Saturday, February 21st, 2060
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
The massive crowd of loudly chanting protesters marched out of the free speech zone. Law enforcement and media surveillance drones drifted overhead, but for now the angry multitude remained unopposed as they surrounded a skyscraper. Inside the building was the target of their ire, the local branch office of FJI—Fantasy Justice Incorporated.
Among those swept up in this barely restrained chaos was Sara Takahashi. She did not know if this demonstration would remain peaceful—or if it would make even the slightest bit of difference—but she wanted to do something more than merely write about her ethical objections online.
Those objections were toward the current method of capital punishment, Fantasy Justice. For this system, the government sold inmates into slavery. FJI carved them up to sell their organs, and placed their brains inside a life support system known as a “brain jar.” From within the jar, victims experienced a virtual reality, multiplayer fantasy game—and if they died in the game, their brains were destroyed. The company derived countless entertainment programs from the experiences of the captives. And those among the law-abiding who were wealthy enough could pay to play as “hunters” within the game, able to kill inmates at no risk to themselves.
Though Sara found all of this abhorrent, this was only her first protest against Fantasy. Up until now, she had told herself that she was too busy with work and school to become involved. But the truth was, she had been scared—the kind of government that allowed an atrocity like this was not tolerant of dissent.
She did not know how many protesters there were. The organizers had hoped for at least sixty thousand—one tenth the number of prisoners killed within the game since its inception over eight years ago. The demonstration was large enough that part of the city had been preemptively shut down to avoid a day-long traffic jam.
Of everyone present, Sara knew only one person—her friend Will, who was younger than her and still in high school. He stood beside her, waving a sign that read SMASH CAPITALISM. She worried that her own End Capital Punishment sign was bland in comparison. At least it almost matched the current slogan that she and others around her were shouting.
“End Fantasy Now! End Fantasy Now!”
Besides this chanting, there was not much to do at the moment but to take in her surroundings. In recent years, billboards had proliferated to a ridiculous extent in Boston. They absolutely littered the skyline and the sides of buildings. One above her drew her eyes because of its plain black text on an all white background: Citizens with nothing to hide have nothing to fear. It also told her that this message was paid for by the Bipartisan Commission on Freedom. Sara wondered how the commission had failed to notice that their sign was creepy as fuck.
It was an overcast but unseasonably mild day, and Sara was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and her unzipped winter coat. She also wore a black bandana and a backpack full of medical supplies. Will had similar attire, but his backpack held two gas masks. Sara desperately hoped they would not see use.
That hope began to fade as a new batch of drones arrived in the sky above them—these remotely-controlled vehicles were armed with tear gas canisters and electroshock weapons. Meanwhile, police and national guard members—all dressed in opaque gas masks and riot gear—arrived in armored personnel carriers. They began placing barriers to prevent further spread of the crowd.
A voice blared over the citywide loudspeaker system with a message that would be repeated a number of times. “All protesters are to return to the free speech zone immediately.”
Sara felt it was entirely unreasonable that the building housing the FJI offices had not been included in that zone—but she knew that had been intentional. Many within the government and the company were no doubt hoping for this event to violently discredit the opposition. Sara removed her glasses to protect them, stowing them in the case in her purse. Her world went slightly blurry as a result. Still, she watched the law enforcement personnel as best she could for signs of trouble.
Without warning, there were loud cracks of gunfire. Panic threatened to take hold of Sara, but she fought it off. Two drones and a nearby protester fell to the ground. Sara thought she saw a police officer collapse as well before she grabbed Will’s arm and forced him to crouch down with her. Either both sides had opened fire at the same time, or some third party had attacked them all.
Drones fired tear gas canisters into the crowd and screams filled the air. Sara and Will pulled aside their bandanas before affixing their gas masks. A few protesters ran, but most stayed down due to additional shooting. Unable to ignore her first responder instincts, Sara crawled toward the protester who had dropped suddenly. Will followed her. Even with her restrictive mask and poor vision, there was no missing the fatal bullet wound in the man’s forehead. She was briefly overwhelmed by despair in the face of such a senseless death.
The oppressive noise of gunfire finally ceased. Clouds of gas blanketed much of the area. The other protesters Sara could see were either incapacitated, fleeing, or struggling with the police. Will grabbed her arm, and they ran as well. It would be better to escape the coming arrests if they could—during the past decade there had been nationwide allegations that the police often pinned crimes they could not solve on the poor or otherwise disreputable. Given that every prisoner put in Fantasy meant additional funds for local government, this corruption was hardly surprising.
The pair sprinted past the police barricades. A woman in front of them was struck in the back by two darts, which were connected by wires to a drone hovering above. The shock incapacitated her, and she collapsed. Sara and her companion did not slow as they continued into an alleyway.
Her hopes that they were clear were dashed when a police officer suddenly shoved her from behind against the side of the nearby building. She stumbled against the wall. His baton then struck Will in the back, knocking him to the ground. When he tried to get up, the cop swung the weapon repeatedly. The young protester was forced into fetal position by the blows.
Sara desperately wanted to help her friend, but she was too frightened to move at first. When the officer dropped his baton and began to draw his pistol, she grabbed onto the man’s arm in a panic.
She was briefly successful in preventing him from aiming, until the struggle was violently ended by multiple gunshots striking the cop in the chest. Judging by the blood that emerged from the wounds, the rounds were capable of piercing body armor. Sara shrieked and let go of the man, who fell to his back. She looked in the direction that the attack had come from. Some distance away she saw a figure clad all in black, including an opaque gas mask, who was armed with a rifle. The assailant turned and fled.
Sara was struck by the realization that the officer had been reaching for his gun to defend himself, rather than to kill her friend. Due to his own opaque mask, she had had no way of knowing that he had seen a threat in the distance. Given that one of the gunshot wounds was directly over his heart, she knew that he was beyond help. She instead tried to aid Will in getting to his feet.
Before she could do so, three more masked police officers entered the alleyway from the smoke-filled street and pointed their guns at her. “HANDS UP, NOW!” the closest one screamed.
Sara slowly raised her hands. Given that she was wearing a gas mask and crouching beside a dead cop, she fully expected that she was about to be beaten at least half to death. As it was, the man who had spoken simply grabbed her by the hair and shoved her into the ground. She felt some pain from where her gas mask hit her face, and then she was forced onto her stomach.
As the cop bound her wrists behind her, Sara considered all that had just happened. She tried to hold back tears at the realization that her life as she had known it was likely at an end.