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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 3
The Only Alternative

 

“Barrett. You have a visitor.”

Dressed in a set of bright orange coveralls, Brian Delano Barrett lay on the dirty floor face down beside his bunk, coming to rest following a set of rigorous pushups. He looked up and focused his deep brown eyes upon the man standing on the other side of a door made of sturdy iron bars. The guard could have been a linebacker, and the manacles he held were nearly lost in his beefy hands.

“Crane, you can tell whoever it is to come back later. I'm busy.”

“Get to your feet, Barrett,” said the guard, Jud Crane. “You can exercise later.”

Barrett gave the man a sardonic grin, but stood up anyway, pulling a ragged hand towel off the frame of his small bed. He wiped off his face and neck, deliberately making the guard wait until he draped the towel back over the frame. He ran a hand through his short, rusty red hair and then brushed off the front of his coveralls.

When he approached the meal slot of the door, he saw two other armed guards standing nearby, their shotguns held ready toward him; both of them looked as if they could be on the same football team as the first guy. Barrett slipped his hands through the opening without taking his eyes off the weapons, and allowed Crane to clasp the manacles about his wrists. He withdrew his arms back into the cell and then the door was opened for him.

“Who's come to see me?” he asked casually as he followed the beefy guard along the dimly lit central aisle, the others falling into step behind him. “A fan?”

Crane did not bother turning around to answer. “William Harper,” he replied.

“Hasn't that shyster done enough for me already?” Barrett grumbled aloud, glancing sideways at another inmate making a rude gesture at him through old bars of iron. He ignored the guy and followed his guard past a set of sliding doors into another room. They turned the corner and then emerged into a brighter corridor lined with black and white checkered floor tiles.

Up next to the football squad that made up his entourage, Brian Barrett did not appear to be anyone of great size, but his wide shoulders, thick arms and six foot height were noticeable to the scrawny clerk who sat behind an old oak desk beside another door.

“Prisoner 374937 is here to meet his visitor,” reported Crane.

The clerk looked through thick glasses at a clipboard and then nodded. “Cubicle twelve,” he stated, turning to put a thumb against a pad beside the door. He punched a code onto an adjacent screen and then the door slide aside quietly.

Barrett was taken along a long row of thick transparent cubicles, each containing two cheap plastic chairs that faced one another through a glassteel panel, with a simple communication handset on each side of the partition. Only three of the fifteen cubicles were in use.

The meticulously dressed man on the other side of number twelve was slight of build with a complexion that looked somewhat unhealthy with thinning grey hair to match. He had an intense air and licked his lips often. He stood up when Barrett approached, fingering the handle of an attaché case in his hands, and then the two of them sat down together. The guards retreated to a monitoring desk some distance away and then the two men picked up their respective phones.

“Hello, Harper,” Barrett said, leaning casually on the small counter before the partition so that his heavy manacles would not chafe. His feet bumped against a large iron ring embedded in the floor beneath the counter, but fortunately he didn't need to be shackled to it as some inmates had.

“Hello, Mr. Barrett,” his lawyer responded. “How are you today?”

“I'm still alive, but I can guess you have come to tell me how much longer that's going to be.”

William Harper looked at him quietly for a moment before finally giving the prisoner a single nod. “You are scheduled for termination at two o'clock on the afternoon of October twenty-second,” he replied.

“That was quick…”

“Yes, Mr. Barrett, but convicted killers are not kept waiting for years as they used to be.”

“Harper, this is ludicrous,” Barrett retorted. “I’m on Death Row for killing an animal! How could you let this happen to me? We need to appeal!”

“Barrett, you shot Mr. Parker a few minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day in front of a crowd of witnesses. You boldly admitted it to a jury of your peers, and you didn’t even try to get away after you murdered the poor man.”

“That wasn’t murder,” Barrett scoffed. “Murder is when a human kills another human. That thing you call Parker wasn’t a man. It was an animal. Nothing more.”

“Nothing more?  That thing, as you call him, was dating your ex-fiancé.”

“She left me for that thing and was sleeping with it! That’s bestiality!”

“The courts don’t agree with you, Barrett. Your crime was witnessed by many, and it is indisputable against the laws enacted when they began taking volunteers for the furmankind process. The Furs are protected by the same laws that protect the rest of us. What you did was murder.”

“Those laws were only created to pacify those who wanted to become abominations of nature, and you know it. Furs shouldn't have any more human rights than a household cat! If one of them kills another, you can call it murder if you wish, but I did not kill a man. I shot a dangerous animal.”

Lawyer William Harper looked at his client with a frown. This was the same argument he had gotten time and again since he had been assigned to this case, and no matter how he put it, Brian Barrett would see it no other way.  He looked across at the Death Row inmate a moment longer and then reached for his attaché case.

“If you had agreed to plead temporary insanity, perhaps I could have gotten you a life sentence,” he told the man, “but you showed no remorse to those in judgment over you and willingly boasted of your accomplishment. For that, you will be executed three months from today, and then your body is to be cremated. Your ashes will likely be dumped into a rusty barrel in the basement of the facility.”

“Hmph, nice. You put me to sleep and I just never wake up again. Quick and easy like everything else these days.”

Harper stared at him intently for a moment before shaking his head. “Brian… the punishment for the murder of a Fur is death by a Fur, likely by one who is known for violent tendencies just kept handy for such occasions. I understand that sometimes the Fur used for this is not fed the night before, and there's not much left over to cremate afterward.”

For the first time since the lawyer had joined him in the cubicle where the two of them could talk, fear crept into Barrett’s eyes. He had faced dangers in his thirty-five years, but a violent death terrified him utterly.

“Harper, this is insane! Can’t you do something?”

“There is an option, but I do not think you will like it,” the lawyer replied.

Barrett leaned closer to the partition. “If it's an alternative to a death like that, I like it already!”

Harper stared at him for a long moment and then opened his attaché case. He pulled out a thin, multi-page pamphlet and then held it up to the glassteel partition. Barrett furrowed his eyebrows when he read the reflective words across the front of the pamphlet.  

Is the AHCP For You? 

“What is this?” Barrett asked with a dangerous edge in his voice, partially rising from his chair. The nearby guards came alive and moved forward as one.

“Take your seat, Barrett,” growled Crane, “and stay there!”

The prisoner favored the guard with a dark glare, but he dropped back into his seat and then transferred the glare toward his lawyer. The guards returned to their station, but kept watchful eyes upon him.

William Harper set the pamphlet on the top of his briefcase and then looked back at his client, his lips pressed together in a thin line.

“Mr. Barrett, it has taken me a week of coaxing for the judge to agree to this, but in lieu of the capital punishment you would face, you may serve out a life sentence with the AHCP.”

Veins pulsated visibly in Barrett's neck and he ground his teeth together. He let forth a string of profanity, but somehow managed to keep his seat.

“I take it that you already know what the AHCP is,” Harper said dryly.

It was all Barrett could do to keep from ramming a fist into the glassteel partition, despite the knowledge that it would simply break most of the bones in his hand. Instead, he gripped the phone handset tightly, almost willing it to crumple in his grip.

“Yes,” he hissed, “I know what the cursed Anthro Human Colonization Program is, and for your own safety, you'd better not be suggesting what I think you are.”

“Threatening me will do you no good,” Harper said calmly. He had expected this reaction. “You have only two choices, Mr. Barrett. Undergo the McEwen furmankind process as a participant in the AHCP or face a violent death as sentenced.”

“NO!” Barrett shouted angrily. He stood up and slammed the phone handset against the glassteel partition, but the next thing he experienced was the searing effect of a guard's stunner. He fell to the floor convulsing as the nerve endings in the back of his neck crackled with energy.

When the current ceased coursing through his body, the guards picked up the subdued prisoner and began to drag him back to his secure cell on Death Row. Lawyer Harper stood up and knocked on the glass.

“Wait, please!” he called. His voice barely penetrated the glassteel partition, but Crane looked back at him as if he were insane. Checking to make sure that Barrett was still restrained, he walked to the cubicle's com-phone and picked up the dangling handset.

“What did you want?” he asked gruffly.

“Put him back in his seat,” requested the lawyer. “I'm not finished with him yet, but you may need to zap him again if he doesn't sit still long enough to listen to me.”

“Suit yourself.” He motioned for the other two guards and then checked to make sure his stunner had sufficiently recharged. Barrett was roughly placed back in his chair, gasping for breath from the electrical attack on his nervous system. He leaned forward and placed his head on his manacled arms atop the small counter before the partition.

Harper tapped on the glass with his phone and Barrett looked up at him with smoldering eyes. Reluctantly, he picked up his own handset and put it up to his face. “Leave me alone,” he muttered weakly.

“Not until you listen to what I have to say,” the lawyer replied.

The prisoner straightened up. “Listen… William,” he said in a quiet tone, using the lawyer's first name, “I understand what you are trying to do for me, but that is an avenue I will never consider.”

“Mr. Barrett, you told me not minutes ago that if you had an alternative to a violent death that you were already in agreement with it.”

“You want to strip away my humanity and turn me into one of the very beasts that I despise,” Barrett continued, deliberately speaking in normal conversational tones. “I've done my own research into the AHCP and I know how they torture their patients through a painful and unnecessary transformation into mindless beasts.”

“They are not mindless,” Harper said. “You would not lose any—”

“Those people lose their souls and I've heard some of them go crazy, unable to cope with the changes! That's probably what happened to the animal they are keeping around to execute people like me.”  Barrett swallowed, trying to keep his temper in check; the pain from the stunner was still fresh. “I understand the basic reasoning why the Terran Colonization Coalition considered this inhuman approach to space exploration, but Man himself is more adaptable than they remembered. There is no reason to put people through torment to change them into beasts of burden when technologies exist that would help colonies survive the environments of new worlds.”

“Mr. Barrett, I'm not here to discuss the purpose of the furman existence,” Harper said patiently. “We are talking about your existence. One way or another, Barrett, your life as a human is finished. You want to live, but the justice system wants your blood. The only way you are going to be allowed to live is to become one of furmankind. Once the process is completed, you will be given an education for skills you will need as part of a colony settlement. You will have a guaranteed home, education, a steady job, and you will be among others of your kind, free to live out the rest of your life.”

Barrett snorted. “I want to appeal,” he said curtly.

“No chance, Mr. Barrett, and before you ask for another lawyer, there's no one else who would take up your case at this point.”

Barrett stared at the other man for a long minute and then let out an audible sigh. “Thank you for all your help, Mr. Harper. You are right, you see. I have no remorse for killing that animal, but I will not take his place as another one.  I don't want to die by the claws and fangs of a killer animal that should have already been put down, so I may have to find an alternative on my own before that happens.  Goodbye, William.”

“Barrett!”

Before Harper could say anything more, Barrett calmly hung up the phone and turned away from the window. He gestured toward the guards and said in a casual tone, “Okay, we're finished here.”

William Harper placed his phone handset back in its cradle in shock as Barrett was led back to his cell. The lawyer looked down at the colorful AHCP pamphlet on top of his attaché case and picked it up. Frustrated at his failure, he flipped through its pages and then placed it back inside the attaché before standing up to leave.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.