Jeremy Maxwell, his dark face set in sullen lines, as he watched the mallet fall. There was little difference between the Moon and Earth courts. The judge’s voice boomed around the court. “The law does not accept the defendant’s plea for clemency.
“You have come before me no less than five times, on similar charges. I therefore have no alternative but to sentence you to one year at the Scientific Research Centre at Markgrove in the Asus region.”
Jeremy glared at the judge in disbelief. Tossing his long blonde hair back, drew a deep breath, and fell back into his seat with a loud crash.
“Really Mr Maxwell, making a public spectacle of yourself will solve nothing. Officers take him down.”
Between the sterile white stone walls of the hospital chamber, Maxwell lay back and looked on as the auto-medics moved in on his arm, like creatures preparing for a feast. A nanoserum had already been applied, to anaesthetise the limb and prepare for incision. Dull iron restraining band felt cold against his soft white skin. With a swift precise movement, the first scalpel cut deep into his flesh.
Feeling nothing in his arm gazed towards it only to see that it had been completely removed, and laid in a cryolis chamber. The scalpels lay to one side now, sticky with his blood. With perfect synchronised movement a laser controlled implement moved in and began sealing the wound, leaving a lingering burnt smell that was to haunt him for some time.
A few hours had passed and his forearm had been removed and was the property of the state for the next 12 months. He now lay in the recovery room, when he came too; his probation officer Miss Daniel’s sat waiting.
“A year’s sentence isn’t such a long time, Mr Maxwell. It’ll be over before you know it, and you will get used to being without your forearm, for the next year.”
“Do you have to be quite so callous about it?”
“What would you prefer? That I didn’t mention what has happened here? You brought this on yourself by committing the crime and now you must suffer the consequences of your actions”
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so off-hand.” As Maxwell gazed at the stump of his arm still numbing by the anaesthesia and wrapped in fresh white bandages. As he attempted to move, he could feel the missing weight of his forearm. It would take him some time to adjust to the new balance of his body.
His assigned probation officer, Miss Daniel’s, was very plain looking in appearance.
“I should hope your career as a petty thief is over, now. The first thing to do is find employment, for the durance of your sentence at least, and hopefully afterwards.”
“The first thing to do, as far as I’m concerned,” Maxwell retorted, “is get me measured up for my cybernetic limb.”
“Mr Maxwell, your sentence will last for one full year, and you’ll be required to attend re-abilitation classes, and I will call upon you each week at your place of employment.”
“What happens to me if I don’t abide by the rules?”
“Your sentence period will be extended. If you re-offend at any time during the year, your current sentence will run consecutively with any new sentence imposed on you. My advice to you is not to steal anymore, or at least not get caught. Unless you have a good lawyer you could be handed a prison sentence or at the worst sentenced to the cryostasis chamber for the duration of your sentence.”
“You know it was not my intention to re-offend,” he said with a pleasing look in his eyes. “At the end of the year, is it right they will re-attach my forearm?”
“All being well. Yes. The procedure is a little more complicated; the nerves have to be regenerated, and realigned. But it’s quite a common procedure these days. Your forearm won’t be quite as you remember it, tests will have been carried out on it, and senses adjusted so you don’t stray again.”
“Will I suffer from any side effects?”
She gazed at him for a moment, looking deep into those dark sullen eyes; “there shouldn’t be any.”
“What if there are?”
“If there are go straight to the nearest hospital, and give them your planetarian code number. A human doctor opposed to a synthetic one should treat you. The operation isn’t supposed to leave the patient with side effects, but that’s not to say it can’t happen in rare cases.
Maxwell, felt a pain within, that came from outside of his body, how can that be? Slowly the anaesthetic was wearing off, and the pain grew stronger. With his remaining hand summoned an auto medic to give him another shot of a pain killer.
A few weeks later, he had been transferred from the prison hospital to work at the exotic animal and plant food-processing unit, surrounded by three high walls, cut deep into the cliff.
His cybernetic forearm looked gruesome, with its network of levers, wires and sensor points; he often questioned in his mind, who was serving time, him or his arm? The hand had been constructed from a mix of plastic and metal, with a claw instead of fingers, slow to respond to actions from his brain.
Thankfully, the forearm was hidden from sight in his black uniform. It would have looked better with a synthetic skin covering.
He slipped easily into a daily routine. Each morning he would climb down into the vaults and walk beside the great holding cages of the farm, checking everything was clean, and the exotic animals were all present and correct. Like me they had nowhere to go, technically they were imprisoned.
Occasionally he would have to clean the cages out by hand, as the grilles and chutes became blocked with food and waste material. Each cage was twenty-five metres square, holding up to five animals, proving to be a formidable task at the best of times.
The plant farm was self sufficient, having to be watered by the sprinklers twice a day, ready for the pickers to collect the food on a daily basis.
Every tenth day of the month, attended citizenship classes at the nearest town, travelling by monorail.
After a while you knew what they wanted to hear from you and reciting it became second nature. As long as they thought they were inducting you into a new way of life, no one was any the wiser.
On the first day of each week, the probation officer Miss Daniel’s, came to check up on his progress, but seldom had anything to report.
“They keep me constantly occupied, no time to consider my old life.”
“It must be quiet and lonely in this environment.”
“The creatures don’t say much,” Maxwell admitted with a slight grin on his face.
Miss Daniel’s stood at the edge of one of the cages, gazing in, “are they dangerous?”
“They’re too drowsy to be dangerous, they are kept drugged up to the eyeballs, still I wouldn’t get too close to them, prior to feeding times.”
It pleased him when she visited, but relieved at her departure, she made it painfully clear he was serving time for his crimes.
As the weeks went by the intensity of the pain increased, where once he had a hand, and now there was a claw like structure.
One of the auto medics had explained part of his brain was still convinced that he had a hand; it believed as though it was still reviewing messages from the nerves. To resolve the problem, painkillers were prescribed, hoping to ease the sensation, but it never worked.
Finally, he removed the cybernetic replacement, and carried on work as best he could without it. It made him uncomfortable to have the sensation of two limbs occupying the space where only one should have been.
According to the auto medic, the phantom limb wouldn’t last forever, but there was no telling how long.
Night times were the worst, when he was hovering on the edge of sleep, or just waking up. He would feel the sensation of something touching his invisible palm, but much worse was the sensation that he was not in full control of his hand.
The only answer must be that his own hand wants revenge for being removed from his body. It was his fault and he had to be punished for it.
The following night he awoke choking, struggling for breath. The phantom hand was at his throat, its fingers clasped about his windpipe, unseen fingers digging into his flesh. Weakened by the lack of oxygen, his vision began to blur, and the room grew darker, all life was being sucked out of him. Abruptly, the phantom hand loosened his grip, and Maxwell collapsed back on his bunk, gulping great gasps of air.
In an anxious mood, Maxwell rang Miss Daniel’s in the dead of night, requesting to see his hand, but she was annoyed at being disturbed so late.
“Of course you can see your hand, but you must apply to the Scientific Research Centre, through the courts, which should take a few weeks.”
Alarmed at the delay, he just hung up, leaving Miss Daniel’s curious about his request.
Maxwell feared for his life, after the deathly attack upon his body, and knew he must not sleep, as he might not be able to fend off the next attack.
Maxwell headed into the city, to see if his hand was still at the Research Hospital, or was it a dream, but how could that be, as bruises were appearing around his throat.
Before reaching the hospital, he was apprehended by two security officers, at the monorail station, and delivered back into Miss Daniel’s custody.
“What on earth do you think you were doing,” she demanded in a high pitched voice, “are you trying to get arrested?”
“I don’t know. I was trying to reach the hand, but I had no idea what I would do when I got there.”
“What’s all this about,” Miss Daniel’s asked.
Maxwell out of desperation told her everything.
When he had finished, she sat silent for a long time. Then she said the reason you were apprehended was that your hand was stolen in the early hours of the morning. When you weren’t to be found at the processing unit, I put out an apprehend request on site.
“I’m afraid,” he said abruptly. “But I’m unsure what I’m afraid of,” he said in a low voice.
“Don’t worry,” she replied. “I will remain here with you until this is resolved one way or the other.”
Maxwell could hardly find the words to thank her.
Down in the cages, the animals seemed agitated. Having not been fed for the past 24 hours, one of the youngest had been attacked and eaten by the others; bringing home to him how dangerous they really were. A scattering of bones was all that remained of the young one. After feeding them he sprayed the cages with water, considered a luxury to the exotic animals. Where once a form of joining had existed between them; only fear remained now.
“Are you all right, Mr Maxwell?” she asked.
“Somewhat awkwardly I replied. “Yes. Thanking her for her concern.
“If you need me, I will be along the corridor.”
Sleep came hard to him; he tossed and turned for many hours; eventually laying in silence with his eyes wide open. From time to time, gazed at the metal forearm by his bunk.
Finally in desperation swung his legs out of the bunk, and fixed the gruesome arm in place. There was a slight sting as the control points probing his skin, searching for the nerve interface implants, bringing the arm back to life.
Some instinct told him something was wrong, as he wandered out among the cages. The sensation he felt in his arm; made him question, was the phantom arm close by, or was it all in his mind?
Then in the larger of the cages, he caught glimpse of movement, too quick to have been made by these sedated animals, as he watched on, when he heard the sound of footsteps heading his way.
“Mr Maxwell is that you?”
“Yes, Miss Daniel’s. I’m over here.”
“What are you doing in here in the dead of night? What’s going on?” she asked, observing Maxwell opening the upper hatch into the cage.
“There’s no time for explanations now. I will explain afterwards,” as he dropped into the cage.
It was dark; by what little light there was the animals skin shimmered, and his old hand could be seen close by. For a moment he gazed in disbelief of how it got here, then suddenly it lunged itself around his neck, but he was unable to fully control the cybernetic arm to remove his old arm. The more he struggled, the tighter the grip about his throat. He felt the blood beating at his throat, trying to find its way through the constricted vessels, past the hard grip of the fingers. Slowly he began to loose consciousness, as he grew dizzy and everything around him was growing darker, moment by moment.
Then the cages were flooded with light, as Miss Daniel’s switched on the main lights above. All in an instant, Maxwell saw he could break the things hold, using his cybernetic hand, bringing it down with as much force as he could muster, and tore the stunned hand from his throat, and held it at arms length as it struggled to free itself.
Miss Daniel’s stood by the lower entrance, with one of the darts used to paralyse the animals, whilst I held it she thrust it into the body of the hand. The struggling stopped, and the hand went limp.
Still holding this violent, but sedated hand, tossed it into the animal’s food tray, and watched until it had been eaten. Finally the old phantom hand was no more, and peace reigned.
Maxwell looked on, but said nothing as Miss Daniel’s rested her soft hand on his shoulder. “I’ll put forward a request to end your sentence, under special circumstances, and arrange a new cybernetic forearm, with an imitation outer skin, you won’t be able to tell the difference!
My nightmare was over!!!