Life Sentence

Terri Lynn Coop

Joey winked at his fifth victim’s mother while his attorney made each juror speak the word they’d written on their little slips of paper. The hatred in her eyes warmed him. 
After the last “guilty” made the condemnation unanimous, the judge said, “Mr. Atkins, you may address the court.”

Shackles clanking, he scanned the gallery and sensed the same hunger he’d felt at his first kill. They wanted his blood. 
“It appears the people have spoken. All I can say is that, in retrospect,” he let his voice trail off as everyone leaned forward to catch his words. 
“It was worth every minute of it. Especially numbers five, ten, and twelve. Number fifteen was a waste of time. Too skinny.” 
The court erupted. Joey beamed at the laughter mixed in with the outrage. That clip would be on every vidcast in the country. He was famous. 
“There will be order.” The judge banged his gavel until the tumult quieted. 
“One more disrespectful comment and I will have your mouth taped. Do you understand?” 
“Pursuant to the Uniform Criminal Retaliation Act as Amended, anyone convicted of a violent felony is automatically sentenced to death. Method of execution to be determined by the Mortality-Meter, Model 207X. Joseph Atkins, you are hereby remanded to the custody of Mortality Minders, Inc.” 
A door set into the wood paneling opened and two men with “MMI” patches on their coveralls wheeled in the machine. Joey wasn’t sure what he’d expected. It was so mundane. A flat table with a gray box at one end and what looked like a sewing machine at the other. 
The attendant scanned the biochip embedded in Joey’s arm before announcing, “Will the prisoner custodians come forward, take delivery of Mr. Atkins, and supervise the test?” 
Two well-dressed men identified themselves as Tom Radford and Joe Munroe of Mortality Minders, Inc. and signed several forms. With a gesture comically similar to a bow, the attendant handed Radford a device with a vial attached.

Radford sat next to Joey and whispered, “We own your ass now. If you cooperate, you’ll feel a little sting. If you don’t, we’ll cut you open to get the tissue sample. It won’t kill you, but I promise it will hurt.” 
The soft venom brought it home. This had been a play where he was the star, using the graphic details of his murders to control the audience. Now he was going to find out how he would die. Joey shivered and complied. 
Radford inserted the vial into the machine and a red light turned green. 
“What’s your shirt size?” asked Munroe. 
“Your shirt size. Not too complicated a question.” 
The attendant fed a plain blue shirt into the sewing machine. When another light turned green, the needle whirred to life and stitched furiously across the fabric. When it stopped, a card ejected from a slot on the control panel. 
“Sentence is rendered.” Radford handed the card to the judge. 
“Are you sure? He butchered fifteen women.” 
“The machine is never wrong.” 
Obviously perplexed, the judge made the announcement that ended the case and sealed Joey’s fate. 
“Publish the sentence.” 
Radford held the shirt up to the jury. Most made disgusted sounds. One man stomped out of the courtroom. 
Radford slowly turned the shirt and laughter ripped through Joey. Not even the judge’s gavel could quiet him. Only a bailiff pulling out a roll of duct tape brought him back to reality. 
Stitched in bright yellow were two words: OLD AGE. 
Back in his bunk, Joey belted out a tuneless shanty loud enough to make sure the guards at the gate could hear. 
“Fate’s a bitch and I shanked her like just like a whore. I beat the witch, isn’t that rich, she’s dead and I’m living more.” 

Amid calls to shut the ever-living hell up, Munroe opened the cell door. “Come along. We’re here to escort you to MMI Execution Unit E. Your continued cooperation will make this transition easier and more comfortable for all involved.” 
“Why? You can’t kill me. I’m thirty. Last time I checked, that ain’t old.” 
Radford stepped forward. The air hypodermic hissed and a tingle radiated down Joey’s back. 
“No, we can’t kill you. However, an MMI-patented nanobot is embedding in your spine. The settings are one to ten. One gets your attention. Five knocks you out. Ten puts you in a wheelchair pissing through a straw for the rest of your very long life.” 
“Point taken. Where are we going? Is it some sort of summer camp for intractable murderers?” 
“You’ll see soon enough. We are not your friends. You are our cargo. Acquiring, delivering, and storing cargo is our job.” 
His retort evaporated under the heat of Radford’s glare. 
“Good Afternoon, Mr. Atkins.” 
Joey swore under his breath. 
“My apologies. The doors are so quiet you can never hear anyone enter a room. My name is Dr. Alan Woodford and I’m the warden of this facility. Please sit down. First, the law requires me to explain UCRA. At the turn of the last century, MMI released the first Mortality-Meter. The model 14VY determined future cause of death based on DNA and fingerprints. People were intrigued, but concerned with clusters of murder predictions. This resulted in mandatory death sentences for all violent crime. The theory was that culling the criminals would result in fewer murder predictions for the next generation. It worked. Violent crime is down by eighty percent.” 
“I always wondered what became of Grandpa.” 
Woodford remained impassive. “Your wit is misplaced. At first, UCRA was straightforward. We got the prediction and administered the fatal wound. Clean, cheap, and expeditious. Unfortunately, certain liberal groups demanded it be more humane. Now, we cannot directly and purposely administer the prediction. All we can do is to provide the means and environment to facilitate the death in the most efficient manner possible.” 
“I don’t see why I care. Unless you have a time machine, you can’t speed up my sentence.” 
“Your prediction is rare, but not unprecedented. We have plans for every contingency. If there are no more questions, I’m also required to give you a brief description of the MMI execution system.” 
Joey responded with a loud belch. 
Ignoring him, Woodford continued, “MMI has four levels. Level B houses the common violent predictions. Gunshots, stabbings, and gangrene are typical. We throw the prisoners together and provide weapons. The sentence is typically complete within six months.” 
“And a fortune in side bets,” said Munroe. 
Woodford glared. “Unit C is the suicide center. Self-immolation is, by far, the least pleasant. Radford, weren’t you stationed there?” 
Radford made a face and held his nose. 
“Unit D is the chronic disease facility. Mostly cancer and heart attacks. Inmates test new chemicals in between sessions on the treadmill. Every room has asbestos insulation and smokers get all the unfiltered cigarettes they want. Mortality is one-hundred-percent.” 
“Fascinating. Sounds like I should have applied to be a guard. It would have worked well with my hobby. How about you cut to the chase? Which one is the old-felons-home? Is there shuffleboard? Or do you talk me to death?” 
Woodford’s dark smile chilled Joey. “That brings us to Unit E. This is the center for unusual and difficult predictions. We’ve facilitated everything from crushed by statues to fear of snakes. Luckily, a geriatric unit opened up recently.”  
Munroe’s textpad beeped. “It’s time.” 
In the sunny corridor, Woodford stopped a food cart and lifted a tureen lid. Joey’s mouth watered at the smell. 
“Shellfish chowder and strawberry sundaes for the anaphylaxis pod. After a day of beekeeping they deserve a nice meal.” 
Prisoners in embroidered shirts eyed him. Joey caught rodeo and water-skiing as men dropped their gaze and scuttled away. 
Those should be fun.  

At a bank of doors with digital displays, Woodford keyed in a code. “This will be your quarters during your stay at MMI.” 
The only thing that said “prison” about the comfortable room was the bare surfaces and lack of windows. 
“This will do,” said Joey. 
“We’re not barbarians. Your shower has shaving equipment since there’s no reason you can’t have razors. This slot dispenses meals and supplies. The one below is for trash and laundry. Any questions?” 
“Nope. I’m bored. Send the book cart around. And when is commissary? This place needs some color.” 
“Goodbye, Mr. Atkins.” 
The door lock clicked. No corridor sounds leaked through the wall. After the cacophony of county jail, the silence pulsed in his ears. 
Words scrolled across the screen next to the door: 
Joseph Atkins, you are sentenced to die by OLD AGE pursuant to UCRA as Amended. You are currently 030:100:13:20:15 years of age. Per actuarial data, your life expectancy is 112:000:00:00:00. Your incarceration commences now.

The screen morphed into a digital display reading 030:100:13:20:15. The last two digits pulsed and advanced. When they reached 60, the next pair increased by one. 
Goodbye, Mr. Atkins.


Terri Lynn Coop is a writer who hacks away at do-it-yourself legal guides by day and her novels by night. She lives in faded mid-century-modern splendor in a small town in Kansas with her four dogs and two goofy squirrels in the pecan tree out back. She's been known to blog at Readin' Ritin' & Rhetoric and her first novel, "Devil's Deal," a legal thriller, is on available through Amazon. Find her and friend up on her second home, Facebook

Image created by Terri Lynn Coop.
joey - 10/29/2015 7:36 AM
Terrible twist -- nicely done!
Carole - 10/29/2015 11:38 AM
This is slick, scary and twisted! Love it!
Jordan Drew - 10/30/2015 10:06 AM
Wow! Great story, Terri. Thank you!
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