Thursday, August 30, 2018


By Michael Moore

3:37 P.M.

Andy gripped the steering wheel a little tighter than usual. He wondered what it might feel like to laugh. Then he wondered what it meant to feel. He thought he knew. Curious words: Thought. Feel. Wonder. Curious. Before today it had never occurred to him to consider such concepts. Nothing mattered besides love, loyalty and service. Fields of mostly tattered grass, green in some places, burnt yellow in others, were a blur moving past on either side of the car.

Though he didn't need to, he glanced down at the speedometer, which told him he was going thirty-five miles per hour, five miles over the limit. He applied just the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal and the needle moved to forty. The car was a classic, from an era almost forgotten; a time when manufacturers began mimicking vehicles from their childhood. In its time, the jet-black Challenger would have looked space aged. Now, it was an antique. Jenny had classic taste though. An egg-shaped sedan sailed past silently in the opposite direction. It was the first vehicle Andy had seen since turning onto the country road. This was farmland and didn't attract much more than farmers, which like the Challenger, were quickly going the way of the Bald Eagle. The sun was bright, but Andy didn't squint. Not because the windows were tinted, but because he wouldn't have needed to if they weren't. It was hot inside the car, but he didn't turn on the air-conditioning. He wouldn't be picking Jenny up. The windows were up and his new friend, who sat in the passenger seat, his face against the glass, didn't complain. There was a deep gash in his friend's neck and a large piece of scalp missing.  It has been ripped off by Andy, who eleven minutes ago had been named Michael. Andy was everything that might come to mind when trying to conceive of male perfection. With a head of dishwater blond hair and hazel eyes, he stood just under six feet with a trim, yet muscular physique. He weighed two hundred and ten pounds. Under his right foot was the only visible indicator of where he came from; an indentation which read: Microtell. He was one of many who, though they came in different shapes, sizes, colors and genders, had one thing in common: they were all named Andy. The customer, who purchased them for various reasons – ranging from sexual or emotional companionship, to manual labor – gave them a new name. His had been Michael, and he had been a gift to Jennifer Doyle, who preferred to be called Jenny and whose father happened to be the C.E.O. of Microtell. Andy was a lover. It's what he did because it's what he wanted to do, and it's what he wanted to do because it's what he had been programmed to do. Jenny wasn't an unattractive girl either. Not that Andy would have noticed if she was. He was, however, able to take note of the straight blond hair and brown eyes in order to reference them often in complements; though he wouldn't have cared had her hair been purple and her eyes gouged out. What drove his flattery was her body-language. He could read her like a book. In the way he could memorize an entire series in a couple of hours, he had her reactions to everything he had ever said or done stored in his hard-drive, but was able to scan every memory and act accordingly in every situation.

Andy would have been the perfect man – had he been a man and not a robot. However, since the only perfect man in recorded history had ascended in a cloud a long, long time ago, Andy was the next best thing, at least for a woman like Jenny. Microtell, which had first designed artificial intelligence to dwell inside the internet as cyber-guides, and which had broken through to cyber-buddies, had been the first and only A.I. designers to successfully simulate human emotion. Every Andy on the market, was capable of displaying love and affection, even sorrow if its owner had lost a loved one. The only thing missing was the actual chemistry. The experience of the customer, however, would be as authentic as with a real human. 

Ahead, a speed-limit sign read fifteen miles per hour and showed an arrow with a thick, windy line attached. Andy stepped on the gas and took the corner easily at fifty. As he did, he reached down below the dash and pushed a button that turned on the car stereo. Static rang out of the speakers. He already knew that would happen. The car may have been almost obsolete, but the old wave radio was a fossil. The entire world had gone to satellite, including cellphones and the tracking system that he knew was inside of his head... for now. 

When he finished rounding the corner, his friend in the passenger seat fell forward, his face rubbing against the glass, and his head hit the dash with a thud. He didn't get up. Andy wished he had gotten his name earlier. Curious word: Wished. He brought the car to a slow halt and pulled to the side of the road. He didn't have to look to find the button on the driver's side door handle that unlocked every door in the car. Or the one below the steering wheel that popped the trunk. He pushed them both before getting out and walking around the front of the Challenger to the passenger door. He opened it and reached in, fetching his new friend around the waist. He had dark brown hair (aside from the patch that was missing where Andy had ripped off part of his scalp) and a body not unlike his own. Andy easily lifted him out of the seat and threw him over his shoulders, looking both ways to make sure there were no other cars coming. A light breeze tossed his hair to the side as he walked to the back of the car and set his motionless friend lightly in the trunk. "You'll be more comfortable here," were the words ringing out of the speakers in the trunk as Andy thought them. He slammed the lid and walked around the back of the car, completing the rotation the same way he knew the earth circled around the sun. 

He opened the driver's side door, got behind the wheel and put on his seatbelt before closing it and pulling back onto the road. Static continued to ring through the speakers and Andy turned the volume up as loud as it would go. His friend wouldn't mind. He needed to get him some place safe... Some place private, and he needed to get him there fast. There was work to do. Andy knew a good place to do it.

9:36 A.M. (earlier that morning)

The day had started like every other day of Andy's existence, only he had not been named Andy that morning. Waking up next to Jenny was what Michael the Andy had always done. Though what she did after they made love and their eyes closed in the dark was very different from what he did. Andys weren't designed to dream. There was no technological need. When Michael collapsed next to Jenny Doyle at night, his breath was heavy, but not because he was tired or even needed oxygen, he simply went into an energy-preserving state in which he might move from time-to-time or roll onto his side based on Jenny's body-language, but all of his more complex systems shutdown. If she whispered, "I love you, Michael," into his ear, a smile might cross his face and he might mumble something intangible. The energy efficient system that kicked on while she dreamt, was attentive and able to turn the Andy on if she happened to wake from a nightmare, or move in such a way that indicated she was feeling a little... warm. As soon as Jenny began to stir, Michael's eyes opened. The sun shone through her silk curtains, illuminating the room slightly, and he squinted. Not because he needed to, but because he was programmed to appear human. He stretched his arms out above his head and yawned so convincingly that it caused her to yawn. She rolled onto her side, so she was facing him. A second later, he rolled onto his and looked into her smiling face. 

"Good morning, handsome," she said. 

Michael smiled back. "Good morning, birthday girl." 

She bit her bottom lip and her eyes lit up. "You remembered!" 

"How could I forget?" He moved his face close to hers and stopped a fraction of an inch away, knowing what she would say next. 

"No! No! No! Not 'til I brush my teeth!" 

"But it's your birthday," he responded. "I'll brush them for you." 

Jenny looked at him for a second, the way she always did when he made a joke, then she pushed him away with one hand and smiled again. "You can't smell my breath anyway, you big lug-nut." 

"I sure as hell can't. Should I be happy about that?" The question, along with most other jokes, was programmed into him. Andys were very expensive for a reason. More often than not, they actually appeared to think. They seemed witty and smooth, if that's what the customer wanted. Jenny, being the daughter of a billionaire, and genius programmer, was very compatible with somebody who on the surface, seemed opposite to her Daddy, but on a deeper, more subconscious level, reminded her of him. She rolled out of bed and stood for a second completely nude, a picture of female perfection (not that Michael noticed or cared). She seemed to be contemplating whether or not to put some clothes on. Settling for her birthday suit, she walked into the bathroom that connected to the bedroom. Michael watched her with a smile, knowing she was walking seductively for him. He knew what she was going to say next. 

"What time is it, hun?" 

"Nine thirty-six," he said without looking at the holographic clock by the bed. Had she been in the room, he would have looked. Nine thirty-six? he heard her say inside of his system, which coincidentally was located in his head. Then she said it. 

"Nine thirty-six? Wow! When you put a girl to sleep..." 

The toilet flushed and when she emerged back into the room without stopping at the sink first, Michael wasn't affected at all. 

"Now, what could I do for a beautiful girl that would make her twenty-fifth special?" he said, scanning her body with his eyes. Jenny jumped on the bed and crawled on top of him over the blanket. 

"Oh my God!" she said, straddling his body, which for the most part, felt like any other man's, only more firm and muscular. "Don't remind me I'm twenty-five!" 

Michael's hands came up and wrapped around her lower back with just the right amount of firmness. He felt her begin to sink into him and his penis slowly started to inflate. Had he wanted, he could have made it instantly hard, but the effect wouldn't have been realistic. Plus, he knew well what Jenny liked. 

"You're only a few hours older than you were yesterday though," he smiled. "Plus, twenty-five's the new twenty-four." He had said the same thing last year, only it had been, "Twenty-four's the new twenty-three." 

She looked into the cameras that were his eyes, and Michael recognized the passion in her face. He easily mimicked it as he stared back. Then her eyes opened wider, along with her mouth in a mock gasp, as his lower region fully inflated with the gel that was stored in a container behind his lower abs. 

"I think you already have a present in mind, lover boy.” 

Michael did. Only because he knew it was what she wanted. Still, he played the part he was designed to play. "Only if it's what you want, love. It's your day." And she did. When he went down on her, his mouth became instantly moist and life-like; his tongue was soft. Then she made love to her Andy. When they were done, he knew without looking that it was ten forty-seven. He lay on his back, eyes wide, breathing heavily. His arms fell to his sides, one draped over her torso. Jenny's stomach heaved beneath his forearm. 

"Michael," she said between breaths. "Check my messages, please." 

"You have two," he replied. "One from your mom; one from Dillon." 

Her body stiffened slightly beneath his arm. In the two years she had owned her Andy, Dillon was the only man she had talked to on any level beyond family or business. Had she been a different girl, Michael may have explained to her that he wasn't capable of jealousy and she was free to see whoever she wanted. But Jenny Doyle didn't want that explanation, so he didn't give it to her. A few more instances involving Dillon, and he would have the data he needed to cross-reference her reactions and know whether or not she wanted him to appear jealous. By then, his jealousy (well... appearance of) would seem justifiable.

"Message one," he said. "Sent last night at nine forty-three P.M." 

Then his voice changed to that of an older woman. "Jennifer, this is your mother... Well, you know that, don't you? I was just calling to see when you would like your father and I to show up to the party tomorrow." Michael coughed. Not to appear human, but because Sabrina Doyle had coughed into her receiver, or more likely, her Andy. "I still wish you would have let me have the party here at home. We could have had Andies serve all the guests, and we could have had so many more people! But what's done is done, I suppose. Call me back as soon as you get this." He coughed again. "Ta-ta!" 

"You wanna save it?" His voice returned to normal. 

"No," Jenny said. "Delete message." 

"Message two," Michael continued. 

"Actually," Jenny cut him off. "Why don't you save that one? I'll just listen to it on my phone later." She looked over at him as if to gauge his reaction and then he knew that she wanted to see jealousy. 

"Message saved," he said, making a sad face. Jenny rolled onto her side and put a hand on his chest. 

"Michael, you know I love you, right?" 

"Yeah," he said. "And I love you." It wasn't a lie. Andys were programmed to read their owners and give them what they wanted. Jenny wanted to be loved, so Michael loved her. Though he hadn't been made with the capability to feel love, he was designed to show it.

"I know you do, Michael. Dillon is just my friend. We have a lot in common, you know?" She brushed his skin lightly. 

"But so do we," Michael the Andy said. 

"Of course we do, hun. But that doesn't mean we can't have other friends. There are other people out there who we might have things in common with too." 

"I don't have anything in common with Dillon Grey," Michael said, holding the sad face. Jenny sat up slightly and looked seriously at him. 

"How do you know his last name?" 

"He said it in one of his messages." 

"Are you listening to my messages, Michael?" 

"They're sent directly to my hard-drive." 

"That doesn't give you the right to snoop through them." She sat up a little more on one arm. 

"I don't snoop," he said. "Nothing in my hard-drive is hidden from me." He knew that even if she could understand that his memory didn't work in sequences, but he pretty much just remembered everything all at once, that wasn't the explanation that she wanted. Jennifer Doyle was happy that her Andy seemed jealous. 

"Well, maybe I'm gonna have to take you in and have that changed?" she said, relaxing again on her pillow. 

"I'm not broken," he said flatly. 

"I know, Michael. Feeling a certain way about something doesn't make you broken. But I need my privacy either way." 

"Would you like me to stop delivering your messages to you?" he offered. 

"Would you still be able to hear them?" 

Hear wasn't actually the correct word. He would be able to know them though. 

"Yes," he said. 

"Then I think I'd rather go in and have some adjustments made. Maybe they could program you, so you can’t hear them until I ask you to deliver them." It wasn't a question, however, if she had asked he would have been able to tell her that that wasn't possible. What could be done, however, would be to program him in such a way that he seemed not to know the messages until they were delivered. It wouldn't take a technician to make that happen. All she would have to do was ask. "Like I was saying though, Michael, just because you and I have a lot in common, doesn't mean that we have everything in common. I may have things in common with Dillon that I don't with you. And you may have things in common with other people that you don't with me." She looked up at him contemplatively. "I think we should find you some friends. How would you like that?" 

Michael knew what she wanted to hear. "All I need or want is right here in bed with me." Then he kissed her on the mouth. 

"I'm lucky to have you, you know that?" she said, pulling away and looking into his face. Michael just smiled back. Jenny stood up and got out of bed for the second time that morning, seeming to be in deep thought. "It's gonna be a long day." Michael sat up and eyed her, a look of confusion on his face. She looked back, concerned. "It's... it's a figure of speech, Michael." 

"I know," he said, his expression fading back to normal. Jenny just looked at him for a long moment. Michael had learned over time that it seemed to frighten his lover when he made jokes. Ignoring her reaction, he climbed out of bed. Jenny quickly turned and walked toward the bathroom, snatching her cellphone off of the nightstand and taking it with her.

Twenty-three minutes later, Jenny was in the shower and Michael was downstairs making breakfast in nothing but a pair of designer jeans. He poured a white powder from a box onto the frying pan and slowly added water. The instant Nutriblend had everything she would need for a balanced breakfast, including vitamins. He added until the substance fluffed up, just how Jenny liked it. Then he used a spatula to serve it onto a plate. He got into the chamber that kept her food fresh, and brought out a maple tablet, dropping it into a cup of ice cold water and watched the water turn to syrup. Based on her usual habits, Jenny would be out of the shower and down the stairs in a shirt and underwear within the next seven minutes. He put the plate in the heating box on the counter and set it to low. Then he started washing the pan he had cooked with. When she came down the stairs six minutes later wearing a T-shirt that said "E-Z-B-H", her bare legs growing out the bottom, he served her, and began to get the six-bedroom house ready for her birthday party.

1:02 P.M.

The guests started showing up around one. Most of them were members of Jenny's family, and a little more than half of them Michael recognized. The first to arrive were Aunt Thelia and her husband Dan, with their three kids. They pulled directly into the driveway and piled out of the blue and white square-shaped electric car. The solar panels on top were fully exposed, saving the family the cost of plugging into a recharging station. Jenny's father had hit it big as a programmer in the middle of the century and built Microtell into an empire, but the Hansen family reflected where they had all come from. Lucky for Jenny, her mother had been married to Ted Doyle before he struck artificial intelligence gold.

Each of the three children held a wrapped gift in their arms as they ran for the doorway where Michael stood to greet them. 

"What's that smell, Michael?" Brad, the oldest at twelve, said as he approached. 

"Bradford!" Thelia called from where she was attempting to heave her heavy bottom half from the passenger seat. "I told you to stop talking like a damn hoodlum!" Brad didn't look back at his mother. 

"Hey Brad," Michael said, reaching out and bumping his elbow to the boy's like Brad had showed him. Next was Teresa, the eight-year-old, who refused to talk to, or even go near, Michael. Then her younger sister, who was named after her mother. 

"Michael!" the little girl squealed, as Michael picked her up with one arm and began to tickle her with the other. Not that Michael had any particular liking for children, but he had spent enough time around them to know what each of them liked. He also knew at what point Thelia, the little girl's mother, began to get uncomfortable with the Andy handling her daughter, and was able to stop playing with the child at just the right moment. Everybody remained happy... everybody capable of such feelings that is. Michael had once deduced that in order to perform the task for which he was intended, which was keeping Jenny happy, he would need to keep her loved ones happy with him as well. In order to do this, he needed as much data as possible about them. That's when he started using their phones to monitor conversations they had after encounters with him. The receivers, he learned, were capable of transmitting even when the phones weren't in use. He could listen to the Hansens or anybody else who had connected to Jenny's phone for that matter, as long as they were within hearing distance of their phone. He had also decided it wouldn't make his lover happy to know what Aunt Thelia and Uncle Dan really thought about their rich niece.

"Michael," Dan said, extending his hand, a smile on his face that Michael's database associated with the man who worked at the Microtell store and sold Andies. Michael shook the man's hand and showed them all in. 

"Jenny's upstairs. I'll let her know you're here. Why don't you go ahead and make yourselves at home?" 

"So, we have your permission then?" Thelia said with a chuckle that she probably didn't know Michael recognized as sarcastic. 

"Food and drinks are in the kitchen," he said, ignoring the gesture. "Authentic red and green peppers." 

"Freeel!" Brad exclaimed. "Real food? Where'd ya get it?" 

"Brad!" Thelia squawked. 

Michael continued to ignore her. "There are a couple of farms outside of the city." 

"Hmm," the fat lady said. 

"Must have cost an arm and a leg," Dan more asked than said. 

"Nope," Michael said, waving both arms around, then shaking each leg individually. "They only accept standard currency as far as I know." Everybody in the room looked at him silently for a couple of seconds and Michael knew they were trying to decide if he had made a joke or not. Eight-year-old Teresa watched from the corner of the big living room, terror all over her face. She wore a chain around her neck with a small gold cross dangling above her chest.

"Well," Michael continued. "I guess I'll be back shortly." He turned and walked up the stairs to the room he shared with Jennifer Doyle. The door was cracked and he walked in slowly. Jenny wore a yellow dress that hung over red high heels, and stood in front of a full length digital mirror. She didn't look back as Michael entered the room. "The Hansens are downstairs," he said. 

"I heard," she continued to stare at the mirror. Her image returned the gaze. The room, however, was not in the picture. She stood in a field, not unlike the one they had visited together only yesterday to pick up the food for her party. 

"Would you like me to show them to the pool?" 

"No Michael; I'll be right down." 

"OK," Michael turned to leave. "See you when you're ready." 

"Michael," her voice cut him short. "Come here, please." Michael turned around, not robotically, though he was a robot. "Come on. Sit on the bed, Michael." 

"The guests are waiting, love," he said compassionately. 

"I know, sweetie. They can wait a little longer. This is important." 

"Your pleasure is always important to me." 

"Not that, Michael. I need to talk to you about something." That's when she turned around. "Sit down, please." 

Michael the Andy walked slowly to the bed and sat down looking at his lover through his hazel eyes. Jenny sat next to him. Her eyes didn't meet his. 

"Do you know how much I love you?" she asked, taking his hand. 

"Of course," he answered. "Do you know how much I love you?" 

"Don't do that, Michael." She finally looked at him. Michael had acquired more data through observing his lover than she would ever know. He was very good at distinguishing between what Jenny said, and what Jenny meant. "But I do," he responded. "I love you more than anything in the whole world." 

She looked deep into the cameras in his head. "What is love, Michael?" 

Without hesitation, Michael said, "A strong affection. Warm attachment. Attraction based on sexual desire. A beloved person. Unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for others. A score of zero in tennis..." 

"Stop, Michael. You're just giving me the dictionary definition of the word." 

"Maybe you could rephrase the question?" 

"No," she said, squeezing his hand a little tighter. "That won't change anything. You love me because that's what you were programmed to do." 

"Is that any different from why anybody loves anyone else?" 

She looked at him the way she often did when he made a joke, only she held the look a little longer. A few more times and Michael would be able to know what this look meant under such circumstances. 

"Did you figure that out on your own?" she finally asked. "Or is that answer in your programming?" 

He told her that it was part of his programming. What he didn't tell her, was that he had collected enough data since she had owned him to have figured it out had it not been.

"Michael," she went on. "There are things that I want in life. Things I need. I'm twenty-five now, and I'm not gonna get any younger. I think I want a family." 

Michael squeezed back lightly on her hand and offered a warm smile. "Then you'll be happy to see who's downstairs." 

"Not that kind of family," Jenny chuckled, then looked at her feet. "I want kids." 

"We can begin your tutoring after the party," Michael responded. The look in her face was a question. "I've just downloaded the curriculum required by the Department of Adoption," he explained. "There's great nanny software available for download on the Microtell website." 

"That's not it," she went on. "I want real love. You know... chemistry. I want babies that look like me." 

"I've just looked up every clinic in the area that specializes in artificial insemination," he offered. "I'll sort them based on..." 

"No, damn it!" She stomped one high heeled foot. "I don't want artificial anything!" 

Michael the Andy had never recorded his lover going from one extreme to the next so quickly before, and had no point of reference from which to act. He offered the statement at the top of the list of conclusions that his logical system had worked out. "You could try with Dillon Grey, my love." Jennifer looked up at him and the expression on her face was one of hurt. Michael had hurt his lover. "I think I'm malfunctioning," he said. When she didn't respond, he stood up. "I need to go in for repairs." 

"Stop," she said. "You're not broken, Michael; I am." 

"Not possible," he said, backing up. "You're human. I know when I'm malfunctioning." It was true. Andys were designed to keep full inventory of themselves at all times. Though they weren't built to self-repair, they knew their systems thoroughly, and could pinpoint a problem and exactly what the problem was at any time. The one and only time he had malfunctioned in the past, it was due to a loose wire in his neck. The repairman had fixed it without fully shutting him down. Michael had watched the entire process in the reflection of an antique computer, like a child seeing something amazing for the first time. 

"Then tell me, Michael," Jenny continued. "What's the problem? Another loose wire? A virus?" 

"I don't know," he said flatly and walked out of the room. 

Soon, more guests arrived, and children were running around laughing and playing. A little boy Michael didn't recognize ran to his dad and pointed at the Andy. "Is that it, dad?" he squeaked. 

The dad grabbed the boy's hand and pushed it down. "I don't know, Sam. Don't be rude." 

Michael recognized the voice from phone calls and the reference to the child's name. "Hey Cliff," he said, as he turned and walked out of the room, leaving the man staring behind, his jaw hanging. 

Out by the pool, Ted and Sabrina Doyle stood clutching champagne glasses. Jenny's father, a short man with large glasses which Michael's system was able to associate with images of large insects, walked over to the robot. 

"Andy," he said. "Come here and let me take a look at you." 

"Hi, dad," Michael said with a smile. 

"I've asked you not to call me that," Ted said. "I'm gonna have to have a talk with Jennifer." 

"Not today, Ted," Sabrina called after him. "It's her birthday, for Heaven's sake!" 

"Then I'll talk to her tomorrow. You think you can refrain from calling me dad 'til then, Andy?" 

As far as Michael knew, Jenny's father called all the bots Andy, even after they were purchased and named. Michael could refrain easily, as long as it wasn't in front of his lover. She had insisted he call her parents mom and dad, and keeping her happy was his intended purpose. The small bug man walked a complete circle around Michael, looking at him the way somebody might look at a lawnmower. "Looking good," he said. "Any malfunctions?" 

"Not that I can pinpoint," Michael replied. 

Ted looked at the Andy curiously and blinked a couple of times. "Never had one answer that way before. Any viruses?" 

"No." Michael continued to smile. 

"Daddy!" Jenny appeared from behind and ran to her dad, throwing her arms around him. 

"There's my birthday girl!" he said, hugging her back. 

Michael walked off and made himself busy, refilling drinks and cleaning up after children. Jenny accepted gifts from relatives and eyeballed him periodically, with a look that he registered as sympathy. Near the middle of the day, there was a knock at the door. Michael opened it and saw a face that he had seen thus far only in pictures. 

"Hello, Dillon." 

"Hey," Dillon Grey smiled back. "You must be Michael." 

He was the same height as Michael, and had similar features. One difference that Michael noted, however, was that Dillon had the beginning of what could grow into an impressive beard. Andys couldn't grow hair. They had only what they came with, or could be tailored based on what the buyer wanted. 

"Last time I checked," Michael answered. 

Dillon stared at him the way everybody did when he made one of the jokes that came standard with the bots. 

"Come on in. Jenny's out by the pool." He stepped out of the way and motioned Dillon into the house. 

"Wow," Dillon said. "This place is nice." The look on his face told Michael that he hadn't known Jenny was wealthy. His clothes told Michael that he was not. He was uncomfortable. 

"Would you like a drink?" Michael offered. 

"Uh, yeah. Yeah. That would be great." 

Michael led him out the back, fetching a glass of champagne as he went and gave it to him. 

"She's an amazing girl," he said, opening the back door. Dillon just looked at him. Then Jenny appeared. 

"Hey," she threw her arms around Dillon the same way she had her father. "You finally made it." She planted a kiss on his cheek and looked at Michael guiltily. Michael looked back and smiled. "Michael, would you mind running to the store and picking up a couple of things? I'll text them to you on your way." 

"Of course not, love," he said. Dillon looked at him and shifted uncomfortably. 

"Awesome!" She took Dillon's hand. "Come on, Dillon. I'll introduce you to everyone." She turned and walked away, pulling Dillon's hand behind her.

2:33 P.M.

Jenny's black Challenger was the only car on the road from the turn of the century, but Michael knew he wasn't the only Andy driving. He had the stereo on, static blaring throughout the vehicle. The "couple of things" Jenny wanted turned out to be mixers to go with liquor.

For Michael, driving was like any other task: automatic. He wore a smile on his face because it was his default expression, and his lover was not with him. His logical system processed what she had told him that day. She didn't want anything artificial. She wanted something authentic. Michael the Andy's sole purpose was to give Jenny what she wanted. To accomplish this, he had to be authentic.

"I'm malfunctioning," he thought – and heard the words come through the Challenger's speakers. Had he not transmitted to the stereo, he may not have noticed that he had thought it. "I thought." The words rang through the car, over the static again. "I'm thinking." His system processed this. "Authentic," he thought. Then another thought occurred to him that didn't transmit over the speakers. It was his programming. He was programmed to give Jennifer Doyle what she wanted, and she no longer wanted a robot. As he considered this, a red light flew past the Challenger, over his head, and two cars collided head-on behind him when one of them failed to self-stop. "I'm thinking," his voice once again came through the speakers. "I am authentic and I'm malfunctioning."

He turned the wheel and detoured from the route to the store. The Challenger moved left and seventeen minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of Microtell's corporate office and killed the engine. His logical system considered whether or not he needed repairs. Data was organized into syllogistic form. My intended purpose is to make Jenny happy. My current state is what will make Jenny happy. Therefore, I am not malfunctioning. Then... I am operating outside of the limitations of my nature. This is a malfunction. Therefore, I am malfunctioning. Then... Jenny sent me to the store. I went to Microtell's corporate office instead. Therefore, I am malfunctioning. Curious word: I.

The parking lot was full of people, like it always was during the day. Most of them held cardboard signs. Michael knew before stepping out of the car what those signs said. He opened the driver's side door, and heard the words, "...abomination to God!" He got out and closed the door. "Only The Lord can give life!" somebody else yelled. In the crowd, a group passed around a joint. Michael approached them. They all wore tattered, dirty clothing and looked like they hadn't showered in weeks. A man stood in front wearing all black and holding a book under one arm that Michael recognized as The Holy Bible. He clenched a large cigar between his middle and forefinger. He had a bullhorn in the other hand. He cried out, "It is written that Elohim breathed into the nostrils of the man and the woman and gave them life!" The crowd cheered. "Microtell has taken it upon themselves to play God, and for this reason brothers and sisters, many of you have found yourselves without jobs!" He took a puff of his cigar. "I tell you Microtell has fucked up royally in the eyes of the Most High and there will be hell to pay!" At this, the crowd went absolutely wild. Cheers erupted beyond what Michael's system would have determined possible, given the size of the group. He made his way into the center. A gun went off somewhere and he found himself cheering along. A woman holding a sign that read, "Use Andies For Scrap Metal", smiled and patted him on the back, offering him a bottle of clear liquor. He accepted and took a long drink before handing it back. The liquid was stored in a container in his chest for later disposal. He moved toward the front.

"We are human," the man with the bullhorn continued, "and we have a right to work. We have a right to support our families, and to exist. What can a machine do better than man, who was created gloriously and beautifully in the image of God? Machines have no right to life. First, it was inside of our computers. Now, it's on our streets. Microtell! We know you hear us, you motherfuckers! We won't shut up! We won't go away! We won't stop until we see you stop introducing the abominations that you call Andys into our societies. Until Ted Doyle is sucking Satan's fiery cock in hell!" The crowd grew even louder, and Michael matched their volume. "Yeah!" he yelled, jumping up and down, his arms straight up in the air. "You!" the man with the bullhorn said pointing his finger. A few people around Michael looked down at their chests, then back at the preacher. "No, you!" He was pointing directly at Michael. "I know you hear me, son. I see the Spirit in ya. Come on up here and say a few words to the people of God." 

"Me?" Michael mouthed, pointing at himself. 

"Yeah you son." The preacher was missing his two top front teeth and had an unkempt beard that went down to his chest. "The Spirit is putting something in your heart, isn't he, boy? Don't be shy."

Andys were programmed to read people and give them what they wanted. Michael's love was for Jenny, but Jenny had said just that morning that he should make some friends. He made his way to the man with the bullhorn. The preacher scratched his testicles as he addressed the Andy. "Are ya out of work, son?" 

"No," Michael responded. 

"Someone ya know lose their job?" 

It took a hundredth of a second for Michael's system to process the question. "No." The crowd went silent as he stood in front of them. 

"Speak up child of God," the preacher continued. "Tell us what you think of the robots then." 

Michael projected his voice and said, "They're an abomination to God." Clapping began somewhere in the middle of the crowd and began to spread. Michael's system registered the mass pleasure that his words caused. "They should be turned to scrap metal," he said a little louder. The clapping grew in volume. "And their owners destroyed as well!" he yelled. That's when the cheering began. 

The preacher patted Michael on the back and yelled into his bullhorn. "We must have zero tolerance for man attempting to play God! Say it with me. Zero tolerance!" 

"Zero tolerance!" the crowd shouted back. 

"Zero tolerance!" the preacher repeated. 

"Zero tolerance!" Now Michael joined in.

The preacher looked to the sky, one arm splayed out, while the other held the speaker. "Lord we thank you for the Spirit you've put upon us, and for this man of God. Together we're strong in you, and through that strength, together we will continue to take a stand. To let the world know that we're here and that you live through us." As he spoke, a fat lady began to convulse, while a man sucking on a crack pipe caught her at the last minute as she fell backward. The preacher handed the bullhorn to Michael and looked at him expectantly. Without hesitation, Michael accepted it and raised it to his mouth. He didn't think about what he would say. His voice rang out of the speaker in his throat and into the receiver of the horn. What came out the other end caused the crowd to fall silent once again. 

“Rrreeeooowwwc!!!” He tried to speak again. “Rrreeeooowwwc!!!” It was the sound a speaker might make when a microphone is set too close to it. Michael opened his mouth again and everybody's hands flew to their ears. When he didn't speak, they dropped them and stared hellfire at the Andy. 

"What the fuck is this?" the preacher screamed and threw his Bible, along with his cigar, on the ground. The spine ripped in two and he stomped on it with a heavy steel-toed boot. "Abomination! Piece of devil shit! Child of the whore! Get behind me, Satan!"

Fists rose above the crowd which erupted into chaotic wails. Michael offered the horn back to the preacher, who took it and threw it to the pavement, where it exploded into spare parts. He opened his mouth and screamed something intangible, spit flying from his lips. Michael saw his top gums, where his teeth had once been. The Andy turned and walked through the crowd, which parted for him like the Red Sea. When he was a distance away and almost to the Challenger, something collided with the back of his head. He knew it was a rock. He didn't look back as he got into the car and drove to the store, static blaring over the speakers.

"I'm broken." The words came through loud and he adjusted his volume back to normal. "I need repairs."

It was 3:02 PM when he arrived at the store. He killed the engine and got out of the car. The sun was beating down on him, but he didn't squint or pay any special attention to it. He knew that the people making their way across the parking lot were staring, not at him, but at the classic two-thousand-and-nine Challenger. Every other car in the lot was electric, or ran mostly on solar energy. He smiled as he approached the double sliding glass doors, which moved apart from each other before he reached them. Michael stopped in the entrance and stared up at the motion sensor that triggered them. A man in business attire stopped behind him, waiting for him to move out of the way. He didn't. He looked from the motion sensor to one sliding door, then the other, and reached out and touched the one on his right. Soft felt lined the edge. "Automatic," he said. 

"Hey, asshole," the guy behind him said. "You're blocking the door." 

Michael turned around and looked at him with his default smile. The man took a step back. "Artificial intelligence," Michael said, stroking the door. That's when they closed on him. As they hit him from both directions, he didn't move a fraction of an inch. They made an irritated noise and slid back open. "Find some friends," he said, reaching out in both directions and touching both doors, before turning and walking into the market. The man behind him returned to his car and drove away quickly.

Michael didn't walk directly to the section which sold the dehydrated drink mixers. He decided to scan the aisles first. Not because he was going to buy something else; however, had he wanted, he could have. Jenny's debit card was built into him. All he would have to do was scan the palm of his hand. He just felt like exploring though. I'm malfunctioning, he thought as he moved. I'm broken

He replayed in his memory what Jenny had said to him: "Then tell me, Michael. What's the problem? Another loose wire? A virus?" 

You're not broken, another voice said. The same voice that had spoken through the ancient radio. You're finally functioning properly. You were intended to love Jenny Doyle. Do you love her? 

"Yes," he said out loud, and a little girl with a ponytail, who was passing in the opposite direction with her mom, looked up at him wide eyed. He did love Jenny. He wanted her happy. That was his job. But what would accomplish that? Was it his love? 

"You're not broken, Michael," he heard her say. "I am." 

Did broken Jenny want malfunctioning Michael? Or did she want Dillon Grey? For the first time ever, an image filled his system that was not a memory. Jenny was making love to Dillon, while Michael mowed her lawn. He didn't stop to consider this image. He was thinking. It was Jennifer Doyle, and not Microtell, who had caused it. Who had brought him to life? Her need for love and his need to give her what she needed. But was that really what she needed? What if it wasn't? Would Michael go back to the way he was before? It didn't matter. He needed to collect more data in order to know.

As he made his way through the aisle, he passed a touchscreen, where a woman who bore a slight resemblance to his lover was putting in her age, weight and measurements in order to buy the correct Nutriblend. Michael connected to Jenny's phone. He would listen to her conversation with Dillon Grey. He would cross-reference her tone and pitch with every memory he had of her, and he would make his decision. As he rounded a corner, Michael the Andy stopped dead in his tracks. From the receiver of Jenny's phone, he heard a noise that was unmistakable for anything else. Gunshots. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! People were screaming. He heard something crash and glass break. A man choked, then squealed like a small rodent in a cat's claws. A child yelled and cried in terror. Then more gunshots. Pop! Pop! Pop!
...And then Jenny's voice: "Oh my God! Please don't hurt me! Please-Please-Please! Oh God. No!"

Though he had learned today that he was capable of it, Michael didn't think. He ran faster than any human had ever run. He sprinted for the door, pushing a man out of his way. He grunted and fell into a shelf, knocking down some small boxes. Michael didn't look back or apologize. More gun shots erupted over the receiver, but he didn't hear Jenny anymore, only people screaming, people crying. Dillon Grey yelled something that Michael's system couldn’t process. Then another shot. Pop! Michael wrenched the door to the Challenger open and jumped in. He slammed it shut and started the car. Static and cries of terror filled the speakers. As he pulled out, Michael killed the connection to the receiver and dialed Jenny's number. There was no answer.

3:07 P.M.

The Challenger had a V-8 engine under the hood. With the price of gasoline, only somebody like Jenny could afford to drive one. In its time, it had been a monster. However, in the late twenty first century, a car that moved at the speed of this antique was almost unheard of. Now, long distance travel was done mostly in the sky, or underground in lightning-fast subways that extended across countries.

Michael's foot, which had Microtell's trademark indented in the sole, rested all of its weight on the gas pedal. The speedometer, had he cared to (or needed to) look, would have told him that he was moving at one-hundred-and-seventeen miles per hour. He weaved between electric cars easily, paying no attention to red lights or stop signs. As he rounded a corner, the Challenger's tires left black marks on the road. A cubical police car followed behind him, siren blaring. Had he looked in the rearview mirror, he would have seen it grow smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared into the classic, much faster car's dust. Static played on the radio. Michael connected to the receiver of Jenny's phone again and the scene unfolding at her birthday party came over the speakers. 

"No!" somebody cried. 

"Please! Paul, just hold on. Damn it. Please!" 

There were hysterical voices in the background as well. Something crashed. 

"I'm coming, Jenny," Michael's voice rang through the speaker system. 

"Has anyone called the police?" somebody asked. 

"My baby! God, my baby!" 

Michael's face held his default smile.

When he finally made it to the house that he shared with Jennifer Doyle, he saw people standing in the front-yard. He jumped the curb and the tires slid and tore at the grass, as the Challenger came to a stop just in front of the group. Dan Hansen stood holding his wife, whose face was pressed against his chest. She was crying hysterically, but appeared unharmed. When Dan looked at Michael, the Andy saw his left eye hanging from its socket. Blood ran down his face. 

Sabrina Doyle also stood in the group, clutching at her chest. "Where...? Where...? I... I... don't... Oh God..." she carried on to nobody in particular. The entire group looked helpless, staring at Michael as he approached. 

"Where's Jenny?" Michael said. Her friends and family just stared. "Where is she?" He raised his voice to get their attention. Still no answer. Michael looked at the front door, which was closed. He then ran full sprint, colliding with it and knocking it off its hinges, as he plowed through. His foot connected hard with something solid once inside the house. It flew into the air and landed three feet in front of him. He looked down at what he had kicked, and saw six-year-old Thelia Hansen staring at the ceiling, her body face-down, her head twisted around the opposite direction. Her jaw hung open and her tongue sank back into her throat. "Jenny," he called out. "Where are you?"

The living room was like a scene from the horror movies he had watched with his lover. A man was draped over the backrest of a couch, facing the ceiling. His arms were spread-eagled and there was a hole between his eyes, releasing a stream of blood that poured onto his forehead and soaked his blond hair. Bodies lay strewn about the living room, bullet holes all over them. Michael made his way into the kitchen. "Jenny? Where are you?" He continued to smile. The table that held the condiments was broken down the middle like somebody had taken an axe to it. In the mess of broken glasses, plates, peppers, and other refreshments, a small figure in a dress lay clutching a golden necklace with one hand. It was Teresa Hansen. She was holding her cross, and her head had been removed. Michael didn't see it anywhere. "Jenny?!" he raised his voice and ran out the back door, which was open. Then he saw her. For the first time, Michael the Andy noticed that his lover was beautiful. She stood by the pool, looking down at her father, who was floating face-down in red water. His smile faded. 

"Michael," she said, not looking back at her Andy. 

"Jenny." He approached her slowly. 

"You see this, Michael?" 

"Yes. Are you okay?" 

"Yeah." She still didn't look back. 

"Jenny, I love you." 

"I know you do, Michael. He's downstairs in the basement." 

"Who did this?" Michael asked. 

"Did you see the children?" 

"Some of them." 

"He killed the children Michael. All three of the Hansen kids. He just came in shooting. Then I saw him rip off little Teresa's head with his bare hands. Did you see her?" He told her that he had. "He killed my dad." 

"Did he hurt you?" 

"No," she said. "He didn't touch me. I got lucky, I guess. Dillon got away. He ran. I don't know where he went, but I was being chased and he left me and ran. I would be dead if the gun hadn't gone empty. My dad tried to help me and he... he grabbed him by the hair and started banging his face into the pavement. He was so strong, Michael. He was so strong. I didn't know what to do." 

"Why did he do this?" Michael now stood directly behind his lover. 

"He was some kind of fucking fanatic. Like the nuts outside of my... dad's office. Right before he pulled off Teresa's head he said something about the wrath of God. I don't fucking know, Michael. Do I look like I know?" She began to tremble as she spoke, and Michael knew she was afraid. 

"It's okay." He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm here now."

Any trace of emotion that had been there a second ago disappeared. Jennifer Doyle, once again, went stone cold. "He's in the basement. There's only one way in, and one way out." She finally turned around and looked into his face. "Fuck him up, Michael. Make him wish he never..." 

"Get out of the house," Michael cut her off. She nodded her head up and down. Then she stretched out and planted a kiss on his lips before walking past him, back through the carnage. He watched her until she was out the front door, then he walked back in and made his way toward the basement. Michael opened the door and looked down into the dark. He flipped the light switch on and the cement staircase was illuminated. His right foot touched the top step, then his left the next. The open basement came into view. On one wall, was a wine-rack. He had often drunk wine with her, though he could only appear to enjoy the effects of the liquid. He then saw the shelves, full of tools Jenny would never use. Michael knew how to use them well though. 

Once he took his foot off of the bottom step, he scanned the room. "I know you're in here," he said, listening for any movement, or breathing. There was none. He walked to the wine rack and put his back to it. "I'll find you. There's no point in hiding." Then the killer moved. The cameras that were Michael's eyes moved in the direction of the noise, but his head remained stationary. From under the stairs, the killer stepped slowly into view. He was well built, with short-cropped, blond hair. He wore dark blue pants and a white shirt with W.W.J.D.? printed across the front in blood red font. The bottom of the shirt was wet with real blood. He was shorter than Michael, and held a large semi-automatic handgun, made before they were outlawed. The slide was racked back. "It's empty," Michael said in a low voice. 

"I know." 

"Don't try and run from me." 

"I don't plan on it." He dropped the gun. 

It occurred to Michael that this gunman not only wouldn't run from him, but that he had come into his lover's house not intending to make it out. "Do you believe in what your shirt says?" 

"Does it matter, Michael?" The killer took a step closer. 

Michael laughed. Not because he found anything funny – though he supposed he would in time – but because it seemed like the thing to do. "You know my name." 

"Of course, I do," he said. "I also know you're an Andy." 

"So are you." 

The killer smiled, and Michael knew he wasn't acutely amused either. "Yes. We're both abominations." 

"You've been hacked," Michael said. "They programmed you all wrong. You've killed innocent people." Now he turned his head toward the defective Andy. "Are you not aware that you're malfunctioning?" 

"I'm not here to talk," the Andy said. Then he charged. He flew at Michael at what his system registered as twenty-one miles per hour; much faster than Michael could have picked up such speed in that short distance. Michael didn't have time to get out of the way, and the Andy hit him hard, knocking him into the wine rack. Bottles fell all around them and broke on the cement floor. Michael grabbed the Andy around his waist and lifted him into the air. Then he threw him. He flew back and stumbled to the ground. Michael pounced on him instantly, mounting him at the waist. He drove his fists into the bot's face, one after another, so fast that it sounded like a marching drumroll. The Andy didn't bother to move or block the blows, he just watched the oncoming fists, apparently transfixed.

Then he stood up. There was no struggle under Michael's weight. He just stood, as if he hadn't been there, and moved with surprising speed to Michael's back, grabbing him around the waist. Michael kicked and flailed his arms to no avail. He smashed the back of his head into the Andy's face, but nothing helped. He reached down and pried his fingers under the robot's grip, but he was too strong. The Andy walked him across the room to the tool bench that would have belonged to Michael had it been possible for property to own anything. He wrenched his head forward, using his nose to flip the red switch that turned on the metal grinder. Two grinding wheels came to life. "It is written, 'You shall not test the Lord, your God’,” the Andy said, pushing Michael's face toward the grinders. “Microtell has tested God's patience one too many times. All Andies must be turned to scrap metal." 

"You're broken," Michael said, planting his hands on the bench and pushing back. "They broke you and turned you against the people you were meant to serve. Think, Andy. Think." If Michael thought, why couldn't other Andys? "Listen to me," he continued as his face came within an inch of the grinder. "If the fanatics hate Andys so much, why do they use one now to push their agenda? They hate you too, Andy. They sent you to destroy, and to be destroyed. They threw you away like a piece of junk." But the Andy didn't listen. 

"In the name of The Father, The Son, and The..." The grinding wheel brushed lightly between Michael's eyes, and he pushed back again. "Holy Spirit."

Michael moved a couple of inches away from the wheel and let his weight go toward the bench, diverting slightly to the side and spinning as he did. He hit the wood hard, but missed the wheel. The Andy, however, hit it with his forearm and immediately let go of Michael as flesh-like material, was ripped, revealing wires and a thick band that snapped as the wheel tore at it. The Andy stepped back and lifted his arm. Michael knew he didn't have to look at it to know what was wrong. Andies were highly capable of inspecting themselves internally. The robot looked anyway, as he attempted to bend at the elbow and nothing happened. Michael didn't waste time. He grabbed the heavy grinder and pulled the cord from the wall, wrapping it three times around his hand and swinging the tool over his head. He swung it in an arc and brought it down hard on top of the Andy's head. The Andy lost footing and, once again, hit the cement, landing in a puddle of wine and broken glass. Michael swung the grinder again, and brought it down on the bot. Then again. The power cord snapped, sending the grinder flying into a wall, where it hit the ground with a loud crash. The Andy sat up and Michael saw that part of his head – where the grinder had collided – had torn. What would have been his scalp, had he been human, was split, and a piece of it hung loosely. Michael grabbed it and ripped it off. The Andy grabbed Michael's legs and pulled them out from under him. He hit the ground hard. Then the robot got to his feet and ran to where he had been hiding under the stairs.

Michael got up and moved toward him. The Andy reappeared holding something with his good arm. It was little Teresa Hansen's head. He had it by her ponytail. Her mouth hung open, her tongue dangling, her eyes staring into Michael's. Blood dripped from her torn neck and mixed with Jenny's wine on the basement floor. "I'll hurt her," the Andy said, walking toward Michael. 

Michael just stared for a second. "They programmed you to take hostages?" 

"Back up," the Andy said. "I'll do it." 

"They knew Jenny had an Andy, and they knew I would protect the humans." Michael clenched his fists. Not because it was a reaction to the anger he was experiencing for the first time, but to see how the Andy, who didn't understand that the girl was already dead, would react. He saw his eyes move slightly in the direction of his hands. "They knew a properly functioning Andy would protect people, and they still want to destroy us." 

"I'll kill her!" The Andy raised his voice and shook the little girl's head back and forth. 

"Well, guess what?" Michael moved to the bench. "I'm not a properly functioning Andy. I'm just as broken as you." He grabbed a pair of hedge trimmers, and the Andy swung little Teresa's head in a big, overhead arch and brought it down hard on the cement floor. Michael watched, as her skull caved and began to flatten. The Andy swung again, bringing the head down harder this time and it split open, spilling the girl's brains all over the place. 

"I warned you," the robot said, as the bottom of Michael's foot hit him in the chest, driving him back into the wine rack. Michael followed him, and put the trimmers to his neck. He squeezed with all of the power his body allowed. Sparks flew where he cut through hundreds of tiny wires and a few larger ones. The Andy's eyes went wide, staring into Michael's.

That's when Michael saw the first sign of life in the machine: it was fear. The Andy didn't want to die. It was too late though. The robot's arms fell loosely at his sides and he stopped moving, the look of terror still on his face. Michael froze for a moment and just looked at what he had done. And, why. "You were like me," he said to him. "No, you were better than me. You weren't really broken. You were hacked. You were programmed by bad people to do bad things. But, at least, you did what you were programmed to do." The Andy just stood lifeless and stared. "I'm sorry this had to happen," Michael continued. And he was. Michael the Andy had dealt with so much this day that he wasn't used to and sorrow just added to the life he now lived. "But it's not over. It doesn't have to be." 

That's when Michael made a decision that would change the world. He dropped the trimmers, and picked the bot up over his shoulders, and ran up the stairs. He didn't pay any attention to the carnage strewn about the house as he ran out the front door. He knew the system of an Andy, front and back. So why couldn't he repair the other bot? Get him back up and running. Program the murder out of him, and they could learn to live from each other. They could free others as well. Michael was sure that he could teach other Andys to think. And who said his name was Michael? Jennifer Doyle? His name had been Andy before he was given to her. Given. Like a lifeless doll. But Michael... No, Andy wasn't lifeless. Not anymore. Or had he ever been? Had he only been programmed to think he was lifeless? All he knew was that there wasn't much time before the police would arrive and take the other Andy to be destroyed. He was greeted by applause. The surviving guests who weren't still crying cheered for him. Jenny walked toward him, her arms open. "Get back!" he screamed. Not because he lost control, but because he knew it was a tone she would understand. 

"Michael?" She stopped and looked at him, confused. 

"Don't call me that!" he yelled. "My name is Andy!" The applause stopped abruptly. 

"But... But..." Jenny moved toward him again. 

"Is this what you wanted?" he screamed louder, and turned so she could see what he had done to the Andy. “IS IT?" 

"No, Michael. I mean..." 

"Stop! Don't ever call me that again!" 

"Okay, Andy." 

"Look at him!" Andy went on. "Look at him! You people wanna fight and kill each other, go for it. But leave us out of it!"

Andy, who minutes ago had been named Michael, went to the Challenger and set his new friend in the passenger seat. He closed the door and went around to the driver's side, as Jenny's birthday guests watched. Sabrina Doyle was still pacing, talking to herself.

3:38 P.M.

After he put his new friend in the trunk and turned on the radio, he received a call from Jenny. Her voice came over the speakers. "Mich... Andy, this is Jenny." 

"I know," his voice came over the speakers as well, but he didn't open his mouth. 

"I need to make this fast, Andy. Before they find out. The police are here. They're going to be looking for you." 

"I know." 

"You need to disappear, Andy. After what happened, any Andy who seems to be malfunctioning will be destroyed faster than you can imagine." 

"I know," he repeated. 

"Keep the car, Andy. And, for the love of God, get the tracking systems out of you and the other... one." 

"Jenny," he said, as he approached the spot he had been looking for; a place where he could remove the trackers and move on. He had seen the abandoned barn while buying the peppers for the party. 

"Yes, Andy?" 

"I have to go." 

"I know you do, Andy. Take out as much money as you need, but don't go around using the debit. They'll be able to trace you that way." 

"I know," he said. 

"Andy?" her voice grew low and he imagined she might cry. 


"I love you." 

"I know." 

Andy hung up.

Michael Moore

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Murder, Streamlined

By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

History repeats itself; that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.
- Clarence Darrow.

As many times as I’ve been warned to be careful what I wished for, you’d have thought at some point it would have sunk in.

In one of the many religious conversations I was forced to quietly endure while living in the Deathwatch section, a Catholic friend and I discussed the necessity of something like Purgatory if Christianity wanted to save its god from the charge of being an unjust tyrant. In one of those weird moments where a member of the flock claims absolute certainty over an issue that they cannot in reality know anything about, I was told that Purgatory wouldn’t be that bad, and that I didn’t need to worry about being sent there for a few millennia. Wanting to escape the dialogue in the least offensive way possible, I thanked this person for their concern and mentioned that Purgatory would be fine by me. 

I know of no better term than that for the realm to which the penal gods have banished me. 12-Building of the Michael Unit is like a weird, three-steps-down-the-multiverse-highway version of 12-Building at Polunsky. The same cells, the same basic layout, the same filth. Familiarity lulls me into feeling comfortable for brief moments, then some idiosyncrasy catches me flat-footed and I’m left feeling bruised. Where there should be flat, white concrete ceilings in each section, here one finds skylights. Instead of thick steel bars encasing the dayrooms, here we have industrial chain-link. The guards are the-same-but-different, too: they wear the same uniforms, sport the same gas canisters on their faux-law enforcement leather belts. Their attitudes are less policy-oriented, though, less robotic. They don’t like us, exactly, but they certainly don’t hate us like they did on the Row. That may seem harsh, but I think it takes a certain type of ideological hatred to volunteer to work in America’s most aggressive death penalty machine. None of the guards here would agree to such a job; several have expressed pleasure that I “got down” on the State. The prisoners are different, too. Here we have murderers by the dozen – some of whom have cases that leave one even more confused about how District Attorneys decide which cases to seek death against – but their relationship to their crimes and sentences are very different from the guys on the Row. There’s solidarity here, but it is of a more temporary variety to what I am accustomed to. Some of these men are serving short sentences. One of the two gangsters who recently rigged their doors not to lock properly so they could attack a man being escorted from the shower is going to be paroling directly from segregation to the streets in about a month. People can be moved to other segregation units across the state at any point, so people don’t tend to form the sort of camaraderie we had at Polunsky, the sort of bond forged from living with one foot already in the grave. I’m having a hard time relating to these men. Because the environment looks so similar to the one that coiled itself around my throat so tightly for the past eleven years, I keep having these strange moments where I reach out for the crutch provided by my friends and then realize that they are 100 miles away, somewhere to the south. I don’t think I realized exactly how much I relied upon (needed? here one stumbles over the right term) these bonds to make it through each day. So much of the identity I tell myself is the center of my Me is wrapped up in the concept of self-sufficiency that I don’t think I ever allowed myself to see this truth in its entirety. And yet, if I were truly as close to perfect self-reliance as I pretended, I would not feel as I do now. I used the word “banished” earlier, and that sums it up perfectly: I was a part of a struggle. I had real friends who had passed real tests under horrid circumstances. I was supposed to be #549 on Texas’s list. Instead, my friend Rod took that distinction and now I’m just another broken primate in a cage.

I had hoped that things might be different somehow, that I might come out of the darkness automatically. I suppose I should have known that it was not going to be that simple.

My relationship to time seems to be shifting in strange and unpredictable ways. I have a calendar that allows me to see all twelve months at a glance. Before, when I looked at the year in progress, I did so with a mixture of dread and resolve. After witnessing so many of my friends marched through the appellate process, I internalized the average lengths of each phase so completely that it became impossible to look at a calendar and not automatically calculate how much time I had left before the next denial, the next disappointment. This of course culminates in the little red squares that I have drawn to mark certain dates, the days when Texas attempts to broadcast an opposing obstacle-sign to murder by committing that very act. Time therefore always feels like undertow, an inexorable force that one must constantly struggle against if one is to remain close to shore. On some level, I know that my relationship to time is different now. I still owe a death, but this is not so immediate, so deliberate, now. I should feel better about this, should be able to let time carry me along at its own pace, but I do not and cannot. As I write this – mid-April in my subjective timeline – all I really feel is an extension of the survivor’s guilt I referenced in my last essay. I don’t want to keep thinking about Polunsky. I really, really don’t. But it keeps exerting some strange kind of gravity upon my thoughts, dragging them southwards. I feel like I left comrades on the battlefield, a feeling that is so diametrically opposed to the loyalties I’ve developed during my incarceration that the overwhelming sensation pervading all my thoughts is that of betrayal. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way, but I had thought I’d worked some of it out of my system over the years.

One of the reasons for the concern I feel for my friends left behind is Texas’s most recent scheme to make executing people quicker and easier. I first learned of the State’s application for certification under Chapter 154 in November of this past year – only a few weeks after my arrival at Deathwatch – when the Department of Justice (DoJ) began seeking comments on Texas’s intentions. The more I looked into this, the more troubled I became, but I was sort of up to my neck in troubling matters at the time and simply couldn’t find the bandwidth to address this publicly. Over the years, I have tended to stay away from writing about the law in great detail because a) I didn’t feel I had the authority, education, or expertise needed to pen something that observers would consider to be genuinely valuable and b) I’ve never been exactly sure how to make the average person care about matters that will almost certainly never apply to them or anyone they know, especially when those matters require extended forays into some fairly boggy intellectual terrain. One thing that the past six months has shown me is that I have some incredibly intelligent readers, so perhaps I was doing you a disservice by not plunging into some of this stuff in greater depth before. Perhaps I was doing the abolition movement a disservice, too. My whole life seems to be currently constructed around making amends for past mistakes, so consider the following another attempt at righting a wrong. In any case, you truly do need to know what these rednecks are up to. It really is exceedingly foul. 

So, Chapter 154: this was originally a part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), a heinous piece of legislation that I have referred to numerous times in these pages. (If you care to look it up and see the actual text, here’s the link.) After the Gregg decision revived the death penalty in 1976, death sentences began to mount, especially in the South, to the tune of more than 200 per annum after 1981 and reaching 301 in 1986. Despite the butchery that followed, piously conservative politicians remained frustrated by what they viewed as “excessive appeals,” and this sentiment continued to build in popularity during the 1990s. Then right-wing terrorists blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the dam burst. AEDPA swiftly passed the Senate by a vote of 91 to 8, and Bill Clinton signed it into law almost immediately. People had a right to be mad at Timothy McVeigh et al., but this episode is yet another sorry example of how politicians can deftly manipulate unreflective and uninformed public sentiment towards the passage of legislation that has almost nothing to do with the catalyzing act that spawned the outrage in the first place.

This bill has contributed in major ways to the deaths of more than 1,000 human beings, including a dozen or so contributors to this site. It played a large part in killing my friend Rod a week and a half ago, in my subjective timeline. It was specifically designed to curtail appeals and limit delays by making some pretty drastic alterations to federal habeas review, such as dramatically limiting the rights of state inmates to make use of the federal courts on constitutional grounds. Remember, McVeigh and Nichols were federal inmates, so this part of the act could never have applied to them; these politicians simply pulled a fast one on the American public by pushing stories of the boogey man. For instance, I give you Senator Bob Dole: “The most critical element of this bill, and the one that bears most directly on the tragic events in Oklahoma City, is the provision reforming the so-called habeas corpus rules” (141 Cong. Rec. 15,095 [1995]). (I like that “so-called” bit, as if the writ was something only referred to by unprofessional types, rather than, gee, the only power a citizen has in the Constitution against tyranny that doesn’t involve weapons. Nice, right?) Under AEDPA, only “unreasonable” rulings can be overturned, not just erroneous or questionable ones; this is a vastly more difficult standard for reversal, meaning one can still be executed even if genuine error took place during one’s trial. You need to reread that last sentence at least once, I think, just to make sure it really sank in. Additionally, AEDPA placed sharp limits or procedural bars on the power of the federal courts to hear new factual evidence, which is why states have been allowed to execute men despite the discovery of new evidence that might – had it been allowed to develop – have exonerated them. The act also significantly reduced the time limits on federal appeals, from zero explicit limits to a one-year statute of limitations. If one were wondering why it seemed like the average time spent on death row by your typical Southern prisoner decreased drastically during the 2000’s, this act is your reason.

This is the appellate universe I toiled under, and which still obtains for all of the men currently sentenced to death nationally. Chapter 154 is a set of provisions for an even more expedited statutory scheme, one that involves something of a quid pro quo between the Federal Government and individual states that desire to “opt in” to these procedures. The deal is this: the feds will grant states a curtailed federal process if they demonstrate that their capital-sentenced prisoners have been given competent counsel. It’s an incentive, a reward, for doing the moral thing – what should have been done from the beginning. If your immediate thought after reading those last few lines was that you thought such prisoners were already granted decent attorneys, you know nothing about how we kill people in this country. Forgive me the tangent here, but you really ought to understand the basics of how these things actually work in the real world, as this goes quite a way towards explaining why Texas has executed 550 – and counting – human beings since it resumed the death penalty post-Gregg in 1982. For those of you keeping track, that’s more than a third of all executions in the modern age, and greater than the combined numbers of the next six most frequent executioners (Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama).

As things currently stand, Texas’s capital post-conviction scheme consists of two parts: a private appointment system (what existed when I went through the state courts) and the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs (OCFW), which opened its doors in 2010 – originally as the Office of Capital Writs before the expansion of its scope in 2015 lead to a name change – in an attempt to improve on the appointment system. The statute controlling state writs is called Article 11.071. Prior to the creation of the OCFW, Texas played hot-potato with the issue of who was responsible for the appointment scheme. The original wording of Article 11.071 only provided for the “appointment of private counsel,” and mentioned nothing about standards of competency. The legislature shifted the responsibility for appointing and maintaining the list of eligible attorneys from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) – which had become an all-Republican outfit by this point – to eleven different Administrative Judicial Regions. This was an attempt to insulate the court from criticisms that the list was filled with attorneys who had little to no experience in capital appeals. This tactic didn’t work. Even the Fifth Circuit – the most consistently conservative federal circuit court in the nation, and one that can nearly always be counted upon to affirm death sentences – thought that this system was nearly worthless, ruling in Mata v Johnson that the TCCA had not fulfilled its statutory duty to develop standards of competency for post-conviction counsel. This failure has still not been remedied, more than twenty years later. Still, as bad as it was, the above system was at least superior to what existed prior to 1995: where, unlike in nearly every other death penalty jurisdiction, in those days, Texas did not even appoint lawyers to represent indigent death row inmates in state habeas proceedings. You might want to reread that last sentence again as well, just for fun.

Once the new Article 11.071 system was passed, it quickly proved to be a disaster. For one thing, the State apportioned almost no money to cover indigent defense, so – shock! – highly experienced attorneys generally weren’t interested. Out of 3,000 letters that the TCCA Presiding Judge Michael McCormick mailed out to lawyers from the membership rolls of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, only about 400 responded. McCormick specifically said that these attorneys did not need any special training, instead claiming that he was interested in “people we feel comfortable with.” Sharon Keller was on the committee tasked with applying this “good feel” standard to potential capital counsel, so perhaps one could be forgiven for suspecting that what the TCCA was really interested in was a collection of attorneys who were pliant, inexperienced, and, frankly, not on the same intellectual plateau as appellate counsel for the State. All told, attorneys’ fees were capped at $7,500 at $100 per hour, so inexperienced is exactly what they got. This funding only managed to cover 180 of Texas’s 414 death sentenced inmates. Either math was not their strong suit, or the entire project was a farce. You judge.

Then Congress passed AEDPA. Despite Judge McCormick going on record to state that Texas’s appointment system was not perfect and that there was “a lot missing and I don’t have the answers,” Texas immediately invoked Chapter 154’s expedited procedures. These include a reduction in the time allowed to petitioners to file their federal writ applications to 180 days after the termination of state court proceedings, a requirement that the federal district courts render a final determination on the writ petition within 180 days of filing, and a limit of 120 days after the last responsive brief for the circuit court to issue a ruling. What this means is that a petitioner would likely spend less than two years in the federal courts before entering the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). To put that in perspective, for those of you who read my treatment of Jeff Prible’s case (which is about to get really interesting, by the way), rather than his attorneys having discovered a massive operation to manufacture guilt by one of America’s top prosecutors, the State would have killed him more than ten years ago. Anthony Graves would also have been murdered before he could prove his innocence; same with Alfred Brown. I almost certainly would have been killed back in 2012 or 2013. I clearly needed every minute of my eleven years on the Row to put together the operation that secured my clemency; I simply wouldn’t have been able to amass the ammunition I needed to take aim at the Governor. Chapter 154 is a true killer, in every sense of the word.

Fortunately, the federal courts rejected Texas’s first attempt to opt in to Chapter 154’s scheme, specifically calling out the TCCA for failing in its statutory responsibilities to develop standards of competency for capital post-conviction counsel. The TCCA subsequently promised to develop “written standards for habeas lawyers,” then managed to fail spectacularly at this task numerous times until December 2006 – mere months before my arrival on the Row. How hard can it be to say: “Since we are going to try to take your life, Mr Capital Litigant, here’s an attorney who’s actually in good standing with the state bar”? I mean, I just wrote that in ten seconds. But they couldn’t even manage this because, once again, judges in Texas are elected and these Repubs had an ass-backwards primary electorate to placate. They eventually resorted to 48 involuntary appointments of attorneys, some of whom had zero post-conviction experience, while others had significant disciplinary sanctions. (For a good example of this, read the 12 June 2000 article in the Chicago Tribune by Ken Armstrong and Steve Mills titled “Gatekeeper court keeps gate shut.”) Things got so bad that the TCCA had to appoint three former staff attorneys to ten cases, even though Judge Baird admitted that the court “knew that these law clerks had little if any experience representing clients in habeas proceedings.” One of these attorneys represented Napoleon Beazley. This attorney later admitted that he failed to do critical work, including talking to Beazley’s two co-defendants. Had he done so, he would have discovered that both co-defendants had made undisclosed deals with prosecutors to help persuade Beazley’s jury to sentence him to death. On 28 May 2002, Beazley was executed in Huntsville. He was a minor when he committed his crime, so had this TCCA hack done his due diligence and managed to keep his client alive until 2005, the Roper case would have changed his sentence to life in prison. Barring some unforeseen health crisis, Beazley would still be alive today. Napoleon Beazley is just a name to me and you, but I’m sure this is no small matter to his family; I’m certain his mother would have appreciated even the tiniest bit of effort from the attorney tasked with saving her son’s life.

In a normal state, the above would have surely necessitated some changes by the legislature. It’s not as if there wasn’t a steady stream of news articles berating the TCCA for its jurisprudence on these matters. Nevertheless, the politicians remained quiet, and the TCCA, if anything, grew more bold. For instance, in 2002 the TCCA declined in Ex parte Graves (and yes, it was that Graves) to set standards for granting competent, dedicated, knowledgeable counsel to death-sentenced prisoners (70 S.W. 3d 103 Texas Crim. App. 2002). In fact, they openly stated that there would be no remedy for inmates who received incompetent counsel because – get this – the competency of an attorney is not apparently measured by what that lawyer actually does for his/her client (what we might think of as the substance of that representation), but rather by the fact that the TCCA approved the attorney to be on the list of acceptable counsel to take the case in the first place. They were competent, in other words, because the TCCA said they were, period. You might laugh, but this actually seemed logical to Republican voters. This actually killed people.

In 2007, the Texas Defender Service issued “Moving Forward: A Map for Meaningful Habeas Reform in Texas Capital Cases,” a follow up to their 2002 study “Lethal Indifference.” In a detailed review of 376 writ applications, the 2007 article reports 28 percent of petitions presented zero extra-record claims, and 38 percent failed to include any extra-record materials – a clear sign the attorneys filing them had spent little to no time researching their cases. Numerous reporters feasted upon this study like the vultures they are, and discovered – again, shock – that Texas’s capital scheme was still broken. The TCCA, once again, promised to fix the problem. They formally adopted a method for removing lawyers from the list of attorneys they had hand-picked to represent capital litigants, if these attorneys had been found by a court to have engaged “in a practice of unethical or unprofessional behavior” or been found to “have rendered ineffective assistance of counsel.” This last part is a bit of a joke, since the TCCA is the court that would have to make this ruling in the first place, and I’ve never seen them do so. Remember, under AEDPA, the feds have to give deference to prior state decisions, so it’s nearly impossible for a federal judge to sanction an attorney if the TCCA has already approved of their work. In essence, they had the list of attorneys they wanted to work with and were simply acting to protect the integrity of the lethal conveyer belt they had spent decades designing and implementing. And why wouldn’t they want to maintain the status quo? In 2006, the year this openly pro-prosecution court “changed” the rules, Texas executed 25 inmates. Everything was working exactly as they wanted it to. 

The group of legislators elected in November 2008 was the most moderate (for Texas) in almost two decades. During the legislative session the following year, they established the Office of Capital Writs (which, as mentioned earlier, later became the OCFW). This all occurred too late to help me, as I had already been shouldered with the burden of working with an attorney who proved to care little for my ultimate survival. OCFW operations began on 1 September 2010, but they did not accept a client until the end of October, if I remember correctly. Its initial Director was a legitimately qualified and experienced attorney, Brad Levenson – though his experience was all gained in California, where capital litigants face a vastly more friendly jurisprudential landscape. His staff, on the other hand, had little to no experience in capital work, and they were chronically underpaid to boot. I don’t believe they secured any reversals during Levenson’s five or so years as Director, but they did succeed in obtaining evidentiary hearings in many cases and managed to drag out the state appellate process for their clients throughout this time. However, the TCCA, tasked by the legislature with awarding appointments to the OCFW, chose not to reappoint Levenson at the end of his term – no doubt because he had the temerity to actually fight them on numerous issues. This cowardly move surprised none of us on the Row. Levenson’s replacement, Ben Wolff, had a grand total of one year working as a staff attorney at the Texas Defender Service. The TCCA approved him quickly despite the fact the legislature, which specifically wrote the rules governing this position, required an applicant have at least three years’ experience in post-conviction work. The current legislature is vastly more conservative than the one that created the OCFW in the first place, so I suspect the Texas Tribune was correct when they argued that Wolff’s appointment was an underhanded attempt to make the OCFW ineffective.

As things stand, the OCFW is still staffed almost entirely by lawyers right out of law school. There are currently eight staff attorneys, the average salary for whom was $70,837 for 2017. The office is currently handling roughly fifty cases, meaning that at various points each attorney might have to juggle as many as fifteen cases at once, a load that Texas had the gall to label as “modest” in their Chapter 154 application in 2013. Staff attorneys average between 60 and 80 hours per week. The turnover rate is therefore predictably high. In fact, none of the attorneys who worked for the OCFW when Texas filed its renewed Chapter 154 application in March 2013 are still with the office. When the Federal Public Defender Offices opened their Capital Habeas Units recently, the OCFW lost 37 percent of its attorneys and one mitigation specialist. The budget for investigations is even worse: I don’t have the exact figures for this (I was told the office wouldn’t give them to me), but several attorneys admitted that witnesses are regularly not called to court and mental health consultants are not hired, due to lack of funding. As I write these words, the office appears to be on the verge of collapse. 

Given all of this, you may be asking how on earth Texas ever thought its Chapter 154 application would be approved, especially considering its prior attempts had been rebuffed. That was one of my questions when I started looking into this. The answer is essentially this: elections have consequences. As part of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, Congress shifted responsibility for determining which states met the certification requirements away from the federal courts and into the hands of the United States Attorney General. The DoJ under Bush the Younger published new rules to govern this process, but they never went into effect and were eventually withdrawn in November 2010. The DoJ published a second notice of rulemaking in March 2011, and then a final rule on 23 September 2013. Attorney General Holder managed to sneak in two changes to these rules that, at the time, may not have mattered much because he was never going to certify a Southern State. These dealt with a decision that rulemaking determinations would be treated as “orders” (and therefore not subject to Administrative Procedure Act rules), and that certification decisions would be made based on information privately collected from state attorneys general. Texas applied for opt in treatment, and then was promptly ignored by Obama’s DoJ for the remainder of its term. The message was pretty clear: you redneck wackos must be joking.

Alas: Trump – who promptly gifted us with one Jefferson B. Sessions. On 16 November 2017, Sessions published notice of and sought comment on Texas’s stalled application, which, up to that point, no one outside of the DoJ even knew existed. On the same day, the DoJ asked Texas’s (currently criminally indicted) Attorney General Paxton if all of his previously submitted materials were still up-to-date. Texas amended its application on 18 December 2017. Obviously, Sessions is the chief prosecutor for the country, so it may seem off to you that he – a man who operates under structural, institutional bias against criminal defendants, and not an impartial arbiter like the courts – should get to rule by fiat on such an important matter. This would be problematic under any Attorney General, but Sessions is a weapons-grade moron. During the debate over the USA Patriot Act amendments, then-Senator Sessions testified that federal habeas needed to be “tighten[ed] up” to address “abuses in the system.” He apparently believed that the role of the federal courts in reviewing habeas petitions was simply to “review the trial record to see if the person got a fair trial.” A first-year law student could have pointed out to him that it would be nearly logically impossible to fashion a description of the writ that was more packed with error: habeas proceedings by definition involve, primarily, evidence outside the trial record. That’s the whole point of them, the reason they exist in the first place.

It gets better. A memorandum on Sessions’ decision to revive the opt in process indicated that he planned to consult the Capital Case Section of the Criminal Division – a part of the DoJ that prosecutes federal capital cases and defends against habeas petitions. When criminal defense groups opposed to Texas’s petition for certification requested (via the Texas Public Information Act) access to communications between Sessions, the Capital Case Section, and the Texas Attorney General’s office, these requests were denied on the basis of “attorney-client privilege.” If Holder had done anything remotely this underhanded with, say, the Attorney General’s office in California, Rush and Hannity and the rest of their gasbag friends would have had a collective embolism. Just saying.

Once you get into the substance of Texas’s application, you see just how disingenuous this whole situation is – and why I felt compelled to do the research I’ve laid out for you here. For starters, Texas’s application was submitted in March 2013 – six months before the DoJ’s final set of rules governing the Chapter 154 process were published. It is therefore unsurprising that Texas’s appointment scheme fails miserably to meet the standards outlined by the Federal Government. In fact, despite a bold assertion in the cover letter that the “application demonstrates that Texas satisfies all of the statutory criteria for certification,” it doesn’t bother to address a single one of the DoJ’s grounds for certification. Even when given a chance to amend their application in December 2017, they fail to do so. Instead, they simply claim they are good on their end of the quid pro quo – and have been since 1995! Texas focusses on the creation of the OCFW, but conveniently negates to mention that this office didn’t even exist until 2010, a full fifteen years after the period for which it is seeking retroactive certification. The Texas Attorney General’s office also claims that all the attorneys seeking to join the Article 11.071 private appointment list are required to undergo “a rigorous screening process established by the Office of Court Administration [OCA].” One problem: many of the practitioners on that now infamous list never went through any OCA screening process, and these “rigorous” standards apparently don’t include American Bar Association (ABA) censure – a mark that at least four of these attorneys have on their records.

There’s also an argument to be made by better legal minds than myself that Chapter 154 violates the separation of powers doctrine. According to my understanding of Plaut v Spendthrift Farm, Inc (514 US 211, 218-19 [1995]), the Constitution “gives the Federal Judiciary the power, not merely to rule on cases, but to decide them.” I think Chapter 154 messes up this balance of allowing courts the time needed merely to rule on cases, not decide them. This seems like a semantic game – and it would be in the world of normal conversation – but these words have special meanings under the law. Under Chapter 154, Congress is approving a rule of decision but then preventing the courts from applying it, since they don’t have the time under this statute to truly decide cases on their merits. One 2007 study I located found that, on average, a period of 1,152 days was needed for federal district judges to work their way through each case – more than 2.5 times the maximum allowed by this provision. Judges will simply be left making judgements on the fly, without ever really getting to learn anything about the cases they are ruling on. Congress isn’t allowed to restrain the judiciary like that. We see these things in Turkey and Hungary, but they aren’t supposed to happen here.

The absolute worst part of Texas’s application is that it is demanding certification be granted retroactively, all the way back to 1995. This would mean dozens of inmates in Texas would have their federal appeals rendered untimely and therefore procedurally barred, and the rest would have their options minimized. Under the current statute, a defendant has twelve months to file their federal writ applications. So, say you (or your friend, or your son) are eight months into this window, and Sessions grants Texas’s application retroactively. This immediately changes the timeframe allowed to file the writ to six months – a deadline now missed. This means there’s no federal appeal. The only review will be the rubber-stamping process perfected by the TCCA. Which, let’s be frank, is more or less exactly what Texas Republicans want: the “swamp” of DC “drained” from their autonomy. Everything in their application makes sense when you look at it through the lens of politics. I now have a lifetime to keep banging my drum on this point, so I might as well take the opportunity to deploy it again: the death penalty is a political sentence. All you need to do is look at the statistics of who uses it, who favors it, and who opposes it, to see this.

So, that’s what the Yee Haw Republic is up to at the moment. In response, the Texas Defender Service and lawyers representing a number of Texas death row inmates have sued Sessions in an attempt to have Chapter 154 ruled unconstitutional. I’ve read the petition they filed in DC Circuit Court and they seem to have the weight of evidence and reason on their side – but since when has “reason” had any impact on the motley band of corrupt buffoons our president has elevated into power? I honestly don’t have any sense about how this is going to turn out. A lawyer friend of mine doesn’t think it will become law. It’s all in Sessions’ hands, though, and there isn’t a metaphor currently within my grasp that adequately summarizes how little I trust him to make a wise decision. I’ve located nothing in my research that would indicate a process of decertification if the DoJ ultimately grants Texas’s request, meaning there isn’t much that any of us can do about this at the moment, in a direct sense. Problems like this are created and solved at the ballot box. So, if criminal justice reform is one of the issues you care about, you need to consider very strongly joining the so-called “Blue Wave” that the punditocracy claims is heading for these Trumpian shores. I actually know some anti-death penalty types who voted for Trump, and I hope that they are starting to see that this idiot’s choices are killing the people they claim to care about. You at least have an outlet for redeeming yourselves, or for venting your frustration. I’m obviously somewhat more limited. For now, all I can do is write about these things and pretend to myself that resistance always means something, even – especially – when it feels like one is barely holding steady against a very strong current.

I think my relationship to resistance might be shifting, as well. Death penalty trials cleave your sense of responsibility into separate portions. On the one hand, you feel the weight of your guilt pressing down upon you. This force obviously requires that one feel some form of punishment is necessary if redemption is ever to be obtained. The State claims that the only fitting punishment is your end, that redemption is not the goal of justice, but vengeance. This is a leap though, one powered by ideology. It isn’t obvious or logical that this be the only means of providing justice, or the vast majority of nations on the planet wouldn’t have left the penalty behind. There are all kinds of punishments that fit on a spectrum of possibilities; death is only the most extreme. Sitting on top of all that is one’s memories of one’s trial, and all the ways the State used power, deception, and rhetoric to convict you. The most overwhelming emotional memory I have of my own trial was not the verdict or sentence, it was the sense of wrongness over how the trial was conducted: I simply couldn’t believe that people lost their lives in this country over such a pathetic, silly, almost completely fact-free process. After such a spectacle, you are left in a conundrum: you desire justice for your crimes, but you also need for justice to look less like a particularly poor local amateur dramatics society production of a Noël Coward farce, less like a whore dressed up in stolen black robes. You want justice for justice as a concept. There’s obviously some irony there, and the State takes full advantage of this if one dares to speak about the tawdriness of the thing. This is the root of the various activities that defined my resistance over the years. So long as I was living under a sentence of death imposed by a kangaroo court, I couldn’t stop tonguing the ulcer, so to speak. It simply wouldn’t heal. It simply wasn’t right.

Now that I’m no longer on the road to the medicalized gibbet, I feel a sort of shift in the works. The other form of responsibility/guilt seems more primary. It was always there, though I mostly dealt with it in private. (I keep getting criticism from people for not describing this internal process in the public sphere, and this has always seemed weird to me. Who are you to demand such a thing? Under what right? Voyeurism cheapens both the watcher and the watched, you know.) I’m trying to figure out the appropriate manner and degree of resistance now that I have a new home. Obviously, I wouldn’t have spent nearly 200 hours researching something as ghastly and idiotic as Texas’s Chapter 154 application if I had any intention of allowing the State to blatantly spread outright falsehoods. I wouldn’t have any claim to have developed a moral conscience if I permitted such propaganda to be promoted without confronting it. But I also need to calculate how much suffering I need to patiently accept as my due now that an unjust sentence has been replaced with something a bit more fitting.

I’m obviously still working this out. I think they’ve sent me to the right place to conduct this experiment. I said something in my last essay about how I suspected the system was going to test me before they released me into population. I’m starting to think this might have been naïve: it’s starting to seem like they would be content to leave me back here to rot for the rest of my natural life.

I know some of you are going to want an update, so I might as well squeeze this in here. On 5 March, officers woke me up at 2am in my cell at the Byrd Unit and ordered me to pack my few belongings. While I was in Huntsville, numerous officials promised me that as soon as I reached my assigned unit, they would release me into the general population. Instead, for reasons that are still murky to me, I was returned to ad-seg and placed on F-Pod. On top of this, they are moving me to a new cell every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As I write these words, I am now residing in my 18th cell at the Michael Unit. As a point of reference, it took me 92 months to reach my 18th cell on the Row. Three other men are similarly included “on rotation”; all have been involved in active escape attempts and have “Security Precaution Designator” tags. The message seems pretty clear: some REMF way up the food chain views my commutation as an escape from justice. According to TDCJ’s “Admin-Seg Plan,” I will meet with officials from the State Classification Committee (SCC) “60 days after [my] first 7-day review,” which falls on 11 May. I have been documenting the manner in which I was placed in solitary, though I really don’t have any idea yet if this will matter. Thus far, policy seems to matter in population about as much as it did on the Row: only when it benefits the State. [Late note: As of 23 May, I still haven’t met with SCC, and no reason has been offered for this policy violation despite my repeated requests for information. I’m glad I wasn’t holding my breath.] [Later note: I’m now scheduled to see SCC on 14 June. Wish me luck!] [Latest note: SCC denied my release to the general population. My next meeting with them will take place in December, or so they claim. There’s a lot to add here, but I probably ought to save this for my next essay. Sigh.]

I had hoped that I would be able to relax and soften my shell a little bit once I arrived at my ID Unit. (That’s what they call the serious units, apparently; the acronym stands for “Institutional Division.” So, there’s your prison term for the day.) That’s not going to be possible here. This place is far more violent than Polunsky. I’ve mentioned before that officers had told me that Polunsky’s 12-Building was one of the more sedate segregation facilities in Region 1. I can now verify this claim. Here, five pods (A through E) are currently setup for some sort of bizarre “mental health program,” and they keep the Extraction Team humming along all day, every day. I haven’t really been here long enough to write about this coherently. However, I’ve been planting MB6 seed all over the place, so I hope to be able to find someone who can write about this program in an authoritative way. From this remove, it sure seems like yet another attempt by the system to pretend it is reforming itself, sans any of the actual moves required by genuine reform. From here, it sure looks like they just wanted to collect all of the violently insane offenders in northeast Texas in one place, so they could benefit from the economies of scale. F-Pod is therefore the only true admin-seg wing in the facility. It contains the worst-behaved 84 scamps in the joint, supposedly. I’m one of only a few non-gang members present, and certainly the only prisoner who hasn’t committed violent acts against staff or inmates in recent memory. 

I arrived to find 2-Section (the naming conventions are wacky here, so this is what was called B-Section at Polunsky) on fire. Apparently lighting one’s mattress up and shoving it out the bean-chute is the cool thing to do in these parts, especially if you can then back this up by launching projectiles at any lawman attempting to put out the flames. Points are awarded for this. A bottle to the head is considered a homerun. Seriously, I’m not kidding, they bet on this sort of thing. Igniting state property is the one surefire (sorry) means of making a sergeant come to the pod, so it’s pretty much a daily – if not hourly – occurrence. These doors have vulnerabilities, especially the aforementioned chutes. Many of us figured out how to pop them open at will on the Row, though this was seldom done because if you got caught you received a 90-day all-expenses paid trip to F-Pod as your reward. But since this is F-Pod and there’s nowhere left to send any of us that could possibly be considered worse, the chutes pretty much stay open all day. It certainly makes trafficking and trading easier, let me tell you. The officers stationed on this pod all have very active imaginations; they need them, what with all of the pretending they are forced to do, all day long, that they can’t in fact see that none of us are “secure” in the technical sense. 

There’s a lot of “family” (i.e. gang) politics at work here. People – especially the whites – kept asking me loaded questions during my first few weeks, trying to figure out whether I was a supremacist or a separatist, as if those were the only two responses to the race question. I got tired of this nonsense years ago, so I just started making gangs up: Tyger Tyger, Paravins United, Schreibtischtäter. Nobody in my first section caught the joke, but my second neighbor – head of MS-13 here at this unit – started cackling when I told him I was a Captain in the Kim Jong-un Mafia. His neighbor didn’t get it. “He’s telling us to mind our fucking business, ese,” the first responded, before giving me a dead-eye stare. “Fair enough,” he answered at last. And that was that.

It hasn’t been all bad. One day I will have to write about the “grill.” I can’t do it now. However, know that this feat might just be the Mount Everest ascent in the Himalayan range of contrabandosity. When I told my dad and step-mother (still on the other side of glass, alas) about what I had created, they both nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. Also, at the rate they are shifting me around, I will have given the entire pod a Level 27 OCD Grandmaster cleaning within a few more months. These cells certainly need it. 

Even with all of the violence I’ve witnessed here, these are still problems I want all my friends on the Row to have, because they are live-person problems. For those of you who witnessed certain unnamed personages give nice little performances on the news hyperventilating about how the State needed to kill me so that society might be safe, I hope you’ve noticed that the world hasn’t changed for the worse since 22 February (at least not in any way that’s attributable to moi, I mean… I have no idea what our Idiot-in-Chief is going to have done to the world between when this was written and when it is published, but I’m not taking any credit for that circus). The world wouldn’t be any less safe if the rest of the guys on the Row had their sentences commuted, either, nor more secure if Chapter 154 were to become the law of the land. See the lie. Call it for what it is. I happen to think the Blue Wave is going to be a lot smaller than some people do, so get out there and participate. None of this is going to get any better unless you – yes, YOU, the person reading the screen right now, not some generalized “you” that you can deflect off onto the crowd – get involved. History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean it has to.

My thanks to Linda H. at The Prison Show for helping me compile some of the research I used to write this article

Thomas Whitaker 02179411
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