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In spite of the inmate’s methodical interview the day before, by 6 AM the next morning Ned was crying like an innocent baby. Innocent. It had been at least a decade since anyone had used the term ‘innocent’ in the same sentence with Ned’s name. Somewhere after midnight the prisoner had vomited the steak and eggs that made up his last meal.
Louie, the armed guard who stood on the right side of the convict’s cell door couldn’t help but roll his eyes when the other guard said a Methodist preacher was headed up to talk with Ned. “Maybe a preacher can make him shut the fuck up,” Louie whispered to Stanley, knowing the inmate couldn’t hear him over the sound of his sobbing. Both of the guards were in their early thirties.
“I sure hope so,” answered Stanley sneering slightly. “It’s easier for us when they walk out instead of being dragged out.” Stanley was still a little steamed at Louie because the night before Louie had said over beers that he wished it were an electric couch instead of a chair so they could get rid of more than one killer at a time. But each man had to deal with the death row assignment as best they could. None of the younger guards were dealing well with their jobs - but the pay was good. The older guards didn’t talk about their jobs at all, preferring to keep to themselves.
By 6:45 AM Pastor Lawrence had prayed over the inmate through the cell’s door and stepped back, ready to follow the procession down the hall. “It’s time,” said the lead prison guard getting ready to unlock the door. Ned nodded in acknowledgement but continued to sit on his cot in his holding cell, only a few feet from the execution chamber. Two other guards stood watching as the cell door was unlocked and the prisoner was helped to his feet. They guided the prisoner out the cell door and into the hallway, a guard in front with Louie, Ned and Stanley following, a guard behind the trio, and the Pastor Lawrence following a few feet behind the procession.
Ned’s knees gave out suddenly as he continued to sob loudly, Louie and Stanley grabbing him before he hit the ground and dragging him the last ten feet before shoving him into the electric chair. The back-up guards strapped his hands and feet onto the chair.
The pastor noted from behind a glass window that Ned appeared ashen, frightened and humbled – at least that was what he would say later that day, giving the press and spectators crowding around the front of the prison a few details about what he had seen.
There were others from the community behind the window as well and, through his tears, Ned talked to a couple of the men he recognized. “Fred and John, I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.”
A black leather hood was placed over the prisoner’s head at 7 AM, right on schedule.
At 7:03 a masked executioner entered the room and stood next to the switch. Ned’s hopeless sobs echoed through the chamber and a small way down the hall.
At 7:16 AM the Florida prison system issued an announcement that the on-site doctor had declared the prisoner in the chair officially dead.
But Ned was not in that chair, not really…
Ned looked around at the metallic room with large windows, stifling his tears. This was not what he had been expecting. He was almost expecting fire and sulfur when he opened his eyes – maybe heavenly harps if his apologies and cries for mercy had been accepted – but never a metallic room with windows.
Ned walked over to the windows, finding that his natural curiosity had gotten the better of him. Below him he could see the blue of the ocean surrounding a landmass that could only be the peninsula of Florida. The left side of his view was still dark, city lights sparkling like diamonds thrown onto a black blanket, while on the right side he could see the sun rising over the blue waters.
A dark, opaque plate came down over the window, dampening his view of the earth below him.
“Don’t look into the sun, Ned – you’ll hurt your eyes,” said a voice, startling the usually calm killer.
Ned whirled around to see a creature behind him that was very close to being human. The hue of the skin was a little bluer than he was used to and there was something about the eyelids that just didn’t fit, but the creature was definitely almost human. For the first time in years, Ned was at a loss for words.
“I can understand your confusion, Ned. You’ll have to excuse us for allowing the scene below to continue to its normal climax. We don’t intervene until the last moment – to avoid questions.”
The part of Ned’s brain that had studied law kicked into gear as the killer heard words begin to fall out of his mouth. “Where am I? Am I dead? Is this hell? Who are you?”
The creature laughed a little. “Please. Let me take the last question first by allowing me to introduce myself. I am Hectare, a travelling citizen of this galaxy, a mere bureaucrat perhaps. No – You aren’t dead. A replica resembling you did get fried however.”
“I suppose a thank you is in order then,” said Ned, bowing slightly.
“You are most welcome. I take humans with a specific talent from one planet and transport them to other planets in need of that service.”
“Is this a UFO then? – a spaceship?” asked Ned looking out the window again.
“Definitely. In fact, let me show you into the next room where others like me – and some like you - are eager to meet you.” Hectare turned and a door appeared in the wall, the creature leading the human into a large room with a long glass table. There were near-humans and other humans filling the dozen or so seats at the table which was filled with all manner of food and drink.
Ned was apprehensive but took an available seat next to his host, looking over a huge platter of roast beef sitting in front of him.
“Please Ned, eat,” said Hectare. “After your ordeal a good sandwich will settle your nerves. And the wine onboard is excellent, trust me.”
Ned was unsure at first but the others were all eating and drinking, so he began to settle in and enjoy himself. Why not? He had never blamed himself for his crimes, preferring to blame the society he was born into for producing violent porn that had bent him towards killing. Wasn’t that what he had told the interviewer just – yesterday? Had it just been yesterday?
One of the humans, a man in his forties, leaned towards Ned to get his attention. “We can all read your mind, Ned. Your thoughts are racing around like rats in a cage, trying to justify who you are and what you did. Relax. All that is over now. Eat something.” The stranger poured him a glass of red wine which Ned gratefully accepted and started to drink.
“And you are?” he asked, looking at the man with a large handle-bar mustache.
“So many names, Ned. Around here we go by aliases we take when we are...well....re-born if you will. I was brought on board in the Spring of 1896 after standing on the gallows in Chicago. I’ve been here almost a week, enjoying my stay as they got ready to pick you up.”
"They were waiting for me?"
"They have a quota to fill, so they were waiting for someone to rise to the top," said the stranger.
They were right, this was some of the best merlot he had ever tasted. The killer shrugged and made a sandwich, beginning to devour the food.
“We know you have questions, Ned,” said the near-human at the head of the table, waiting for a response.
Ned laid the roast beef sandwich in the plate before him. “Who are you…people?” he asked politely.
“Great question! Right to the point,” said the creature at the end of the table who was obviously in charge. “We are in the logistics business, rather like your UPS. We collect killers from various worlds and various times and transport them to other worlds. Just that, nothing more.”
“Why would you want to do that? Aren’t you afraid we’ll hurt humans wherever we go?” asked Ned.
“To the contrary, we would be disappointed if you didn’t kill others on your new home-world. You have been deceived into thinking that killing is a terrible thing, something abnormal and monstrous. But if that is true, why were there so many psychopaths and sociopaths on your Earth? Evolution has a purpose for each creature produced in a certain environment. You found your niche. You were designed to kill the weakest around you.”
Hectare took up the surprising lecture. “You don’t know this but the larger a population gets - the more psychopaths are born. It is evolution’s way of weeding out the weak and decreasing the growing population. In your 14th century, one killer was produced per 1000 humans. 200 years ago that ratio was 1 in 500. Today it has risen to 1 in 100.”
The leader took over. “Hectare is our ship’s historian. But do you understand the gist of what we are telling you?”
“It’s okay for me to murder people, even good for me to murder?” asked Ned sheepishly.
A man at the other end of the table laughed boldly. “Not just YOU my small colleague – all of us. We’re all murderers. We were born without a conscience so we could decrease the population and weed out the weak. It's like when rangers introduce wolves into a forest to cut down on the deer population.”
“That’s amazing!” said Ned, finally smiling. “Now it all makes sense.”
At some point during the meal, Ned happened to look in the corner of the room and saw what seemed to be a human hung from the ceiling. There were tubes running in and out of its veins. Its body seemed to be floating, facing the floor.
“What is that? Is that person alive?” Ned asked, talking to the creature sitting beside him.
“Does it offend you? Or do you want to kill it?” asked Hectare.
“Not at all, I don’t really care either way, but why is it here? I’m curious.”
Hectare thought for a moment before answering. “It is a decoration, nothing more. Think about your Christmas trees: you give them water everyday so they appear to stay alive, but they’re not really alive, they're as dead as a rock - but they look like they're alive. We harvested this human on Earth so we could display it here and enjoy it as a decoration for our celebration of death. Is this human still alive? – probably not, but maybe it is. Is a Christmas tree still alive as it stands in a puddle of water after having its roots cut off? Same thing.”
The near-human looked into Ned’s eyes. Ned could finally see that the creatures had an extra transparent eyelid that would blink occasionally. “You are now part of a very exclusive club, my friend. We are all killers. Soon you’ll be implanted with fake memories and delivered to another crowded world where you can kill as much as your heart desires. Think of this as a Christmas gift, with a whole new life of death in front of you.”
Ned smiled. Truly, this was everything his heart had ever wished for.
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