Author : Q. B. Fox

The music for News Night faded from the surround-sound speakers. Robert waggled an outstretched finger towards the sensor on the TV and, on the second attempt, dragged the window containing the security camera feed to one side.

“Tonight,” the interviewer intoned, “we are speaking to the controversial Home Office Minister, John Simmons about recent legislation…”

Robert let his mind wander, watching the three figures, hoodies obscuring their faces, who stood in view of the camera that overlooked the front gate.

“But Mr. Simmons,” the interviewer sneered, “the Prisoners’ Rights Group is up in arms about this.”

“This is not about prisoners, is it?” countered the Minister. “The very name of the organisation shows that they are out of touch, both with our policy and public opinion.”

Robert was distracted again: one of the men at the front gate pointed directly into the camera, then at the control panel for the gate; he was saying something to his companions, but the security system did not carry audio.

Robert turned his attention back to the Minister.

“There is no longer room in our country’s prisons to hold every person convicted of a crime. Nor do the police have time to protect every scumbag, mugger or rapist…”

“Please, Minister, can we restrain the emotive language,” the interviewer interjected.

“This is an old solution to an old problem.” the Minister stated, calming himself. “Placing repeat criminals outside the protection of the law allows the public to protect themselves, the police to do their job and the treasury to save taxpayers’ money.”

“And they can no longer claim benefits or access health care?” the interviewer queried.

“Did you know that 80% of attacks on nurses are carried out by known offenders?” The Minister thumped his fist on the desk for emphasis.

Robert looked around the room, at the top of the range 110” television, at the Rembrandt sketch in the gold leaf frame and at the latest auto-barista. Then he looked back at the camera feed: one of the men was stabbing a finger at the screen of his mobile. Did he imagine that another, half in shadow, was cocking a gun?

On the TV, the interview continued.

“A citizen’s status is visible on any console,” the Minister justified. “There is no reason innocent people should become involved.”

Unconsciously Robert checked his own status in the bottom left of the display.

“Still green and clean,” he mumbled to himself.

“And how do you respond to accusations that this is a criminals’ charter;” the interviewer asked, “that it allows career criminals to target those already convicted without any fear of reprisal.”

“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” the Minister said emphatically. “Would you rather they targeted law abiding citizens?”

Outside, Robert noted, a man was now hunched over the gate’s control console, hands moving in quick, precise motions.

On the TV the interviewer was now holding up a copy of the Times, showing today’s headline: “CRIME BOSS CALLAGHAN TO BE SENTENCED”. Even though he’d been waiting for this, Robert was no longer listening; in the bottom left hand corner of the screen his status had changed from green to red.

Then the power cut, the TV was silent and everything was illuminated by the soft, red glow of the emergency lights.

Robert Callaghan stood, lifted the pump action shotgun from the table and cocked it.

But the whole time he stared at the now-blank screen, stared at where a single yellow word had been, block capitals on the red background of his status box. That word had been OUTLAW.

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