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Dr. Montgomery adjusted the dials of the apparatus that had made him famous. Despite the acclaim his invention had brought to him, he could not help feeling queasy each time he had to use it. If anyone knew the truth behind his machine – he could not bear to think of the repercussions. With a dour expression, he beckoned in his next case.
“Why the long face doc? You should smile and congratulate me on finally getting out of this hellhole.” Ivan Kosta ambled into the examining room with an uncharacteristic and asymmetrical grin crossing his face. “They tell me I’m a free bird once we’s a finished here, doc!”
The doctor tried to reflect the good will of the large man, but his tumbling stomach betrayed him. As he grabbed for the antacids in his desk drawer, his assistant came to his rescue. “We couldn’t be happier for you Mr. Kosta. The faster we finish here, the sooner we can all get to the surprise party we are throwing for you. Now sit here and it will all be over before you know it.” The small woman indicated a chair commandingly. Dr. Montgomery knew that working in the prison these past seven years had hardened Ms. Knight’s natural kindness. Her dominating presence intimidated the inmates. Since Montgomery had met her, she had grown increasingly sarcastic, a classic coping mechanism. The nurse removed the shackles from the prisoner’s wrists. Dr. Montgomery did not know how she could bear to deal with convicts like Kosta, a man who was evil enough to bomb an elementary school several years back. The state hired him to treat these deranged criminals in hopes that he could turn their lives around. Following the 2056 Initiative on Cruelty in Penitentiaries, the government had taken steps to reform services offered to the accused. Many high-ranking officials thought access to therapy was all many felons required.
“We have to make sure you are psychologically sound to leave on parole,” Montgomery explained as he began attaching electrodes to Kosta’s forehead and chest. He had been conflicted about his work ever since he came on at the prison. Logic told him that if he helped the oppressor, he further hurt the victims. He pondered whether it is possible to cure someone of his or her criminality. The doctor forced these spiraling questions from his head, pushed aside a Robert Rohrer book to make room on his desk, and began asking Ivan the routine wellness questions.
“You’ve known me long enough to know how good I feel. Today especially, nows that I get to go free.” Ivan had become increasing impatient ever since he was told of his surprising acquittal. He had come to see the doctor often over the years, as a result of the frequent fights he got into when boasting about his exploits. The other convicts despised listening to the repeated story of how Kosta’s face made the newspaper front page following the tragedy. Kosta reveled in his “accomplishments” at whatever chance he had. The man’s lack of empathy put a foul taste in the doctor’s mouth. With one last glance at the optimistic day through the barred window, Montgomery began to prepare his machine.
“I still can’t believe they’re letting me off. The prosecution had all that annoying evidence in the court.” Kosta mused about his good fortune. “Maybe my liberation will be covered by one of the news channels!”
Ms. Knight’s tiny frame tensed in disgust at the terrorist’s repulsive behavior. Trying to master the squeamish look spreading across her face, she turned toward the doctor and inclined her head, indicating she was prepared.
“Ready?” the doctor asked, not expecting an answer. Ivan only naively grinned as Ms. Knight filled a syringe with the fatal potassium concoction. However, before she could administer the toxin, Dr. Montgomery waved her off. He knew this was his opportunity. He could not let this particular scoundrel take the easy escape of death. From his bag, the doctor took a vial of his own creation and loaded it into the machine in place of the deadly poison. Ms. Knight caught his eye and silently implored him for some kind of explanation but he shook his head. With a quiet flick of a switch, the machine hummed into life; his serum’s message was carried through electrodes toward the target. The callous murderer did not know what hit him. In a wave of neurotransmitters, the extent of Ivan Kosta’s crime enveloped his mind. The idle tune he had been humming was overshadowed by the cacophony of his victims’ screams. The despair of thousands of parents welled up in his chest. He smelled the consuming stench of burning picture books. The infinite number of possible futures snuffed out at his hand, flashed before him in succession. Gone were his thoughts of criminal valor, replaced with the full guilt of his crime. The guards, who had been waiting to take the criminal’s lifeless body away, escorted the now uncontrollably sobbing Kosta back to his cell.
“What has come over you?” A confused Ms. Knight interrogated, “The court order was death by lethal injection, just like always. Are you getting soft about not warning the criminal?” She radiated fury; the blood rose in her face. “You are tearing down the very foundation of our work!”
“No…you don’t understand. The punishment I have just delivered is far worse than death, especially for Mr. Kosta. While he previously felt no remorse for his crimes, he is now unable to surmount the extent of terror he has caused. I am sorry I did not warn you, but I believe this sentence accurately fits the crime.”
“Do you think you’ve done something honorable? You are a coward. You are weak and spineless. How do you expect me to work with you now, much less look at you?” Ms. Knight spat her words at Dr. Montgomery before thundering from the office.
The doctor sat down at his desk and digested his assistant’s intensity. He turned and gazed at the framed photograph at the corner of his desk. A glowing little girl in pigtails and a new backpack beamed back at him. Two tears raced down the length of his nose.

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