Being the Bad Guy
Proctor 882 is a very practical woman. Most would say brutally so.
It’s in her ethical profile. High-functioning sociopath. No empathy response. No hesitation response. No guilt response.
Her subtype is ‘independent scientist.’ Decisive, assertive. No test-anxiety response. No Samaritan response. An inclination to catalog, to observe, to analyze.
The emotions she feels are dull, limited in spectrum, and far divorced from her actions. She’s a well-versed liar and a decent actress—she can put on a convincing show, but she doesn’t actually experience things like grief and love.
Instead of feelings, she has facts, problems, more facts, and solutions.
It lets her deal with patients the average person would find morally repugnant.
It’s a Tuesday. Tiw’s Day. Tiw. Tiwaz. Tyr. Norse god of victory.
Her Tuesday oh-seven-hundred is sitting in her office. She doesn’t normally see patients until nine. She never knows how he gets in; she doesn’t ask and he doesn’t volunteer the information.
“Good morning, Dr. Sofen. Ask me the question—go on, go ahead.”
She sits across from him and pretends to make a note on her portable.
He grins. “You know you want to.”
“We both know that’s not true, Jim. I don’t want or not want to ask it.”
He widens his eyes. “Ooh, you know how you turn me on when you get ambivalent.”
“Apathetic, actually. Ambivalence is inclusive, and would imply that I both do and don’t want to ask. Ambivalence is more in keeping with a less passive profile.”
“And psychobabble, unf.”
She raises an eyebrow and makes another imaginary note. “You’re urging me to ask because you want to answer. Have you been rehearsing, Jim?”
Slowly, his eyes roll, and he laughs. “You caught me, Doc! That’s me pegged, then. I’m sure there’s a note somewhere in my file that just says NARCISSISM in great big letters.” He drags his finger through the air as if to trace text. “See also: compulsive need for the admiration of others. Perfectly justifiable, in my case, but them’s the breaks.”
She makes no comment. In point of fact, his file says MEGALOMANIA in great big letters (with a footnote of unsuitable for long-term Node custody). The distinction is that he doesn’t particularly care whether people love him, as long as they acknowledge that they’re powerless by comparison.
“Let’s face facts, Dr. Sofen—you know that I know that you know that I need to be or seem to be superior to everyone around me.” He shrugs with faked sheepishness. “It’s a character flaw.”
Now that he’s admitted it aloud, she folds her hands together. “All right. How do you feel about your work with the Fidelis Timestream Maintenance Network?”
“I find it challenging and fulfilling, and yet curiously unconfining.”
“Unconfining. An interesting word. Not ‘liberating’ or ‘relaxed.’”
He smiles faintly, insincerely. “Dr. Sofen, we both know I’m not exactly ‘at liberty,’ and the job itself tends to take place at breakneck speeds with the utmost precision and quite a lot of rules, so I would hardly call it ‘relaxed’ in any connotation.”
“Then why ‘unconfining’? With all those rules, after all.”
“Because they aren’t stupid little rules built up for politeness’ sake. Outside the island, it’s a whole ‘nother world,” he says in what is possibly meant to be a comical imitation of what North America calls a ‘southern’ accent. “Out there, it’s, ‘ooh, don’t kill people, that’s not nice.’ In here it’s, ‘don’t kill that one there just yet, we still need him to hold up the timestream’s trousers.’”
“It bothers you that societal norms are so arbitrary and yet others have the temerity to think they apply to you.”
“I’m the only one allowed to have arbitrary whims,” he says. “Part of being the ‘bad guy’—it’s a really cool deal, actually. Y’know, I came to the Dark Side for the biscuits, but the arbitrary whims are my favourite fringe benefit.”
“And acting within this less arbitrary set of rules is fulfilling to you?”
“I don’t get bored as often anymore; that’s close enough. So the job is…satisfying. Yeah, I like that one…satisfying. Things are getting done, I’m less bored, and I’m not outright offended by the rules of the game.”
She actually does make a note about that. As suspected, affinity for the term ‘rules’ is an extension of a game metaphor. “And how would you rate your most recent opponents?”
“Much the same batch as always. Somewhat clever, rarely brilliant, but quite dogged. And, on occasion, they do manage to surprise.” He grins. “Keeps me on my toes.”
“How would you compare them to your opponents prior to your near-erasure?”
As expected, he finally displays true emotional markers. They pass in a blur on his face and on the screen of her portable. Pulse jump. Pupillary flutter. Micro-expressions for contempt, regret, amusement, sorrow, excitement. He leans forward in his chair (usually her chair, but he seems to think there’s some significance to switching their positions, as if that might alter their respective roles) and stares at her.
She stares back.
“Do you know, Dr. Sofen,” he drawls with deceptive sweetness, “that I could kill you in just five seconds?”
She smiles, because death is a small matter. A little thing. Death is nothing like erasure, the knowledge that everything you ever were and ever will be stops here. Death is a flicker on the vid-screen of the timestream, easily mended by minor adjustments.
“Or I could kill you over five days,” he goes on, eyes shining. “I could make it last, draw it out, take you apart bit by bit to see what you really are, behind your eyes, on the inside, where nobody else can see…”
She makes a note. Still refuses to discuss Holmes. Reacts with intimidation displays. “Still a sore subject, then. All right, what about the experience of near-erasure itself? Tunnels, bright lights, angelic voices?”
He grimaces. “Don’t,” he says. “Don’t poke fun, that’s just…”
She smiles again. Being boring. A cardinal sin in the gospel according to James Moriarty.
“‘Oh, was there a bright light?’” he says in a mocking falsetto. “‘Everyone always says there’s a bright light.’ An endless loop of the same tired questions.”
“Yet there was, in fact, a bright light.”
“Because that’s what happens when brand new eyes open. It could be fifteen watts and still look like the sun.” He makes a languid gesture with one hand, almost dismissive. “Y’know, they tell me my reconstruction was expensive. Isn’t that curious, when the Network operates essentially as a moneyless society? What is the definition of ‘expensive’ to a nation that can create whatever they want quite literally out of air?”
“I’m not an economist, Jim.”
He braces his forearms against his knees and grins up at her. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Maybe there isn’t any such thing as ‘expensive,’ and it’s their way of imposing arbitrary order onto the people they take from the outside world.” Again, he shows contempt, this time with a little anger.
“Perhaps it isn’t arbitrary.”
“Then why not just tell me the real reasons, hm? Why not tell everyone?” He tips his head to the side. “Ah, but I’m sure you know the answer to that. That’s your job, isn’t it, Dr. Sofen? Knowing exactly how people will react to certain words, certain knowledge. And I know the power of making people think there are costs to things.”
“Expensive,” she enunciates carefully. “Think about what it means, free of context. The most general definition.”
“High in cost. Which can mean…either it requires significant resources to bring about, or it incurs heavy consequences.” He smiles suddenly. “Oh, that’s clever. I see.”
Now he thinks he’s privy to some great secret (it’s not really a secret, but most people don’t stop to think about it). Narcissism appeased.
“Every single line of Network Law was given to us by the Founder,” she tells him. “There are scientific reasons behind the bulk of our restrictions, and moral reasons behind the rest. Nothing so…galling…as the laws of most societies, I assure you—just little rules to make sure Network Law is applied equally to everyone, and to make sure that any corruption introduced to the system can be swiftly and thoroughly weeded out. Little things. The way our leaders are chosen and the way our prisoners are treated. But even those have scientific backing in the medical and psychological fields, and almost anything can be excused with the right provisions.”
He leans back and winks. “Every legal system has loopholes. I find the biggest is usually the people doing the enforcing.”
She watches him for a moment. “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about this week, Jim?”
“You’ve given me quite a lot to think on. We’ll have a great deal to discuss next time—for now, I’m off to take over someone’s world.”
“Good luck, then.”
She makes another note.
Current status: stable, still interested. Ready for deployment against various designations of Sherlock Holmes.