TW: Discussions of slavery and implied sexual violence
“WE HAD A DEAL!” the Saturn representative howled in the arbitration chamber. He slammed his palm on the ornate wooden desk. It was a vintage desk, a late 21st Century, minimalist design, made shortly after humans fled their toxic planet to colonize the asteroids and planets of the solar system. Yet, the Saturn representative did not care about potentially damaging this artifact in his indignation. At the time, it was placed in the chamber due to budget constraints, but now, anything from the pre-colonization days belonged in a museum, a sign of dignity. You did not find authentic oak anywhere in the solar system at this point.
“Counselor Vegar!” Arbitrator Maximilian Hoffstead the IV barked, his eyes flaring directly with righteous anger at the blond-haired advocate who looked to be a Nordic European from the old Earth days, “You will respect decorum in this chamber! We already heard your closing argument! If you continue to interrupt when it is not your turn to speak, by the power vested in me by the Intersolar Arbitration Chamber, I will hold you in contempt. Now I know you did not come all the way here to Venus just to be thrown in one of the famous Venusian prisons. But, I swear to the God of the old Abrahamic faiths, I will put you in one of those boiling chamber pots if you speak out of turn or desecrate this chamber one more time! This is not your first warning counselor, but it better be your last!” The arbitrator then turned to the delegate sent by Titan in this dispute. “Please continue.”
The Titan delegate, Marcus Vilius, who was already standing, put his hand in his navy-blue suit pocket, his head slightly cocked to the side, stared at Arbitrator Hoffstead, took a heavy breath, and sighed. “This is not unusual for Saturnian. The colonizers always try to ignore the voice of the people. Have for decades. We cannot recognize a lease granting permission to dissolve our sovereignty masquerading as ‘mining rights’. They have, for decades, forced the people of Titan to go into the mines. The Saturn did not see us as people, but solely as extra fodder to destroy our world. Just as Saturn’s gravity does not let Titan follow its own orbit, Saturn’s government does not allow Titan to follow its own destiny. Yet, we crafted our own destiny and overthrew the, to quote the ancient Earth religions, Goliaths. We got our independence. We can set the course for the people of Titan. Our geography may always require us to be a moon for Saturn. We cannot let bad contracts by governments we no longer recognize bind us. We cannot let the mines choke us the same way the mines of Earth centuries ago choked that planet. If you force us to stand by some agreement made at the, to quote another old Earth expression, barrel of a gun, Titan cannot function as a free society.”
“Thank you, Counselor Vilius,” Arbitrator Hoffstead took his hand off his chin and swiveled his chair to the Saturn delegate, “Counselor Vegar, any response?”
Vegar stood up out of his chair, indignantly saying, “Oh now I’m allowed to talk about what a crock of shi-“
Arbitrator Hoffstead squinted his eyes at the Counselor to see if he was going to finish up the profanity. Vegar managed to get the message just in time and the logic of not wanting to be put in a scalding Venus prison overcame him. “I mean, fair Arbitrator, is to reiterate what we have already stated in our closing arguments. The terror he mentioned was based upon rebel propaganda and false flags during their rebellion. We need that trinititinium to power our gravity banks, otherwise, the gravity will crush every single person on Saturn. It’s a matter of our survival. But they are so filled with hatred just because we at Saturn are slightly different than they want every single man, woman, child, and everyone else in between on Saturn to perish in a horrible, agonizing matter.”
The Arbitrator gave a pensive look at Vegar, who was obviously hiding his excitement over his emotional control, however miniscule the control was. “Counselor, a tribunal of this Court has already adjudicated Saturn’s human rights violations and we need not discuss the veracity of the Titanian delegate’s claims. I shall convene this hearing until tomorrow, 9:00 Earth Standard Time to weigh this issue: Does Titan have a claim to unilaterally terminate a mining contract made by previous administration? Saturn’s claims will be weighed heavily in the interest of equity. Until then, this hearing is adjourned.” The Arbitrator banged his gavel gently, so as not to damage the cedar instrument, another vestige of Earth’s glory years.
The Arbitrator walked down the stairs from his perch (which was really of a small desk hidden behind a thin oak barrier) to his chambers. He immediately entered the door to his chambers and sat on a leather chair. He mused to himself how he had yet another mining dispute. Since Jupiter and Saturn had been losing their colonized moons to waves of independence fervor over the past few years, it seems all he had heard were mining rights cases. Each argument the same: moon’s sovereignty in the wake of decades, if not centuries of civil rights abuses, compared to a legitimate existential threat. There were promising reports coming from mining operations near Alpha Centauri and other technological advances to stabilize gravity, but those were still at least an Earth decade away from fruition.
Plain and simple, there were never any positive outcomes from these types of cases. If you give full rights to the planet, the inhabitants of the moon rebel and sabotage their way through the planet’s operations on that moon, leading to further military protection by the planet, leading to escalation by the moon until all-out war breaks out. If you give full rights to the moon, the planets disregard and just send military invasions to prevent what it sees as an existential threat. If the moons were willing to mine the resources and simply sell to the planets instead of trying to cause the planets pain, they would not need this tribunal; every effort to enforce a ruling to sell materials to the planets has been met with failure and the planets attempting to take over the mining operations. More military involvement. And Jupiter and Saturn hate each other more than their respective moons hate them, so good luck to either of them going through the blockades to get to the other planet’s moons. That is just asking for a war that could only end in mutually assured destruction with ripples throughout the Solar System.
Precedent was that the planet would maintain a temporary lease of 10 Earth years to be revisited by the Tribunal at that time with the promise that the planets would operate the mines in a humane fashion. That precedent of the temporary lease, of course, was how the Arbitrator would rule. Saturn’s advocate heard this ruling so many times, he could recite it in his sleep. Advocate Vegar knew he could bend the rules of the Court and not have it effect his case. He also knew that even if there were human rights abuses, most of the planets of the Solar System Federation would look the other way because they relied on Saturn’s economy and gas technologies to power their own machinations.
The Arbitrator shook his head at the bitter political pill that he must swallow on each of these cases. He noticed on his desk an envelope addressed to him with no return address. He entertained the thought of contacting security but remembered every package must pass through security protocols anyways. He opened the envelope to a screen roughly the size of his two palms put together. He flickered the switch on the right side of the screen and became immediately aghast with horror.
There was his young son, Calibian, all of four Earth years old, on his knees with a gun held to his head. On his son’s left-hand side was his wife, Esther, all of thirty Earth years old, also with a gun to her head. Sweat beaded down their skins in such a way that it could not be masked by their darkened skin. The Arbitrator immediately realized that they must be in a location where ventilation is weakened. Probably a facility meant for the intake or export of supplies. Without protection, they will surely succumb to the Venusian elements. Yet, you could see the background as the windows were large enough to see the Venusian landscape behind the hostage-taking. The location must have been chosen with lighting in mind so the Arbitrator could see what the hostages held: a sign, “RULE WITH TITAN!” in dark red ink that, if the Arbitrator was not mistaken, was blood.
The two men pointing the guns were each wearing identical garb: a charcoal and light grey mixture with dabs of white and black to camouflage the wearer with the elements of Titan. Their faces were shrouded by black masks and tinted eye coverings. Each also wore a cap as a well with similar design to the rest of the uniform. But a more important feature on each cap was a black patch contrasted with a White “T” painted it with a circle around the “T”, a logo inspired by the old Earth anarchist rebel logos. This logo was the “Titanian Liberation Front” logo. These were the worst type of people to be held hostage by, notorious for their debauchery and brutality towards their victims.
The Arbitrator’s eyes dashed back and forth, hoping to find some clue to confirm the photograph was a fake, an optical illusion, just something to ease his mind off the vision of seeing his wife and child burn to death or becoming the concubines. However, there was no such luck. Hands shaking, the Arbitrator reached for the videophone and dialed security. The other end immediately picked up and, at least from the shoulders up, a middle-aged human of dark complexion appeared. He wore a black suit with yellow tassels hanging from the shoulders, the uniform of the Intersolar Arbitration Counsel Security team.
“Arbitrator Hoffstead! Is there an issue?” The face on the other end of the screen spoke hurriedly, rushing to get to the bottom of why anyone would call him. This was procedure as there were numerous immediate and life-threatening threats to those within the arbitration chambers. There was no time for formalities, congenialities, or small talk in this line of work.
The arbitrator placed the picture frame facing the video screen, trying his best to contain his shaking nerves from making the picture unintelligible. The man on the other end of the video screen gave an unspoken, nodding understanding. Then he squinted again.
“I recognize those mountains in the background. That’s the Maxwell Montes, one of the famous Venusian mountain ranges. I’m surprised you didn’t immediately recognize those mountains. They’re famous, you know. You got lucky a guy with my history was able to recognize that. I used to work police there and still have buddies there. They will make rescue a top priority.”
The Arbitrator was shocked at the breach of protocol by this man giving his backstory, then grimaced at being called lucky; “lucky” would mean his family wasn’t kidnapped and held at gunpoint by the most notorious terrorist organization in the Solar System. He managed to force his nerves to be confined to the nervous tapping of his left foot.
“Do you think an operation can be done tonight?” The Arbitrator barely was able to squeak out the words.
“I’ve already messaged my contacts. He believes that a rescue operation will commence in approximately six hours.”
“Would I…would I be able to listen in on mission communications?” What else would The Arbitrator be able to do over the course of the evening except for wallow in his thoughts? At least listening in gives his mind some sense of confirmation of the rescue’s success.
“Those communications are encrypted. I wouldn’t even be able to know how to patch you in. But just know, these hostage-takers want your family dead less than even you do. They will lose all leverage. My contact promised to keep me updated once the mission is completed. For now, I need you to stay still. The last thing we need is you interfering with the mission or being susceptible to further attack.”
“Thank you.” The Arbitrator hung up the phone, barely able to contain his emotion, bristling at the seeming lack of care the security officer had. Why would he even bring up his family being dead? How could he sit still when his family’s lives were at stake? But he resigned himself to the fact that all his presence would do it interfere in the process. The forces were professionals who were disturbingly familiar with these types of cases.
The Arbitrator sat still in his office for minutes that seemed like hours. His mind wandered to that TLF logo on the hostage-takers and it sent shivers down his spine. The TLF is not just an anti-Saturn rebel group; they are a religious jihad. Despite all of the anthropological evidence supporting the assertion, the TLF do not believe human beings came from Earth centuries ago. They believe human beings originated on Titan and that any being that doesn’t share the defining characteristics of a Titanian - basically, facial features similar to the old Earth region of East Asia – is a non-human that must be expelled from their lands. Any non-Titanian who is not subjugated by Titanians is defiling holy land.
The “subjugation” clause is an important loophole as it allows TLF traders to get funding by smuggling persons from the poorer moons of Mars to satisfy the lustful and sinful desires of the upper class on Titan, Jupiter, or Saturn, as well as TLF members themselves. There are programs to shut down this trade, but none have been remotely successful.
The TLF were also notorious for their brutality. The Arbitrator did not have to dig deep into his memory to recall a video circulating on trans-planetary data networks showing the decapitation of the wife and son of a Titanian politician who dared to negotiate with the Saturn government to sell them Titan’s minerals. Others showed a prosecutor being crushed alive by Jupiter’s gravity because a couple smugglers were arrested in a trafficking crackdown spearheaded by him.
But this was a problem beyond the Asteroid colonies. The TLF never dared operate here in the Inner Planets, risking the wrath of Venus, Mercury, Mars, and the accepted birthplace of humanity, Earth. All four of these militaries could easily overwhelm Titan and crush the TLF within Earth days with great loss to Titanian life.
The Arbitrator had hope that this was not TLF somehow, yet he had to not dwell on TLF for his own sanity. He attempted to do something productive by reading materials for upcoming cases, but he could not take his mind off the mission. What if the mission was botched? Would his family survive? If his family was still alive, how should he rule? How could he rule? Would he need to recuse himself?
After several hours of agonizing waiting, the video communication device buzzed. The Arbitrator picked it up and opened the screen in one uninterrupted motion. The same security officer as before appeared on the screen.
“The mission was a success,” he stated in a speedy, yet unenthusiastic monotone, “The hostage-takers are dead. Your family is safe. But there is something you should know.” The Arbitrator breathed a quick sigh of relief, then furrowed his brows, trying to figure out what else he could possibly need to know. The officer continued, “The gunmen did not have Titanian features. They had blond hair, blue eyes, white skin.”
The Arbitrator’s eyes opened wide with shock. “But that would mean…” he stammered.
“Yes. Saturnian. But why would they do this?” The officer stroked his chin as if that would stimulate some neurons to find the answer.
“I think I know why. If I rule with the Titanians, Saturn can say I was compromised by TLF terrorists, possibly even invading Titan to claim they are protecting the rest of the solar system.”
“I see, sir. Good night. You should see your family.”
“Good night.” The Arbitrator turned off the screen. He hurriedly picked up his suit jacket and turned to leave the chambers. He then had a sudden realization that made him want to throw up: he would still have to rule to give Saturn a lease on Titanian mines, technically giving a victory to the very people who took his family hostage. But ruling the other way gives them a potential political victory. Once again, stuck between a rock and a hard place. But that was for later. Now, he just needed to hug his wife and child, reassuring them everything was alright. Maybe his son’s hugs or his wife’s attentive ear will steer his moral and legal compass. But for now, he could at least count on his family to distract him from the decision he must make.
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This is such a solid story! Great job on the court case and the general set up at the end showing both sides to be corrupt. Sounds like a disturbing touch or reality all too familiar to us!