"That's right", said the frail with the name Erica, "this is the first time you're seeing this." She waited a second for at least a preliminary impression to form. "What do you think?"
Ryan leaned over the railing to get a better view. Not that it was any better than the first scan. The frail named Erica probably would have appreciated getting a glimpse of some kind of serious reaction from Ryan. But he had honed a talent not to give away any information by his facial expression. Not displaying the slightest response to anything he encountered. It helped to deaden any sensitivities, treat everything the same, all undeserving of acknowledgement much less reaction.
But what was before him was an abomination.
Huge, dozens of feet long. With a height to match the length. Misshapen, deformed. Bloated and swollen, gleaming with some kind of liquid. The color a sickly green. And...were those legs? Dozens of them, splayed along the sides, so they had to be legs. And were those arms? They might as well be, gesticulating, articulating, grasping. And located at both ends? Which was the head and which was the tail? Did it matter? One end seemed to have something like antennae sticking out, a couple dozen, so it was probably the head. Wasn't it?
"It took awhile, but they finally managed", said the frail, Erica, "We thought you should get a look...before."
You think you're going to get some kind of rise out of me?, Ryan thought contemptuously, Well, guess again.
Better people than you have tried to get the better of me, he thought, and they all went away with bloody noses.
"Do you have any questions?", asked the frail with the name Erica.
"Yeah, how did a crap eating little whore like you manage to find a gig like this where you can treat men like this?"
The insult had the effect that was intended, it threw the frail off her feet a moment. Not that it mattered, he wasn't leaving the project. But at least he could give as good as he got.,..for now.
Recovering her composure, the frail replied calmly, as if Ryan's taunt hadn't affected her. Even though she knew he was aware she was still rattled.
Her response, though, was some distance from what Ryan expected.
"We are truly sorry it had to be like this. We had hoped for other alternatives. But it has to be like this."
Still showing no change in his expression, Ryan said, "Put your good intentions in one hand and spit in the other. See what weighs more."
"We really don't have any ill will toward you...", she began.
"Shut up!", Ryan said with as much vehemence as his unchanging expression could allow, "Just shut up! Don't give me any of your fake concern! I know just what you think of me. And I know how much of a part that played in me being a part of this."
"You don't have to be that way", said the frail, "I was just trying to be a little sympathetic."
"It's always been my experience that 'good wishes' is something somebody gave you if they were too cheap to buy you something, and 'sympathy' is what they give if they don't even have 'good wishes'."
For the first time, the frail seemed to take Ryan's words askance.
"There's no reason for you to be like this. We genuinely have sympathy for you, even if you had to be forced into the program. Maybe especially because you were forced into it. But remember, your actions put you where you are. It's in response to your kind of career that the Rhode Island Solution was developed. We don't expect that it's going to meet with your delight and you're going to resent us all the way, but none of us will be asking ourselves if the pleasure we got from the whims we answered to was worth it."
That stung, because Ryan knew the frail named Erica was right. But he wasn't going to show it. With the same stoic expression, and in a liesurely fashion that suggested disinterest in the frail's words, he looked back into the containment pen.
"What is that, some kind of bug?"
"It has some similarities to an arthropod, segmented appendages, for example, antennae. A much more developed cortical structure, of course. And it doesn't have an exoskeleton or an endoskeleton."
"Can it get out of the pen?"
"We designed it so it couldn't leave."
"You may not realize it, but it reminds me a lot of me all my life. Always caught, unable to move, in a trap designed to keep someone like me from..."
Delivering an even borderline sympathetic sentiment with his carefully honed lack of expression probably worked against him. The frail didn't seem to be buying it.
Ironic, then, that it was true.
As if insulted, ironic since what he said was true, the frail turned back to the pen and said, "Dr. Darrow will be having a final discussion with you tomorrow, before the...", her voice trailed off, then, "You should get some good sleep tonight, keep your strength up."
How he hated her.
If he had even half a chance, he'd...
His room that evening. A good meal. Some monitored wandering around the facility. Now on the verge of dozing with music playing in the background. Thoughts, plans, memories, realizations.
He didn't always have such an...intolerant...attitude toward others. Certainly not in his earliest years.
He had always been prone to an impatience with others, talking about themselves, pursuing their interests, not paying what he considered enough attention to him. From his earliest memories, Ryan found himself annoyed at people not doting on him, disturbed by it, enraged by it. He deserved being toadied up to, he wanted it, he demanded it. Because everybody else existed only to provide that.
It could have been dismissed then as needy selfishness of a child who cannot provide for themself, and it might have been just that.
But, then, he refused to outgrow it.
To be sure, he became more self reliant, but it aggravated him that he had to. He refused to accept that it was right for people to make answering his wants less and less a part of their day. He had learned how to provide himself a large part of what he wanted, but it still rubbed him the wrong way to see his interests and desires not constantly reflected in others' eyes.
Resentment was an automatic outgrowth. Retaliation an automatic solution. How dare they waste time and resources that could be put toward satisfying his wants by answering their own desires? If they want to treat him so shabbily, what obligation did he have to treat them better? To be sure, he experienced the drive to be independent, to be self sufficient, and he was more than able to accommodate it. But he still hated them for not catering to him. It was a matter of personal choice, true, but it served his whims, and that was enough.
And, where there was anger, there was the desire for revenge. But that was not so easily accommodated. Granted, he was in a position more to fend for himself, provide for himself, but carrying out a career of abuse of others takes more than an average upbringing allows. Not that a degree of viciousness was beyond his means, just not as much as he might prefer. Which also doesn't mean that he didn't pursue what options were open to him with relish.
Sneak attacks. Booby traps. Bullying those smaller. Murdering small animals. Minor acts of destructiveness. Medium acts of destructiveness. Each one a source of vindication, a validation of his anger at not being doted on as he wanted. And little suspicion cast his way, since he was little more than a toddler. At once a torture chamber of being treated like everyone else, and a game of getting back at everyone.
And then, leaving middle childhood for pre-adolescence. More was demanded of him, less was given. And it was expected that having things required of him should not result in tantrums. And add in that, as a bigger person, his actions could cause more damage, and he was a harder target to hide. Include, too, the complication that his resentment toward all around him graduated from an expression of discomfort to a source of pleasure. It banished unhappiness, it made up for hurts. It became the subject of deep, reflective sessions sessions late at night, in lieu of sleep.
And so, it became not just a simple case of agitation and more a fundamental facet of Ryan's character. What was needed on a regular basis to keep him content and healthy.
But how to arrange supplying something at once both necessary for his physical well being and eminently distasteful to all around him?
He could concentrate his rage on small animals, but it didn't take long for that to prove nowhere near as satisfying as he preferred. His anger would have to be taken out mostly on those around him. But he had to be careful. The level of resentment could remain, but he had to become subtle.
Physical pain and destruction were not ideal, he had to focus on other things, things not so obvious, but still with an impact on others.
If coaxed for praise, being blindingly cruel. Offering harsh, patently false criticism, even if not asked. Disagreeing with every point expressed. Making unfair even vicious suggestions about others. Sowing suspicions. Treating any criticism against himself as motivated by unpalatable aims. Never being cooperative, always behaving like the victim of others' spite.
It was effective. At least in keeping him from legal repercussions for more drastic acts of malice. And supplied a modicum of tension relief.
But it did not satisfy him.
He needed to see people physically harmed, their possessions irretrievably damaged, their sense of well being utterly shattered.
The graduation to a more adult stage granted him even greater latitude in life. More options, more of an opportunity to arrange things for himself. But also more responsibility, more answerability. Opinions being formed based on what he did. Ryan had learned early on to be careful about hiding his actions. He would now have to cultivate that skill to utmost levels. Decide how he would answer the longings inside him, find a way to work those into his more overt patterns of life, develop techniques to facilitate carrying them out, arranging to be able to avoid suspicion or divert it if it did rest on him.
Ruining other people's lives, bringing pain, harming others' lives, that was still his primary focus. Someone more prone to conventional expectations would become a serial killer. But not Ryan.
He knew the disadvantages of that course, the general likelihood of being caught, especially if you kept a presence among people in general, and it was his desire for the trappings of a regular life that set him on this path so he wanted to be in society. And the prospects if he was caught were not promising.
And once people were dead, they didn't hurt, anymore. That was a major drawback.
The result, a different career from that of a mass murderer.
To answer his desires more directly, engage in something different.
Mutilation. Mauling. Maiming.
Abduct someone. Keep them a prisoner, in a secluded cabin, in a vehicle. Commit atrocities on them, deform them.
Don't kill them, just leave them shattered, broken versions of themselves.
Of course, that would leave them able to identify him, so he would have to be careful. That really wasn't a problem.
Not compared, for example, to choosing a business that allowed him to make his own hours and permitted him to move about as he wished and avoid any actual connection to locations where the attacks took place.
And, unsurprisingly, choose victims from the segments of society that had no one to care for them and regularly ended up maimed or dead.
He became a roving inspector for a real estate investment firm, scouting properties, examining candidates for representation, assessing values, and providing reports.
He traveled in a medium sized camper, enough space for...activities...but small enough not to be so noticeable.
He developed a familiarity with various drugs and knowledge of the physiognomy.
His first excursion into satisfying his interests was his third assignment for his company.
A neighboring state, a small industrial park, his victim a middle aged prostitute.
He followed her, caught her from behind, knocked her out and blindfolded her. In the safety of the darkened camper in the middle of the nearby woods, he used heavy pliars to break her fingers, one by one, joint by joint. It was incredibly enjoyable, but, more importantly, immensely satisfying. He left her in the woods, in sight of town.
Then a hotel to the south of his company's home state. His victim then was another prostitute. He set fire to her, then extinguished it when it reached third degree burns over 20% of her body.
Then three assignments without an assault.
Then the urge arose again.
A question about buying into a condominum project to the east of the state.
The victim this time was an eighteen year old boy. Ryan used a power drill to destroy his legs.
Over the next few years, assignments inspecting investment properties, projects proposed on undeveloped land, conversions.
Victims, an elderly woman, a man about Ryan's age, a teenage girl, a bum, another prostitute. Methods ranged from knives to hammers to a nail gun. Assaults always non lethal, but eminently unpleasant. The police would wonder but, in the face of more serious incidents, they would let it take a back seat.
Then he came upon an individual at least his match. A woman trained in martial arts, more than capable of making up in skill what she might have lacked in height and weight. Several blows to the head that left him bleeding. The woman raising an alarm as he tried to race out of the area. Blood in his eye and a sensation he hadn't expeienced before, the prospect of being caught and punished, and his source of validation taken from him forever. It was unsurprising that he drove into a telephone pole.
Connecting him to the other incidents was simple and immediate. His attorney worked for an insane verdict, easy to make palatable since he hadn't killed anyone. But, then, the victims came forward. He was lucky he wasn't shot on his way to and from court. The verdict, life in a maximum security prison.
Strangely, life in stir answered a lot of Ryan's demands out of life. The institution existing only to keep him housed, fed, moderately diverted. He actually began to acclimate quite well to his situation.
And word got out.
And many people became dissatisfied.
And protests started to be launched.
But this wasn't a hanging state. They had no other alternative but to let him live, and enjoy where he was living.
Then the Rhode Island Solution started to be touted about. It wasn't a death sentence and it provided many what they greatly wanted for the likes of Ryan, revenge. But it required passage by the state to make it mandatory for individuals like Ryan. Passage was actually quite swift, and Ryan got the impression that he may have been instrumental in getting it made law.
Then notification transmitted to him officially, then removal from his cell, transport here, introduction to the thing in the pit, bleatings from the frail named Erica...
Professor Warwick was everything Ryan expected. Officious, simpering, a pipsqueak. Overflowing with obvious sympathy for Ryan, while, at the same time planning all the details of the procedure ahead.
"It's important to us to have it apparent to you that we have sympathy for you in this", said Warwick.
"The frail outside said that already."
"And we want you to understand that this is not being undertaken out any personal antipathy or resentment toward you."
"That's comforting to know."
"It means something to us to tell you that", Warwick added.
"I heard you. I heard you."
"In fact, this is not done out of ill will toward you by anyone, even your victims."
"That'll be nice to mull over."
"It serves a purpose, but not one founded in anger or hatred."
"I find that hard to believe."
"It's done solely with an eye toward a great unsolved problem of law enforcement." A pause, then, as if to set the stage for a great revelation. "Setting things straight. Restoring order. Effectively undoing what damage was done.
"Through history, attempts were made to resolve the great problem of crime, the cost it exacts of the victim. Incarceration could protect those who had not been damaged from possible assault, but only for awhile. Execution was restricted to only a few crimes and effectively removed the malefactor from endangering anyone ever again. But the victims or victims' relatives and friends still suffered from what the criminal had done. In all cases, some form of government remuneration was offered, but that was all government had it in its power to provide. And money does not heal all ills. At the very least, the memory of abuse and mistreatment or worse remained with those touched by the hand of the miscreant. Forced apologies from the criminals, shows of sympathy from fellow citizens, prisoners going through mandatory work programs with their wages all going to the victim. None of them succeeded in truly and completely restoring the balance that had been ruined."
"Sure, go ahead and explain", Ryan thought bitterly, "It may make you feel better, but I know what you're going to do to me."
"Even in many heinous cases, many could find it in themselves to try to live with their situation. But there have been more than a few...", a moment, as if searching for a suitable phrase, then a mortified surrender, "...like you, and call went out for some kind of solution for those so grievously harmed that nothing conventional would serve to relive their misery.'
"He sure likes to talk", Ryan ruminated, "If I manage to find a way out of this, he'll be the first I'll go after."
"And that was when the Rhode Island Solution was recommended. It was based on only then burgeoning genetic engineering research. The resources and methods the Solution rested on were available only through methods of genetic engineering and cellular manipulation."
"And then I'll go after that frail", Ryan thought.
"The possibilities open to us finally permitted a form of restitution of that great unanswered unfairness, the loss of the feeling of safety, the unending suffering from being so ruthlessly and viciously victimized."
"Maybe I'll just jump over the table now and get him", Ryan thought, "What have I got to lose?" But then he realized that, if they were sentencing him to the Rhode Island Solution for leaving victimsd alive, they would probably dream up something worse just for him, if he killed somebody.
"This program is designed to try to offer some recompense to those who otherwise would have been left with ceaseless torment."
"You really think it'll do all that?" This spoken aloud.
"In a way", then, "To an extent."
"But you're not sure it will do all this restoring of the balance."
"It would depend on a great many things for that to be definitely realized, but this offers at least a step in that direction."
"So why go through with this? Why not just wait until something else is developed that more assuredly benefits the victim? Return me to prison and maybe even sometime soon the perfect form of penance will come along, and then, you can come for me and..."
"This is available now, and you are assigned to it."
Ryan knew he wasn't going to allow himself to react with fear at any point in the project, but Dr. Warwick's unflinching, definitive proclamation introduced another sensation. Hopelessness, despondency. Warwick didn't hold any hate for Ryan, no one there did, but they weren't going to be merciful, either. They had a certainty of purpose in subjecting him to the Rhode Island Solution, a certainty that nothing he culd do would be able to shake, something that only a better solution could interfere with.
And there was no better solution.
"The operation will take place tomorrow morning", Warwick said, "Get some rest, have a good meal, don't think about it."
Realizing the session was over, Ryan stood to leave. He had never felt this despondent before. An installation full of kindly people, who held him no ill will, but were going to subject him to the Rhode Island Solution if it caused the world to split in two.
"And please remember", Warwick said, "we have every sympathy for you."
"If I manage to get out of this, I'm going to kill you."
The operating theatre. Blinding lights in his eyes. People circulating everywhere. Straps over his extremities. Warwick in surgical mask looking down at him.
"This won't take long. It's actually quite simple. You'll experience no ill effects from the procedure."
Several technicians started up some machines just out of sight.
"You'll find your main problem to be orienting your sensations once the transferrance is completed. the organism has very different sensory systems than human. Some are analogous and perhaps you can acclimate yourself by concentrating on those first. In time, though, you should learn to accommodate the additional sensory input."
"Oh, yeah", Ryan thought, "if I get out, you're going to be the first to go."
An injection in his arm startled him.
Warwick put the anesthetic mask over Ryan's mouth and nose.
"Now just breathe normally and count backward from one hundred."
They thought this was the end of this. They didn't know how mistaken they were. He'd manage to get out of this, and then they'd do some real paying. This wasn't over, not by a long...long...long...
Swimming back through an inky sea. Sensations attacked him like hordes of tiny, voracious fish. Sensations he'd never felt before, that he had no name for...but that seemed somehow familiar. An awareness of the presence of dozens of legs, hundreds of leg, a leathery carapace, antennae sensing salinity, acidity, chemical composition of the air, temperature, pressure...electrostatic charge? Somehow, he knew, too, he had dozens of organs, some he didn't even know the purpose of.
Suddenly, the light stabbed at his eyes, his millions and millions of eyes. It overwhelmed him momentarily, having so much information all at once, but, surprisingly quickly, he managed to coordinate it, with the help of his immensely bigger and more convoluted brain.
"Are you there?"
The voice was familiar. Warwick. Ryan struggled to make a sound, but found he was capable only of a slight hissing.
"Don't try to speak, you won't be able to, anyway."
Ryan was finding it difficult to typify what he was going through. It seemed to part of him that he was expericing sensations he had never known before, while another part felt that every feeling was normal and natural, they were only taking a time to solidify. He could sense his body temperature, different from what he had known, but right, nonetheless. He could hear the rustling of the section of his carapace furthest from his head. At least, what he thought was his head. Simultaneously, he was aware of the specific positions and movements of every single one of his hundreds of legs. Increasingly, he felt control over his numerous antennae develop. And, although his surroundings were dim, he could tell that he was seeing through thousands of...
Blinding light suddenly filled the darkness of his chamber, light so strong, it made his eyes hurt. All the thousands of them.
In the midst of the harsh illumination, a vision of a window. There was Warwick, there was Erica, there were several other technicians and staff he had seen hanging around.
"Gradually, your mastery of your many new senses will develop. First, you will establish the nerve connections, you will become aware of your new senses, of your body, or your surroundings. Then, you will learn to control them, in what limited fashion the conditions allow. It will happen, you don't have to hurry it."
"Just keep talking", Ryan thought, "I'll get familiar with this body in record time, then I'll launch myself at that smug, satisfied face of yours."
"When you have conditioned yourself to the new brain structure you will be utilizing, you will find quite a change. Your brain has been removed from your old body and inserted into this one, but not just inserted, actively connected to the far larger and more intricate sensory network of this body. Everything that characterized your previous mental processing remains intact, you simply have additional inputs. And you will be experiencing an entire panoply of new sensory inputs, including air pressure, air composition, electrostatic potential, even radiation and entropy, provided through more than one dozen exposed antennae. Your body itself comprises more than fifteen hundred leg appendages and an exoskeleton in name only, in that it keeps your body contained, but does not ward off injury. But this is incidental since your physique is completely self healing. Too, vital processes, even blood supply, are so protected or diversified that even major wounds cannot be fatal."
"Just one chance", Ryan thought bitterly, "Just give me one chance to work you over."
"Another crucial feature is the fact that your new body has more than 492 separate nervous systems, most overlapping, serving the same section of your physiognomy simultaneously, and all monitored constantly by your brain. This will make for a major part of your required acclimation, essentially feeling what would be the input for hundreds of bodies at the same time. But also all magnified by additional feeds as they enter your cerebral cortex."
"I'll manage", Ryan swore to himself, "I'll manage to get you somehow!"
"All of this is in service to the overriding aim of the Rhode Island Solution. To even the score, to restore the balance, to exact in kind. After such as yourself has engaged in the acts of which you are responsible, any conventional form of punishment by incarceration would be woefully temporally inadequate to provide retribution for certainly many of your victims. You were very careful to engage in the height of barbarism. And abuse or torture would not work. You could never endure the pain and mutilation you caused all your victims, misery they still suffer every moment, and live. Even a fraction of the agony you exacted through your career would be enough to rip you to shreds. And that would be impermissible. First because it would rob your victims of the opportunity to exact revenge, and because it would cause someone who has not committed murder to die."
"I'll find a way! I'll find a way!"
"At least, that was true of your original body. But, through concentrated research and development in genetic engineering, it was possible to design the organism that now houses your consciousness, an organism that can experience instantaneously hundreds of times more sensation than your original body, and can withstand that onslaught without giving in or failing. You can experience hundreds and hundreds of millions of times more pain every second than could ever be expected of your old physique and continue."
A movement in the control room before Ryan. A figure moving from behind Warwick, to stand near a control panel just inside the window.
The prostitute he assaulted! His first victim! The one whose fingers he shattered!
"There's got to be a way!", he thought desperately, "There's got to be a way out of this!"
"We estimate conservatively", Warwick continued, "that we can inflict on your new body more pain in a single second than the entire state of Rhose Island could experience in a billion years. And you will experience every last instant of that pain. And it will continue, unabated, forever."
The prostitute moved to the panel and manipulated a control.
"This isn't over!", Ryan thought to himself, "This isn't over! Not by a long shot this..."
The treatment began with half a hundred white hot branding irons.