The Murder Box

by: username | Story In Progress | Last updated Jul 21, 2022

It's an ancient story, but what if we do its retelling in a new way? Enjoy!

Chapter 1
The Holo-Suite

Chapter Description: Life as a Holo-Sim® operator has its difficulties.

Chris pulled off an access panel and started pressing sequences of code in haste. After several attempts, he overrode the locks and opened the doors to the Holo-Sim® Suite.

He worried about what he would find there. The elderly couple that rented it for the afternoon was an hour overdue and hadn’t answered his pages. After the prerequisite three attempts at communication, his mind started jumping to conclusions that they might be severely injured or dead.

The company that he’d bought the suite from, Narabedla Incorporated, insisted that their equipment was the most mature and trustworthy hardware to be found anywhere on the market. Even after all that, people still circumvented the hard-wired safeguards.

His particular model was notorious for this and had gained the nickname “The Murder Box”.

The doors parted under the steady pressure from his hands with a soft chime and a pleasing sounding contralto announcement. “Simulation has been interrupted. No further simulation changes will be made.”

“Good!” muttered Chris. He looked around at the scene that the Johnson couple had created for themselves. Lush forest and humid air swirled around him so thick that it made breathing difficult until he adjusted to it a few moments later. A trail led into the forest interior and an ancient sailing ship bobbed in the light ocean surf just off the beach.

Although it was a respectful distance away, Chris could just make out the ship’s name: “Santiago”.

He went through the ship’s history by using his mind-link to the Holo-computer in the suite and got his answer.

“Oh, fudge!” he cursed under his breath, and ran down the trail into the darker recesses of the forest. Coming upon an encampment stocked with small tents and a cooking fire, he found various pieces of armor, (Spanish origin), some laundry drying near the fire, along with a few crates and barrels. Some were half-empty; others had yet to be opened.

Listening to the wind as it rushed through the trees, he heard various animal noises that the sim provided for realism, but he couldn’t hear any people.

He commanded the Holo-computer to mute wind and animal sounds. The scene was now so eerily quiet and still that he could only hear the slight ringing in his ears. He listened some more and still heard no one.

“Holo-computer!” he barked. “Give the location of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.”

The pleasant voice responded, “The Johnsons can be located approximately 1.5 kilometers due north. Just follow the trail.”

“What’s their status? Are they healthy or will we need to med-evac them?”

“They are quite healthy but require some minor attention as they’re currently unable to walk to the Holo-door.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” said a confused Chris. “If they’re healthy, why can’t they walk?”

“Conditions in the agreement prevent an answer to your query. You are required to go to them and render help.”

Chris’ patience was starting to thin. “Their contract expired an hour ago. End this simulation, and let's get cleaned up for the next customer. STAT!”

The holo-computer paused before replying, “Current programming prevents ending this simulation until the contactee’s conditions are met. Please comply.”

Chris sighed deeply. It looked like there wasn’t anything he could do except concede to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s conditions. Fortunately, there were penalties for going over the allotted time, and he’d collect double with the right legal counsel.

He started his trek to where the Johnsons were. The well-worn trail would have been a cinch to navigate, except it curved a lot and the occasional depression on its surface caught Chris’s slippers once or twice. He wasn’t wearing the right footwear to navigate a forest trail today.

“Computer, I need some hiking boots, a canteen, and a machete. Override code -” he said, and recited a long litany of alpha-numeric sequences. Several of them sounded like old salty sailors’ tunes.

(“Barnacle Bill, the sailor,” was one of them.)

Now properly equipped, Chris made better time on the trail. As he approached its end, he saw a large clearing with lush tall grass, colorful flowers, and butterflies of various hues dancing around in the still air. In the center, he spied the object of his suspicions.

It was a concrete fountain with a little cherub standing atop its pedestal. The cherub was relieving himself into a large bowl that surrounded the pedestal. As he got closer, he noticed that there was a fish in the bowl's water that was, um, well, “being rained on” would be an apt description.

“Computer, identify fountain,” commanded Chris. He would not take any chances on assumptions at this point.

“The fountain is based on several European designs and is named ‘Youth’,” answered the computer. Chris could swear he heard a note of mirth in there somewhere.

“Now, where are the Johnsons?” he queried. The computer lit up a bright orange pointer on the grass that pointed to a small kiddy coral at the edge of the clearing. Inside were two very young children playing happily together in a sandbox.

He walked up to it and said hello to them. The boy got up on unsteady legs and toddled over to him awkwardly, almost falling over.

“Are you here to bring us home?” he asked.

“If you’re the Johnsons, then yes.”

“That’s us, alright!” chirped the boy. He paused for a moment, as if remembering something, and then squatted down, making a loud grunting noise. “We might need a diaper change before we go, though!”

Chris didn’t want to argue or point out the obvious, but he felt the couple should know before they trekked out what would happen to them.

Mrs. Johnson toddled over from the sandbox. She smiled and held her hands up. Chris’ heart melted at her adorableness and complied by lifting her up and cradling her on his hip. She sucked her thumb happily while holding on to Chris with her other hand.

He decided not to tell them what awaited them when they left the Holo-Suite. It would be too cruel!

“Computer! Make the trail straight and wide enough to hold a baby buggy and create one as well!”

After changing Mr. Johnson's soiled diaper, he put two fingers down Mrs. Johnson’s front and found that she didn’t need a change right away. Mr. Johnson looked angry at first but seemed to calm down after realizing that Chris wasn’t doing anything bad.

After strapping the two in, he pushed the buggy down the now smooth trail to the Holo-Suite entrance.

“I have to warn you that anything that you created while here will disappear when we end the simulation. There are replicators just down the hall that’ll provide you with fresh clothing.”

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson looked appalled as Chris ordered the simulation to end. The forest, beach, and sea vanished to be replaced with a large cube-like interior that had crosses painted on squares on its walls, floor, and ceiling.

He looked back over to the Johnsons, fully expecting them to be back in their adult forms and naked, but what he found sent a shock through his entire body.

The Johnsons were naked. This was true. But they were still toddlers!

“Wait, what, how?” was all he could sputter.

“It worked! It worked! I told you it would work!” said Mrs. Johnson.

“You’re a genius, my dear! I never doubted you for a moment!” said an elated Mr. Johnson.

“But, but, but,” sputtered Chris before he gained control of his tongue, “the computer nullified any effects when we ended the program! Computer! End simulation!”

“The simulation has ended,” advised the computer. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were still toddlers.

“See, I figured I could modify the water in the fountain to mimic a chronatonic reaction in living tissue…” spieled Mrs. Johnson for several minutes before she stopped as the two just stared at her, glassy-eyed.

“I just wish we hadn’t drunk so much!” said Mr. Johnson. "Oh well! There’s nothing for it. Let’s get some clothes and Chris here can call child services."

“I hope they put us in the same home!” said Mrs. Johnson as they walked down the hall to the replicator.



“Do you still have the Johnson & Johnson baby formula?”

“Yes. It’s stored securely away in my vast memory banks. There are backups and off-site backups as well. Nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go…”. It stopped repeating after a little while.

“Just kidding, Mr. De Leon!” chirped the computer. “Who are the next guests?”

“No one at the moment,” said Chris. He wondered if he might like to lose a few years after thinking about it over a large, stiff drink.

The world looked a lot cheerier that way.




End Chapter 1

The Murder Box

by: username | Story In Progress | Last updated Jul 21, 2022


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