A front cover for the Perito Prize 2019 accessibility and inclusive design short story competition

The Fallen Knight

By Heather Matthews

 

A neon glow of purple glares through the open window of Marnie’s empty apartment, lighting the stone floor at her feet. She sat in her chair, wrapped in a blanket, staring out at the giant billboard before her, seeping light through her window. A billboard made up of glass tubes glowing violet, surrounding a white and blue hologram of a girl without arms. Marnie watched the digital tears drip down her face, and simply stared as a smooth practiced female voice slid out into the night sky.

“Never feel alone again with DreamWire, where all your dreams come true.”

The hologram changed to the girl wearing a headset, two arms digitally materializing by her sides. The hologram appeared to be testing her fingers and hands in wonder. She then threw her arms up in the air, a genuine smile on her face. The warmth from it made Marnie’s gut twist.

“With DreamWire you can do the job you long for and go anywhere you want to go without ever leaving your home.”

The hologram changed again, flickering to the girl playing guitar, painting, running. Waving to friends and family, holding a baby. Walking down the aisle, holding a bouquet. Marnie’s fingers tightened around her cup. Her coffee had gone cold hours ago.

“Make money, socialise, and explore the world. With DreamWire anything Is possible. With DreamWire, you can be…”

The girl turned to Marnie, and smiled

“Complete.”

The hologram disappeared.

Marnie swung her arm back and hurled her cup at the billboard with a yell, her cup sailing out into the night air, liquid flying out as it span, twisting and turning, until it slipped down into the street. Marnie could hear the shattering of porcelain, the sound of rain beginning to fall. The billboard still glittering before her.

“Screw you.” She hissed, her hair wild, curls twisting and turning over one half of her face. Her electric blue eyes wide and erratic, one of her pupils tiny, whilst the other was so wide you could fall right into it.

She wheels herself over to the window with a sneer on her face and tugs on the rope, slamming it shut with an echoing bang. The glass in the frame shook but did not splinter. Marnie heard footsteps upstairs.

“Marnie? Are you staring at that billboard again? We’ve gotta get ready for the protest!” The voice echoed from upstairs and drew closer until in walked the woman named Gypsy. Her hair was dreaded with loud colours of wires and tubing, a thin stripe tattoo ran halfway across her face, and a pair of black light goggles rested over her eyes. She threw a pair of the goggles over to Marnie who grinned and caught them easily.

“Just giving myself some motivation Gypsy.” Sliding the black goggles on she tapped the frame. The black glistened to a soft neon glow, lighting half of her face in a sheen of blue. “These got full power, right?” Marnie asked, moving across the open empty room to her partner, that was filled with nothing but three tall windows, a table in the centre, a typewriter and a desk light. “We don’t want to get scanned by the Sensors.”

Gypsy slipped off her goggles and rolled her eyes, leaning lazily against the exposed brick wall. “Okay that was one time and you have to stop bringing that up, it hasn’t happened since, right?”

“Yeah and the day I stop reminding you will be the day the power runs out on these things.”

“Fair point.” Gypsy smiled, her eyes softening, the flecks of gold Marnie loved, glittering against the purple light. “Never stop reminding me.”

Marnie smiled and reached out, taking Gypsy’s hand and raising it to her lips. “Never planned on it.” She placed a soft gentle kiss on the back of Gypsy’s hand and closed her eyes. Gypsy wiggled her fingers in Marnie’s gentle grasp and squeezed her hand. “Yeah, I love you too. Now, c’mon. Protest remember? We can’t start without you.” Leaning down, she kissed Marnie’s forehead, the kiss half landing on her hair. Outside, the rain began to roar.

 

In Downtown Azura, despite the pouring rain, cheers echoed over the crowds. Marnie appeared on stage before them, her image projected onto the building behind her, her face covered in a sheen of blue. With the raising of her hand, the crowd fell silent. Her voice echoing into the street.

“You have stripped us of our freedom in the real world, and instead created for us a digital prison you call a substitute for life. DreamWire has not given us the world. DreamWire has given us a cage. DreamWire’s software is a reminder to us, that we are only enough when we appear COMPLETE. That we do not deserve the world outside. We deserve the world outside!”

The crowd roared back at her, electric fireworks and holographic signs flickered into the air. Marnie paused and took a deep breath, staring out into the seemingly endless crowd of people and holograms alike. Not everyone had found the means to make it to the protest, but still they came. Blind, crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids, autism, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and others. All here to show support. All here for freedom, waiting with bated breath.

“Whilst they demand completion, all we demand is connection to the world. Our World. We demand to be in the world they separate us from. We are better than complete, we are connected.”

Gypsy smiled at Marnie from the side of the stage, holding her hand over her heart, gripping the jacket she wore tightly.

“Constantly we have been told, like children, about the dangers that the outside world has for people like us. That they have given us everything to keep us safe. Wrong. You give us everything to keep us away.

“Tonight, we march into the City, and we will show you that we will not be hidden away. That you cannot silence us with toys and trinkets. We are not a burden. We are not incomplete. We are human, and you will treat us as such.”

Her projection flickered off of the building; the crowd roared, and the protest began.

 

The rain thundered over the city as the group marched towards the square. Above them, they projected their holographic signs, all alight in different colours.

“Freedom!”

“Full life not half-life!”

“We are human”

Marnie led the protestors towards the square, feeling a burning in her arms as she pushed herself forwards, cold droplets of rain drenching her completely. The night before Marnie had insisted that no one was allowed to push her at the protest, that she would go the whole way herself. This had caused Gypsy to roll her eyes and mutter something about ‘idiotic bravado’, which had then caused an argument between them that had lasted nearly the full night.

Despite the freezing rain, Marnie felt warmth in her chest as she remembered. It had ended with each of them offering a hot chocolate to the other, holding each other’s hands, curling against each other, as they watched the city lights flicker from their bedroom. Marnie wished she had Gypsy at her side, to hold her hand.

Men in electric blue riot gear appeared before the protesters. Blocking the path into the town centre.

The protestors moved forward, trying to continue their march despite the riot shields. However, the guards pulled back and revealed a group of guards armed with guns.

Everyone stopped. Nobody breathed, nobody dared. People began to move back. The guns glinted in the neon glow. Flashing with colour. Marnie stared at the guns and whispered to herself, leading the crowd of her followers. “Why do they need guns for us?” Her heart clenched tightly in her chest, and Marnie felt like she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. No matter how much she breathed in it wasn’t enough. She gripped the arms of her wheelchair.

And Marnie, screamed.

“WHY DO YOU NEED GUNS FOR US?!”

Her voice echoed over the crowd, and it grew silent, the sound of rain heavy on the concrete.

“Why…Why the hell do you need guns for us? Is what we’re trying to do really so goddamned wrong?! All we want is real world access into the city, instead of through a virtual reality that gives us phantom limbs and mind dampeners! Do you know what that’s like?! Moving a part of your body that isn’t there!? Having your brain messed with?!”

Marnie wheeled her way forward, angrily.

“Cause it sucks! I want to be able to go into the city and get myself a goddamned fresh bagel every once in a while, but I can’t because you bastards don’t have wheel-chair access anywhere! Oh, and don’t even get me started on a payment plan for bionic replacements, because the only jobs on DreamWire you can get are ridiculously low paid ones, so how in the hell are we supposed to pay for them without putting ourselves in debt our whole goddamned lives?”

She wheeled up to the guard with a gun and stopped directly in front of him.

Marnie looked up into the guard’s mask.

“Living in a virtual world isn’t living at all. We’re human too. We are not broken; we are not incomplete. We are people with hopes and dreams, and we wish for a better future.”

She reached out her hand.

“So please, let us b-”

A single shot rang out over the silence.

The sound of a body thudding to the floor.

An electronic voice echoing over the crowd from the riot vans. “Everyone switch off and return to your homes at once. I repeat return to your homes at once. If you do not comply, we have permission to open fire.”

Marnie could hear ringing in her ears.

The sound of rain.

 

The City Police didn’t actually expect them all to show up. They had thought that Marnie was a hologram, until her body fell from her wheelchair.

“MARNIE! MARNIE!”

They’d used electric pulse guns that were designed to create a concentrated bullet of electricity, which would not only short circuit the holograms system, but also shut down the system it was being projected from. However, when used on a person… It was akin to being shocked with several taser guns at once.

The guards stopped. They didn’t know what to do. They were told they weren’t really there. They’d never seen them before. For them, it was like looking into a mirror.

Gypsy pushed her way to the front and tightly held Marnie against her body, her arm wrapped around Marnie’s stomach, squeezing her tightly. Blood began to trickle gently from Marnie’s mouth. “SOMEONE HELP!” Gypsy screamed, Marnie placed her hand over Gypsy’s arm, gripping it weakly.

“Gypsy…” Marnie started softly; her eyes half lidded.

Gypsy glared at her. “Don’t you dare Marnie.” She turned back to the crowd, “MEDIC, ANYBODY PLEASE?”

“I broke my favourite cup.”

“Wh-what?”

Marnie coughed and rasped, “My cup.” Gypsy wiped the blood from her mouth with her thumb, smearing it by mistake.

Marnie breathed slowly, “I threw it at the billboard before. It fell into the street. I’m sorry.”

Tears sprung in Gypsy’s eyes; she couldn’t help it. But she still smiled, as she held the woman she loved. Her arm tight around Marnie’s waist, her hand against her fading heartbeat.

“We’ll get you another one Marn.”

Marnie looked up at Gypsy, her goggles sliding off. Her blue eyes full of tears, an ocean against ocean.  Fighting for her last breath, a smile on the edge of her lips, she reached to stroke the side of Gypsy’s face.

“You… Completed… Me.”

Marnie passed away in her arms that day.

Gypsy held her for hours. The protesters did not leave. The guards did not move.

And the rain continued to pour.

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