It was the first time that Dr. An Tsui-Chan had been back to Europe since the outbreak of the Zombie War. Most of her caseload for the International Criminal Court consisted of war crimes committed against civilians by human malefactors, and had taken her to Australasia, the United States and Latin and South America.
She regretted leaving her grandmother in the care of the nursing home, but there was no other way, no matter how much she cherished the dear old lady in her nineties. Fortunately, she had a professional’s wage to help support her, and professionals were at a premium in postwar China, so she was able to command a high fee for the intensive costs that Amma required. She loved Amma more than life itself. Of all her sprawling, extended Hong Kong family, Amma was the only other survivor from the Zombie War, and she wouldn’t have the old lady for long, the way that her heart was.
An electrocar whisked her out of Zurich, to Schloss Katrinaburg, and the ICC War Criminals Penitentiary. She steeled herself for the ordeal ahead and looked over the files. His name was Alfred Proctor, and he had been the Chief Justice of a Southwestern US state. She looked over the case notes that the attending forensic pathologists had provided counsels for his ICC trial with, on the basis that the magnitude of his crimes insured that he could not hope for a fair reception back home in the United States.
She brought her hand to her mouth, fighting back the bile as she read further. It was like staring into the face of a piranha, ravenously snapping its teeth at her, unblinking. Amma would say his tao was darkened, almost totally eclipsed. She’d probably be reminded of some of the Cultural Revolution cadres that she had had to face back in Guangzhou before the Golden Premiers arrived after the death of Mao. An laid aside the papers and thought of her Amma once more, shuffling the yarrow sticks and throwing the coins to arrive at an I Ching prognosis.
The guards escorted her into the interview room, with their rifles held at the ready should their elderly prisoner try anything. Proctor was a man in his sixties, with grey-blond hair, clipped close to his skull. He was a corpulent man- no wonder, given what he’d fed on during the years of the Zombie War. His eyes were sharp and intelligent, but then there was no doubt whatsoever about his intellect. What was in doubt was his humanity. His gaze was unblinking and evaluative.
She wouldn’t let him get to her: “Chief Justice Proctor? I’m An Tsui-Chan, forensic psychologist with the International Criminal Court. I have been asked to provide an evaluation interview for the court. Do you confirm or deny the war crime charges that are brought against you?”
With a lazy, insouciant drawl, he leant back in his chair: “Of course I don’t deny it. They were cattle. The quotidian herd. Do you honestly believe that I’m the only one who took advantage of the prior unpleasantness to feast himself or herself? Did you have grandparents before the Zedwar, doctor?”
No matter how repugant she found him, she had to establish some sort of therapeutic bond, so she was candid with him:
“I still do. My Amma Lei Tsui-Chan. She’s in a nursing home in Hong Kong right now, but I’m a good granddaughter. Why do you ask, Chief Justice?”
“Congratulations on your filial duty. A good Confucian trait, one that I’ve always admired.”
“That’s not unusual. Confucianism was the official philosophy of the Party after 2020 and I was an ambitious professional. And what guides your moral compass, Chief Justice? What code of values?”
He smiled at her, with no real warmth. She was reminded of that piranha again, but she was behind the aquarium’s glass barrier again. She felt as if she was being evaluated as food or prey. He cleared his throat and drank an adjacent glass of water:
“People do things to survive in extremis, do they not? Did your amma tell you about what some of her fellow peasants needed to do during the Cultural Revolution when the harvests failed under the collectivisation and its resultant famine?”
An responded levelly: “I assume you’re referring to cannibalism. She would say that the perpetrators needed to be brought to justice and appropriately dealt with for their crimes. As you surely recognise that you must. Do you feel any compassion or remorse for what you did?”
He laughed derisively: “Why? They were cattle, prey.”
She couldn’t stop herself gritting her teeth in disgust: “On the contrary, they were seventy five men, women and children. Especially the children. You killed and ate the bodies of thirty five innocent children, Chief Justice. How can you justify that? How can anyone sane or moral?”
He rolled his eyes: “Tell me, is there any reason that you’re not using my name, just my title?”
She returned his impassive stare and refused to let him cower her: “So you do not deny the act? Merely its profound criminality and evil? You were entrusted with public responsibility and office. You betrayed that sacred obligation and abused in the worst possible manner. Didn’t enough people die during the Zombie War for you, Chief Justice? Did you have to add to their number through your own abdication of humanity?”
He was impressed by her demeanour, despite himself: “Such ardour, Dr. Tsui-Lan. Tell me, do you really believe what you are saying?”
She sneered at him: “If you mean do I believe that you must be brought to justice for your immoral and murderous acts, then yes, I do. Do you regard yourself as some sort of Nietzschean superbeing, is that it? Beyond good and evil?”
“Ah. Your court presumes to judge me and render me a scapegoat for what surely must have been a commonplace act in the recent past. So, in order to expunge the alleged evil that I represent, your International Criminal Court will put me to death. Are they no better than our zombie predators, who have destroyed so much already?”
She shook her head: “Your facile sophistry omits one key point. Zombies are creatures without sentience that operate purely on instinct, no more than slavering undead corpses that do what they do out of rote repetition to satiate their hunger.
“But you? You had moral choices to make- to refrain from preying on your fellow human beings, particularly vulnerable children. You knew what you were doing was demonic, you could choose not to do it. But you disregarded all human decency and feasted on human flesh, mutilating and torturing as you did it.
You transgressed the key moral dichotomy that distinguishes us from those ravening, bestial animated cadavers and what makes us human. You deliberately chose to kill other human beings for food.
I think you would have really preferred the world to have ended, for the zombie apocalypse to have consumed humanity, for all order to have collapsed. For then no-one would be around to witness and call you to account for what you have done. Well, it didn’t. Fortunately for those who would have been your potential victims and those lost to your cannibalism already, you can be brought to justice and you have been.”
“Ah, the elements disturbed, the heavenly bodies quake in their orbits, the very dead risen from their graves and yet you insist that we are still bound by the niceties of old.” His lips curved in a porcine, decadent sneer at her.
“Isn’t that hubris or pathetic fallacy, attributing your own malignancy and responsibility for evil to the mute gods?”
“Why not? You are an inhabitant of the nation who brought the curse of the undead reanimated on the rest of humanity. Yet you presume to judge me?”
“China was an autocracy and an authoritarian state. Its overlords were unable to rein in its warmongers and regulate its scientists sufficiently, so the Party presided over illegal genomic and bacteriological warfare experiments. I am a mere physician. My sacred obligation is to save lives. I make no excuses for them and the magnitude of corruption that destroyed them. They are so much stratospheric ash. But you are not. That is precisely why you need to held accountable for your crimes and punished.”
She handed him pictures of what he had done, from surveillance camera images mounted within a sting operation shortly before Proctor’s fortress had been invaded and secured by law enforcement personnel.
It showed a series of images of a frightened child, no more than five or six years of age, as the bloated Proctor put down a human femur stripped of its meat, wiped gore and blood from his saturnine face, and picked up a machete. Mercifully devoid of sound or colour details, it showed Proctor swaying forward, with an expression of demonic glee and satisfaction on his rotund face. It ended on him bringing down the machete and pieces of blood, gore and human debris flying from the child below him. It froze on a razor-toothed grin.
“You were a gatekeeper,” she concluded, ‘a guardian of the social order. Only the gates became those to a human abattoir.”
As she finished and got up to leave the impassive hulk of a man on the other side of the table to his fate, he managed one final retort:
“You know, I wouldn’t have eaten you. You are plainly not cattle, one of the proles that are fodder for those superior to them. One more thing, Doctor Tsui-Len. Do you honestly think that my mere death will end interest in me? Look at the Nazis, the genocidal butcherers and the serial killers before me. Humanity cherishes its charnel house oddities. I will not be forgotten.”
She snapped shut her briefcase and crossed to the door:
“This interview is at an end. You committed atrocities. You will pay for them. You think that you’re unique? Well, Chief Justice, you will end cold, dead meat. Just like your victims.
Farewell. We will not meet again.”
On the train that evening, she remembered the haunting Goya picture that aptly featured outside the cell within the Schloss. Saturn, Devouring His Children, an image of the mythical cannibal Titan of Greco-Roman myth as he ate his godling offspring alive. But as with Chief Justice Proctor, there had been salvation within that myth. Saturn’s wife Rhea hid away Zeus, the oldest of Saturn’s children, who eventually overthrew and imprisoned him in the deepest pit of Hades.
Oh, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist items were all there and had been confirmed already by the prosecution team’s administration- aggressive narcissism, glib and facile charm, lack of any compassion, remorse or guilt for his actions, failure to accept moral responsibility for his actions, his parasitic lifestyle and his failure to comprehend that there would be retribution for his depredations and mass murders committed.
Whether one followed the World Health Organisation or APA diagnostic definitions in DSM VII or ICD-12, Proctor was definitely a psychopathic monster.
Her tired eyes strayed to the wallscreen in her carriage as she shut down her laptop and prepared to retire to bed. It showed a Zedhunt in progress, a horde of dishevelled and emaciated zombies shambling toward a group of hunters, intent only on reaching them regardless of the threat to their existence, and satiating their hunger. The headshots felled the outliers, and spears ended the central throng.
She watched them, empty-eyed and layered-faced, parodies of humanity in fragmented muscle and rotting flesh mosaic, with their brown and yellow and red riptoothed snarls and flecks of flesh, gore and bloody spittle running down their corpse’s bodies.
And that was it, wasn’t it? There had to be a difference. If human beings themselves feasted on the flesh of others, taking pleasure in their viciousness and sacrifice of innocents, they were no better than the zombies that had almost extinguished humanity, that had ended the lives of her husband, her daughter and her baby son.
She thought of Proctor one last time, as the train took her away from the beast’s lair, toward the living, breathing world of her beloved amma and the remnants of her family. She may not have been able to save her husband and children, she reflected, but she could do this for the survivors of what Proctor had deliberately and maliciously wrought.