Virtual Confinement

by Miriam English

A darkened room. A pool of light at a desk. A middle-aged woman sits at the desk typing on the computer there. The only other things that can be seen in the room are a bed behind her and blue light seeping thru a window off to one side.

She yawns and stretches; the cat on her lap does too then daintily hops down to the floor. "Oh dear..." She switches off the computer and stands, rubbing her buttocks. "Ten hours is too long." She picks up the plate on the desk beside the computer and strolls into the kitchenette accompanied by the eager cat.

Switching the light on reveals it as cramped but tidy. The walls are cracked.

While she is washing the plate the doorbell rings.

Peeking thru the security peephole reveals two police -- one male, one female. Puzzled she opens the door. "Hello? Can I help you?" and smiles openly, wiping her hands on her skirt.

"Ms Jean Wells?"


"You are under arrest for drunken and disorderly conduct. Before continuing, I must inform you that you're not obliged to say or do anything, but anything you say or do will be given in evidence."

"But that's impossible -- I'm always here all day, working. Besides, I don't drink alcohol." She is honestly surprised.

"I'm sorry Ms Wells, you'll have to come with us," and she is taken away.

* * *

There is a suited man sitting on the other side of the table from her in an otherwise bare room. There are bars on the window. He has his shirt-collar standing up with corners turned out.

"Think again, nobody can confirm that you were home all day?"

She shook her head hopelessly. "I keep pretty much to myself. There is only the times on the files I was working on..."

He clearly doesn't believe her. "No, as I said earlier, they are no use -- it is too easy to alter the times on a computer."

He stands and starts putting his papers in his briefcase. "Well, I think we've gone over this enough. I can't see anything to change my original advice. You should just plead guilty and say you're sorry. You've never done anything wrong before; the judge may be lenient." He clearly thinks it unlikely.

"But I'm not guilty -- I haven't done anything." She stands too. She's looking worried.

"I'm sorry," he doesn't look it, "but that's what they all say. `I didn't do it' isn't much of a defence. I don't think there is much more I can do unless you have more to tell me." And with the implication hanging in the air, he leaves.

She flops hopelessly into the chair, tears brimming in her eyes.

The door opens again and a strong, hard-looking policewoman enters.

Jean looks up at her. Her voice quivers as she says, "I really didn't do it..."

The policewoman, in a surprisingly soft voice says, "Don't worry dear. It won't be bad -- more like a holiday. It's not punishment you know." She helps her to her feet and leads her gently to the door. "Look, I think I believe you, but you'll have to be realistic: unless you can prove you are innocent you will be sentenced."

They're walking down the corridor now to the holding cell. She continues, "You've been in a VR flick haven't you?"

The other half-nods pathetically, "A couple... I don't like them. Virtual reality scares me -- I find it disorienting."

"Oh... I guess that explains the old-style computer you were using." She pauses thoughtfully. "Well, try not to worry about it. A lot of work is put into making it suit you. You can live out your fantasies if you want. Nothing can go wrong, believe me."

She halts and indicates the cell. "Sorry about the temporary accommodation but you'll be out of here tomorrow. Somebody will come and work out the details shortly -- legal details, visiting rights, etcetera..." The other doesn't brighten so she asks, "Do you have family?" Jean shakes her head dully "...friends?" She shakes her head again. "Cheer up. I and some of the other staff do the rounds pretty regularly." She rubs the other's shoulder encouragingly. "Check you later." She closes and locks the door.

Inside, Jean just stands and stares at the locked door. Despair.

* * *

She is sitting on the floor hugging her legs, head on knees, when clanking of the door causes her to raise her head and look up with sunken, red-rimmed eyes.

The friendly policewoman, in her warm manner, introduces a small, neat woman. "Jean, this is Dr. Cheryl Spinder. She is here to help sort out the details of your sentence."

In a hopeless, hoarse voice: "The verdict was guilty then?"

The policewoman walks over to her, squats down beside her and rests a hand on her hands. "Only proof of innocence could have altered that."

"How..." her voice catches "how long is the sentence?"

The policewoman is a little shocked by this and she looks briefly to the doctor then back to Jean. "My, you have been out of touch haven't you. It's permanent. It has been for years now. The only thing that can bring you back is if somebody outside comes up with proof of innocence. Mind you, after a year or so inside you probably won't want to come back anyway -- most don't."

The little doctor clears her throat and the two women look up. She smiles a little uneasily. "My job is to fit the VR to you so that it suits you as closely as possible. Basically, your slightest wish is my command." She smiles nervously again. "Please take a seat dear and try to relax, this will take several hours.

"Now, before I start, I must explain that the results of this interview will be exclusively your property to be kept or destroyed as you see fit. There is no obligation to provide truthful information, however since its purpose is to make you as comfortable as possible, truth is strongly advised.

"OK, that's out of the way -- we'll start...."

* * *

Jean is in her darkened room as before but asleep in her chair at the table, head on her arm. The computer screen is as it was earlier.

The doorbell rings, waking her. She stands, lifting the cat from her lap and leans against the desk for a moment, rubbing her eyes, then walks out to answer the door.

She peeks thru the peephole to see an attractive, youngish woman.

Puzzled, Jean opens the door.

The young woman happily greets Jean, "Hi, I told you I'd visit. I'm off duty till tomorrow."

Silence for a moment while Jean grapples with what she sees. "You're... the policewoman?"

The policewoman grins, "This is how I looked about twenty years ago. Can I come in? Or if you want, I could show you around -- there's an absolutely beautiful park across the road."

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