Chris smirked at her lawyer as the jury filed back into the courtroom. She loomed over Harvey, her court appointed attorney as her soft bulk spilled over the sides of the chairs and she scribbled on the pad in front of her with such intensity that the pen broke through the surface of the paper. She would look up and grin at anyone in her eyeline, her brown eyes slightly distended in their sockets which gave her the appearance of someone about to throw away their temper rather than lose it.
Judge Rozelle looked at the jury with the weary patience of a parent and asked the jury if they had reached a verdict. The foreman, a tubercular elderly gentleman who wore a suit and tie each day, gave a solemn nod and in a voice worn rough with talking announced that they had.
Chris, for all her rhetoric and misguided passion, stared around her with the despairing expression of a child finding out that Santa doesn’t exist and then burst into a shuddering mass of tears and foul language. The judge, hiding her smile, instructed the bailiff to remove her from the court and threw in that they would announce sentencing tomorrow morning at nine a.m.
Chris knew that the legislation was set against her. She had instructed her lawyer to approach her case on the freedom of speech angle. Her attorney had sought the help of the ACLU, the EFF, the whole alphabet soup of electronic free speech advocates but after an initial reflexive interest, they had looked into her case and backed away at speed.
Her attorney still tried though. Which, when she slipped from incandescent rage into self-pitying melancholy, was something she swore she would thank him for. A note, perhaps.
Chris knew the legislative axe that hung over her head. The precedent of United States v Baker was a strong one, but her attorney argued that case without any real impact on the jury. All the noble talk of free speech gained a patina of foulness whenever the jury looked at Chris or read the transcripts of her online activism.
That and the advent of the Valenti Act meant that Chris was forced to consider that she would not escape the consequences of her actions. She was prepared to jail if she had to, her dad had once admitted to her mom that he preferred prison to being married to her. The food and sex were better.
She promised herself she would be stoic in accepting the judgement whatever it is. A fine would be paid, a sentence served and in time, she would move on from a bad time in her life.
She promised herself but when the judge announced the sentence, her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted like a Victorian lady. It was the most delicate gesture anyone had ever seen from her.
Full Spectrum Blockages were a grisly juxtaposition of private and public sector applied to ensure that the affected person could not access social media or the internet for a period. The sentencing, generally was for a brief time, and had its roots back in the days when Anonymous were not selling branded clothes and running candidates for the Senate and the House. Chris had prepared for this as she wasn’t considered a violent criminal.
It was the idea of it being for life that slapped her across the frontal lobes hard enough to make her faint.
The computer had been her lifeline. The rest of the trailer park was a warm, worn patchwork quilt of people but Chris forever believed herself to be a snagging thread on it, apart and in the acceptance of that, she found a terrible egotistical power. On the internet, she could be anyone she wanted.
Her poorest decision was in deciding to be her. She posted comments on everything, without expertise or experience of the issues involved. Her feeds started off as disjointed updates then shared memes and finally mutated into a ghastly amalgam of the two, pulsing and seething with the need to be heard. She lacked focus or direction so her harm was minimal, the kind of encounter that people referred to when they considered how freedom of speech was a double edged sword.
Then Raymond Kessler walked into an elementary school with an assault rifle and his mom’s brains drying on his army jacket and Chris found her true calling.
Chris started to believe and then prosecute the unfounded accusation that Kessler had been a state actor, working to undermine the second amendment. She posted these evident truths in thick blocks of text, links to sites crawling with malware and pop up ads and if anyone dared to question her, they became collateral damage. Pointing out that using eighteen dead children to advance a political agenda was spurious flew straight over her head. Chris had her cause now and woe betide anyone who got in the way of that.
Few people did, so she went looking.
Kyle Brannigan was eight years old, shot in the head by Kessler whilst trying to run from him. His parents had been publicly vocal in pushing for stronger legislation, unaware that the battle had already been lost after Sandy Hook and in a world where time was sometimes measured in a number of school shootings ago.
She started to stalk them. Trolling was such an odd word to use, with its roots in fairy tales and mythology, and Chris seized the word for her own empowerment. She commented on their feed, creating new accounts when they cottoned onto her and blocked her, even pulling off a rudimentary denial of service attack on the website they put up to solicit donations for a scholarship in their son’s name.
Chris followed the Brannigans around without ever meeting them. She would have been able to claim a degree in their broken, muted world without their youngest son but it was not enough. She saved her welfare, borrowed money from people around the park and took herself over to Michigan to follow them in person.
When she got her nose broken by Kyle’s mom with a kick honed from three years of krav maga, that was the beginning of the end. The police, some of whom had seen the awful sight of children’s bodies carried away in bags held no sympathy with her and when the District Attorney announced charges founded on the Valenti Act, Chris saw it as an opportunity to make her case, to feed the poisonous myth of her ego.
Instead, she had been cast down into perpetual silent exile. She was not even allowed a cell phone unless the FSB approved the make and model.
She returned to the park, finding that the FSB staff had already removed her laptop, her desktop, the broken tablet that she had found and rebuilt with sheer will. None of them made eye contact with her, even Shereen who had left a gig with the TSA to sign up with them.
She sat in her trailer, unnerved by the silence until she pulled the emergency bottle of hootch that she had as the only legacy from her mom and started to drink.
The silence was the worst of it. She started to leave the television on, fighting the twist of anguish when the anchormen begged for people to post on social media and provide content for the show. She managed two days before putting her foot through the screen and buying a radio from the pawn shop, trading the last of her mom’s jewellery for some, and some forged scripts for Percocet for the rest of it.
The rest of the trailer park gave her a wide berth, lost as they were to their screens. Chris vacillated between a superior contempt and a yearning envy without pausing to reflect on anything she had done. All the people that she had collaborated and shared information with were as far away from her as though they were on a different planet.
What made her maudlin was that she knew nothing about the people behind the user names and accounts they held. They might have known about her from the news or the trial, and every day she hoped that one of them might go analogue and write to her, alleviate some of the burden of exile. She had cast herself as a martyr without considering how that might look each day.
After a month, she was stood in the stained, peeling lounge of a shack just off the interstate, handing over the last of her forged scripts and getting something heavy wrapped in grease-stained cloth as well as a sarcastic warning to be careful.
Chris could not afford too many bullets, so she knew that she could not gain the attention that Kessler did. She was forbidden from leaving the state, and where she lived had been dying by degrees, long before she was born.
She walked into the grounds of the public school one autumn morning, shaking with tension and fear, the gun jammed into the pocket of the oversized coat as she willed herself into action. Her jaw had started to ache, growing in intensity until a second burst started in her chest and her mouth filled with a sharp bloom of nausea. She staggered, dropped to one knee as the gun slipped from her pocket and skidded across the asphalt.
She tried to look up as one of the security guards advanced on her with his gun drawn, eyes bulging with terror as another sharp stalactite of pain pierced her through the middle. She glared around the empty playground, heard the soft laughter of children and shook her head to remove it from her consciousness.
When the small, cold hand touched her face, she did not open her eyes.
‘It’s okay, Chris, you can let go. I’m not mad, you can come and play with us.’
She turned her head as much as her pain would allow, struggling to breathe beneath the impossible block on her chest and looked into the smiling eyes of a child.
She tried to say she was sorry that she had been lonely and angry and that she wanted to be a good person.
Kyle smiled at her and giggled before he took her hand again. He understood, but children always do.
She left, relieved to escape the pain and mass and followed Kyle somewhere else entirely.