat and talked for more than two hours, about inconsequentialities at first, then, increasingly about my predicament. It would not be so bad, Leonard asserted; if they could only charge me with kidnapping Him. First of all, the android was not considered a citizen, and, therefore, was a piece of property belonging to the State. Kidnapping could not be upheld in court; it was only a matter of grand larceny. But I had not just stolen Him. I had assaulted the WA representative who had recognized us that night in the Cantwell Port lot. I had killed game on a government preserve. I had assaulted a police officer in Anchorage at that recharging station. I had illegally converted a taxi from auto-to-manual and then had stolen it I had stolen a police car belonging to the Alaskan state patrol. And, most serious of all, I shot North American Supreme Court Justice Charles Parnel in the leg. The WA was charging me with intent to kill.

“Intent to kill?” Harry screeche’d. “Why, that’s absurd! This boy couldn’t kill anyone if—”

“Harry,” I said, “let Leonard spell the story out. No matter what we would like, we have to face things as they’re going to be.”

“It’s ridiculous!” Harry huffed, but he kept quiet.

I was not so certain that the charge was ridiculous. What had I been trying to do when I grabbed that rifle and whirled? I had fired into the light. I must have known there would be someone behind it I must also have known that the bullet would hurt or kill whoever was there. Couldn’t that be termed intent to kill? Even if it was a gut reaction, something I had done without thinking.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean