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Crime Science Fiction Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

ADDITIONAL TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE


Silence fell as Professor Gale Henshaw stepped onto the stage of the auditorium. With her sharp business suit and severe, asymmetrical hair cut she commanded the space. All 80 hopefuls stopped fiddling with their intelli-pens. With an average pass rate of only 10%, the 8-week course would weed out 72 audience members by the last day. There was little point in getting to know your neighbour here.


‘Welcome All.’ Professor Henshaw, President of the Agency, needed no introduction. She gestured around the lecture theatre and glanced at many of the awe-struck faces. ‘Thank you for joining me on this first day of the final stage of this year’s selection.’


The desirable skill set was incredibly rare, but the global recruitment process was so oversubscribed that they only ran it once a year. Written applications were scanned by AI first, which eliminated about a third of the applicants straight off. These were often the ones who applied out of curiosity or just wanted a chance to see inside the Agency. Another third failed the automated holographic interview, not being able to give adequate detail about their abilities, or sometimes missing the point of subtle questions.


Of the remaining candidates, the top 150 or so - as judged by the automated systems - were invited to complete a practical test of their skills at an assessment centre. Some were completely lacking in the required psychic ability and had only managed to fool the system by carrying out heavy research before applying. There was still a large proportion of the general population who disagreed with the existence of the Agency and tried to cheat the selection process by way of proving that the system didn’t work. Some just couldn’t perform under pressure, or to the degree required to pass the test.


‘I will begin with a little history.’ Professor Henshaw tapped the holographic image controller and started her presentation with the Agency logo, a globe below the Scales of Justice, 6 feet high, spinning on the stage beside her.


‘The Agency exists to maintain law and order around the world. Before it there were police and judges and courts and juries. It was expensive and messy and time consuming and there was too much room for error.’ The hologram flashed up the frightening statistics of wrongful arrests, wrongful imprisonments and wrongful executions discovered in the year 2182, the year the Agency came to power.


‘Professor Dean Hunt of Yovale University proved the existence of auras in 2155.’ A smart-suited, life-sized, waving hologram of Professor Hunt appeared on the stage, his Nobel Peace Prize medal on proud display around his neck. ‘He therefore disproved the popular scientific explanation that people who could see them were suffering from synaesthesia.


'It took 27 years of research, campaigning, and political change, driven by Professor Hunt, to get the Agency up and running. But in its first five years, over 23,000 innocent people had been pardoned for crimes they did not commit and over 51,000 offenders who had escaped detection were caught and punished.’


The audience had heard these figures before, but they still sounded alarming. A stark warning of why society must not go back to previous methods of crime management.


‘Let me welcome Dr Roy Blakeman, Head of Agency Decision Making, to the stage.’ There was a round of applause as Professor Henshaw gestured to her left and the holographic display switched off. Dr Blakeman stepped out into the waiting spotlight, waving to the crowd.


‘Dr Blakeman will continue the session and explain your first assignment. I wish you all the very best in your endeavours to join us. I will see those of you who are successful at the welcome dinner in August.’ There was another round of applause as Prof Gale Henshaw left the stage.


‘Good morning everyone. I assume that, as you have got this far through our selection process, you already know a great deal about who we are and what we do. I will not lecture you on that today. Instead, let’s start with a little Q and A. Perhaps you can show me what you don’t already know? Yes – Lady in the yellow top?’


Anna Ragley stood up. ‘Dr Blakeman, I understand that in unusual or difficult cases, suspected criminals can be assessed by machine instead of intuition. May I please ask why additional machines are not built to cope with a greater number of suspects if they are more accurate than agents? And why it is that the machines are able to make decisions that agents are not?’


‘An excellent question to start with, please sit down. You will learn about the Transparency Projectors in week three and will have the opportunity to test them out on real cases. They work by clarifying the aura of the suspect and distilling it down into constituent parts, something an agent cannot do. Those parts can then be analysed separately.


'An agent must work with the whole aura and use intuition to decide whether a suspect is guilty. Highly skilled agents can use subtle questioning and a level of neuro linguistic programming to draw out the primary elements of the aura, and this can make them more reliable in more complex cases. For example, where a suspect is generally law abiding, but may have committed a minor crime some time ago. Or where a suspect has such a complex criminal history that it is difficult to distinguish between long-standing offences that we already know about, and newly committed crimes yet to be solved.


'However, there are still cases that no agent can crack, and then we bring in the machines. The machines are complex and expensive to build, and use a tremendous amount of power to run. Therefore, with our annual quota of power units being what it is, we can only use them a set number of times in a year. Building more machines won’t increase the number of suspects we are able to test. Next question please. Yes, grey jacket.’


Harry Turner stood up. ‘If agents are having to crack cases and there is a margin of error, which it sounds like there may be, how can the Agency stop agents from using that doubt to cover up their own crimes? How can you be sure you have never had an agent who terminated an innocent person?’


‘Another great question. I’m reading you well today. Please, do sit.’


Roy loosened his tie and pulled down one side of his collar. He switched the holographic display to Scan and Show mode and placed the handheld scanner on his neck. ‘Every agent must sign a release before graduation allowing us to embed a Vision Reader. It monitors pulses directly from the optic nerve.’


The hologram on stage showed an enlarged image of the textured bump in Roy’s neck and the ID number holobranded next to it.


‘It is impossible for a trained agent not to notice and read their own aura. The habit takes over and they constantly assess themselves, every time they look in a mirror or catch their reflection in a window. Any nerve transmission that holds a simultaneous combination of an agent’s own image and their assessment of a guilty aura will raise a red flag on our central system.


'The images are checked by a team of specialists. If it is considered that there may be a threat, or malfunction of any kind, the agent is immediately recalled to Headquarters for investigation. In effect, agents continually police themselves.’ He withdrew the scanner from his skin.


‘I personally terminate any agents who abuse their abilities, or their position. In twelve years, there have been four. One of them was my brother. Thomas.’


A woman with her head and face obscured by a scarf stood up at the back of the room and swiftly left through the right hand exit before Dr Blakeman could assess her aura. Leaving before the first assignment is given out! That's one gone.


Roy clicked the holographic image controller a couple of times and a life-size, 3D projection of Thomas Blakeman’s execution by Swift Laser Decapitation played out on stage. The audience gasped and several covered their eyes, but Roy appeared unmoved.


‘No one is above the law.’


As the lecture ended and the audience piled out for lunch, Roy walked back to his office. They seemed like a smart bunch this year. Hopefully, they would study hard and prove a successful intake. His door was slightly ajar when he arrived and he entered the room cautiously. He was sure he had closed it. There was nothing apparently out of place or unusual.


Roy slipped off his jacket and hung it on the back of his door. As he turned back towards his desk, he caught his own reflection in the glass of his drinks cabinet. He did a double take.


After twelve years of continually training himself to suppress his negative emotions, and never to notice his own aura, and having been entirely successful by year eight, he had failed in that stupid moment. He’d seen it, and read it, in its natural colour, and right now a red flag was being raised in the central system and a specialist interpreter was considering whether to recall him to Headquarters.


Roy leaned across and opened his top desk drawer. He reached in and withdrew an old-fashioned revolver. He loved the historical methods the best.


After the shot was fired, a haggard looking Glenda Blakeman gradually swung the office door open and edged into the room, scarf pulled up to cover her hair.


‘I knew I’d get you, you lying bastard. We both knew Thomas was innocent.’ She whispered over the body of her brother-in-law. ‘Didn’t expect you to do it yourself, though.’


A few moments later, she had removed a series of coloured films from the glass panes in the drinks cabinet. She hid them away in her bag as she scurried from the office. 

January 03, 2022 21:56

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18 comments

Jon Casper
00:03 Jan 04, 2022

Standing ovation here. I absolutely adore this story! Well-constructed and original. Similar theme to Minority Report, but having science prove the existence of auras is way more clever. The prose is clean and engaging, and the Q&A dialogue is a superb vehicle for the world-building. I think the sister-in-law angle works great. If you made it Henshaw, it could work if she had come up with some clever method of concealing her motives. Of course that would add even more intrigue to her opening monologue about the Agency. I wasn't sure if you...

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08:44 Jan 04, 2022

Hi Jon. This is high praise indeed coming from you! Thank you! I think line by line is fine at this stage if you have time to do it. I'll think about whether or not to change to Prof Henshaw at the end. If I keep it how it is I'm not sure if it's lacking a bit of foreshadowing. Does the sister in law just come out of nowhere? Should she perhaps be in the audience at the beginning of the lecture? Maybe she sneaks out after the second question is asked as she already knows the answer? Any thoughts?

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Jon Casper
11:23 Jan 04, 2022

You're most welcome and I mean it sincerely. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. For line notes, it's quite a lot of nitpicking over commas. Now that Alex has called my attention to the issue with offsetting prepositional phrases with commas, I can't stop noticing it. So thank Alex for most of this: :) With her sharp business suit and severe, asymmetrical hair cut[,] she commanded the space. -- This is a nice visual! -- A comma is needed here to offset preceding phrase. The desirable skill set was incredibly rare, but the global recruitment ...

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22:19 Jan 04, 2022

Hi Jon, I haven't had time to do line edits tonight but thank you so much for the comments on those. I'll try to look tomorrow. I have done a rough and ready edit to foreshadow the appearance of Glenda. To prevent asking you to re-read the whole thing I'll paste the section below: ‘I personally terminate any agents who abuse their abilities, or their position. In twelve years, there have been four. One of them was my brother. Thomas.’ A woman with her head and face obscured by a scarf stood up at the back of the room and swiftly left ...

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Jon Casper
22:55 Jan 04, 2022

Hi. I love it. Perfect! (But I also would not mind a re-read either.)

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22:57 Jan 04, 2022

Thank you 😊

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Timothy Merritt
23:52 Jan 11, 2022

Wow what a great story! So much detail packed into such a short story. This could be a terrific novel.

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17:56 Jan 12, 2022

That's very kind Timothy, thank you.

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Sjan Evardsson
14:56 Jan 18, 2022

Well done. Tight and fast, with a snappy narrative. The twist was well executed and impactful.

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Ellen Oh
20:59 Jan 13, 2022

I really enjoyed this! My stories tend to go to darker places too, so the sinister, antiseptic feel of your story was the hook for me.

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15:38 Jan 16, 2022

Hi Ellen, and thank you for the kind comment. I'm glad you like it, it's my first attempt at Sci Fi, I really wasn't sure how convincing it might be.

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Daniel Hafertepe
20:30 Jan 13, 2022

I chose to review your story because of the fidelity of review/comments you provide other members in the contests. It is my intent to provide you with comments that are honest, disposable and (sadly) American. I am neither a published or selling writer nor an accredited editor. I just like to help when possible. It didn't hurt that we both attacked the prompt from technical sides. First Impression: I have a problem with suspension of disbelief which might explain my aversion to science fiction. But this story did not lose me. To your credi...

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16:26 Jan 16, 2022

Hi Dan, It's great to hear from you, I really appreciate these kinds of comments where someone has clearly spent a lot of time and effort thinking about the story. Honesty is greatly valued in feedback (by me at least) and it's so interesting to see feedback written from a new (to me) perspective. I don't think anyone else has put any of my stories through a word program before so it's really interesting to see the outcome of that. Out of interest, can I please ask what program you used? I have a few responses to your comments if you a...

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Alex Sultan
22:08 Jan 05, 2022

This was pretty cool! I like to see that you're writing and adding sci-fi to your list of genres. I think using a lecture to build the story's concept was unique. I do like the dialogue a lot too, I think it fits the character/setting. The concept itself reminded me of Stephen King's 'The Institute' - I'd really like to know where you found the inspiration for this story. Clever title, too. Here is what I have for notes. It's mainly comma stuff, otherwise, I like this story a lot. I think it is unique. The desirable skill set was incredib...

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Tommie Michele
19:17 Jan 11, 2022

I knew this story reminded me of something! I read the Institute pretty recently but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I scrolled through the comments. I love the twists in this story, and the genre, and it’s awesome to hear where your ideas came from! Best of luck in the contest!

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17:48 Jan 06, 2022

Hi Alex, thank you so much for your comments. I'm really glad you like the story. I haven't read / seen The Institute, maybe I will look it up. The inspiration went a bit like this.... I told my boyfriend that the prompts were about intuition. He said - how can you make that creepy? And kill some characters? We thought about it for a few hours and then he said....What about I see dead people? But instead.... I see bad people.... So you can have your character kill them off. I laughed. Then looked at the prompts and spotted this one....

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Alex Sultan
19:23 Jan 07, 2022

I do find with twists and the like, as writers, we usually plot out one thing, but never follow it completely. Something better always comes along while in the flow of it. Hearing your thought process for this is pretty cool! I'm glad you entered this in the contest - best of luck!

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23:20 Jan 03, 2022

AUTHORS NOTE: I'm considering making it professor Henshaw who plants the coloured films. She was Thomas's lover maybe? But then would she put herself at risk of being found out in the same way as Roy? Any thoughts? Thanks 👍

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