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A sociopath is someone who feels no empathy for his or her fellow human beings. He or she, most commonly he, sees them simply as objects in the landscape, like chairs or street signs.

I learned that from a textbook in a psychology class they made us take at CTU, to help us better "get into the minds" of the people we were tracking. Sociopath, a discrete category.

And then once you're out on the job, they ask you to become one, over and over, all for the sake of the mission, of course. But you have to be able to turn it off, to step back over the line, return to the land of happy suburban families and puppies and Mom's apple pie. Wives and daughters and the family car. People you're not allowed to shoot and that you shouldn't expect to shoot at you.

Lines get pretty fucking blurred when you step back and forth over them too many times.

"Please, senor..."

"Shut up."

Saunders couldn't turn it off anymore. He couldn't snap back to what he was before, couldn't let blood flow to his limbs again, couldn't remember the difference between humanity and table lamps. Except for his daughter, but that made sense; she was kin, half-self, and if yourself is the only really living thinking feeling thing in the world...

Too close. Too close.

"Por favor..."

"I said, shut up."

I'm a master at it, I'm the best, it comes naturally to me. Flip a switch in the deep dark ancient reptile part of the brain and turn to ice. No, not ice- stone. Make a blank mask of your face, sheathe yourself in rock armor, look out on a world of weak warm flesh you can crush in your hands. Easy.

Can I turn it off? I can't...

Smash a skull, twist a knife, deport a child. Then send the report to headquarters, flip the switch again, go to Kim's dance recital. Easy.

Catch yourself thinking of all the ways to kill all the other parents. Or how you'd torture each child to make the parents tell every secret. Stop going to recitals.

Flip the switch to get through a funeral. A fight with Teri. A fucking traffic jam. Too far, too far. To get through the whole year after Teri died.

And just when you're ready to be human again, you get sent to Mexico and rip the return switch out altogether just to be sure you'll survive.

Do it for the mission, Jack.

Christ, I need a fix.


"Por favor...por favor...yo no quiero..."

She's crumpled on the floor, dark curly hair and smeared makeup and torn clothes. Some teenaged Mexican prostitute off an LA streetcorner and I can't remember exactly what I did to her. I lash out with one foot; solid impact; she falls silent.

I see Kim's tearstained face. Jane Saunders's. The classroom of children.

Real fear in all those eyes looking at me. I see them, every night- the people I'm supposed to protect, and they're terrified of me.

Can't blame them, really. I'm one scary motherfucker. I chopped a kid's hand off with an axe- a dumb eager kid who wanted to be just like me, until he realized that meant being a monster.

All those eyes in my head, every goddamn night. Only way to stand it is to be full of dope or made of stone.

They train us to spot the sociopaths, and then they build us into better ones. Irony loses something when you're the only human walking through a world of desk chairs and table lamps with endlessly weeping eyes.

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