As the world relies more on technology, it becomes easier to judge others...
|It was hard to breathe with a hood over my head. Hard to see past the black cloth, as well. I knew that was the intent of my captors, to hype up my anxiety and make my heart pound in fear. As much as I tried to fight the despair and convince myself everything was going to be okay, I couldn't stop my body from shaking. The metal chair underneath my rear jittered with me, tapping a beat against the cold concrete floor. Sweat dribbled into my eyes and I longed for the zip-ties to be removed from my wrists so I could scratch my nose.
There was a noise to my left and I jerked as the hood was snatched from my head. Blinded by the sudden bright light, I instinctively squeezed my eyes shut and ducked my chin toward my chest. Colorful dots danced behind my eyelids.
“Mrs. Murphy, welcome to The Tolerance Center. Today you will stand before your peers and give an account for your actions. At the end of your session, you will be —“
“Judged,” I whispered, peeking open one eye. A man stood in front of me, a smirk on his broad, ruddy face. He adjusted his tie and shook his head.
“We don't judge anyone, Mrs. Murphy. When one judges another they show intolerance. No, when we are finished here you will merely be given your next assignment. That assignment may be to return to your life, to be escorted to death, or to spend your life in prison.”
I bit my lip and managed to open my other eye. The light wasn't as overwhelming anymore and I was able to check out the interrogation room. I was surrounded by computer screens and one solitary video camera. The walls were brick and there wasn't a single window. Thoughts of escaping quickly died as I realized I was completely trapped in the 8x10 space.
“If I wasn't being judged then there wouldn't be a punishment or sentence,” I argued, feeling a sense of righteous indignation flutter in my heart. It was foolish to speak such words but I was already in the judgement seat, though they wouldn't call it that. I might as well go out in a spark of glory.
The man frowned and leaned toward the camera, ignoring my comment. “We will begin.”
I watched as my face flickered into focus on one of the computer screens. I looked pale and my blond hair hung, stringy and greasy, over my shoulders.
“I am Detective Walters and our accused, Mrs. Louise Murphy has been apprehended and detained on child abuse charges.” Walters stepped to my side, showing himself to the whole world. He pressed his palms together and allowed a brief smile to flicker across his lips. “You will hear from this woman's own lips how she allowed her children to run loose without adult supervision which, subsequently, led to a heinous injury.”
I pressed my lips together. Already the screens were flooded with comments from people across the world. People who had nothing better to do than sit in front of a screen and judge my actions. My eyes flickered across the comments.
She looks the type. Fat cow! FastnEasy wrote.
i look her up she got, like 5 kid. y that allow? she need be spayed! read one from CollegeProf42.
sooooo many kids lol maybe if she wasn't popping babies out of her clown-car hoo-ha she'd be a better mom! mocked BabiesRBlobs.
“How is this tolerant?” I growled at Walters. “They're basically saying my life choices are wrong!”
“Opinions, Mrs. Murphy. They're just opinions. Nobody is judging you.”
“Semantics!” I muttered, glaring at the comments. While over one-thousand people had jumped in to give their two cents, I could see the attack was starting to slow down. Walters seemed to realize he was losing the online crowd and cleared his throat.
“Mrs. Murphy,” Walters tapped a finger against his lips. “Is it true that you allow your children to play outside, in your backyard, without the protection of The Orb?”
the ORB is awesome! Why wouldn't anyone use it? orblover5000 gushed. Twenty more comments about the Orb flashed across my vision before I could answer.
“I prefer my children's feet touch the grass. For their toes to squish in the dirt,” I said, stubbornly lifting my chin.
Walters's nose wrinkled. “You let your kids put their feet in the nasty dirt? The dirt is full of germs!”
“Studies show that it's good for kids to be exposed to dirt. It makes them healthier and less likely to develop allergies —“
“Studies!” Walters waved away my comment with a laugh. “Those studies are antiquated. Besides, kids get the same experience by using the VR set inside their Orb. You do know how to program the VR, right Mrs. Murphy?”
“Of course,” I huffed. “But I don't think a developing child should have their eyes glued to a device all day long.”
“You don't think?” Walters scoffed. “Do you have a degree in science, Mrs. Murphy?”
I gritted my teeth. “No.”
“Well,the makers of The Orb, do. And every test they've run shows The Orb to be perfectly safe for developing children.”
“Of course they'd say that!” I snapped. I tried to lean forward but my hands, restrained and tied to my chair, kept me in place. “They pay for the damn studies!”
Walters shook his head at my outburst but I didn't miss the way his eyes lit up. He was pushing my buttons and creating a good show for the onliners. I could feel the heat on my face and forced myself to calm down.
“Look,” I kept my voice tranquil and low. “Kids that play outside their Orbs get a better source of Vitamin D. They feel the wind on their cheeks. They breathe natural air into their lungs.”
“They're also exposed to cancer-causing UV rays,” Walters said with a tsk. “Which many scientists agree outweigh the benefits of pure air.”
I sighed. “There are ways to protect kids without resorting to putting them in a bubble. Sunscreen—“
“Snake Oil!” Walters interrupted. “It never worked, as was proven in 2035. And yet here you are, relying on old wives tales to take care of your many, many children!”
“My body, my choice,” I hissed. “Who are you to say I have too many kids?”
Walters eyes widened. “My dear lady, I said no such thing! Why are you so quick to assume you're being judged? Perhaps it's because you know that if you had been a better parent and used the Orb, your three-year-old wouldn't have become injured outside?”
“He...he skinned his knee,” I stuttered, amazed at the stupidity of the accusation. “How is that an injury?”
Por ltl guy!SadFace wrote. The comments were flooding in again. I couldn't help but notice as they were typed into being. It was like staring at a train wreck, I couldn't turn away.
She made him bleed? They should make HER bleed! A bitter laugh escaped as I read the response from Forgiveness101.
“Doctor's have examined his leg,” Walters said, his tone and face somber. “They say he'll have a scar for the rest of his life. And it's all. your. fault. It is your stubbornness that has affected this child. Forever.”
A picture of my son's cheerful face popped onto the screen. My heart squeezed in my chest as I stared into his beautiful blue eyes. The way things were going, this would be the last time I'd see an image of him. I would be sent away, or worse, and he would forget me. I longed to reach out and touch the screen, to run my hands over the image of his chubby cheeks. I wiggled my hands and felt the restraints cut into my flesh.
“He's fine,” I whispered. Rage built until I found myself shouting. “He's fine! He has no scar, you're lying! He's perfectly healthy and happy and he needs me!”
Walters placed a hand on my trembling shoulder. “That remains to be seen, Mrs. Murphy.” He puckered his lips and pointed at the camera. “You've heard the story. You've heard the testimony from the accused. It is now your turn to determine where this woman goes from here. Cast your vote at mrsmurphyisachildabuser.com.”
With mounting horror I watched as the poll popped up on the main screen. There were three options:
(b) Guilty – death
(c) Guilty – jail
Death and jail were neck-and neck. Two votes were cast for “innocent”. Walters stepped away from the camera, pulled out a walkie-talkie, and muttered, “Track down the two that voted innocent...”
The numbers jumped back and forth while my rear grew numb as the hours ticked by.
“Five minutes until the poll closes,” Walters announced. I shifted on my chair. My neck and shoulders ached from sitting in such an awkward position.
“The results are in!” Walters crowed. He sounded like he was about to reveal the big lottery winner. “It looks like Mrs. Murphy has been sentenced to death. A fitting end for a child abuser, I must say! And for poetic justice, we've picked two random onliners and flown them in to mete out the punishment!”
My legs, asleep from sitting in one place for so long, could hardly hold me up when Walters removed my restraints and pushed me from the chair. I stumbled across the room and leaned against the brick wall. The door opened and a man and woman walked in.
“BoneCrusher and MercyKiller? Welcome to the Tolerance Center,” Walters said with a grin. “As you both requested, you will each get five minutes alone with the criminal.”
BoneCrusher popped his knuckles and MercyKiller glared across the room at me as Walters snuck out the door. The lock clicked and I closed my eyes. Judgment had come.