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Jury Duty
Douglas DiCicco

Juror 34619 was alarmed to realize that she could not recall her name. Any attempt to remember it merely drew forth a dull, throbbing ache in her skull. Her alarm slowly grew to panic as the extent of her amnesia dawned on her. Her entire memory of herself was as blank as the white walls of the featureless room where she sat. She looked down at her body for clues to her identity and was confused and alarmed to see herself completely sealed inside a baggy white jumpsuit.

Juror 34619 lurched to her feet and was immediately struck with a wave of nausea and dizziness. She reached out to steady herself against the wall, taking short, panicked breaths. Her hand slipped, nearly causing her to collapse as she stumbled.

“Please remain calm,” an indifferent, feminine voice spoke from no obvious source. It was a voice that Juror 34619 felt as if she should remember but didn’t.

“Where am I?” Juror 34619 asked, frightened at how distorted her own voice sounded. It took her a moment to realize that it was deliberately disguised by some sort of device affixed to her jumpsuit’s mask, making her voice sound unnatural and inhuman.

“You are in the jury room,” the eerily tranquil voice replied. “You are here to complete your jury service. Please take your seat and breathe slowly and deeply until you feel sufficiently composed. Then we can proceed.”

“I can’t remember anything,” Juror 34619 choked out, struggling to stay upright. She took a quick look around the room and saw no exits. The space suddenly felt terrifyingly small.

“That is normal,” the voice responded. “Your memories are safe and will be fully restored to you upon the completion of your jury service. Please take your seat, so we may proceed.”

Juror 34619 was unsure what to do other than comply. She took her seat and forced herself to take deep, slow breaths. The voice modulator emitted an unsteady mechanical wheeze.

“Very good.” The voice sounded pleased. “We can proceed with jury service orientation. My name is Agatha. I will be your jury service coordinator.”

“Why can’t I remember anything?” Juror 34619 asked, voice quavering.

“You have been outfitted with a neural shunt. It is a non-intrusive and thoroughly tested medical device which temporarily prevents your brain from accessing your event memory.”

Juror 34619 was not reassured by this answer. “You stuck something in my brain to give me amnesia?”

“The neural shunt is not physically inserted into your brain. Rather, it is attached to the exterior of your cranium and supplies a focused, low-grade electrical impulse which blocks access to problematic neural data.”

Juror 34619 was suddenly acutely aware of a throbbing pain at the back of her skull. “Why are you doing this? Why is this happening to me?”

“The loss of memory is necessary to ensure impartiality. The point of jury service is to provide unbiased judgment. Without memories, without a personal identity, there can be no biases” Agatha replied.

Juror 34619 did not feel she was in a position to argue. “And, you’ll remove it once I’m done here, right? My memories will come back? How long is this going to take?”

“Typical jury service lasts approximately ninety minutes. You are required to sit in judgment of a single criminal case. Once you have rendered a verdict, you will be sedated, and the shunt will be removed. Your memories will be fully restored, with the exception of your memories of your jury service. The removal of the shunt will cause the erasure of all memories formed during the time the shunt was in place. The jury commission apologizes for this unavoidable side effect.”

Juror 34619 felt eager to forget this place. “Okay. Can I start now? What do I do?”

A panel in the ceiling slid aside, and a large flat monitor descended until it was suspended a short distance from her face.

“You will be providing a judgment in the case of Martha Swinton, charged with a single criminal count: the premeditated murder of Robert Saxton.”

~

Martha turned the revolver over in her hands, looking at how the light glinted off the chrome surface. The gun was heavier than she'd expected. Bigger, too. Just holding the thing made her uncomfortable.

“You sure you want that one, miss?” asked the pawnbroker, a tall, thin man with greasy hair and bad skin. “It's got a big kick to it.”

His tone was haughty and condescending. He'd picked up on her discomfort with holding a weapon. “I'd recommend a lady like you start with something a little smaller.”

Martha frowned at the pawnbroker. He'd given her just one more reason to be angry. “I said I want one with a large caliber. Something that will stop a large attacker.”

The pawnbroker's eyebrow rose. “That thing will put down an elephant, miss. Thought you said you needed it for home defense?”

“Home intruders tend to be big guys, don't they?” Martha responded. It was phrased as a question, but her tone did not invite further inquiry. She looked at the gun one more time, took a deep breath, then nodded and put her CredChit on the counter. “I'll take it.”

~

“All evidence relevant to the case is accessible to you through this device,” Agatha explained to Juror 34619. “You are to determine whether or not the defendant intentionally killed the victim and whether or not this was a premeditated killing. How you make that determination is up to you.”

Juror 34619 briefly pondered just hitting the verdict icon and blurting out something to see if she could escape immediately, but could not bring herself to do something so irresponsible. She guessed she was too serious, too upstanding a person to do something like that. It was probably why they’d picked her for this, but she could only speculate.

Juror 34619 ended up spending the better part of two hours meticulously reviewing the evidence. Most of it was video. There were multiple recordings of the incident. All of them showed the same thing.

~

Martha strode into the restaurant, wearing a long dark grey trench coat. She marched straight to the table where Robert Saxton, a fat man with a grey beard, sat cutting into a perfectly cooked steak. Robert looked up, his eyes wide with fear and apparent red again until the gun responded only with an empty click.

Ignoring the other occupants of the diner as they screamed and fled, Martha tossed her gun aside and took a seat on the empty chair across from Robert's body. She lit a cigarette, ignoring the prominent 'no smoking' sign at the restaurant's entrance. It hardly seemed to matter given what she'd just done. She sat there, smoking, staring straight ahead with a blank expression, waiting calmly until the police arrived to arrest her minutes later.

It was a gruesome thing to watch though the impact was somewhat lessened by repeated viewings. There were other videos. Recordings of statements from witnesses and investigators. Video from the pawn shop where the gun had been purchased. Several customers and employees of the diner told their stories, all of which seemed to match the recordings. None of them knew Martha. None of them knew Robert.

There were a few other files available for review. An autopsy report, analysis of the blood spatter on the diner walls—none of it added much. The videos told the story.

Juror 34619 was surprised when she closed the last file. She had expected more. She double checked, making certain she hadn’t skipped over an unread file. Every icon was greyed out, already reviewed. The verdict icon flashed red, prompting her to make her decision.

“There’s nothing from her? What about her defense?” Juror 34619 asked.

~

Martha sat in an interrogation room at the precinct. Her trench coat was gone now, replaced by the brightly colored jumpsuit of a prisoner. She waited, handcuffed to the table in front of her. She knew her judgment would be soon.

“This is your final opportunity for defense,” Agatha stated.

Martha scowled, frustrated that Agatha did not have a face she could glare at. “What's the point?” Martha hissed. She sighed heavily and slumped in her chair. “I did it. I know I did it. What would I say? You don't give a damn why. Nobody gives a damn about why I had to do it. Even if I told you the truth, you'd just tell them to ignore it.”

“Your statement would be presented to your jury without alteration,” Agatha responded.

Martha laughed bitterly and shook her head. She said nothing else until the officers came to escort her to her cell. “

About time,” she muttered.

~

“The defendant was given the opportunity to make a statement for your review. She declined.” Agatha replied to Juror 34619.

“But… why did she do it?”

~

“A dozen offers for licenses is for this thing. Big offers. Every government in the world is going to want this thing. How soon do you think you can whip up a hundred copies of the prototype?”

Martha stared at Robert silently for a moment, struggling to form her reply. “You can't be serious.”

Robert furrowed his brow in confusion. He reached behind his desk, retrieving a bottle of expensive brandy and a pair of glasses. “Of course I'm serious. This is a billion dollar invention, Mattie. I always knew you were smart, but this...” Robert grinned his sickly yellow grin again. “I don't know which was the bigger stroke of genius. Your work on the patent, or you negotiating a percentage of future profits in your contract. That's gonna be a big, big payday, Mattie.” He poured two glasses, offering her one.

Martha shook her head. She felt a flash of anger. It took great self-control for her to resist smacking the glass right out of Robert's hand. “You understand what this can do, right? The shunt won't just suppress memories any more. It can rewrite them. In the wrong hands, this could be used to completely change personalities. It could make people into... I don't know, anything. You could fill pacifists with rage and throw them on a battlefield. You could make whole populations docile and compliant. The victims wouldn't even realize what was happening. I thought we were going to patent it to keep anyone from using the damn thing.”

Robert laughed and rolled his eyes. “I never took you for an idealist, Mattie.” He set the glasses down, then took a swig from his. “Look, your contract gives me the right to license your patents. Just relax and enjoy the money. I-”

Martha stormed out of the office and slammed the door. Robert paused, shrugged and took her glass of brandy for himself.

~

“That is not relevant,” Agatha answered Juror 34619. “Your job is not to determine the defendant's motives. Your job is to determine whether or not she is guilty of the crime.” A few seconds of silence passed. “Are you ready to render your verdict?”

Juror 34619 felt an unease she could not shake, but the facts seemed clear. She pressed the verdict icon.

“What is your verdict on the single count of premeditated murder?” Agatha asked with the rote formality of one who had read the same question countless times.

“Guilty,” Juror 34619 replied.

“Thank you. Your verdict has been recorded. You have completed your jury service.”

Juror 34619 felt a sudden cold sensation flood her body, accompanied by the feeling of liquid trickling down her neck. Her head felt very heavy. She was dimly aware of a panel in the wall sliding away, human figures approaching as her vision grew dim.

Prisoner 34619 awoke in her cell. She felt sluggish, hungover. The light hurt her eyes.

“Good evening, Prisoner 34619,” Agatha greeted her through the speaker in the ceiling.

“My name is Martha,” Prisoner 34619 spat back, irritated.

“A verdict has been reached in your case. You have been found guilty of the premeditated murder of Robert Saxton. You have been sentenced to life imprisonment in this facility. After credit for time already served, you will be eligible for your first parole hearing in eighteen years and sixty four days.”

“Bullshit. I had to do it.”

“That is not relevant.” The cell door slid open. “Please proceed to the cafeteria. Dinner service began seventeen minutes ago. If you are thirty minutes late, you will not receive dinner.”

Dinner? Had she slept through lunch? Prisoner 34619 winced as she rubbed at the sore spot on the back of her neck, trying to remember where the day had gone.

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