[Rated PG for potentially disturbing themes]
This was written as coursework for my English GCSE. The task was to write a short story; no further specification was given. I'm extremely proud of how it came out, so I've decided to share it with the people on this forum. Feedback would be appreciated.
Forget life imprisonment; forget the capital punishment debate. We, at the New Leaf Institute, deal with irredeemable criminals in a much simpler way – we redeem them. After only a few weeks in our revolutionary care, the scum of society – serial murderers, child abductors, sadistic rapists – become gentle, law abiding citizens who would never dream of causing harm. Prison overcrowding is becoming less of a problem as the evil in the population is simply seeing the light, thanks to us. The world is opening its arms to a safer, happier future…
Peter Freeman sighed. No matter what the public were told, the truth was that the New Leaf Institute was every bit as evil as the people it converted.
He stared at his reflection in the glass panel in front of him, hoping to convince himself that he couldn’t see through to the other side. A stocky, middle-aged, unremarkable man looked back at him with a frown. His figure was clothed in a dark green uniform decorated with a brown leaf logo on the lapel. He worked for the Institute; there was no use trying to persuade himself that he played no part in the deception.
Peter took his gaze off his reflection and looked through the glass, his eyes finally fixing on what they had been trying to avoid. Strapped to a cold metal table in the middle of a small and utterly featureless concrete room was a boy who looked to be no older than his late teens. A tangled mass of electrodes were taped to his close-shaven scalp – and an expression of pure terror was plastered onto his face. His eyes were wild with fear; his mouth was stretched into a ghastly scream.
The glass was soundproof for a reason.
Realising the sympathetic but helpless expression on his face, Peter blinked and regained his composure. He wasn’t meant to feel sorry for the prisoners. No-one was.
He turned from the window, glad that the walls on his side of the pane had been painted a more reassuring cream colour (not that the boy could see it – the glass was one-way). Standing at the far end of the room, consulting a bank of computer equipment complete with keyboards and flashing monitors, was the smartly-dressed figure of his boss. Though slightly younger than Peter, she was taller and held an air of composure and authority.
Peter hesitated briefly before speaking to her. “Who’s this we have here?” he asked, trying to sound noncommittal, as though he saw this all the time. He did see it all the time, but this boy’s age… He was by far the youngest yet.
There was a swish of blonde hair as the woman turned to him. “Robert Downing, eighteen,” she said, her voice impassive as it reeled off the facts. “Convicted of several persistent anti-social offences: vandalism, muggings, assault; you name it, he’s probably done it.” A flicker of confusion registered behind her pale blue eyes. “Why do you ask? You don’t normally.”
Because it helps if I don’t see them as real people, Peter thought, but he knew that voicing it would be pointless. Out loud, he said, “He’s so young. I didn’t think he could be, you know, one of ours.”
She chuckled, but the action seemed bland, emotionless. “Oh, he is. Reform is the only way to go for him now. You know full well that our methods are quickest.”
Peter turned back to the wretched teenager. “But he’s just a boy,” he protested, finally allowing a hint of passion into his voice. “You can’t possibly think this is right.” He saw the boy’s – Robert’s – face contort in agony as the wires attached to his skull began to vibrate with power.
“Continue observing, Freeman,” the woman ordered bluntly. “Inform me if anything seems to be going wrong. We cannot let him die until the extraction process is complete.”
Peter sighed, more with frustration than anything, and forced himself to watch the torture. The most saddening thing was that he knew these moments of terror and agony would be the youth’s last. Robert Downing – the true Robert Downing, anti-social stain on society that he was – would be killed as soon as Peter’s superior was finished extracting his brainwaves.
The tangle of wires that snaked from the boy’s head into the adjacent concrete wall pulsed softly with energy. They led through to a different part of the building where Peter knew that a foetus containing Robert’s DNA was already developing inside an artificial womb. The clone’s growth would be accelerated until it reached the age of eighteen, and all the time the foetus would be fed with Robert’s brainwaves, his memories, his very personality – everything that made him him, except for the intent to do harm. That would be deleted entirely.
Then the new and improved Robert Downing, very much the same person but with a fresh inclination not to hurt anyone or indeed to do anything bad, ever, would be released back into society. The public would rejoice as another “ne’er-do-well” criminal turned over a new leaf. None of them would care or even know that the price was the torture and murder of this young, terrified, real boy who lay screaming into the emptiness as the electrodes sucked out his soul.
* * *
It was wrong. It couldn’t go on. The public had to be told.
Peter strode purposefully down a deserted London street, fixed on the telephone box that stood on a corner. He’d taken a detour home for a reason: his mobile and landline could link him to New Leaf, but a call from a phone booth would be nigh on untraceable.
He reached the bright red box – the one splash of colour in the otherwise dull street – and pulled the door open. As he entered, he caught movement further down the road and realised that he wasn’t completely alone. Two tall men walked side by side, both wearing long grey overcoats, both their faces cast into shadow by wide-brimmed hats.
Peter frowned. The sky was cloudy, but it wasn’t about to rain. It wasn’t particularly cold, either. A feeling of suspicion edged its way into his mind, but he shrugged it off and turned to the receiver in the booth.
A few seconds later, the perky female voice of a government secretary was on the end of the line. “Hello! How may I help you?”
He took a deep breath. Time to get everything out in the open. “I have some information about the New Leaf Institute which the government may be interested in,” he said.
The secretary paused before replying. “One moment, please.”
Peter waited, eyeing the two men through the window of the booth apprehensively. They had stopped by a lamppost, apparently engaged in conversation. On closer inspection, he realised that their lips weren’t moving. They seemed to be waiting.
A deep male voice sounded in his ear, giving no introduction. “What is it?”
Put off by the sudden change of speaker, Peter hesitated. “The Institute… well, simply put, its methods are wrong. Morally.”
“How so?” The voice had a hint of sarcasm in its tone, almost as if it was mocking him.
“This is going to sound ridiculous, but…” Peter steeled himself, and then launched into his explanation of what the New Leaf Institute did and why it was wrong. He took care to mention the case of Robert Downing, stressing how ridiculous it was that they were now dealing with simple examples of anti-social behaviour. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” he finished, somewhat lamely.
The speaker chuckled on the other end of the line. “We believe you,” he said. “We know. The government knows what New Leaf does, Peter Freeman.”
Peter froze. He hadn’t told anyone his name. He shot a nervous glance at the men by the lamppost; they seemed to be looking in his direction. As he watched, they began to approach him, almost as if by chance.
“Why do you let it go on, then?” he said into the receiver, his rising panic evident in his voice. “If you know, why don’t you tell the public?”
“Why would we?” Now the speaker seemed confident, arrogant. “The public are happy with the results you produce. Life has never seemed safer for them. If we told them, there would be uproar, debates, protests. This world doesn’t need that kind of chaos.”
Turning briefly to see that the two men were almost upon him, Peter spoke more fervently. “If you won’t tell them, I will. They have to be told!”
The door of the phone booth was wrenched open. One of the men thrust Peter into a wall, jolting the receiver from his grip. He was held forcefully in place while the man’s associate drew a syringe from his pocket and pulled off the safety cap. Peter stared cross-eyed at the tiny needle in the second before it was stabbed into his neck, forcing its chemical into his bloodstream. Both men’s faces betrayed no emotion as they carried out their task.
Now empty, the syringe withdrew from Peter’s skin, and the man released him. Suddenly feeling woozy, he slumped to the floor of the booth, seeing the fuzzy shape of the receiver dangling in front of him.
A voice found its way through the cotton wool of his mind, distorting as his consciousness slipped away. “This world doesn’t need people like you, Peter. But soon, you won’t be this person any more.”
* * *
Three weeks later, Peter Freeman walked into the glass-panelled room. He took a brief look at the occupant of the adjacent cell; it was a woman in her early twenties. Unconcerned, he watched her strain against the straps holding her down.
His boss looked up from a screen as she saw him enter. “Back from your absence, I see,” she observed.
Peter blinked. He knew he had been absent for a few weeks, but he couldn’t quite remember what for. “Yes,” he replied, not knowing what else to say.
“I’m sure you’ll fit in much better now that you’ve had a break,” his superior continued with a tight smile. “Everyone did, including me.”
That didn’t really make sense. Peter began to wonder why a break would help people to fit in, but the thought sort of drifted away without going anywhere. Instead, he grasped upon a mystery much simpler and easier to think about. “You took a break from work?” If he remembered correctly, his boss had never been absent.
She nodded, turning back to her screen. “I did. It was only a few months after I started here, so it was before you came along.”
Of course. Peter had only been working for the New Leaf Institute for a few months, himself.
For a minute or two, he stood silently in the room, looking around. He could remember that he worked here, under this woman, but his mind was completely blank on what exactly his job was. “What do you want me to do?” he asked eventually.
His boss gave him a swift, unconcerned glance, barely looking up from the computer in front of her. “Your job is to observe,” she reminded him, “and to assist me with the extraction process if anything seems to be going wrong.”
Right. That was his job. He still didn’t remember doing it, but she was his boss, so she must have been right. Placidly, he turned towards the pane of glass separating him from the convicted woman next door.
It didn’t occur to him that anyone should feel sorry for her as she writhed and twisted in her bonds, her mouth stretched wide open in some kind of grimace. It didn’t cross his mind that there was anything wrong with removing this murderer, this child killer – whatever she was – from the world and replacing her with a fresh, harmless clone.
People who threatened the order of society deserved it, after all.