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The man sobbed in the bed, held down by the weight of the drugs he had been given. Even so, he leaned upward, covering his face with his hands.

"I never meant to kill her! It just slipped out, like a word you never meant to say."

I know.

The words passed my lips automatically. I never meant them. He looked at me, his eyes red with tears. I made eye contact, trying not to break the facade.

In my years as an agent, I had never hurt anyone on accident. I wasn't sure if I didn't believe him, or if I simply couldn't comprehend the system.

He was a failure, a fraud. A novice agent was still one of humanity's best tools, and we had been chosen. Even before we got our implants and the world learned to bend itself to our whims, we had years of training, simulations, drills. When your mind can change the laws of nature you can't be undisciplined.

So the man before me was one of two things: a very clever liar, or an incompetent. I shuddered to think which was worse. With the medication his implants would be suppressed, and he would be unable to do any harm, but his judgment rested in my hands.

Using the power to kill directly was forbidden. Before the first agent gained the implants, it was known that they were a great responsibility. The Progenitors had destroyed themselves with them. We would use them to ascend to the stars.

We used them for combat, of course. It helped us, guarding us from danger and strengthening our attacks, but bodies were sacred. This man had shorn one apart, using his mind to rend it. Even because of an accident, this man's life could be forfeit. He would at least lose his implants, have them torn from his body.

The thought is unappealing. I dimly recall what the world was like before the implants, and getting them was an epiphany. Raw ecstasy in the form of knowledge, feeling the history and future of all events and objects around you. I remember the first time I propelled a vessel through the stars, the first time I felt the guilt emanating from a murderer, the first grateful feeling from a rescued stranger.

This man would lose that, if he survived the process. It would be easy to keep him alive, but perhaps not merciful. I weighed the thought. Removal surgery would be painful, the recovery would be long. Without contributing utility, he would be condemned to a natural lifespan, and he would die before the process was complete. I, or another agent, could speed that process, let him live a normal life. He would know he was a failure forever, in some part of him, even if he rejoined society. He could contribute in many ways. When I was still young we would wipe someone's mind, but the practice had been done away with. He had to remember the removal, know what the power had been like, and feel it like a phantom limb.

I would not want that. But I would not want to die.

His eyes still looked into mine. He had to be young, because they were still full of character. I wondered if he saw anything in mine.

To be an agent, one had to leave emotions behind. That was this man's crime: he had let emotions rule a moment, and it had ended in tragedy.

To be a judge, one had to leave the self behind. I was chosen because the eons would wear away the psyche. Only the oldest among us could take such a role to bring balance to humanity's greatest power. In my youth it would have been impossible, but now they asked me to become God.

Not the God of my youth. I remembered the doxology of the church I had attended as a child, the God from whom all blessings flowed. I could not find such a church anymore, even if I tried. Time and change had worn it away. The sensation was bitter, like the poison in a cup of bergamot tea. I pulled away from the thought before it affected my judgment.

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