Heather and Dan spent the next several hours researching Michael Cordley’s past, looking for that one moment that would have the most profound impact on who he was. They skimmed through countless electronic files and psychiatric records that had been completed at various State run hospitals and institutions over the years. It was unfortunate reckonings were not allowed to be administered to anyone under the age of 21; the overall crime rate would really drop then.
At first Dan had found one that was promising. A school psychiatrist on Lunar Prime had met with Michael after he’d hospitalized a girl who had laughed at him when he was twelve. Heather thought that might be a good one to adjust but decided to keep digging to see if there were any that would be more impactful, and that happened earlier in his life.
“I think this is it,” she said handing her data-pad to Dan. “What do you think?”
He read through a self-report Michael had given about his early childhood when he was admitted to the Cochrane School for Troubled Boys in Phoenix Arizona on Earth. Dan nodded his head, “Yeah that one sounds perfect.”
Heather took her data-pad back. “Now, we still have about three hours before Mars is ready to redo the reckoning.”
Dan nodded and moved to a stool next to her in front of the chamber’s control console. “So how do we go about fixing what I did?”
Heather smiled, “One step at a time. First let me ask you a question.”
Dan looked at her with silent intent.
“What about his memory,” she said tapping the side of her data-pad. “Will we have to change to have the greatest affect? How will we change Mr. Cordley’s past and ultimately his future?”
Dan thought for a moment. “Can I see the file again?”
She handed it to him and crossed her arms. “Remember the more subtle, the more effective the reckoning will be and the less likely it will result in a new psychosis.”
“What if…no that might not work.” Dan started and then stopped.
Heather smiled as he clamped his bulbous lower lip between his teeth. “What if, what?”
Dan held up a single finger as he read further. “Actually it might work, according to this they got away the next day.”
“What?” Heather demanded, curious to know what he’d come up with.
Dan looked up with triumph in his eyes. “What if the cord breaks?”
Heather smiled wider and nodded, she’d been thinking the same thing. “We’ll make a Reckoning Writer out of you yet.”
They spent the last couple of hours working on rewriting his initial reckoning to feel like a dream and Heather showed him how to sweep Michael’s memory to get all of the details right for the new story.
"Now remember," she was saying as the monitor connecting them to Mars clicked on. "Oh, hello Janet. Is it noon already?"
Janet nodded, "You look tired."
"We are," Heather said. "Pulled an all nighter, but I think we're ready."
Dan nodded and rubbed his eyes. "I've learned more in the last twelve hours than I did in six years of schooling."
"Good," Janet said sucking the air between her teeth. "Because Mr. Cordley got bad last night, one of the security personnel had to stun him. He's been unconscious ever since. So if you're ready I'll have him secured in the chair and we can finally get this over with."
Heather yawned before answering. "That would be great. I think we'll have everything finalized in say, ten minutes."
Janet nodded before switching their view to the empty reckoning chair.
"Now where was I?" Heather asked.
"I think you were about to remind me that we would need to adjust his other memories of violence particularly towards women to correspond with the new story of his life."
Heather smiled; she was beginning to like teaching. "That’s correct."
Their conversation hushed as they watched two men in dark uniforms securing Michael Cordley to the chair. He looked eerily pale under the red glow of the light. "Are you ready?" Heather asked.
Dan nodded, "I think so."
"Let me see," Heather said taking her data-pad back from him. She read through what he'd written and reviewed his notes on instances he'd need to change throughout his life. She handed it back satisfied with the story. "Also, when you're doing the memory sweep be sure to look for any instances of violence that aren't on record."
"I guarantee that there will be some. There almost always is." She stood up so he could move closer to the control panel and start programming the nanorobot. "You'll have to rewrite those and program them in as the reckoning is in progress. Do you understand"
Dan nodded. "I won't screw up again."
"No," Heather agreed. "I think you've learned that lesson." She gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze as millions of miles away the needle slid into Michael Cordley's neck.
Michael’s hands were bound behind his back as he sat in a small wooden chair in his parent’s bedroom. Torn and peeling yellow paint revealed dull grey walls, the war wounds from previous fights.
A single fading bulb lit the room. He tried to get up, but the telephone cord was tight and cut into his wrists with every move. Then he heard it. His mother's muffled cry for mercy and the hollow crack as his father forced the back of her head through the drywall in the hallway. It hadn’t been this bad before. He silently pleaded for it to stop and squeezed his eyes closed wishing he were somewhere else, anywhere else.
The door burst open, and he opened his eyes in surprise. His stomach turned cold, and the hair on his neck rose. His father's silhouette blocked the entry; his mother lay limp, draped over his father’s heavily muscled and tattooed arms. He took a step into the room, and her beautiful auburn hair swept a path in the dust covered floor.
"It's time for you to learn what a man does to a woman when she misbehaves," his father's voice a harsh whisper.
Michael shook his head, as his vision blurred with tears.
His mother opened one bruised eye, "Eric no—-he's only seven—"
"Shut up!" he shouted throwing her on the stained mattress. "He's my son, and he'll learn what it means to be a man."
Michael tried to speak, but the words were stuck behind his trembling lips. He watched his father approach the bed and unzip his pants. Michael shook with fury, and fear. This was wrong. He had to stop it. He wrenched and pulled trying to get his arms free. The cords bit into his wrists, and he felt warm drops oozing from them dripping onto his fingertips.
His father knelt on the bed and pulled his mother's hair. She screamed. Blood or not, Michael continued to struggle against his restraints. Suddenly the cords snapped, and he was free. He picked up the chair he was in and hit his father as hard as he could. The blow struck his temple, and his father fell to the side. Michael’s mother quickly pulled her panties back up, grabbed him and they ran from house.