Sven Sakarno was a conundrum. His name was widely known, partly because he was a perfect prisoner, and messaging campaigns had been organized to try to get him freed, and partly because the fabrics he wove in his solitude were famous. (The horror of his crimes had made him famous, too, of course.) Both men and women had volunteered to take him in if he were released, but the Central Colloquium regularly reviewed the psycho-emotional evaluations of him and they never recommended that he be freed. Yet, as his supporters pointed out, he had been for twenty-three years faultless: he was always properly dressed, bathed, and shaved; he was always well spoken; he never made outrageous demands; he accepted medication and he showed no signs of either aggression or depression. He did write a letter to the Colloquium every now and then, mostly with suggestions for the improvement of the lives of the non-prisoners on Heisenberg. (Virtual campsites with virtual bears and rabbits; a hookup channel that would allow spouses to unwind with somebody different now and then; a reenacting club that might focus on farm life or priestly orders, about which very little was known – the Outposters had no priests – so that knowledge might be expanded through virtual history.) His letters, sent by telen, were sane, clear, and well written. He never asked for anything for himself.
Now, Sven Sakarno was seated in front of his skene with his face blank. He was a good-looking man, somewhat larger than the norm, dark-haired, almond-eyed – a recognizable Outpost type. He was thirty-seven. He had been at Heisenberg since he was fourteen, when he had killed his mother, a brother and an aunt with a mechanized carving knife, slicing their larger muscles into piles of meat that he had wrapped in evanesci-film and stored in a communal freezer from which the neighbors were invited to take what they wanted.
The skene glowed; a female face and torso appeared. She said, ‘Ready, Sven?’
‘Yes, Dr Marinelli.’
‘And how are you feeling today?’
‘Well, thank you, doctor, and you?’
‘Your last diagnosis looks really good. You have enviable blood pressure. Are you keeping up your exercise?’
‘Two hours a day, doctor.’ Which she would already know, of course; everything he did was monitored, watched, recorded. He supposed she was trying to trick him or test him. He entertained himself while she looked at a portable archive by imagining her bound to a common kitchen table. One with knives to hand. He had wondered what about himself was so passionate about making people bleed. He often wished it was possible to cut them into little bits and not have them die, simply let them bleed and bleed. He didn’t give a damn about their dying. He felt quite neutral on the subject of death, in fact. Let them live. But cut them into pieces, of course. Now take this one, for example: not particularly good-looking, although that didn’t matter; in her forties or fifties, he supposed, but that didn’t matter, either. Somewhat full-breasted under that sweater. Well, he would cut the sweater off her. Pull it down to her waist. What is she wearing under it – nothing? That would be disappointing. He didn’t see any sign of an undergarment. Still, let’s give her a bra – a good old word, bra, handed down from the good old world, earth. A pink bra. Let’s put the knife blade between the cups in front, saw gently to cut the fabric—
‘I’m so sorry, Sven, my notes were in the wrong cache. Thank you for waiting. Are you having dreams?’
‘Some that I remember, yes. Maybe I have others I don’t.’
‘What do you dream?’ Again, she would have all this in the archive. He had to write down his dreams – or write down something – as soon as he woke. He was usually truthful, because he didn’t dream of the things about which he was really passionate (flesh, knives) but about, usually, repetitive tasks that he performed endlessly in a typical night. One of the punishments of Heisenberg was that the prisoners could have no real work to do; their lives were empty; therefore, he thought they – or he, anyway – dreamed of work. He told her that he saw the repetitive work, which was always faintly menacing, as punishment for what he had done. He didn’t believe that, but he thought she might. He had read probably more about dreams and guilt than she ever had; he knew that he was certainly more intelligent than she.
‘Why do you think the dreams are punishment?’
‘Do they frighten you?’
‘Not unpleasant in that way. They’re so meaningless. And the sky is so dark – and the lights as if the power’s shutting down or… I don’t know.’
They chatted about his dreams for a while. She introduced the subject of sex, which rarely entered his dreams, but he pointed out that he was usually satisfied by the virtual intercourse device and thus not frustrated. ‘But—’ he said and stopped. His eyes teared up – a useful skill, particularly as the tears degraded the readings of the ocular scanner he knew she was using. ‘But – I miss other…’ He swallowed, apparently with difficulty. ‘Human beings.’ He looked into her eyes on the skene. ‘No offense.’
And none taken, he could tell. She pulled her eyebrows just a fraction of a millimeter together, then gave an equally fractional smile. She murmured, ‘I’m sure,’ but he knew that she would enter the remark into her report. Subject misses contact with other ‘human beings.’ This is a possible breakthrough.
After twenty-three fucking years, he thought, it’s about time, isn’t it? He wanted to laugh out loud. ‘Other human beings’ indeed. The idea was disgusting. He was a human being; she and all the others – he had his doubts about them.