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.""If you provide the names of the others whom you killed, and tell us where their bodies are hidden, I will seek a reduction in your sentence."And then, of course, it was my turn to smile."A reduction.Very fine.Father Diaz, I am thirty-six years old.What would be your estimate of my life expectancy?""Fifty years.Maybe as long as seventy.""Very good.I agree with that.But I was sentenced to fifteen consecutive sentences of forty years each.That's a total of six hundred years of judicial sleep, a coma during which I will age at my normal rate.I will not live to serve even two of those fifteen sentences.So what are you telling me? That you can commute the total to twenty years? That you can arrange for all the terms to be served concurrently?""I can do neither one.""So what can you do?""I can try to arrange for you to be placed in abyssal rather than judicial sleep.I can make no absolute guarantees, but at the reduced body temperature your rate of aging will decrease." He paused."Or so I am told."I felt almost sorry for the man.They had sent him to me so inadequately briefed.And then my sense of caution cut in.He was too innocent, too poorly informed."Father Diaz, how much do you know about my professional line of work?""Very little." He was sensitive, exceptionally so, and his voice suggested that somewhere in the last few seconds the conversation had turned, and he knew it."Before your arrest you were a medical doctor.One, I gather, of high reputation.""Perhaps.But not as a physician who treated sick patients.I have always been in research—and my particular line of research is in life-extension procedures.Although my primary thrust is not the study of abyssal sleep, I have done work in that field.I can assure you that the rate of aging of a subject in abyssal sleep, under optimal circumstances, is reduced by a factor of at most three.Even in AS I would die of old age before my sentence was one-third over."His eyebrows raised, and he looked not at me, but up at the ceiling."That is AS as you know it today," he said at last."But in twenty years time, or thirty, who knows? Do you not have faith in science? Science advances.""And sometimes, it retreats.As you say, who knows? In twenty years, civilization itself may collapse.In thirty years, the world could be unrecognizable."I make no claim of prophecy with those statements.I was just making conversation, keeping my mind away from the subject of the close of day and the beginning of endless night.Father Diaz, a Jesuit by training if ever I saw one, did not allow himself to be diverted."Science advances," he repeated."You are a logical man, Dr.Guest.You understand the odds.On the one hand, we have possible progress in AS that grants you a chance—albeit a small one—of living through your entire sentence and beyond.On the other hand, without some kind of negotiated settlement you face mandated judicial sleep until your body expires of natural old age."On most matters I was, as he said, a logical man.I was also a man with no alternative offer.At the very least, I would see this through the next stage.I nodded."Let us obtain writing materials.""There are others?""There are.Three, as you surmised.I will provide you with names, and with locations, and with dates."I had my own agenda.Father Diaz was tolerable company.If he left, I would be open to invasion by others more doubtfully acceptable.* * *I gave him what he had asked, names and places and dates.He stayed, as the hours wore on.At my request, a chess set was brought in and we played three games.One win, one loss, and one draw.A fair reflection, I thought, of the result from our other game.We ate a simple lunch of cheese and onion sandwiches.I, to my surprise, had a fair appetite.And then, sooner than I thought possible, two o'clock was approaching."Do you propose to stay to the end?" I asked.He nodded."Unless you have an objection.""No prayers, then.No last-minute attempts to save my soul.""I cannot save another's soul.Only the person can do so."It was the closest he had come to priest talk, and a good thing, too.He seemed resigned to the fact that I was not about to discuss the logic of my choice of victims."We must soon be going," Diaz continued.He gestured toward the door of my room, where a face was visible at the grille."It will be better if you leave this room voluntarily, and are able to walk without assistance or coercion.""Certainly."I was, in fact, preternaturally calm.In retrospect, a sense of the unreality of events had surely overtaken me.Who can accept the idea, viscerally rather than intellectually, that this is to be the last conscious half hour ever, in a universe destined to endure for tens of billions of years? Carmelo Diaz had promised to do his best on my behalf, but I put no stock in his success—either intellectually or viscerally.We walked, side by side but far from alone.All the way along the corridor, with its dull gray walls and infrequent locked doors of bright blue, others paced before and behind us.No one spoke.The whole building was as quiet within as it would be without.Judicial sleep, which killed no one until they expired of natural causes, had ended the long rhetoric about capital punishment.No one would be outside, chanting their scripted slogans.Actually, I am not sure there would have been any sad songs for me, even in the good old days of Sparky and Slippery Sam.So far as most people were concerned I deserved the electric chair or the lethal injection—probably both.After my capture I had followed the news reports.I was a child killer, the worst one in decades.All a perversion of reality, and quite unfair.The door of the Chamber of Morpheus stood open.It was flanked by guards, all unarmed.Should I prove violent, no one wanted to kill me accidentally and destroy the notion that this was a civilized and even kindly proceeding.I walked forward and sat down on the soft black cushions of the room's single chair.Leg and arm braces clicked into position.Everyone remained at a respectful fifteen feet, until at last one woman moved forward to stand in front of me.Much to my surprise, I recognized the Governor."Do you," she asked, "wish to make any final statement?"I shook my head."I am told that you were a man with great gifts, Oliver Guest," she went on."You had the power to do great good, and you did great evil from choice.Your punishment does not begin to match the dreadful nature of your offense.God have mercy on your soul."She stepped back to join the ring of people, while I wondered what that was all about.Then I had it.We were just two months away from elections.For Governor Jensen this was just another media opportunity.Her comments made a brief nod to the scientific community, pointed out that she was strong on law and order, and reassured the religious that she was one of them.It was tempting to speak my thoughts—what had I to lose? But beside her, Carmelo Diaz watched intently.Without Governor Jensen's blessing, there was no way he could keep his end of the bargain.On with the show.* * *I survey the room.Even without a special reason for knowledge I would be familiar with this chamber.It is a nightmare from everyone's childhood.I stare at the big clock.One fifty-five.The gray circular wall and the white sky of the ceiling is as distant to me now as the remotest galaxies.Above me, a silver hoop slowly descends to encircle my seated body at midchest.Everything is done automatically, without human involvement."He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone." So no one will be responsible for what comes next.The cool injection carrying me to the undiscovered country is controlled by the Chamber of Morpheus's central computer, a device close to human in intelligence but untroubled by human doubts or conscience.One fifty-seven.Most condemned prisoners, I had learned, close their eyes as the hoop settles into position.I stare, unblinking, as the green syringe extends itself and sits waiting by my upper left arm [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]