Authors: BT Murphy
Book 1 of the Criminogenic Trilogy
By B.T. Murphy
Heavy pounding woke Peter Ronin up from his sleep. The luminescent red numbers flickering told him that it was too early for guests. The shivering figure at the edge of the bed was lit by the dim streetlights, forcing a glow into the dark room. Another heavy thud on the front door snapped Peter out of his sleepy lull, tossing the covers aside, Peter determinedly walked toward the unwelcomed intrusion.
“No,” She whispered helplessly, “don’t let them in.” She knew that her pleas were in vain.
Shannon stayed in place on the edge of the bed, tightening her arms around herself while she watched Peter walk toward uncertainty. Peter scoffed at her paranoia with irritation. Of course she would stay put while I have to face whoever this is, he thought. Each clumsy step that he took down the hall sent more fear down Shannon’s spine.
Peter was no match for whoever would greet him at the door. At least they were polite enough to knock before coming to wring my neck, he thought. He didn’t have much of a neck to wring as it was. Peter was a particularly scrawny man, never one interested in sports, he’d dedicated his time to academia – and he had a physique to match. A loud crash of furniture connecting with his shin bone sent Peter into a painful fit of rage, all the while, the banging on the door grew louder, more urgent. As he swung the flimsy, wooden door open, Peter stood before three intimidating looking men. Each gruffer than the next, they towered over a surprised Peter. While he was surprised to see them, he already knew who they were.
Denunciation Act Enforcers were a special breed of authority throughout the regions. Civilians had dubbed them The Bulldogs, and it was speculated that they actually carried the jeer with pride. They were large, overpowering men who could send anyone into a fear induced panic.
Are you here for me?” he whimpered/
“Should we be?” asked one of the Bulldogs. It was too blurry to make out exactly which one, but it seemed to come from the one who had done the banging earlier.
“I…well, no…please, no. I wasn’t…I didn’t mean…Never would I ever!” Peter sputtered unintelligently at the Bulldogs who seemed to be evaluating his every weakly, grasping word. They pushed past him into the apartment, which was instantly made smaller and more insignificant than usual.
“Yes, yes, come in, please!” Peter squeaked, waving his arm in a host-like manner around his living room.
“Who is here with you?” one of the Bulldogs asked.
“My girlfriend, Shannon. She spent the night.”
“Shannon Wright?” the Bulldog asked with slight intrigue. The spotlights turned abruptly away from Peter, and he mentally ushered them to his bedroom. Yes, he thought, she would be the one. Always careless with her thoughts and ideas. It was all confirmed while he sat in the living room and listened to two Bulldogs enter the bedroom and ask Shannon if she was, indeed, Shannon Wright. Her response couldn’t be heard, but it was something of a whimper. Peter heard what sounded like a shuffle and the beating of bare feet. And there she was, Shannon, her eyes frantic and pleading, and piercing right into him.
“I did nothing, Peter! Tell them! Tell them you know me, Peter, please, be my Defense.” Her request left Peter gapping at her and then at the Bulldogs. They had re-entered the living room and, as blurry as the sight was to him, he could feel them looking at him. Shannon dropped to her knees and grabbed Peter’s knees.
“Peter,” she whispered, “please.” The woman who Peter had been dating for the past seven months looked nothing like his fun-loving, carefree colleague. Even her bouncy curls looked to be in shock. He saw her as the Bulldogs probably saw her now. She looked unkempt, unrestrained, and utterly untrustworthy. Her fear mirrored that of Peter’s earlier and marked her as guilty. He had to distance himself from her now in front of the Bulldogs before they kept their gaze honed on him.
This was not the woman whose mischievous smile had beckoned Peter for months before they started dating, before he had built up the courage to ask her to dinner. This woman wasn’t the one who made him smile in spite of his reserved and serious genetic make-up. She was not the woman who had, barely an hour ago, wrapped her long arms around him in the bed where they had made love. This woman was dangerous. Peter abhorred danger or any kind of excitement, and he turned his face away from it. He heard her despairing gasp, but wouldn’t look at her face as the Bulldogs pulled her arm and carried her out of his home. When he looked back around, one of the Bulldogs was still standing there in the middle of the room watching him.
“You can still be her Defense if you wish,” the Bulldog said, simply. Peter immediately shook his head, shaking Shannon out.
“Good choice,” the Bulldog said, nodding his own head. “No reason to get caught up in her impending future.”
“She’s…she’s a Could?” Peter asked. He didn’t want to know, he shouldn’t have asked. The question was damn near incriminating.
“Actually,” the Bulldog said before he closed the apartment door behind him, “she is a Would.”
Peter spent the next hour sitting in the shower, washing away all remnants of the Would that he had let into his home, into his life. He had to be more vigilant, he told himself. He had come too close to being dragged out of his own home for a crime that he would be accused of potentially committing. After work tomorrow, he planned to perform at least five hours of community service to prove that his intentions were pure. The soup kitchen was always in need of help, and it had been weeks since he volunteered anywhere. Shannon had taken up his time, and distracted him from his duties. Six hours. He would volunteer six hours tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Over the weekend, he would join a community outreach group. He would prove that he couldn’t be a Could and would never be a Would. Never.
eter was exhausted for two weeks. He eventually decreased his volunteer hours when he felt that he had done enough penance, but he continued the community outreach group over the weekends. When he got to the classroom, he was almost ten minutes late. A few students were actually packing their bags. If it weren’t for the headache that he was suffering, he would have given them his best glowering look. They were definitely Coulds. He should report them after class.
“Apologies, apologies,” he whined. He placed his briefcase on his desk, and started writing on the whiteboard.
“Last class, we were, uh, going over the, uh, the scientific data that backs the Purge and the reasoning behind the Denunciation Act of 2038. I can’t remember where we left off…” Peter finished writing “Denunciation Act of 2038” on the board, and started rummaging through his briefcase.
“We just finished with the Purge, Professor Ronin,” called Sybil Loyd from the front of the class. She talked with her hand raised. She did that often. Her sharp eyes were always pointed fervently at the board, breaking away only to jot down quick, succinct notes in her tablet. Her gaze was just as fervent today, but it seemed even more so to Peter. He used the last class to further denounce Shannon. He called it his personal story about his near fatal encounter with a Would, and why the Denunciation Act was so necessary. This one, Peter thought, will work for the D.A.E. one day. He could see that Sybil relished the idea of swift and terrible justice executed on those wicked enough to do evil. It goes a step further than that, though, doesn’t it? Peter thought. The D.A.E. definitely went a step further than justice. The D.A.E. offered safety, protection, and certainty.
“Yes, well, the Purge occurred the same year as the Denunciation Act. People were, uh, eager for it, you could say. We use to have buildings for incarceration in which people who were accused of a crime would languish.”
“What do you mean ‘languish’?” Sybil asked.
“They didn’t do anything!” Peter squeaked, incredulous at the idea. “There, there, was a point, yes, when we would have them do manual labor, but that was done away with!”
“Why?” Sybil asked. Peter ignored her and continued. He had forgotten exactly why manual labor was stopped for prisoners. He was ten minutes late, in any case, and couldn’t stop for many questions anyhow.
“After the Purge, we found that there were people who weren’t incarcerated who were capable of horrible crimes. There are certain risk factors, it turns out, that, uh, makes it possible to tell whether someone will commit a crime.”
“You know Professor Wright? I was telling you about her last week. She was found to be a Would, as we call it. Officially, they are called Persons with Definite Intent. Meaning, uh, these are people who will definitely commit a crime.”
“How could you not know Professor?” Sybil asked. He expected to meet her usual intense gaze, but instead she looked at him pathetically. He seemed nothing like a person who would engage himself in any of that horrible activity. Sybil’s look was a reassuring one for Peter.
“Well, uh, Woulds are a tricky people. They’re one step away from actual Convicts, you know! And we rarely have convicts anymore, thanks to the D.A.E. Woulds pretty much are convicts. They’re sneaky and manipulative. They try to hide their true nature so that they can commit their crimes unnoticed. Professor Wright is, without a doubt, a manipulative and evil person. She just didn’t commit whatever crime she was capable of committing.”
“So, you didn’t go to her trial as her Defense?” This voice came from the back of the classroom. Giselle Harmon hardly ever spoke during class. She got good grades, but Peter had always assumed that she was just shy. Her face was quite defiant now, and as far away from shy as possible. She had loose, blonde curls that framed her face into a sort of haphazard pattern. Her very thin lips were drawn in a line across her face under a pebble of a nose. She had downward drooping eyes that gave her a perpetual lost dog look.
“Of course not!” Peter insisted.
“Why not? Your testimony might have swayed the D.A.E. to let her go.”
“She’s a Would! Why would I defend a Would? We all know that she would have eventually committed a crime, and then I would be as guilty as she is. We have to protect our communities from dangerous people like that. It’s how we keep the peace.”
“You were dating her for a few months, though, professor. Did you find Professor Wright to be capable of committing a crime?”
Peter swallowed, hard. “I…Well…It was not up to me to decide. She—“
“If not you then who?” Giselle cut in. “The D.A.E. didn’t know Professor Wright. They don’t really know any of us. They definitely didn’t know my father, and they dragged him away and said he was a Could.”
“Well,” Peter began again, “Coulds are a little different. They could potentially cause harm to others. They are handled differently. Technically, they’re called Persons with Possible Intent. They can be rehabilitated.”
“I heard they’re sacking the Coulds just like they are the Woulds now,” said a boy. Peter thought his name might be Oliver. “They’re getting the same punishment. D.A. E. says they’re as much of a threat because they still have the capability, see?”
“I’ve…I’ve…I’ve heard no such thing,” Peter said. “The D.A.E. always has everyone’s best, uh, best interest at heart. I’m sure if there’s a reason for them to—“
“What reason, exactly would that be, Professor?” There Giselle went again. “You know, my father was dragged away last month under suspicion of being a Could.” The student sitting to Giselle’s right got up and found a seat a little farther away from Giselle. She shot the student a dirty look.
“He wasn’t taken ‘under suspicion.’ That’s the beauty of the D.A.E.” Peter readjusted his glasses. “There is no suspicion. There is certainty that a person has the potential to commit a horrible, horrible crime.”
“I went to the trial,” Giselle continued. “I was his Defense, so was my mother and my uncle. My neighbors said they wouldn’t come. You know what they said his potential crime was? They said he could potentially commit a burglary.”
“Burglary has been a crime for, uh, some time now, Giselle.” The class chuckled awkwardly at what Peter had said.
“He was laid off six months ago. He was having a rough time, but he wouldn’t have robbed anyone!”
“Actually, he potentially could have,” Sybil piped up.
“And you,” Giselle said, turning on the girl, “could potentially have an aneurism this very moment, but you’re not getting treated for an aneurism, are you?
Sybil paled. “I’m quite healthy, thank you!”
“And my father is quite innocent!” The class was uncomfortably quiet.
“Maybe,” Giselle went on, “we should wait till someone actually commits the crime before we put them away for it.”
“You’ll put people’s lives at risk!” Peter started. “Crime dropped to unheard numbers after—“
“I don’t care!” Giselle yelled. She was stubbornly holding back tears. “My father is innocent, and you know what I think? I think Dr. Wright might have been, too!”
Peter had to report her now. Who else was it that he had to report? There were a handful of other kids who were going to leave his class before he got there. They know they have to wait fifteen minutes before leaving. They were all Coulds. Giselle, though, she was a Would. He had to report her before Sybil. He needed more proof that he wasn’t anything like Shannon. They would not drag him away to one of those big, black buildings from which no one ever seemed to return.
“Class is over,” Peter said, simply. Everyone was quick to leave. When the room was empty, Peter picked up his phone and dialed the Report number everyone carried on their person.
“D.A.E. reporting center. Who is threatening our safety?” The voice was light, warm, and comforting.
“Giselle Harmon. There are a few others, but she’s serious. I think she’s a Would.”
“Okay, tell us what you saw and heard, Sir.”
Agent Kingsley was running late. She hardly ever ran late, but today everything seemed to be against her. The traffic was chaos, her dogs wouldn’t stop barking, and now it seemed that she’d left the keys to her cabinet at home. She knew that she would have to report to Director Phelps about this, he’d have the spare key for her as well. But bringing herself to face Jonathan again had sent shivers down her spine. It had been two weeks since their last meeting, and it hadn’t ended well. Interoffice romances are never a good idea, especially not when it is with the most powerful person in the region, even worse when he is a married man.
With a resigned sigh, Agent Kingsley pushed rogue curls out of her face, and headed toward the elevator. She didn’t have time to announce a meeting, she only needed a spare key – it would be a quick meeting. She tried convincing herself of this as the elevator slowly crept up to the thirteenth floor. Colleagues politely nodded their greetings during elevator encounters. She knew that she wasn’t popular because of the affair, although no one was supposed to have known about it. Working for the D.A.E made keeping secrets near impossible, especially when everyone was under constant surveillance.
“Elevators always smell the same, don’t they?” a cool voice came from behind her. She had thought that she was alone. Startled, she turned on her heels to face a hulking man, dressed in black and with a cheeky grin on his face. A Bulldog, she thought.
“I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“That’s quite all right,” Kingsley smiled bashfully. She really hated being caught off guard.
“One of those mornings?” he asked, examining her closely. Kingsley couldn’t help but chuckle; the Bulldog was conducting an elevator investigation of her body language.
“I’m sorry sir, but are you going to the right floor? This seems awfully high up for your caliber,” she shot out in amusement. If there was one thing that she was certain of, it was of her position within the D.A.E and the Region. There was no way that a lowly Bulldog would intimidate her.
Taken aback, the Bulldog extended his hand to her and said; “My apologies, force of habit I think. Can we start again? I’m Oliver, but you can call me Olli.”
The swishing doors caught Kingsley’s attention; she had managed to dodge one uncomfortable situation, only to voluntarily walk into another. With a smile, she shook the oversized hand and said: “This is where we part Oliver. It’s been a treat.”
Her steps were determined as she walked toward the intimidating glass doors. High ranking agents acknowledged her presence, but knew that she didn’t really belong there. Still, she had to get her cabinet keys, and secretly she’d been pining for a glimpse of Jonathan Phelps again.
She paused for a while, building up some courage to knock on the door, when she finally heard a familiar bellow coming from inside.
“Oh for God sake Kingsley, just come inside!”
Jonathan Phelps was as intimidating as he was welcoming, his warm smile could charm anyone he shared it with. While that same mouth could banish anyone in the region to a Facility indefinitely.
Agent Kingsley shyly opened the door and took a step inside. She knew that as soon as she saw those pale green eyes again, she’d be helpless to his charms. She stood at the end of the office, nose crinkled up in thought, while she silently wiped out invisible creases in her pencil skirt. Still avoiding eye contact, she sighed before asking for her key – she had stupidly left it with him after their affair had started over a year ago.
He silently pushed her key toward her; the sound of metal scrapping against his large, antique desk caused her to shudder. “Oh, you know how I hate that sound,” she said, finally looking up at him.
Jonathan was much older than Kingsley was. The age showed around his playful eyes, with wrinkles that deepened every time he let out a bellowing laugh. He was a man who took care of himself; daily gym visits and weekend golf events kept him in shape and busy. It also kept his wife out of his hair while he entertained his other interests.
He cocked his head and took a long look at the woman who he was captivated by, a stubborn and strong willed woman who wouldn’t falter under pressure. He knew that she would be ideal for the newest assignment, but how would he bring himself to sharing her with anyone else? His thoughts were in turmoil because of his passion for her, and his dedication to the D.A.E.
“I’m glad that you stopped by actually.” He motioned for her to sit down, “I have an assignment that you are perfect for, promotion material!” he said, trying to convince himself more than her.
“Oh?” She puckered up, hearing Promotion Material, Kingsley was a hard worker and wanted nothing more than to climb the ladder, and Jonathan was aware of this too.
“Yes, a sudden rise of Could’s and Would’s near the University is concerning us. Seems like the beginning of the Uprising all over again, so we need to stop it.” His tone changed. When the safety of the Region was concerned, Jonathan Phelps was a serious man.
“Right, so what do you need me to do?” Kingsley started fiddling for something to take notes on, “Is it a cut and paste assignment or am I going undercover again?”
With a proud smile Jonathan continued, “My dear, this is why you are going to go far. No nonsense at all ‘ey? Right, I’ve sent you a copy of the file, there is one person in particular that you need to get attached to. There is just something about this character than none of us trust. You know, the ones who try too hard to go unnoticed?” She nodded in agreement; she was good at sniffing out those who try too hard to be invisible.