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He watched his own execution ....


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The Executed Man

        It's not customary to watch your own execution. It's regarded as being in bad taste. Still, that's what Chris Stainless did. He was entitled to a ticket, just like the public prosecutor and the relatives of the victims, and he was accustomed to using his entitlements.
        The condemned man saw his quantum copy watching through the armored glass. He saw, and smiled. Chris frowned. He didn't understand that smile. He wouldn't have smiled under those circumstances. He didn't think so, at any rate. But, given that he was a one-for-one copy of the condemned man, an identical duplicate, how could it possibly be that he didn't understand?
        "Situational transformatives," muttered Chris.
        That was part of the jargon the shrinks had fed him, part of the mandatory self-awareness course he'd been forced to complete to get himself certified as fit for release from AuDup, the Authorized Duplicates Center.
        Situational transformatives. Intellectually, he could understand that. You give a long, cool drink of lemonade to a thirsty man, and a day of anguished ordeal turns into a summer vacation. Your material circumstances alter your perspective. Win a big lottery, and you become a new you. But, even so, Chris didn't understand that smile.
        "That's it, folks," said the prison governor, suitably solemn. "It's all over."
        And so it was. To Chris's consternation, somehow he had missed his own execution. The corpse was right there, beyond the glass, twisted by the torque forces, reduced to an incoherent bundle of blood. But Chris, despite his entitlement, had missed the actual moment. Damn it to hell!
        "Chris Stainless?"
        "Yeah."
        "This is for you."
        It was Nuttlebit, the lawyer for the victim's family, pressing something into Chris's hands, a document of some kind. Too late, now, to resist. He'd already been served with whatever it was.
        "A court order," said Nuttlebit, saving him the trouble of reading it. "Tells you to keep away from the family. Shouldn't be a problem. Your lives have no reason to intersect. Not now."
        Not now, no, because she was dead, now.
        But even so!
        "I don't think this is legal," said Chris, who had been taken through the fine print of the Quantum Copy Act by one of the Necessity Tutors at AuDup. "I'm innocent."
        Entirely innocent. Created only ninety days ago. Released by AuDup only this very morning. Certified sinless, not enough time in his short life for him to have accumulated so much as a traffic ticket.
        "Yes, Chris," said Nuttlebit, smiling. "We know the good news. You want to fight it, feel free. You might even win. Who knows? Just understand that we're ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court on this one, if that's what it takes."
        Why did the lawyer smile? Two insufficiently explained smiles in a single day. Chris felt old, familiar habits of irritation and resentment surfacing. He was entitled to a universe which explained itself. Was he not?
        "Anger becomes a habit," said Nuttlebit, observing Chris closely.
        And was gone before Chris could decide what that comment deserved.

* * *


        Home. He deserved to be welcomed home. He was not, after all, a wife-beater or anything like that.
        "I'm home, honey."
        Silence.
        Well, he was prepared for that. Some women run. They just can't handle it. Legally, he was hers and she was his. But there are always the divorce courts.
        On the table, some unopened mail. In the kitchen, the smell of curry. And Tabitha was halfway through a bowl of cat chow. So, all in all, the house didn't feel uninhabited.
        "Tabitha?"
        Not even the dimmest of reactions from the cat. Somet things don't change.
        "Honey!"
        No response, but she had to be here, somewhere.

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This science fiction story, "The Executed Man," was first published when posted online by Hugh Cook 2004 February 28 Saturday. Copyright © 2004 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.

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