"Would you like to confess?"
Who would have thought that prisons still sent in priests to see the condemned man in this day and age? Not me, that's for sure. A charming anachronism in these godless times he might be, but he is completely genuine. It's there in his eyes. He's a believer. A true believer. I didn't ask to see him. If I'd known it was a possibility I would have actively refused it.
"What for? You've read the headlines."
Everybody has read the headlines. 'Super-rich patent attorney brutally batters impoverished inventor' is my personal favourite. I like the alliterative quality. I have it framed in my cell. The defence lawyers tell me that it makes me look bad, but it's hard to see how I could look worse. All the tabloids played up the financial angle and I don't blame them for that. How else do you make sense of it if you don't know?
"Besides, I've already told the jury that I did it. They found me guilty."
"I meant confess to God," he says, no hint of impatience or irritation. He's seen it all before in here; all the smart-assed killers headed for the injection room displaying their cynicism to hide their fear. "Ask for his forgiveness."
"His forgiveness?" And there I was, thinking that nothing could surprise me any longer. I could hug him for that at least. If I wasn't chained to the desk that is. "Why would he forgive someone who failed so completely?"
The priest looks confused and uncomfortable so I signal for him to sit down. He's an old man. All men of faith are old these days. Old men are the only ones who can remember what that means anymore.
"I don't mean failed to get away with it," I clarify for him, "I mean that I failed to do it right."
"Do you want to tell me?" he asks and suddenly I do want to tell. Not to unburden my soul or find redemption or anything like that, but simply becuase he's someone to talk to and I don't have a lot of time left to talk to anyone.
"What do you want to know?" I offer. After all, he's the one with the questions.
"What do you want to tell?"
That's not a lot of help. What do I want to tell? How I killed my victim? Everyone knows that. Why I killed him? Keeping that inside until now hasn't stoppped anything.
"Try the start," he suggests helpfully, but what is the start really?
"I only knew him for an hour before I killed him."
That sounds a bit too melodramatic for my liking, but it's as good an opening and I can think of right now. Given a couple of more hours I could probably do better. No, I could definitely do better. Unfortunately, I don't have a couple of more hours and that's proving to be a bit of a distraction. The start?
How my apparently impoverished victim had arrived at my house unannounced on the day I bludgeoned him to death was something that the security firm supposedly securing the neighbourhood never managed to satisfactorily explain. Of course, I was later never in a position to complain to them about it. It was a neighbourhood of big mansion houses set in secluded woodlands with gates on all the approach roads and a wall that was monitored and patrolled. The houses also had gates and walls that were monitored. It was a neighbourhood of the 'super-rich'.
"The leaves were turning. Autumn golds and reds." Funny the details that you recall. I can't remember what the man looked like before I took a poker to his head, but I can still see the leaves shimmering in the light breeze.
I don't (or at least didn't) receive people on business matters at my home, but I made a point of never saying 'no' to inventors. I had people that I paid quite handsomely to do that for me. Since he had somehow managed to get as far as my fortified front gate I let him in to make his pitch. That's what I did as a patent lawyer ('attorney' as my favourite tabloid quote would have it), but you don't get as rich as I used to be just setting up patents and resolving patent issues. Any old legal hack can do that (and I used to have a lot of those on my staff for just that purpose). No, I offered more. I found investors, partners, manufacturing bases an even alternative applications and new markets for the clients that I chose to take on.
"I have a bit of an eye for seeing the possibilities of any given product."
Even possibilities other people couldn't imagine. That's how you get as rich as me.
As my visitor was laying out all the charts and diagrams and schematics (as if any of them would mean anything to me) on the table, he could see only the medical miracle that he had acheived. He would be able, he told me excitedly, to extract the healthy minds trapped within bodies ravaged by MS or motor neurone disease or any other degenerative condition and place them into the healthy bodies of those declared braindead or terminally comatose. If there was no physical damage to the donor brain then they would be able to live some of their lives in a functioning body.
He saw so much good.
"And what did you see?" the priest asks. He's shaking slightly. He clearly knows a thing or two about people. Perhaps he can see what I saw.
"Immortality," I tell him simply, " and the roadmap to Hell."
It would start small perhaps, with incurable coma victims, willing would-be suicides, convicted killers on Death Row...
The priest starts visibly when I mention that, as well he might.
"...but then it would turn to the desperate - the man who can't feed his family, the mother who can't pay for her child's expensive operation."
And the rich would be there with their pocketbooks. "Of course we'll pay," they would say. "Whatever you need. And you have to do is step aside when the time comes."
The priest looks shocked, but I keep on. There's no turning back now.
Before too long that wouldn't be enough. Who would want secondhand, used bodies, bodies that showed the scars of whatever killed the minds? That's when the farms would start. Ward upon ward of women having baby after baby. Children brought up in sterile, safe conditions to ensure their perfection when it becomes time for some bloated rich cat to trade in for a new ride.
Someone like me.
And eventually even that won't be secure enough, cost-effective enough. Eventually the children will be sedated at birth and never allowed to reach consciousness. Fed by tubes, exercised by servo-mechanisms, quiescent and controlled utterly.
"Dear Lord" the priest mutters, perhaps in prayer.
This process was the Holy Grail of patent lawyers. It would have made those who controlled it the richest men in the world and given us all the time in the world to spend the money. So, whilst the inventor of this marvellous process burbled on about his medical advance, I picked up the heavy brass poker and prodded around in the embers of the fire, just for the look of the thing.
"And then I smashed his skull into 136 pieces," I quote coldly from the admirably thorough coroner's report.
The priest is visibly shaken. Exactly by what I can't say. Eventually he speaks, "God will forgive you. How could he not?"
Does God forgive failure?
Leaving the body on the floor, the blood ruining a very expensive Arabian weave rug, I went straight to the stranger's home, directed by the address on his driver's licence. I thought at the time he could never have afforded the road use pollution permit to actually own a vehicle, but it later emerged that he paid his bills as a public service driver. A warehouse turned into a makeshift laboratory in a rundown section of town was where this patent attorney's Holy Grail resided. I smashed his computer, destroyed his equipment, piled up his notes and burned them, burned the whole place to the ground.
"I'm not a criminal, not normally," I smile as I add, "though my business rivals have been known to call me crook..."
He manages a weak smile at that, but in truth neither of us have anything to smile about.
"...so I didn't think about relatives he might have shared his plans with or internet-based backup servers or other patent lawyers he might have contacted. Not until it was too late. I killed him, but not his idea."
"It might not come to that," the minister tries to say after a long silence.
"Oh but it will," I assure him and he knows it too because it's already started, "and I am glad that I will not be here to see it."
And I won't be here to see it. Whilst the usual appeals have been delaying the inevitable end it has finally arrived. The Medical Rehabilitation Act has been passed allowing a revolutionary medical process to be carried out on those prisoners condemned to lawful execution.
So, tonight, at a little past ten o'clock a 'super-rich patent attorney' convicted of murder will become the first subject of the process to replace his own mind with that of another, more deserving one.
Even I can appreciate the irony of that.
They won't tell me who is going to get my body, and I certainly asked, but I'm willing to bet it's not some penniless MS sufferer.