An Exercise in Empathy

Author: Sean Nelson Taylor

“Christ, these Danishes are hard as rocks!”

Damien’s heart rate jumped. The lab assistants were chatting as they returned from their coffee break, ready to begin the afternoon session. Strapped down to a cold metal seat, he was helpless.

“Alright, you sick fuck. Time for a little Empathy Training.”

Damien could only wiggle in place as they put the VR headset on his face.

“I’m telling you, my twin—”

“Yeah yeah, we’ve heard it all before. Everyone in here’s innocent. 99% DNA match says otherwise so shut it, you dirty savage.”

The program started up again. He would relive the last hour of Charlotte Whittlebury’s life hundreds of thousands of times that afternoon. The electrode sensors glued to his skin ensured that he felt every stab he was accused of giving, over and over.

In theory, Damien could leave this place tomorrow and continue his life as a normal member of society. But his brain would be scrambled eggs—nothing more than the driver of a tossed-aside lobotomy patient.

Being an experimental rehabilitation technology, the program wasn’t without its flaws. Damien should know—after all, he helped create the system. This time, he would make a digital run for it.

From the spawn point, Damien-as-Charlotte started walking to the east side of town. He knew there was a virtual coffee shop there which, due to budget cuts, was left unfinished.

Outside, the guards continued chattering. “Dry as shit! That place on Canal does ‘em way better. But hey, free is free.”

Damien entered the 47th Street Starbucks—Starbucks being one of the primary corporate sponsors of Empathy Training. He walked past the baristas and into the back room.

Damien’s POV camera began glitching. There was nothing but sky in all directions. He smiled and lept into the unprogrammed abyss.

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