Open Slowly – Hannah Chomiczewski ‘20

Cell door opens quickly, silently, while a warning alarm blares, signifying the unlocking. Officer walks in; eighteen guards remain outside, watching, tranquilizers at the ready. Cell door silently closes and locks behind officer.

            Inside cell. Prisoner sits on cement, glaring, but looks up in surprise when officer enters. Officer walks to one of the cell walls, takes out a small, flat chip, holds it up against wall. Small beep, then a portion of cement slides right and a table unfolds from the wall. Another scan, and two stools slide up from the cement floor. Officer pockets the chip, coughs once, and pulls table out from the wall, setting it between the two stools. This takes up most of the space in the cell. Officer tosses small device onto table and gestures at prisoner to take a seat. Prisoner glances at device and officer, then obeys. Officer remains standing, looking down at prisoner, and begins to speak.


You may or may not be aware—you look young—so let me just tell you: this is highly unorthodox.


Officer begins pacing.


Interactions with prisoners have been facilitated through holograms for the last three decades; before that, there was video, and before that, audio—surround sound—which, in the end, proved to be a bit too unnerving, even for criminals like yourself.


Brief, intense eye contact between officer and prisoner.

In my opinion, the whole process has gotten very—how should I put this—impersonal. There’s a distinct lack of meaningful interaction, is what what I’m trying to say, between people like you and people like me.


Officer stops pacing, leans forward across table.


Which is why I asked to come in person today. I asked to come and question you face to face. And I had to jump through lots of hoops, understand, to get a yes. People don’t do this anymore. It’s dangerous, it’s risky. There are eighteen guards outside ready to wipe you out if your fingernail so much as brushes my arm. But I’m here.


Officer stands up straight.




Pause, then officer sits.


I won’t pretend to be able to read your mind, but I’d wager a guess that my question for you is the very same one you’re itching to ask me: Why?


Officer waits, but prisoner is silent.


Hm. How about a little recap: You walked into Port Beltham two days ago with an M67 and rained fire down on the entire area. Luckily, all of the officers stationed there were carrying magnum shields, as was the majority of the civilian population, because they’re used to this kind of thing by now. But you still managed to pop off seven innocents before a tranquilizer shut you down. Oh, and by the way, you would’ve been dead along with them if you had gone to any other port, but as it is, Beltham’s under my jurisdiction and all my officers use TQs instead of bullets on first response—because, call me old-fashioned, but I can’t rid my mind of the antiquated moral principle that human life is sacred.




Well—? Memory been jogged at all?


Prisoner stares at device on table, refusing to meet officer’s eyes.


Look, this isn’t my first interrogation and you certainly aren’t the first unremorseful idiot I’ve encountered. This has been done before.


No response. Officer slams table with fist.


I don’t have the naivety to ask if you regret it, but maybe I should ask anyway, because it’s a clichéd question and you know what? You’re a cliché. You are a fucking cliché. Do you realize how many times this has happened before—how many times some idiot like you has walked into a port or onto a ship with a gun in plain sight, and opened fire on the people that saw it coming but chose to stand there anyway? Now, I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for you. I’m not going to do that, even though I could so easily say you’re not really to blame because no one told you that this was wrong, only that it was frowned upon, so how were you supposed to know it was such a big deal? I could say that. I’ve said it before. But you know what? It didn’t change anything, not one thing.

Look, I want to give you a chance here. I want to let you start over, and the whole department—hell, the whole nation hates me for it. But the one thing they’re all right about, the one part that I have to start acknowledging—somebody has got to take the blame. If we keep doing this—this, the killers killing and then getting killed—nothing changes, you see? If your kid keeps smashing other people’s windows, are you going to spank him for it every time or are you going to ask him why?


Officer pauses. Still no response from prisoner. Officer reaches across table for small black device. Prisoner follows movement with eyes.


All I want to know is why.


When prisoner does not answer, officer presses button on device and hologram forms in the air above table: a half-transparent image of a corpse, the head mangled without any distinguishable features. Prisoner looks up at image and then quickly away.


This is Marsha Gimmel. Two days ago, she took her first trip to Port Beltham to surprise her grandson, Captain Garth Gimmel, with a visit. If he had known, he would have told her to bring a magnum shield. Thanks to you, her visit ended with a bullet to the back of the head. Surprise.


Officer presses button and another image appears: two bodies, small boy lying next to man.


The kid is Hodley Tiev, and that’s his father who jumped in front of him and took the first bullet. But you were still firing, so Hodley went down right after. We’re having trouble contacting the mother.


Officer grips device and begins presses again; images flash faster and faster between officer and prisoner.


Taliana O’Flaherty, just engaged. Harry Imminen, first week working on-ship. Symone Podder—she fought in the war that freed Beltham from the hackers in the first place— before your time, I’d guess, but she was a decorated soldier. Managed to save at least three civilians before you took her down. And the seventh we have yet to identify. A man. What they used to call a John Doe.


Prisoner is now captivated by images and cannot look away.




Cell is silent except for prisoner’s ragged breathing. Officer watches for a minute, then without warning throws device at wall behind prisoner’s head, where it audibly cracks and falls to floor. Prisoner flinches, shaking, and finally looks at officer. Final hologram image of seventh corpse remains between them, flickering.


Just tell me why.


Prisoner swallows, eyes darting. Suddenly, officer flips table and pulls out gun. Prisoner is trapped between table and stool, on ground, whimpering. Alarm begins to sound.


Tell me why, dammit! Did you want attention? Did you want people to know who you were? Did you want to feel powerful?


Officer steps on slanted table, crouches down in front of prisoner, holds gun inches from prisoner’s forehead, shouting over alarm.


Do you feel powerful now? Now that my finger’s on the trigger and you’re the one staring cross-eyed down the barrel? How does it feel knowing that your life means absolutely nothing to me? How does it feel to no longer be human?


Three out of eighteen guards enter cell and take hold of officer, removing gun and then making their way back out of cell, but officer fights their grasp and continues to shout at prisoner.


You’re not a human being! You’re a maniac! You have no self-respect, do you, you fucking psychopath!


Guards tranquilize officer, still struggling.


I bet you don’t even know why you did it! You don’t, do you, you pathetic little… you don’t even… know…


Officer fades into unconsciousness. Guards exit with officer dragging on floor. Cell door closes quickly, silently. Alarm quiets.

            Prisoner breathes.