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On Lockdown

Updated on October 10, 2017

The blares of the train horns represented no particular schedule. And, as an early warning system, they had long been simply a way to prevent the inconvenience of having to stop and restart freight cars since the advanced detection technology and countermeasures along with the accompanying artificial intelligence algorithms had prevented collisions for many years already. In fact, now in 2050, even if you wanted to you could not jump in front of a train in order to commit suicide in that archaic, simple fashion. Near 500 lives saved per year in the US according to the statistics, or perhaps they simply found some other means to vanquish their perceived misery.

The citizens who chose to live at the epicenter of Trustville, Alabama had long accepted those horns as an omnipresent background noise which in some way affirmed the integrity that their fine city was founded upon. A probity that was enforced through the requirement that all new citizens score at least a 9.0 out of 10 on the Caster Scale of Honesty. So, while this might have kept the crime rate low as far as the internal citizenry was concerned, it also meant that they were a class of people who were outfitted with an oversized proportion of that complementary characteristic to honesty which is trust. This, in turn, led to an inherent naivety for which drifters and vagrants always found it profitable to pencil the city in as an eventual stop on their route in order to try out the latest confidence games or scams of opportunity.

Then, this was the reason that the city jail was kept mostly near capacity with hustlers like Jigsaw who was taking his timeout like the professional that he was by utilizing the free shelter and taxpayer-provided meals while mostly just collaborating with the others on lockdown in order to work out the kinks in their schemes that had led to arrest and to devise new iterations of past techniques. Sure, a couple of the fellows had to have a fight every now and then so that the jailers could break it up and the city's judicial branch could really feel like they were controlling the riff-raff, but that was always good for keeping everyone in peak physical form anyway.

Also known by the acronym TCJ, the city jail was one of the more intriguing around the country as it melds a myriad of visual and auditory elements that are their own unique fingerprint. The men in the cells were not there voluntarily, and they had not consciously activated a selective filter in their brains in order to relegate the Morse code of the train horns to some benign background process like the aforementioned residents had. For better or for worse, the judge of Trustville never had to deal with those sensory elements when he spent a moderate amount of time locked down in a virtual simulation of the facility in order to familiarize himself with the punishment that he would be dispensing to so much of the criminal element who entered his territory. The National law had declared that all justices undergo such an experience, but it had been an oversight on the part of the designers who had not accounted for the surroundings, and instead there had been mostly ambient elevator music as he spent his nights in designed captivity. The same laws also required him to experience the other forms of punishment that he held the power to dispense, and this included a period of simulated death in case he had to hand out that penalty. As far as the jail buildings and ground were concerned, these type of interactive infomercials became more of a way to recruit the honorable applicants who still had two weeks to turn down any offer, and so the architects would incorporate such features as ornamental windows set at just the right angle to allow rays of sunlight to make fleeting appearances in just the right places and at specific times, or else views of a sunset or some other focal point. As a result, the jails became more tolerable to the point that the regulars had no problem taking up residence for sporadic intervals, and many of the new generation had no problem becoming regulars. It was a humanistic dilemma whereby the precursor other side offered dungeon-like atmospheres where inhabitants might not see sunlight, or even coherent human life, for the entirety of their stay, and while that might go a way further to preventing repeat offenders, it wouldn't sell the judges, you see, or pass the muster of the activist groups who were entirely certain that criminals had numerous assorted rights.

Jigsaw gazed out of a window in the dayroom as the remnants of the sun fell below the horizon; the final beams glinting off of headstones and other accessories at the cemetery across the street where men and women of consequence had been laid to rest. It was almost assured that your legacy in Trustville had been a tangible one if your bones were buried there; unless family had reserved lots on the field then anyone passing away in the jail would usually be sent to more common ground further towards the edge of tranquility. The Central Line monorail blitzed past the escape-resistant skylight in the roof above, and the loudness of the inner city ground and air traffic held at a moderate decibel level such that it was something like an urban heartbeat - the pulse of Trustville still beating.

"What is wrong with him?" Jigsaw says, turning towards a fellow inmate still seated at a table.

"He came in last night and said that he is withdrawing from nano-heroin. That new stuff," the other man replied.

From inside a cell a few doors down a man was emitting cries of agony which held in the air with such an ambivalence that it was hard to tell whether he was in pain or some type of convoluted fervid ecstasy.

"Oh, that stuff can be bad. It's hard to compensate for those nanoparticles when they're gone. That and those designer synthetic inhalants are the worst of the new generation of drugs."

"Sure are fun though," the second man concluded.

In a secure area which was not in the same plane of existence as this conversation and was a hybrid of part hospital room and part jail cell, Jigsaw's body lay on a gurney. This was all part of the latest patented jail simulation technology which allowed convicts to do their time virtually. In their minds it would seem like they were actually serving the requisite months or years, and the the time would be just as intolerably stretched as it always had been in the brick and mortar containment centers. But, once they reached the EOS (end of sentence) they would be disconnected and back to the actual world where only a few hours had passed in reality. The idea was to punish the transgressors without causing the aging on their bodies so that they would not lose the years that so many of those before them had lost due to misguided steps without a veritable ill intention. It was an option at the gavel, though too many repetitions and a person would have to be actually matched with time for the protection of society.

"We need to go in there and stop his breathing in order to end the misery and to save us from the serenade," Jigsaw said.

"Yeah," inmate 2 agreed.

"Capital murder - 99 years," suddenly flashed across the visor of the Google Assistant of Morality. Doing its best to provide helpful information.

However, it was quite unlikely that either of them would be able to carry out such an undesirable act even if they had truly wanted to pursue it. There were so many checksums and protection mechanisms within the Jailsim. But, that is not to say that it was impossible, and what to do about a crime in a simulation was a whole new are of legal forensics. Sure, the intent is there, but no one actually gets hurt, and its not like in SecondLife Ultimate where everyone signs a contract agreeing to the consequences before plugging themselves in.

"It's like that guy is a live public service annoucement trying to ensure that we stay away from nanodrugs," Jigsaw said.

He wasn't sure how he realized this, but he was right. The jail simulation administrators did program in a variety of NPCs ini order to provide a gamut of moral lessons during the time that a person spent virtually incarcerated. At this same time, there were a variety of signals and alerts at the various monitors that his actual body was attached to.

The admins in white overcoats rushed to his bedside where he lay handcuffed and secured down at various pressure points with a flurry of wires and electrodes protruding. His body was responding differently than they had seen before; something was definitely wrong.

Other glitches began to occur inside the sim as well, coinciding with his newfound ability to see through the falseness. Jigsaw was still close enough to the window that when he caught movement and looked closer he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen as she walked by glistening in the sun on her way indoors. This glamorous pedestrian traffic was no exception at the actual jail where many women would dress up in their tightest or most revealing outfit and go to the public center on the least necessary business in order to impress a man in uniform, and others knowing with darker desires and assured elusiveness that their inherent beauty was fully and most appreciated by those rough ones on the obverse side of the window who had not known a woman up close for some time with likely more days yet left to expire before they might again. But, the sim designers would always opt to omit this extraneous detail in their digital versions, and besides her perfection alone was an anomaly which pooled from all of his desires and inspired a wave of happiness within.

Yes, it was obvious that this sequence had been inserted in against the policy of the Jailsim admins. Someone had definitely been prying within the system, and by all accounts, it seemed to be a benevolent altruistic presence. On the outside, his body had somehow begun to form its own defense against the Jailsim, the immune system evolving novel methods of nullification which seemed to indicate that his DNA had the signature of the righteous team despite his misdemeanor. At the same time, the hacker who had been instilling this interference continued from her alcove; shellcode and buffer overflows (or at least their modern equivalents) working to unleash Jigsaw from the virtual jail. It was his girlfriend, and while many a turn or fresh passion had led a lover to meet the bail-bondsman in a jail parking lot, she was reimagining the scene and undermining the entire simulation arrangement.

The time began to shift and the days changed as if fast forward had been initiated somewhere. Jigsaw realized this too, and walked to the kiosk machine in order to get the date from the kiosk there. It was the Fourth of July according to the readout, but before he could pursue anything further there is an announcement to lock it down for the night and he finds himself lying on the concrete block in his cell. A short while later, as he tries to drift into a sleep, there is a knocking noise which sounds as if one of the other inmates is tapping on a pipe on the floor below. Instead, it is the fireworks outside which are a part of the Independence Day celebrations at various venues throughout the city. He just lays there and listens to the beauty of the occasion and a thought comes to him. He is the freest man alive, and not one of those outside with fireworks in hand could ever associate with that feeling if they had not been held captive as penance for their sins like he was now. It was as if this truth which he had just revealed to himself was also recognized by the physiology of his body and he woke from the Jailsim.

the time that he had spent in the dormant state of the simulation was a few hours which was no different than that of the many who had served virtually before him, and so the observing doctors and guards still held confidence that everything was administered properly. Yet, Jigsaw had disabled his sentence and not had to endure the mental anguish which was meant to seem like years.

He knew it to be a veritable certainty now. Threat and execution are two facets of the same which are often at least equipollent in the mind of the target; but, the threat alone will often allow an interval of time whereby the desired action can be taken while the actual execution will more often stir a feeling of defeatism from which it seems futile to comply. It's been said before, but not in those words. Indeed, the blares of the train horns resound from a plane all their own.


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