THE REALITY DEFENCE • by Rosalie Kempthorne

“Are you sure it’s the defence you want to go with?” her colleagues asked her.

Nina leaned against her desk, chewing on that mangled pencil that always calmed her nerves before a big case. “I think so.”

“When has that one ever worked?”

Nina shrugged. “Today.”

***

She hoped.

What was different? He was. Logan. He was likeable and pitiable. And he was Everyman. He was the ordinary guy who got up in the morning, ate breakfast, went to work, flirted awkwardly with the girl across the hall, caught a bus back home again at the end of the day.  His mother was in the public gallery, doing her best to look brave. He was a mirror the jury might just see themselves in.

He was glancing at her nervously. Her client.

Nina painted her own face with a smile — it’s going to be all right. Stay calm up there.

He stepped slowly up into the dock, his fingers scuttling nervously around his cuffs. Nina took a breath, brushed down her skirt, strode out boldly onto the floor.

“Please state your name for the record.”

“Logan Heath.”

“And can you tell me what you were doing on the night of the 23rd of August, 2029?”

“I was playing a game.”

“Be specific, Mr. Heath; what was the game?”

“Assassin’s Quarry.”

“What kind of a game is that?”

Logan swallowed. She felt a trickle of doubt: is he up to this? She could only give him patience and space — his lifeline and ally. At last he said, “It’s a VR game.”

“Full VR?”

“Yes.”

“Is that something you’d typically spend your time doing?”

“Often.” He kept his mouth small, his head bowed. Even a twitch of a smile would leave the wrong impression.

“Often?”

“Every day. At least four or five hours.”

“So, on the night of the 23rd of August, what happened?”

“I came home. I got home from work about… I think it was just after six. I checked some mail, then I started playing the game…”

“Be specific, please.”

“I sat down, I put my drink down on the table, next… next to the seat where I play. I put the VR helmet on and I played for about an hour… no, two hours.”

“Played?”

“I was doing a mission. Hunting an assassin. I was just walking up and down the neighbourhood… the game-neighbourhood. There were… meant to be… I’m sorry,” he had to stop to cough, to wipe away a tear, take a sip from a glass of water at his side. He went on: “then I heard the cat – the real cat, that is – trying to get in the door – the chip’s broken, see? It doesn’t recognize him, so I had to get up and let him in. I fed him. Then I went back to my game.”

Carefully: “You started playing again?”

“Yes. No. I — No. I was about to… I think I was, I was about to put the helmet back on… or I thought I had. The doorbell… the two doorbells, they sound alike. I answered one of them, and it was Jack, from next door. But his hand, behind his back… I thought… I forgot… He had to be the assassin. I shot him in the head.”

Silence. Perfect, dramatic silence.

It was broken only by Logan Heath snivelling a little.

“Go on,” she said.

“It all went wrong. He made noise — screaming, clutching at his face, he was kicking… he… there should have been all these numbers coming off him, there should have been… there should have been an icon, flashing up, giving me points… there wasn’t anything… just the noise… just his noise…”

“So, to be clear, Mr. Heath, at the time you fired the gunshot that killed Jack Morgan, you believed yourself to be still in the game?”

“I’d gone over to the helmet… I was sure… I was sure I’d put it on. I was really, really sure…”

“No further questions, Your Honour.”

***

There was silence in the jury room.  And then there was noise.

“He shot his neighbour in the head; this is open and shut.”

“It’s not, though. He didn’t mean to. The judge said as much: it comes down to intent. He didn’t know he was shooting his neighbour in the head.  He didn’t believe he was.”

“He wasn’t bullshitting. See his eyes? See how much he was shaking? He was telling the truth up there.”

“What was he doing with a gun in his hand? You answer the door carrying a gun?”

These days.”

Seriously?”

“Where I live. I tuck it in the back of my jeans before I open the door.”

“I stuff mine up my sleeve. You just don’t know…”

“They knock on the door these days, stick a gun in your face. Then they go and take everything, and you’re just bloody lucky if they don’t shoot you on the way out.”

“This wasn’t a robber. This was his neighbour. He knew the guy. The guy’s not in his game.”

“But it’s different now. With neural feedback. There’s a reason why the doorbells sound alike. The street probably looked half the same as well.”

“It’s true. My brother swears he runs into his old school friends whenever he plays a game. He plays high-end. His memories just pop up everywhere. He’s walking down some virtual street and there’s the house he grew up in, or it’s half like that house, and it’s half like the public library.”

“When my husband plays Kettlefish and he hears the phone ring, he tries to pick it up on his in-game coms. He keeps reaching for his real drink with his game hands. It’s funny.”

He called them into order a bit; he was supposed to be the foreman. “It isn’t funny. It’s a murder trial,” he glanced fully around the table, “so how’s about we take our first vote? Guilty or not guilty?”


Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Author Bio, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has somewhat better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, Flash Frontier, or on her website: www.RosalieKempthorne.name.


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Every Day Fiction