[The town of Junction sat in the middle of a desert prairie a hundred miles wide in every direction. Mercenaries went north to hold off the Chesire. Miners went to the western wastes. The south had a few farmers that brought up soybeans and potatoes to the shipping hub, while all goods went east to the cities.
The little town’s economy was split into four parts. The logistics hub took up the bulk of it, along with the second – a series of workshops to repair the trucks and Strikers that came through the area. The third was the mortuary and crematory, and the fourth was the Junction Diner, the only place to get cooked, non-dehydrated food within miles. I got a job there, thinking that a being server would be a great way to collect stories. Even before my first shift, the cook caught my attention. He was maybe only a decade older than myself. He had tattoos on his arms, marking him as part of the Aryan Brotherhood, and his neck had a metal collar around it. This was the story he told me when I asked about the collar.]
I was a criminal on Earth that got picked up for the expansion. The state sold me to the mining companies out here as a forced laborer, but I wasn’t well suited for it, so the mining company sold me to Jim, and now I work for him.
[So, you’re like a slave?]
It’s more like a compulsory work contract. That aside, it really isn’t all that different from a normal job when you really think about it. A lot better than prison though. I work like everyone else and get my meals and bed taken care of. I even get a little stipend to use after my time is up, but for the moment I’m stuck working. Things’ll get better though. The always do.
[What were you in prison for?]
I killed a guy, two guys. Let me just get this out of the way first, before I tell the story: I don’t hate people. Yeah, I get mad at people sometimes, but I don’t hate. I’m not that kind of person. I figure, we all gotta get along to go along, and if we all just leave each other be and have some manners then we’ll all be much happier. Anyways…
It happened back on Earth, I think a good ten years ago, though I don’t really remember. I came home one night to see something you never want to see. The front door was wide open. The whole thing had been kicked in.
I stopped on the street and immediately ran inside. Didn’t think to call the cops. Didn’t even think to turn off the car.
I heard shifting and yelling coming from the bedroom. I ran inside to see two black guys holding my girlfriend against the wall. They hadn’t done anything, yet. I guess it was supposed to be a robbery, but who knows what they would have done. Could have been a lot worse. The police call those “botched robberies”, as if the robbery just happened to turn into a rape or murder. No, some people are just out for that kind of shit. I couldn’t tell the difference then and there.
We kept a baseball bat by the door in case of shit like this, so I picked it up as I came in runnin’. Didn’t even think about it. I just went at them with the bat. Got the first guy in the head, right on the temple. I swung harder than I thought. Knocked him out with one hit, but I didn’t know that. I hit him again two more times. One on the back and the other on his ribs.
I guess after seeing his buddy go down, his friend didn’t want to fight. He just jumped the bed and ran for the door. But, I guess I was still pissed off. That moment is still fuzzy when I think about it. I know it happened, I know I did it, but feels like a dream.
I swung at him, at his head. Knocked him out too. He just collapsed to the floor. I didn’t do anything else after that. I know the media says I did more shit, but they’re liars. I didn’t. I grabbed my girlfriend and we ran out of the house, got in the car. Remember? I left it running. We left and called the police to tell them what happened, and that was all that happened.
That’s not the important part of the story. The real shit came after.
The cops showed up, and we went back home. I explained the situation. They told me I’d need to come with them, and I did. Anytime you kill someone you’re going to get arrested, even in self-defense, even if you’re in the right. The police are going to do it anyways, just in case.
My girlfriend explained that they had broken in the front door. She tried to hold up in the bedroom, but they got in there too. Our stories were both consistent.
Still, I fucked up. We told the cops the truth that I had went after the guy as he was running. You’re not supposed to do that. You can’t shoot a guy in the back, because they ain’t a threat. Gun or bat don’t matter. I was wrong to do that. I realized it then, still do now. If I could go back in time I would have stopped myself and avoided everything after that night…
The police questioned me, and I told them everything. It was all meant in self-defense. Problem was, I not only knocked them both out, I had had actually killed them. That made the charges potentially pretty severe. I argued that I had thought there might have been more of them, or he could have been running to get a weapon. That didn’t really fly. I know now that killing him was wrong, but I had no way to stop myself. I wasn’t completely in control. When I told the cops that, then they began to understand and take it easy. When they let me go that night, I figured that’d be that.
But, it must have been a slow news week or something, ‘cause my story eventually got to the media. Then, after a bit, the national news picked it up. They ran the story that two black men had been brutally beaten and killed by a white homeowner. They drove home the part that I had killed one of them that tried to get away. Granted, it was true, but it wasn’t the whole story.
That sparked a whole line of questioning if it was truly a home invasion at all. They went from: here are two potential murderers, to two robbers, to two potential robbers. They softened those two up, said they were “potential” because technically they hadn’t stolen anything yet. Yeah, true I guess, in that if you’re just planning to kill someone you aren’t technically a murderer yet, but whatever.
The story blew up, all over the country. It was all anyone talked about for a week. All the news people would ask: “Why didn’t the police arrest him?” But they did. They did arrest me. “Now he’s walking the streets a free man.” They made it sound like I was a monster, and that the police were monsters too.
…I really didn’t mean to kill them either. I just wanted them gone, and I had a bat, so it was like two plus two. There wasn’t any intent to kill them. It just sort of happened.
But nobody cared about my side of the story. The story was white man kills blacks, and how the majority-white police force did nothing. It was the perfect bait for my prosecutor, Carolyn Vance… Fucking bitch. She took the case because she wanted fame and attention, that’s all. She would have put those two guys away for life if public opinion went the other way.
She reopened the investigation and brought me up on charges. I was arrested again and sent to jail, at least until everything could be sorted out. In there, I didn’t really know what was going on with the news coverage.
I learned later on that they were doing everything in their power to smear me. They looked up my entire history and went through it for anything racist or bigoted. They found people I knew way back in High School and asked them, “Did Curtis ever show indicators of being a racist, or harboring hated toward People of Color?”
While I was in jail, my girlfriend said that they were asking her the same questions, and that they were going after my family too. She was starting to get death threats. Somehow our home address was leaked. She told me she was staying with family.
Those two black guys, it turned out they had long criminal records, but that didn’t matter ‘cause nobody said anything about it. The news had their families on TV, showed their funerals, showed them crying, all that shit.
At that point, I wasn’t going to have a fair trial. It actually took more time to find an impartial jury than to have the trial itself. And the crazy part was, I was let go on that night. The police who deal with this kind of stuff all the time let me go because they knew it was all just self-defense and a loss of self-control, no more or less.
But when it came time to put them on the stand, they changed their story. I guess when a state police officer is on the stand in front of a state prosecutor, they can do that.
The whole story was messed up. Do you know what it’s like to have that happen to ya? Maybe not that exactly, but something like it? Like, your coworkers misheard something you said, or thought you did something you didn’t. You get this fire in your chest ‘cause you want to set their minds right. You wanna tell them the truth. The whole trial, and all the media shit, it was like that times a million. I felt like the whole world didn’t know who I really was, and that really fucks with your head.
It’s like, all these people, thousands, millions of them, are they wrong, or am I just wrong? I was there. I know what happened, but everyone else doesn’t think so. Is it them or me? You begin to doubt yourself. You doubt your memories. You doubt your sanity. You begin to lose it. I didn’t know what was real anymore.
Maybe that was why I couldn’t really explain myself during the trial. I told ‘em I didn’t mean it. I told ‘em if I could go back in time I’d do it all different. I didn’t hate black people. I wasn’t a racist. That was all after they upped the charges.
Sorry, I’m getting some of this out of order. It’s kind of easy to do when the whole thing doesn’t seem real.
In any case, the prosecutor brought in the FBI for a hate crime investigation. It wasn’t enough that I was being charged with murder. Now, it had to be racially motivated. Yeah, in a sane world I could see manslaughter, but that was ridiculous.
My lawyers tried to argue otherwise, but it was all starting to crumble. I had one witness: my girlfriend. She told them everything that happened, to a T. But then they had mountains of “social media” evidence that I was a racist. It was all bullshit. What I think really happened was that they had a bunch of pressure to see me go to jail and had no real evidence. But they couldn’t backtrack after that point, not with what the news said about me. They were stuck between a rock and a hard place, but they were probably betting that I’d crack.
…The whole thing was fucked up. After we got a jury, we had the trial. They called in experts on things that I didn’t even know existed; psychologists that study racial prejudice. They threw everything at the wall hoping it would stick. Meanwhile, all I could do was say my story, over and over. That was all I had.
I can’t really be sure how it happened. Maybe I had too much faith in telling the truth, or maybe I did crack and just didn’t know it. Sure didn’t see the guilty verdict coming, and when it came I thought to myself: no, this is just a dream. This can’t be real. Stuff like this doesn’t actually happen, does it?
After that, the whole sentencing trial was a blur. Can’t tell you much about it, but in the end I got sixty years, no parole, maximum security. I’d be near ninety by the time I’d get out. I’d never get married. I’d never have a family. My parents would die with me in prison and I would never get to see them one last time, not without glass between us. I couldn’t believe it, because if I did believe it then I’d want to kill myself.
It just didn’t seem real, you know? The system is supposed to work and make sure no innocent men go to jail, and I truly felt like I was innocent. Yeah, I had regrets about what I did, but I didn’t think I was guilty. I would have rather done something different, but I know that in my heart of hearts had I not done what I did then my girlfriend might have been raped, or killed. I’d rather make a mistake preventing that then letting it happen…
I went to prison. In there, you can’t make it on your own without a group to protect you. Since I had killed two black guys, it meant the blacks in jail were going to kill me once they found out what I did. I wasn’t Latino or Asian, so I had to run with the whites. You know the type, right? The skinheads and bikers. We didn’t have white collar criminals in that place.
The thing was, I didn’t give a shit about race before I went to prison. I wasn’t racist. I know the media tried to make me look like one, but honestly I had more important stuff to worry about back then, like my work and my debts. If you were a decent person then you were a decent person no matter what skin color.
But I tell you what, once I got to prison I sure as hell was racist. When you see those fucking savages in there it changes things. When all the other races are against you and the only people who have your back are white like you then yeah you’re going to be more aware of it.
That’s the irony. The media, the courts, whoever, they were all trying to pin me as a racist, and they worked so hard at it that they succeeded. They got what they wanted. I fucking hate them. I don’t want to, but I do…
…Really, all I wanted was my life back, to live on with my girlfriend as if that night was just a bad thing that happened a long time ago, and we only just remember it every once in a while. I… was going to marry that girl. I’m sure she’s with someone else now. Probably has kids. I don’t know because we haven’t talked since maybe a year or two after the sentencing. God, how long has it been?
I must have spent years in that place before Asgard’s recruiters started coming by. I guess they looked hard enough at my file to realize the whole trial had been a sham. At least someone did. No parole officer would.
Despite the severity of the crime, they were able to offer me a work contract. Yeah, I guess they were that desperate for meat, and I guess the progressive society of Earth didn’t want me anymore. Well fuck if I didn’t cry myself to sleep over that decision. I took the contract without thinking twice, because even when working my ass off for basically a few cents an hour it still beats sitting in that cage with all those animals. At least here I can get some fresh air and sun.
In truth, it ain’t that bad. It’s work, like any other work. I don’t get whipped or tortured, not unless I try to kill someone again, or escape, which I’m not gonna do, not at this age. I get paid a little stipend. Like I said, my room and meals are taken care of, granted that I work. When I think about it, even just getting a few bucks a week means I’ll get a decent enough lump sum by the end. It should be enough to retire on, at least for a few years before I eat it, assuming I don’t eat it on the way. That’s a blessing not many Earthers even have anymore.