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Michael Ruggiero is currently studying psychology as a graduate student in Washington, D.C. This is his first publication.

***Editor's Note: Adult language and situations in the tale that follows***
"So when I take this, I'll be able to kill him?" asks the hooded man.
I know why he doesn't show his face. Most of the men I sell to don't. Too ashamed or too scared. Like I care who they are. I know what they're going to do. I know who they really are.
"You'll have about twenty-four hours before the virus wears off," I tell him. "If you haven't done the deed by then, you lost your chance. The virus won't work a second time."
"Oh, I'll do it. That bastard will finally get what he had coming to him."
They always act so certain. That they have it in them. Proving it to me. To themselves.
"All right. Well, twenty-five hundred and it's all yours."
"Yah, Yah. Here it is." He digs into his coat pocket and brings out the envelope. I grip it firmly within my hand and raise my eyes up at him.
"If you get caught."
"Yah, yah, I know. I don't know you. Never seen you in my life."
"No. They already know I'm out here. It's why I'm always on the move." I hand him the tab. "Here's what you want. Put it right on your tongue and it'll take effect immediately."
Most people don't know how the program works and the government tries hard to keep it that way. The real beauty of the system isn't that it can monitor thought, but that it can restrict it. How can anyone be angry about something they aren't aware of?
There was a time when my work wasn't possible. The laws prevented thinking about purchasing code. Drug. Virus. Whatever. It doesn't really matter what I call it. Like I said before, people don't know or care how it works. They only want to know what it can do.
I bring out the second tab. Standard protocol. "If they catch you, you are gonna wanna take this. It will be a whole lot quicker and a whole lot less painful than what they'll do to you."
This makes the man pause. I don't understand why this always happens. They must know the risks.
Once the public became aware of resources like me, the government pushed hard to discourage the public from indulging. It started with propaganda and Social Obedience Initiatives. Increased security. Constant hardware updates. When those didn't work, examples were made.
"You know. This guy. He's a real piece of shit."
I cut him off. I get this all the time. Some attempt to justify their actions. Why do they think I care?
"Listen. I'm sure he's a real asshole. The world is full of 'em. But I got places to be and I think you do, too." I shoot him a smirk.
The man lets out a short laugh and his hands go to his mouth as if to repress it down. Nerves can do funny things.
"Be careful out there."
The man reaches up and removes his hood, like he's finally comfortable with what he's going to do.
"Thanks. But you know, I think the guy I'm going to kill. I think a lot of people want him dead. I think I've been about as careful as I need to be."
As he speaks these last words I recognize the man. I also recognize the .45.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Author Comments

The idea for this story originated during a neuroscience of addiction course I had last semester. We had been discussing the future of vaccines that could prevent people from getting a "high," therefore dissuading them from drug use. I took that idea further and wondered what it would be like to live in a society in which certain thoughts and actions were prevented by a government program. I wanted to write a story that made people question the importance of choice. The main character can be seen as a vigilante providing justice or merely as a criminal selling murder.

- Michael Louis Ruggiero
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