Moral Qualification

Daryl stepped out of the small, dim room and sighed. He closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten taking a breath at each number. He thought of the ritual as his last bit of humanity. He allowed himself a few seconds of regret after each kill just to feel normal again.

He tried to recall the feelings of the first time. The wrongness of willingly taking someone else’s life paralyzed him. The hesitation almost cost him his own life, but an empty stomach has its own set of morals. After the first kill, he was rewarded with a meal. After that, the kills became easier and more rewarding.

After counting to ten, Daryl walked away from the closed door, not remotely concerned about the body he left behind. Every day the room was clean with a brand new, alive person sitting in a chair. They were always hooded and gagged. Occasionally drugged, Daryl guessed those were the more troublesome prisoners.

He paused at the entrance to the mudroom and smiled to himself. As far as he was concerned he had the ultimate life of leisure, the king bed-sized pit of moist soil in the center of the room was the height of entertainment. He could do whatever he wanted all day as long as he was in the room when they told him to be. Daryl did not know who they were, but he did not know who any of the victims were either. He did not really know anything about the world outside his apartment, and he didn’t care to. His life was easy and he did not want it to get complicated. He padded to the mud pit and lay down in the center of it to log in.

Daryl spent the night and a good portion of the next day in the AlterNet, but they knew how to reach him there too. He got word it was time for the next kill and logged out. The same scene as always awaited him in the small room.

He opened the door and stepped into the dim, black room. The hunched over stranger, a woman, sat up. The black hood on her head swiveled left and right as she tried to get her bearings and her muffled voice tried to form words through the gag.

“This woman has committed no crimes,” the usual, mysterious, male voice said. The woman frantically nodded her head while still trying to speak. The statement surprised Daryl, he’d grown accustomed to hearing long lists of horrid offenses. Daryl looked at the table and saw the usual gun there. He heard a sound and looked to the wall behind the woman. A door that he always knew was there, but never found, opened. “You have served us well, but your time has ended. You are free to go, she will take your place.”

“What?” Daryl shouted. He assumed he’d live out the rest of his days in the apartment and he’d grown comfortable with the thought. “What if I don’t want to?” The voice did not respond, it never talked to him. But Daryl still got an answer.

The dim lights in the room transitioned to a soft red color. Daryl called it the warning light, it was his captor’s version of, “I’m going to count to five.” He had a minute to do the thing they wanted him to do, or there would be consequences. Daryl sighed and stepped toward the new opening, but paused.

There can’t be consequences if I”m free, right?” he rationalized before stepping through the door. He remembered the gun on the table. “Oh yeah, I guess they can if they tell her to shoot me.” He turned to leave again. “Unless…

Before he realized what he was doing he stood next to the woman with the gun pointed at her head. He looked around the room at all the cameras he knew were there, but could not see. He expected to hear the voice, but no one said anything. Daryl looked down at the gun in his hand.

This was different. They told him she was innocent. They did not tell him to kill her, they did not seem interested in stopping him. It was his choice to make, and he did.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized to the stranger, then pulled the trigger.

The gun filled the quiet room with a loud click; it was empty.

“Congratulations. You’re the sort of person we’re looking for,” the woman said then stood from the chair, and pulled her hood off at the same time.

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