Exhausted firemen were rolling back the hoses and preparing to leave the scene after fighting the raging fire for over six hours. The sun indicated that it was about to start its day with a faint tinge of orange appearing on the eastern horizon.
"There’s a body!" Someone yelled.
"Get the coroner!"
* * *
John Milton, Assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles County got his biggest professional break by putting the members of the Trudor gang behind bars for drug running, extortion and racketeering. He had been thinking about the case file on his desk since morning. State of California v. Arthur Page--Page was the prime suspect in the Perfect Spirits liquor store arson case. He is being charged with felony arson due to the death of Latisha Jackson, the store clerk and a single mother of twin boys aged two.
The whole community was shocked to hear about the death of the young lady and the orphaned twins and demanded quick action.
Daniel Martin, John’s boss and DA, walked into John’s office with a coffee mug in his hand.
"Have you made up your mind on the strategy for the Page case? I have had calls from the Governor’s office enquiring about the case."
"Yes. I have a strategy," said John closing the file.
"But, this is not a straightforward case. The evidence is circumstantial. The investigators are certain that this is a case of arson. The place was doused with fuel and the entrances and exits were blocked deliberately. They found a can of lighter fuel in his trailer that matches the accelerant used in the liquor store fire. They also found shoe marks at the site which turned out to be synthetic rubber that was a chemical match to the shoes worn by Arthur when he was arrested."
"It could have been anyone… The lighter fuel could have been for his barbeque and shoes are too common!"
"Yes. But our man Arthur has a record. A previous case of arson... That’s not all. Minutes before the fire began at the store, he was inside, buying a case of beer. We recovered the store receipt from his place. That puts him at the site and right in our crosshairs as our prime suspect."
Daniel was intrigued. This didn’t appear to be a simple coincidence.
"He was a minor when he burnt down an unoccupied building. The judge let him off with a light sentence as it was his first offence and the building was scheduled for demolition the week after."
"This time it is felony arson that caused the death of one person--a capital offense. After the abolition of the death penalty, it now qualifies automatically for identity transformation. We will push for the maximum sentence by requesting the court to consider Page’s prior record. I am certain that he is guilty as hell based on the evidence that I have seen."
* * *
The sentry signaled Sam Trebin to step into the full body scanner. The door closed with a whirr after Sam stepped into the cabin. The light on top flashed yellow for three seconds. Sam stood there and looked up with a little nervousness writ on his face.
"Please stay still," said the sentry.
The light turned green after a second.
"You are clear! Step out of the scanner, please."
The sentry handed over a temporary staff pass to Sam and pointed towards the long dimly lit corridor.
"Go straight. The chief is in the last room on the right. Welcome to Geronimo, Dr. Trebin!"
Sam Trebin smiled at him and walked towards the chief’s room. He had decided to leave his job at the hospital to take on the job at Geronimo labs. The lab needed a medical officer to administer the identity transformation protocol on the convicts sent by the prison system. Sam Trebin needed the money. He was reminded of his bitter divorce and the havoc it had wreaked on his financial well being.
Dr. Matt Kurzweil, the chief of Geronimo labs sat behind his steel desk. He was a bald man with a boxer’s physique that belied his age of sixty two.
"Ah... Sam, it is so good to see you. Your arrival is very timely. We’ve got work to do. First, let me show you around."
Dr. Kurzweil and Sam went around the facility. They met the duty staff and then went the rack room. "Texas was the last state that adopted transformation 25 years ago at the turn of the century. I had seen the last execution in history there during my younger days."
Sam listened intently to Dr. Kurzweil.
"They had death row back then... prisoners condemned to be executed, waiting for the inevitable. All of that now gone, replaced with a short wait of 48 hours before the identity transformation is administered at one of the federal or state authorized private facilities like Geronimo. We erased the physiological and psychological identity of convicts incarcerated for capital crimes and gave them a new identity built using the gene sequences and brain maps of dead citizens stored here in the rack room. We have all expired lives in this county for the past one hundred and twenty years in digital replica."
"So, you got into the waitlist as a gift of immortality for being a law abiding citizen?" asked Sam.
"Yes. Your original physical body may die, but you get a new lease of life when someone commits a capital offense and is sentenced to be transformed. A million lives transformed and counting--quick, painless and efficient justice."
They had reached the holding cells. An electronic display sign showed that there were a total of 122 inmates in Geronimo. Their newest guest was Arthur Page held in cell number 142 in the first floor. As Sam and Kurzweil walked out of that area, they could hear Arthur yelling hoarsely.
‘Get me outta here… I’m innocent!’
"C’mon, let’s go! We’ve got work to do."
"They all say that when they are in these holding cells. Don’t be bothered by that."
* * *
Arthur Page was lying naked on the sterile operating table in an empty room with no one else. There were two robotic arms on either side of the table. His head was clean shaven and there were three electrical leads fixed on it. The cables ran back into a port on the wall. Arthur was unconscious from the anesthesia administered earlier.
A gene sequence analyzer took blood samples from his arm and started converting it into digital data. Simultaneously, a brain mapper started scanning the structure of his neuronal pathways. One by one all his memories stored in the deepest recesses of his mind were digitized and in about fifty two seconds the entire download was complete.
Arthur Page was now reduced to an Exabyte of data. Every thought, emotion and life experience encoded as bits on quantum storage disks on servers in a data center. The data dump was validated for integrity and committed to storage for eternity. The erasure process began immediately after.
The system automatically selected the new identity for Arthur Page based on his physical attributes. A robotic arm started carving his face and body. Another robotic arm sprayed a translucent solution of synthetic stem cells that immediately closed the open wounds and changed slowly into fresh skin tissue.
Dr. Sam Trebin and Dr. Kurzweil watched his vitals on the monitor in an adjacent room. They saw Arthur Page slowly transform in front of their eyes into Joseph Fitzgerald who died 65 years ago. When the whirring of the robotic arm finally came to a stop, the ECG monitor came alive and the flat line started showing rhythmic blips signaling the resumption of heartbeat. It stabilized into a steady pattern within a minute and Dr. Kurzweil smiled at Sam.
* * *
He walked into the sporting goods store and headed straight to the section that had hunting knives. A sales assistant walked up to him.
"Do you need any assistance, sir?"
"Yes. I am not able to make up my mind between these two," he said, holding two serrated knives firmly in each hand.
"Personally, I would go with this one sir"
He lifted the knife and held it in his right hand testing its grip. "Ok. I’ll take this one!"
A few minutes later, Joseph Fitzgerald drove out of the store’s parking lot in a black Ford sedan.
'It is good to be back. Those dimwits never got me and never will! 5 down and one more to go…' He grimaced lightly as his headache reappeared.
The muffled screams from the trunk of the car were drowned in the music from the radio. The knife blade glistened in the afternoon California sun.