Alan leant against the tree in the park, wishing he could smoke.
In the darkness, hands in pockets, and jacket zipped up against the chilly autumn breeze, Alan waited for the Criminal. That was how he thought of him. The Criminal. With a capital C. The Criminal's real name was Harold Gray, and he was a serial rapist.
Alan knew he could crush the Criminal's mind, drive him into insanity and force him to live out his life in abject terror.
Alan had argued strenuously that he be allowed to destroy the Criminal, but the Network overruled him, saying the Cogs had seen a future for Harold Gray that required him to remain mentally functional. Gray had limited psychic ability, they said, which made it easy for him to lure his victims and, afterward, erase their memories of him. All the victims could remember was a man; none could provide a description of his face.
This was the kind of monster, Alan told the Network, that deserved to have his evil turned inward, so that the Criminal would ultimately destroy himself. But no, the Cogs saw a need for the Criminal's latent psychic abilities.
Alan had been instructed to give the Criminal a nudge, a mental suggestion that would eventually make Gray turn himself in to the police. He will rape again, Alan had said, before the nudge takes effect. The Network had denied any stronger action.
Now Alan waited in the park for the Criminal. Pathfinders had worked for weeks to find Gray and track his daily life. Gray always took a stroll through the park in the evenings. Amazingly to Alan, Gray had never used his stroll to find a victim. In fact, Gray was always careful to perform his crime well away from the neighbourhood in which he lived. Never shit in your own nest, Alan thought.
A mental signature intruded on Alan's mind. The Criminal was approaching. One of the most sensitive of the Network, Alan was one of only three that was considered skilled enough to perform a nudge. As the network had discovered years ago, a sloppy nudge could have devastating effects.
Alan closed his eyes and drifted into the Criminal's mind. It didn't take long to find that part that regulated thought. It was here that morals and ethics were set, that calculations were performed, that the cognitive processes occurred.
Alan could also see how Gray's psychic ability had corrupted him. Gray had conscious control of his ability, though Alan found the Criminal did not know the what or why of it. Gray simply knew that he could manipulate people to a small degree. The corruption of his mind had led him to use this ability to satisfy his desires. Gray had first raped at the age of ten.
Anger filled Alan, and despite his careful control filtered through to Gray. The Criminal stopped, looking around. Alan knew he had been detected. Suddenly Alan was assaulted with a barrage of images; the face each victim of Gray's was presented to him at the moment of Gray's climax. Caught off guard, having never thought the Criminal could attack, Alan struggled against the assault.