Daniel John Jones sat on the edge of the prison cot, his hands knotting and un-knotting frequently. He did not look up from the nervous digits despite the numerous distractions that had been given to him within his incarceration. He was on Life Row, following a guilt verdict of a triple homicide. Crime of passion was the plea and had been accepted; it was the only reason he was not on the far more notorious death row. But this was almost as bad.
He raised his head and looked at the window towards the flower garden outside. The daffodils were blooming in the warm springtime sun, a splash of color against the drab grey prison walls. His last appeal had been rejected and so the promise of hope and spring felt like a slap in the face to him. Life row wasn't terminal, yet who he was would be killed almost as effectively as if fifty thousand volts ad been pumped through his system. But he would not die. A triumph of modern science, he had been told. A second chance at life with a clean slate would be given to him. Bull. All of it was just a pile of steaming offal as far as he was concerned. His body might live but who he was would be dead.
There was a knock at the door and Daniel looked up, the sunken eyes of the condemned man looking at the small barred window in the door. The pastor of the San Alameda Prison looked back at him, and not for the first time, Daniel wondered if the man was Santa Claus in disguise. Pastor Thomas Jenkins was a cheerful man in his late sixties, somewhat overweight and bore an eternally cheerful demeanor. Of course, it helped knowing that the man you were about to speak to was not really going to be killed, merely treated in a manner of speaking.
"Danny," the pastor said gently. "It's nearly time. Did you want to talk before hand?" Daniel nodded and the door was opened by the guard. Daniel felt a sudden urge to run, to try and break past the guard, to get shot resisting, escaping. Then the feeling faded as the desire to live asserted itself once more deep within him. That and the large pastor blocked a lot of the doorway as well. Daniel suspected that he could probably knock him over, but the manacles around his hands would limit how effective such a tackle might be. Then the door was closed behind the pastor and the moment was gone. The holy man looked at the condemned man and sadness crossed the jolly countenance.
"Danny, Danny, Danny," he said gently, walking over to the cot and sitting next to him. "It's all in God's hands now."
"Yeah well, forgive my enthusiasm padre," Daniel replied with a hint of bitterness, "but while I'm happy not to be on death row, part of me wishes I was."
"Is it the stories of the warden again?" the pastor asked and Daniel nodded, a lump in his throat preventing him from speaking. The pastor laid his large, warm black hand over the cold white hands of the prisoner.
"You have to understand Danny," the pastor said gently, "that your crime was not one that could go un-punished."
"I know, Padre," he said, a small sob being wrung from his throat, "an' I accept that. But… what they keep saying at night. That it is pain an' ya never forget it. That there is no mercy given… an' then they deal with what is left with even less mercy than before. I… I dunno if I can deal with that." Pastor Jenkins shook his head slowly, feeling a twinge of anger that was buried under sorrow for the man next to him.
"There is always the release from pain, Danny," he said gently. "The government refused to allow the technology here unless there was some humanity that came with it. The easing from pain is mandatory. But God will gather you and take care of you after the procedure. That, I can definitely promise you."
"Padre, I'm scared," Daniel whispered, giving voice to the fears that had been plaguing him. The pastor gently wrapped the large, heavily muscled and tattooed man in a loving hug.
"Tell me what happened to get you here, Danny," the pastor said gently. "Tell me your sins so that they might be forgiven and you are truly granted a second chance before the creator." Daniel nodded and took a slow breath, before telling the tale of how, one night out, he and some friends had gotten to drinking a little too much and when told to ease up by the bartender as well as the bouncer, he had lost his temper. The red haze had cleared and he had found himself standing in a pool of blood; several dead people around him - some stabbed, some beaten. Blood was on his knuckles, but there was never any knife that was found. But what with his previous police record of violent assault, the arresting officers had a slam dunk case.
The trial had been a sham, but Daniel was given the chance to plea bargain to avoid the gas chamber, something his assigned lawyer had told him that the prosecution had been pushing for. He had taken it and when he was convicted and sentenced to Life Row, he had felt cheated. It was only a couple of days ago that he had seen in the news the lawyer who had represented him had been hired by the prosecuting law firm. A champion of Justice he had been called; a man who had saved a believed killer from the death by gas and allowed him to live, although forever changed. There was always new evidence that kept coming up and it was always being found to be faulty, always by the prosecuting lawyers.
The pastor listened in silence, his expression sombre. When Daniel finished, he enfolded the man in a hug once more and the muscled white man clung to the pastor, sobbing. Pastor Jenkins sat back and looked at Daniel.
"Surely there were cameras that recorded it?" he asked. Daniel nodded, and then shook his head.
"Yeah an' no," he replied. Pastor Jenkins looked confused and Daniel explained. "There wuz footage, but it wuz corrupted. First the lights went out for a few seconds, then the one camera that wuz looking at me wuzn't working that night. So the police sketched it together with eyewitness reports, mobile shots an' edge frame shots. They could get me on at least two, but then the power went out about the same time I went berserk. Lights were already on when I came to, but footage showed me standing alone - scared people around me and the bodies of dead people at my feet." The pastor frowned.
"But didn't you say there were no cameras looking at you when it started?" he asked. Daniel nodded.
"Yeah, but the cops said they had motion sensor tech, so even with no light, another tracked me." The pastor sighed quietly. Daniel had never changed his story since the trial and he looked at the man.
"I believe you Danny," the pastor replied gently. "But there is little I can do now except keep you as comfortable as possible following the procedure. I've been trying to keep your appeals going ever since your lawyer abandoned you to the wolves, but I must admit, my grasp of legalities is shaky. And higher powers don't always take a man of God as their conscience. Unless it is their own man of god that is doing the talking and then they might listen to him." Daniel looked at the pastor, hearing the edge in the older man's voice.
"What do ya mean, Padre?" Daniel asked. Pastor Jenkins exhaled and interlaced his fingers together, looking at the floor.
"Following the accident fifteen years ago," he said, "many of my brethren of all denominations started to champion it as a new alternative to the death penalty. The good book tells us that thou shalt not kill, and this seemed to be the answer to many prayers. I'm ashamed to admit, I was one of them. But when I saw what happened, what the effect was, I felt a shame so deep I still have not been able to deal with it. I petitioned for it to be removed, saying man had to right to play God in such a manner. I was shouted down or ignored."
"And that is what made ya set up your organization?" Daniel asked, to which the pastor nodded.
"Exactly," he replied quietly. "In this manner, those who have been processed are given a proper chance where others might scorn them for who they were. Not who they should have been in the eyes of the Lord God. Society might have advanced far beyond what our history books teach us, yet we have both Death Row and Life Row. If we were properly enlightened, there would be no need for either."
"So ya'll will give me a chance I never got?"
"I can't answer that easily for you Danny, but I can promise you that I will personally work to ensure that you are not limited as you might have been."
"Wish my pa had done that, instead of leaving ma pregnant with me and running off with another woman." Daniel's hands became fists as a flare of anger rose within him, and then died; his body relaxed and went limp although he remained seated. Pastor Jenkins gently patted him on the shoulder, before he walked over to the tray that had carried Daniel's last meal. He picked it up and looked back at the man once more.
"I'll take this now. I promise I'll come back when it's time," he said gently. "You won't make the walk alone Danny. I'll be with you." Daniel nodded slowly, looking at the floor, the fight all but gone from him. The pastor turned and walked out, leaving Daniel alone with his thoughts once again.
It was less than ten minutes before there was another knock at the door. Daniel quickly got off the chemical toilet and cleaned himself up, flushing it and washing his hands before moving to the center of the room, hands by his sides. There was no call, no announcement, but Daniel knew that it was time for his date with the chamber. The face of the warden looked in through the window, saw Daniel standing there waiting, then withdrew. Daniel heard the door unlocking then the quiet snap-hiss as the seal released. He'd never really paid attention to it before, but now it was like the first time. He looked down and saw the light from the window was resting next to his feet; in his minds eye, he saw the daffodils once more. They were bright, yellow, alive and vibrant. He heard a throat clearing in front of him and looked up once more.
"Daniel John Jones." It was the warden speaking, with two guards either side of him and Pastor Jenkins at the rear. "It is time." Daniel stepped out of his cell and stood still while the guards affixed leg manacles to him, linking them to the ones on his hands. Once Daniel was secured, the warden turned and started walking, the Pastor stepping out of his way. Daniel started walking behind him, flanked by the two guards. He was startled slightly to feel the large, gentle and of the pastor suddenly res on his shoulder and he bowed his head, trying to hide the fear and tears that crossed his face. He was dimly aware of the other inmates moving to watch through their doors. There were no jeers, no taunts; a still silence filled the corridors broken only by footsteps and the clink of chains.
Everyone knew where Daniel was going; The Chamber of Life. The inmates watched in silence knowing that it would one day be their turn, the two guards that had drawn this duty had joked about it before the roster was posted but now, it felt in bad taste indeed that they had even laughed at it. They rounded a corner and Daniel looked along a wide strip of green paint that started at his feet. He could see the warden walking in front of him, but not on the painted ground. Daniel, flanked by the guards, could not avoid walking on the green path and was shepherded down it, drawing comfort and strength from the hand of the pastor that remained on his shoulder. The gentle voice of Pastor Jenkins began reciting the passage Daniel had asked him to recite, nearly two weeks ago. It felt like an eternity that the request had been made, yet it had been the day that he knew there was no escaping the fate before him.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil…" the soft tones of the Pastor gave Daniel strength he did not expect and he looked up and saw the white door of the chamber in front of him. A man in a suit with glasses, his hair combed back into a ducktail, opened the door for the party as if he was a hotel concierge. Daniel half expected the man to tell him to enjoy his stay. But everything left his mind when he looked at the device that was his ultimate destination.
Looking like an operating table, the device had six arcs that went across the width of the table with one at the head, one at the foot and four evenly spaced between. There were straps for his arms and legs and he knew that he would be sealed inside it. His prison uniform was removed from him to prevent complications and his body was washed down. It was clinical, surreal… but the hand of the Pastor never wavered. When the shirt was removed, the guards simply cut around it. It was a small gesture, one that Daniel felt thankful for, even as small medical sensors were attached to his chest.
Finally, he was physically transferred on to the table under the arcs, wearing only his boxers. The manacles were removed and his limbs secured. The pastor finished the psalm and looked at Daniel, his dark eyes soft and gentle.
"I know you won't remember this Danny," he said gently. "But I'll be waiting for you after this is all over." Daniel nodded, forcing a weak smile to his lips.
"Thank you, Pastor Jenkins," he managed to say as the pastor stepped back. The warden stepped forwards once more.
"Daniel John Jones," he intoned as if reading the weather. "You have been found guilty of fourteen counts of murder by a duly assembled court of your peers and you have been sentenced to reversion though agreement of the court and defence. It is my sad duty to complete your sentence. Do you have any last words?" Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Very well then," the warden said and Daniel fancied the warden had hoped for a different response. "Gentlemen, if you will follow me please?"
The guards and the warden turned and walked out of the chamber, but Pastor Jenkins remained. The warden looked at he pastor as the cocoon slowly closed around Daniel, hiding his adult body for the last time. The Warden cleared his throat, indicating that the pastor should exit with them, but the pastor shook his head. The warden smiled sadly and exited. It was a kind of penance for supporting having the ReJuve technology regress a fully grown adult into a two and a half year old child, something that the warden was slowly beginning to understand.
The chamber began a deep resonating hum that flowed through the body of the older man as he watched the familiar sequence take place. There had been talk of removing the anaesthetic gel as some other prisons did, but Pastor Jenkins had argued vehemently against that. The pain of having your cells ripped open and re-written was not something that a small child needed to have etched into their genes. And as he would be the legal guardian of the small child for the orphanage he and his wife ran, he would be damned if he allowed any pain to scar the minds of his young charges. He knew that he would have to answer to his Creator soon enough as to why he even supported the use in prisons, but if he could save the soul that remained and guide them along a path they had never enjoyed before, then perhaps he might earn redemption for his own sins.
He walked to a chair and sat down, watching the cocoon of metal and technology invented by man nearly fifty years ago and had been abused by the idle rich to be young again and thought back to the accident where a technician, unused to the imported machine had set the age of regression to two and a half years instead of twenty six years and once again wondered if the debate on ethics and morals had been worth it.
The time flew as it always seemed to do while he watched the machine, before the double hum faded to a single hum once more. He knew that it had been a success, even before the cocoon had opened. There had been a single instance where, half way through, technicians and medics had raced in, aborting the procedure. It was too late; the man being regressed had died from 'unknown complications', but it had been attributed in part to the anaesthetic gel not filling the tank. He had been operated on without it and the pain was something that had become a joke with the guards. But it was a sign to Pastor Jenkins that he had to be present for each and every procedure so that if needed, he could abort it in time.
There was a gentle hiss as the cocoon opened once more and there, lying on the table surface, was a very young blond haired boy, fast asleep. Pastor Jenkins walked over and carefully removed the monitoring devices and unstrapped the child from the machine. With gentle and loving hands, he picked the sleeping two year old up and walked over to a table on the other side of the room that had a basin of water a washcloth, a blanket and a set of nightclothes on it. This was a small ritual he had done every time and it never varied. He carefully cleaned the last of the gel off the sleeping child then dressed him in the nightclothes and wrapped him in the blanket. By the time the technicians and the doctor had arrived to assess the regression, the Pastor was seated once more in his chair, holding the sleeping child close.
"You're safe now Danny," the pastor said softly as the doctor checked the child for any potential complications. "Pastor Jenkins is here and all will be well." The toddler yawned and curled up closer to the larger man, his movements speaking a sense of comfort and security that no words could properly express. The Pastor stood and walked slowly towards the door that led out of the sterile white room and, through a nearby window, he caught sight of some daffodils that were growing in the springtime sun. He looked down at the sleeping boy in his arms once more and smiled gently as the boy yawned once more.
"Sleep now, Danny Jones," the pastor said softly, "and let's get you to your new home and into a warm bed." So saying, he walked towards the exit of Life Row and towards a waiting car that would take him and his new charge towards what could only be a better future than what had been before.