A Science Fiction Thriller
by Steve DeWinter
This short story is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organization, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Copyright © 2013 Steve DeWinter
All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
The muscles in the spindly legs of the little red fox screamed in agony. He had been running for hours, stopping only long enough to get his bearings before dashing off in the direction away from the baying hounds that pursued him.
It wasn’t permanent safety. These runs after all, were fixed. And the odds were never on the fox.
Blended smells came at him from all directions, impossible to discern their point of origin in the unfamiliar countryside.
The sun was too bright. It was always too bright.
He squinted against the harsh light as he looked across the open field from his temporary hiding spot at the edge of the forest.
The hounds bayed far too close for comfort. They were getting closer. It was now or never.
The fox shot out into the open field, making a straight line through the low dead grass for the shadowy embrace of the forest on the other side.
He couldn’t hear the trickle of water, but his keen sense of smell told him there was wet dirt and moss inside the forest ahead. If he could make it to the creek, the most likely cause of those smells, he just might be able to break the scent he trailed behind him with every step.
He was halfway across the field when his stomach flipped with the sensation of falling. The sounds of over-excited hounds no longer emanated from the forest behind him, but were instead coming from one he was running towards.
He skidded to a halt. There were definitely hounds running toward him from the forest in front of him. His oversized ears scanned the forest behind him. Silence, and the smell of wet dirt from a creek, were the only things coming at him from that forest. But that was the first he’d just run out of.
Had he somehow gotten turned around?
He was over thinking this.
The hounds were in one forest and the creek was in the other one. All he had to do was run to the forest that didn’t have pursuing hounds in it.
He shot off across the field in the direction of salvation. The hounds were getting closer, but he knew in his heart he was going to make it. He was intelligent. He was a survivor. He would find a way to beat the odds.
When he reached the middle of the field for the second time, his stomach flipped again and the sounds of the onrushing hounds were coming from the forest in front of him.
Without stopping, he did a 180 and rocketed to the other forest.
As soon as he reached the middle, his stomach flipped and the hounds were in front of him again.
He ground to a halt in the middle of the wide open field, completely exposed, as the first few hounds broke free of the forest in front of him. They headed straight for him, saliva flying from their extended fangs as they ran.
The hounds were not here to corner him for the hunter’s rifle that would bring a swift death. He would feel his body torn apart by the hounds. He would suffer through this agony until his mind could take no more and his heart and lungs shut down from the shock to his system.
The run was always fixed. And the odds were never on the fox.
In the comfortable lobby of a building thousands of stories that toward thousands of stories above the surface of a tired earth, the tour guide walked ahead of the small group.
“Thousands of years ago, when the philosophers of ancient India and China discussed reincarnation, I’m pretty sure they never anticipated anything like this.”
The guide’s burgundy blazer was two sizes too big on his shoulders. He paused in front of a row of shiny steel chairs. They each faced a large graphical display depicting people hunting various small animals. He waited for the entire group to catch up before continuing.
“In fact, the belief in rebirth was so strong, that back in the year 2007, the Chinese government enacted laws to regulate reincarnation. They basically made it illegal to be reborn into another body after death, without permission. I’m pretty sure there were taxes and fees imposed on those who asked for permission.”
That comment elicited snickers from a couple of people in the group.
“But that was a long time ago, and advances in science during the last hundred and twenty years have brought the concepts of reincarnation out of the spiritual realm of fantasy and into the scientific realm of fact.”
The guide tugged at the shoulders of his blazer, trying to straighten them out.
“Now before we get started, who can tell me the purpose of a facility like this?”
The guide looked around the small group, waiting for someone to raise their hand. He looked over most of the group before finally settling on the thin man with wire-framed glasses standing at the back of the group.
“Come on doctor, don’t be shy. What we do here is very important.”
The man with the glasses looked at the floor and avoided making eye contact. Nobody else offered an answer so he continued with his standard introductory speech.
“A little over fifty years ago the government enacted the anti-hypocrisy laws, as they would later be called, and made any law that directly violated another law invalid.
“In essence, the judicial system could no longer sentence someone to death, because murder was considered illegal.
“With the death penalty abolished, prisons started to get more and more crowded. And rather than build more prisons, our legal regulators decided to give lesser crimes a lighter sentencing.
“The end result, to everyone’s dismay, was an increase in crime. With fewer criminal activities resulting in imprisonment, people went right back out to commit more crimes after being arrested and released.
“Today, because of facilities like this, crime is almost nonexistent. I say almost because crime happens wherever there are people, but believe me when I tell you, there are zero repeat offenders.”
He kept his stare a little longer on the man with the wire-frame glasses, to let his comment sink in.
“At the end of the last millennium, criminal rehabilitation was thought to be achieved through imprisonment over an extended period of time but, as we all know, it was met with limited success.
“Now, rehabilitation takes place in a matter of hours with a proven one hundred percent success rate.
A short fellow raised his hand and waited to be called on.
“Does it hurt?”
“That is an excellent question.”
The guide removed a small little gray box, with a single red button on it, from the pocket of his oversized blazer.
“It’s against the law to harm any human. This brings us to the reason we are all here today.”
The guide pushed the little red button and the large digital wall behind him shimmered as it changed from artistic depictions of hunting into a clear Plexiglass wall showing several separate chambers where people, ranging from one to several, were donning hunting gear.
“On the other side of this wall are the victims of your various crimes. They have been given the opportunity to be part of your rehabilitation and will be hunting the animal that we transfer your consciousness into. Your spirit, if you will, for those of you who still believe in such things.”
He pointed to the sparkling metal chairs.
“You have each been assigned a seat number. If you will please find your seat, the chairs will automatically secure you to avoid any possibility of injury during the transfer process.”
The thin man with wire-framed glasses walked to the chair on the end as if he had done this many times before and settled in.
In less time than it took to register he had settled into the shiny metal chair, his arms, chest and legs were immediately held in place by electromagnetic suppressor fields.
He looked into the empty chamber in front of him as the guide in the oversized coat walked up to check that he was securely in place.
“Welcome back Dr. Philips.”
The guide reviewed his notebook.
“I see you are scheduled to be a fox again.”
“How many more times do I have to die?”
“The standard sentencing is one death per victim. And until we catch the monster you unleashed upon us, the authorities fear there will be many more victims. I do believe we will be seeing you again.”
“Why am I being rehabilitated when I never actually killed anyone?”
The guide leaned in close and hissed just barely above a whisper, “Maybe you should’ve left Jack the Ripper back in 19th-century London where he belonged, doctor.”
The guide stood back up to his full height and pressed the button on the chair that started the transfer sequence.
“Enjoy the hunt.”
Also by Steve DeWinter
Inherit The Throne
The Money Player (Hired Guns Short Story Series – Episode 1)
The Fix (Hired Guns Short Story Series – Episode 2)
The Wizard of OZ: A Steampunk Adventure (written as S. D. Stuart)
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