First story published! - Life Sentence

My story ‘Life Sentence’ was just published on Escape Pod (the Flash episode). Woot!

Here’s the text:

Life Sentence
by Ben Hallert

John Babcock Hemingway (no relation) was born September, 1842. He lived an unremarkable life as first a student then later a clerk of modest means. His death by tuberculosis in 1891 was fairly standard. Following one final gasping, breathless fit of bloody coughing, he expired. With a flicker, he awoke in The Room.

“(* gesture of astonishment*) I… I am me!” The being, returned after 49 subjective years to full consciousness, sputtered and trembled. “I was another creature for its entirety, from birth to cessation” it roared mentally. “I was not myself, but a mere shadow; an unbearably dim silhouette of true being!”

The Arbiter indicated (* gesture of general agreement *). “The sentence for your crime, as previously communicated, is Life.” It bobbed briefly, and then reality flickered again.

Mahamayuri Kapoor was born June, 1994 in Delhi, India. She was a poor but happy student and formed many friendships. Her work in the eTurk industry during the early 2020s allowed her to advance to a management position and she eventually became an executive. At the age of 68, she slipped while stepping to a curb after exiting a cab and fell. The head injury, though seemingly minor at the time, resulted in the formation of a clot-like thing that escaped detection for two more years before causing a stroke in her sleep. She died peacefully. Her soul flickered and she awoke again in The Room.

The being flashed many shades violently, its limbs shaking in extreme agitation. “(* Outrage of the seventh order *) This is barbaric! I am now burdened with two complete experiences of maudlin existence I cannot expunge. What is this madness?”

The Arbiter rotated to the left in patient explanation. “Your crime is a well documented matter of record. Your sentence of Life must be carried out and I am (* gesture of service to society *) obliged to execute it.” A limb extended and reality flickered.

Sanjen’s newborn coughed hoarsely, the amniotic fluid still shining wetly on it. The poor color of its skin and weak movement filled Sanjen with dread and as he stared into the tiny face, its eyes opened. It looked up, shook briefly, then relaxed completely. Its final blurry vision of the waving trees above in 2654 BC China faded inwards to a point with darkness all around until moments later-

Flicker. The Room.

“(* reticulated emotion 14 *) This is torture, you canno-” Flicker.

May 2341, Post-singularity Preserve aka ‘The Zoo’, Frank Tern-Shan (#A334B19) was born. 143 years later as specified per contract, he ended. Flicker.

“Stop! STOP!” the being cried. The Arbiter paused.

“Yes? (* patience with limited duration *)”

“I… I apologize. My crime was (* contrition *) terrible and I understand now.”

The Arbiter expanded upwards by one quarter in undefined emotion. “Your callous removal of a main sequence star resulted in the extinction of a fourth order civilization and robbed existence of its eventual combined cultural output. (* anger of injustice *) It is not this one’s place to counsel but the enormity of your crime requires the fullness of understanding. You have lived four lives of the affected civilization. Your sentence, however, is Life.” It spun and stabbed at a control.


The unnamed human was born 25,000 years before the first real human calendar and lived almost 23 years in the wilds of what was to be later called Tanzania before being killed by a predator.


“STOP!” The being threw itself at the walls of The Room to no effect. The Arbiter touched the control wordlessly.

Susan Bennett’s life was hard and best left un-described. She died at 30 in 1733 of internal injuries. Flicker.

“I BEG OF YOU (* panic *) Please, no. No more.” The being tried to shield itself but The Room offered no cover.

The Arbiter, again calm, poised a limb over the control. “Now that calibration is complete, the remainder of the sentence will be executed under automatic switching. We will not speak again until it is complete.”

The being, already crushed by centuries of subjective life and death, looked up blankly at the instrument of its torment. “Please. How many of this dead race’s dull lives must I endure before my ‘life’ sentence is complete?”

The Arbiter paused the gentle perambulation of its second order limbs and tightened its primary around the control in anticipation. Carefully, it spoke without any outward emotion.

“Why, all of them.” Flicker.



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