Time: The all too near future
Place: A courtroom
Setting: Final sentencing of a prisoner convicted of the last remaining capital offense on the books of a kinder, gentler, fairer world in which equality is no longer a mere aspiration.
The prisoner stared impassively into the camera. The bright lights causing beads of sweat to form above his eyes and forcing him to squint, his perspiration-soaked thinning hair flattened unflatteringly against his forehead. No sound could be heard other than the faint hum of the air conditioning whose airflow was directed from the high ceiling above the high seats of the three judge panel, towards the three judged, keeping their immediate area comfortably cool. The camera trained on them remained a respectful distance away, and no harsh lights illuminated their somber countenances.
All three judges stared at the camera showing no emotion, their hands folded in front of them on the surface of their capacious bench on top of three equal, neat stacks of paper piled before each judge. Everywhere on earth citizens watched the unfolding drama over the neural net that provided a fully immersive experience indistinguishable from reality, effectively placing every citizen of earth in the courtroom as the Chief Judge began to speak in a deep, resonant, clear voice.
“The evidence against you has been examined. This tribunal finds you guilty of the charges against you by a unanimous vote. Have you anything you would like to add before we pass sentence?”
The camera changed back to the prisoner. The lights brighten around him and the heat rises perceptibly, adding fresh fuel to the trickle of sweat flowing down his flushed face, causing a bead of sweat to form at the end of his nose that he cannot swat away because his wrists are restrained by metal bands at the armrests of his chair, outside the viewing range of the camera which has a tight zoom on his face. “I am guilty of no crime,” the prisoner spoke in a low voice full of palpable weariness and resignation.
“You are guilty of the most heinous of crimes,” the Chief Judge contradicted. That is not open to debate. This is your final chance to make what amends you may to those whom you have harmed through your selfish, deviant act. It will have no effect on the sentencing by this Court.”
“But I have done nothing wrong,” the man emphatically repeated, the perspiration rolling down his neck deepening the growing ring of sweat absorbed by his bright orange jumper, staining a dark collar of moisture around his neck.
“Silence!” the Chief Judge hissed. “The record will show that the prisoner is unrepentant. This Court finds that the prisoner willfully, maliciously and without justification removed his neural connector with the purpose and effect of disconnecting himself from the Net. We further find that the motivating factor for this egregious, willful and repugnant crime was the attempt to abandon the Common Consciousness and establish his individuality separate and apart from the Communal Mind. We further find that the subject is in full possession of his legal faculties and capable of understanding the criminal nature of his acts, and, perhaps most tragically, that he fails to see the enormity of his crime.” The Chief Justice faltered slightly, delivering the final words of the Courts sentence with a slight tremor in his voice. After stopping a moment to compose himself as his learned colleagues looked on impassively, he continued. “It is, therefore, the judgment of this Court that you will forever remain disconnected from the nets from this day forward.”
Upon hearing the Judge’s words the prisoner’s eyes opened wider, attempting to digest their import. Could it be? Could he finally be allowed the freedom to regain his humanity? The unalienable right to be an individual for the first time in his life? The opportunity to live in a world in which he could have original thoughts, genuine emotions, and the opportunity to be different from everyone else? The joy in these words nearly made him faint with relief and unbridled joy, allowing him for the first time in his life the possibility of hope as tears welled in his eyes. He found he could not speak, could not express even the simple words “thank you” to the Court. It was as though he were emerging from a life-long nightmare, as if . . .
“The prisoner’s IP address, 999.999.999.999, shall be erased from the Nets,” the Judge continued as the prisoner’s tears flowed freely. His existence shall be forever stricken from the Collective Consciousness lest it germinate there and once again grow sedition in our midst.” The prisoner wept openly now while smiling broadly. “The death sentence for this most heinous of crimes is hereby commuted so that the prisoner may be allowed the individuality he craved for the rest of his natural life, devoid of the comfort of humanity or the distracting influences of life.”
The Chief Judge then paused and took a deep breath. “It is further ordered by this Court that the prisoner shall have his eyes, eardrums, tongue and olfactory organs surgically removed that he may not see, hear, taste, or speak with any other human being for the rest of his natural life. thereafter, he is to be remanded to a hospital where he shall be restrained to a bed and tended to by robotic life support aids. The sentence of this Court shall be carried out immediately and shall be witnessed by all Citizens of Earth as partial reparation for this most heinous of crimes against humanity.”
The prisoner’s screams lasted only a few moments as an anesthetic was administered and the cameras were re-arranged in preparation for justice to be carried out.