The raid happened late in the evening as I was finishing up a forum post, surrounded by assorted toys and posters from various fandoms.
The front door smashed open, the boys in blue rushed in, and I was dragged away from my computers, cuffed, and dragged out into the street.
Under the watchful gaze of every neighbour from the surrounding houses, I was quickly thrown in the back of a squad car and we soon sped away to the precinct.
It did not take long before I learned why I was being detained; illegal spread of copyrighted content via the internet.
I thought back to the things I had downloaded and uploaded in the past. Most of it was seeding of torrents which I had downloaded myself. I had not been the first seeder in most cases.
I knew I had a problem where it concerned the My Little Pony cartoon. I had been buying the episodes the very day they were released, recoded them, and threw them online to share them with the world at large.
At some point I had even made friends with someone at Hasbro who managed to get me pre-release versions, allowing me to make a blooper reel from the uncut footage.
I was a major distributor of content from that one cartoon, and all media surrounding it that I could get my hands on.
My lawyer realized this as well, and he suggested I settle; be a sheepgoat, take the dive, and face a fine and years of probation during which time I would not be allowed to touch a computer without close supervision.
I stood before the judge with my head low, knowing I had signed my life away, and wondering to myself what I would do with my life now my online life was over and done with.
I could only hope that the judge would be lenient with setting the amount of the fine, considering I had settled and had given them everything they had asked of me in return for staying out of jail.
I looked up when my name was called and the judge stared right into my eyes.
"Considering the increased frequency and systematic ignorance of the law by yourself and compatriots, I do not see how the proposed probation period would deter the defendant from future transgressions," he stated.
"Since the defendant agreed to settle this in private court, I do not have to ask a jury what they may feel to be a just punishment for the crimes defendant has admitted to."
I glanced sideways at my lawyer, who looked worried.
"There is a new project up state which promises to re-educate offenders such as yourself," the judge continued, addressing me directly. "It is my decision to remand you to their care until such time as when they deem you fit to take part in society again. Court dismissed."
I turned fully to my lawyer, who stood as much in shock as I. "What does that mean?"
My lawyer shook his head and raised his hand to draw the attention of the judge while he was moving to get up from the bench. "Your honour?"
"Dismissed, I said," the judge replied sternly, packing up his papers and standing up from his seat properly.
"All rise," the bailiff called, and we watched in shock as the judge retreated to his rooms in the back.
"What did that mean?" I asked again of my lawyer, even as a pair of cops came over to bring me back to my cell again.
"I honestly have no idea," my lawyer responded, turning away from me to ask his colleague on the other side of the walkway about it.
I could not hear what they said, as I was quickly led out of the room by the cops, my head spinning from what had just transpired.
"What did that mean? Hey, you guys? What did that mean?" I asked of my escorts, but to no avail. They just shrugged and returned me to my cell, then moved on to the next guy over when it was his turn to appear before the judge.
I watched him pass by, but he was staring at his shoes as they led him past. The door at the end of the hallway closed, and I sank down on the bench in the cell, rubbing my temples.
I had a restless sleep at the courthouse before I was put in the back of a car and driven out into the country together with two other of the guys who had been locked away in their own individual cells.
One of them was the guy who I had seen before; a lanky guy with half a mohawk in faded red and several tattoos on him, who mostly kept to his corner of the car we were in and looked down at his lap. He had done everything in his might not to have to look at anyone while they loaded him in.
The other guy was a friendly sort, a bit wide around the waist, who was twiddling his round jampot-like glasses in his hands under the watchful eyes of the two guards driving in the back with us. He just kept smiling, even if it looked like he was forcing it onto his face, and he was talking about his life all the way out to our destination.
He had been a teacher, but they had been cutting back on education spending and it had been getting more and more difficult for himself and his students to get study materials.
Out of desperation he had sought to download study materials online, including ebooks, video files, and even software for his students to do their courses with.
He was charged for several counts of copyright infringement, same as me, and an uneasy cough from the guy in the corner made us realize he was in it for the same 'crime'.
"Really, all I did was spread around the friendship," I offered up. "Sharing is caring, right?"
"They're pushing us to this and then arrest us when we do what we need to survive," the teacher offered. "We haven't lived in a free country for centuries."
"Amen," the raw voice of the other guy agreed.
We sat in silence for a little while longer, while the road changed from proper pavement to something holding the middle between a dirt road and a gravel road. It was the kind of manual labour that showed they wanted to keep the road open in all weather conditions, but did not want to spend a dime on it to do so.
The car finally stopped in front of a gate, which made the most painful grating noise as it swung open, then pulled up roughly onto the place's property.
"We've arrived," one of our escorts explained, and motioned for the teacher to put his glasses back on his face.
As the doors swung open we were treated to the sight of the sun setting in the West, even if we had left the courts in the morning. The lands around us were empty, save for a few trees and the winding road leading away from the gate into the distance.
Civilization was far, far away from here.
Wherever here was, it looked like a normal European homestead you'd see on those old plantations from the outside, with a fence going around the property and a pair of guards standing next to the gate.
We were led to the entrance, where our cuffs were undone and we were instructed to "go inside, you'll be instructed on how to behave here soon enough."
The teacher and I shared a confused glance, but the mohawked guy pushed through the large double doors to enter the house and disappeared off inside.
I watched as our guards walked back to the car and started it off back to the gate at a leisurely pace, only to park it next to the gatehouse, and get out of the car again to join the guards stationed there.
As I turned back for the doors, the teacher had left me as well, and I was standing in front of them by myself.
I was still dressed in the clothes I had been allowed to wear for my day in court, and felt a bit overdressed in the rural area. I rubbed my wrists a bit to get the painful rings left by the cuffs to disappear, took a breath, and stepped through the doors myself.
I was greeted by another country view; having apparently left the outside of the house for the outside of the house?
I turned around to see the doorway behind me set in the stone wall of a fort or castle of sorts. Half the wall had come down, and I could see clearly -around the doors- into the courtyard which looked utterly dilapitated.
"Oh-ho-ho, sister! Do you see what I see?" A strong feminine voice called out from behind me, and I felt a shiver run down my spine.
I still saw the guards outside near the guardhouse, even in the dimming light. I was still holding on to the doorhandle of one of the double doors. I could still turn back...
And then it hit me.
The still closed door looked like that of a cartoon; flat colours with some darker lines to show detail. The door I was holding, was made of real wood. It had substance. It had far more dents and scrapes than its twin.
I slowly closed the door I was holding on to a little so I could look at the other side of it; dark brown cartoon-style paint. I opened it again to look at the side at which my hand was resting on the handle; rough wood, as real as it could be.
"Hmm? A third one?" a second voice offered, barely sounding interested. "Want me to take them?"
I forced my focus on the door, holding the handle tightly. As long as I did not turn around, the voices could not touch me. I could still see through the open door into the real world... I was hallucinating. That's it. I was just hallucinating!
"Heh... hah... heheh..." I laughed nervously, giving a nod to the ever-darkening 'real' outside before I finally closed the door on it and turned around to face my hallucination head-first.
A pair of ponies stood before me in the light of the rising dawn; their pastel-colours clear as day, their big eyes looking upon me with wonder. The world around them was clearly that of a cartoon; trees only had as much definition as was needed to recognize them as such, and the rising sun was slowly revealing the distant lands beyond the two ponies in as much cartoonish splendour as I had never imagined I would see with my own eyes if not through a screen of sorts.
The taller of the two ponies, a pink unicorn with a blue mane through which lighter streaks were woven, raised an eyebrow above her blue eyes at me. "Considering this one's mental state, yes," she mused to the shorter one.
The other pony had a yellow coat and wore a pink mane, her pink eyes settling on me with little enthusiasm. "Sure, give me the defective one again," she sighed, but then quickly spat something green at me!
I reeled back in surprise as the ball of goo hit me, and realized it stuck to me where it hit! I reached for it with my right hand, which immediately got stuck to the goo and made me unable to pull it back again, but before I had fully recovered from this, I was hit with another ball of spit? goo?
Something stuck to me, and as I turned around in my rising panic, trying to get the material off of me, or my hands free - really, I gave the pony spitting these things at me ample opportunity to cover me all around!
Before long I fell over as my legs were hit and stuck together, and I rolled down the slight slope toward the ponies! Whatever the goo was; it was not sticking to the ground!
A hoof put itself on the outside of the material, and I was sprayed by more of it as the pony towering above me almost barfed it all over me with as much enthusiasm as she had greeted me with; she did not care about my struggles - and I was soon covered head-to-toe in the material - completely immobilized.
As the material covered my face, a new wave of panic washed over me; how would I be able to breathe?! But as I struggled to draw in air, I noticed no change in my breathing. It helped me calm down a little, knowing I was not in immediate danger of dying...
Through the dense layer of my semi-liquid prison, I could hear the muffled voices of my captors, but could not make out their words. They appeared to be discussing something, but then the bigger one's horn lit up and I felt myself lifted up from the ground!
I could barely see through the green haze covering my eyes, but I realized I was passing in-between some trees, and then noticed the wooden side walls of a cart from my peripheral vision as I was lowered onto it.
I could not deal with it anymore. This was clearly not the kind of hallucination I was used to. Nor was this some kind of penitentiary or clinic or whatever it was I had been expecting to be taken off to.
For all intents and purposes I had found myself in a cartoon world! The goo clinging to me covered my eyes with the kind of green, barely transparent overlay, with a few stripes here or there to indicate it was an actual barrier of sorts...
I stared at it, struggled for another moment as I felt the cart set in motion, but it was no use. With no possibility of a physical escape, my brain took the only escape route left to me and shut itself down.