Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Thirty two years. He’d lost count of the number of homicides.

A Detective for twenty one of those years, John Barrick wished he knew how good he’d had it as a beat cop.

There was no going back now.

John opened the back door of his cruiser. Reaching in, he grabbed the zip tie holding his prisoner’s hands behind his back and dragged him roughly out onto the ground. The car’s suspension wheezed at the change in load, re-leveling itself.

Barrick pulled the limp figure’s head back by the hair and snapped a sim cap under his shattered nose.

“Wake up, Stanton,” he shook him, pushing the cap into the man’s nostrils until he recoiled from the smell, “wake up.”

Stanton coughed and sputtered, hands straining against the binding and head twisting behind the wide tape covering his eyes. He finally managed to get his feet underneath his body and propel himself upright.

“This doesn’t smell like the cells,” his speech slow and calm, “I want my legal representative.”

Barrick unclipped the heavy gun he’d hung on his belt, and prodded the unsteady man in the back with it. Stanton moved hesitantly away from the prodding, puzzled at the whining sound that followed each jab in the spine.

“I’m tired of catching you, Stanton,” John’s body ached with fatigue as he pulled the prisoner up short before a half meter square opening in the ground. “I keep putting you in the box, and you keep coming back and doing the same shit again and again.”

Stanton grinned, exposing broken teeth behind cracked lips. “That’s the beauty of virtual. I can do twenty years of that standing on my head, and when my time’s up, you’re just a little older and none the wiser. Twenty years in a bit box don’t mean shit to me out here. It’s just the economics of law, don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Barrick had seen Stanton convicted seven times since he’d been on the force, each with a twenty year term in virtual lockup; fully immersive confinement with the realtime clock turned way down. The prisoners rode out the whole sentence, but the taxpayers got to save the expense of a full term crate in a big house somewhere with all the amenities. Economical. Mostly effective, except for the Stanton’s of the world.

Barrick clipped the gun back on his belt, and gripping the other mans shoulders, propelled him forward until one foot hovered over open air. He kicked the other foot out violently from under him and stepped back as Stanton dropped ten feet down into the darkness.

“What’s this, pre-v isolation?” The voice was still calm above the sound of him pushing himself upright again in the darkness. “That’s against protocol, when my lawyer hears…”

The rest of his words were muffled as Barrick wrestled the heavy wooden lid into place over the hole. Unclipping the heavy gun, he leaned into it, listening to the whine as the igniter primed and enjoying the satisfying pop as it discharged steel framing spikes through the lid and into the crate below.

The clip emptied, Barrick tossed the gun on top of the crate before filling in what was left of the hole and spreading the remaining dirt.

As his cruiser climbed the gravel road back to the highway, Barrick eyed the towering paving machines at rest behind him. In the morning, they would lay down a mile wide stripe of concrete and asphalt, locking the door on Henry Thomas Stanton for the very last time.

While they worked, for the first time in thirty two years, John Barrick knew he’d be asleep.

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