Short horror fiction vignette: The Marazny Scale

“I was well acquainted with the late Dr. Marazny.  She was a very gentle person,” said Professor Crawford, as he turned on the overhead projector, “and that was always the reason she gave for dedicating her later years to the study of putting people to death.
    “This is the scale she developed:  

    PAIN     <———-|–>

    FEAR <——–|—->

    DESPAIR <———-|–>

    “Three variables, you see, in plotting a death. Ideally, most people die with scores as low on all three scales as possible. In your basic execution, the Pain scale is deliberately engineered to the minimum possible for constitutional reasons – or at least, that’s the theory. The Fear and Despair scales are not deliberately acted upon in any official way at the time of his death. The prisoner has generally got a good deal of both, but he is also allowed and encouraged to make peace with God if he pleases, and go to death smiling, that kind of thing.
    “Now, for an ordinary human being, there is no reason whatsoever to design a death with reference to the Marazny scale. That would be monstrous. This is because most human beings have empathy. Empathy in the wrongdoer is the key to any successful method of non-corporal punishment. If the wrongdoer can be made to understand that what he did was wrong, then he need have nothing to do with Marazny-scale business. He needn’t actually believe that what he did was wrong under the particular circumstances, if he accepts that what he did was an offense to other beings and empathizes with those beings. Usually, however, those things go together.
    “The Marazny-scale practice is in reference to what used to be called sociopaths and psychopaths – basically, those lacking empathy. Empathy is a requirement for the participation in a human society. A human being without empathy is a saw without a guard. How can we permit such a thing to injure innocent people?
    “The Marazny scale has been used to calibrate a method of execution for these individuals. In a person without empathy, at the time of death, you will not see any question of remorse, any reflection on the deeds except for the self-congratulatory; perhaps there will just be relief at being done with the whole charade of prison life. This robs us, the society, of justice. We have taken away a life for a life, or lives, but in taking his life, we have not taken something of equal value to him, as the lives of the victims were to them. Traditionally, we compensate for this lack of justice by telling each other that such a person has gone to hell, but there is, of course, no evidence for this.
    “There is nothing we can do to make this person suffer, unless it is in his physical person, or in apprehensions to the fate thereof. We therefore design for him a death that has values as high across each of the levels of the Marazny scale as possible – while at the same time, avoiding spectacle, waste, unnecessary expense, and worst of all, the suggestion of relish, or sadism.
    “We are torturing these people to death, of course,” he said, with a sad and gentle smile.  “But we do not, we must not do so for the pleasure of it. It is simply that this is what is required to provide justice as against a Marazny-scale offender. And it was for this purpose that the Capsule was originally designed.
    “The Capsule is a simple, upholstered oubliette. The offender’s phalanges – all the fingers and toes – are surgically removed and allowed to heal under medical supervision, while the prisoner is restrained. This raises the Fear level considerably over a period of several weeks. Then once he is healed, at a time without his knowledge, he is remanded to a Capsule. This is a scale model – it’s about nine feet long in itself –”
    He removed the lid and opened the hinge to show the replica in cross-section. It was a glossy, opalescent Apple-white, tapered at the bottom, like a capped honeycomb cell bearing a larva. Inside, the Capsule was lined with a beige pleather plush all around, just as any cheap waiting-room chair might be, although, of course, there was no chair, and no sitting of any type to be done. It was a vertical coffin, without a flat bottom to stand on. A fluorescent bulb ringed the inner lid. Just above the curved bottom tip, there was no more plush lining, only white plastic vented in a grille pattern. Other vent holes pierced the plush, pinhole-sized at the small scale, and the lid itself had a vented seal.
    “Now the airvents, at the side and the lid, are specially diverted through the building using a series of small vents that terminate at the roof, to avoid any odors at ground level. And of course the vents themselves are all very small. The grille here at the bottom is steel-reinforced, and drains to a specially treated area of earth that will absorb all the biohazardous fluid. The only way the prisoner would get out through there would be as a liquid. Which, in fact, is eventually what happens. The time of death is generally considered to be within seven to fourteen days. The Capsule is never opened again.”