Science Fiction Fantasy Fiction

15th April, 2154; Human Colony Terra Nouveau, Satellite A-0102-2093

"Dad, how could you?" Lilliana ranted. "She's my mother, your wife. And you've sentenced her to a week's hard labour on Olde Earth? Are you mad?"

"Lilly, pumpkin," Judge Karolla IX replied, "If it hadn't been for her nosing and gossiping, Jeremiah Dingwall would be doing hard labour down there instead. What choice did I have?"

"Choice? You had a million other choices," Lilliana remonstrated. "You could have cautioned her. Fined her (but, oh no, that would mean it would come out of your savings, wouldn't it?). Even tagged her. But hard labour?"

"Pumpkin, your mother's a tough old bird. She'll be fine," Judge Karolla IX assured her. "And this might just put a stop to her nosiness. I told her it'd get her in trouble one day. Seems I was right."

"I hope she kicks your ass when she gets home, dad, I really do. I'm going to stay at Janet's while she's gone. I can't bear to be alone with you another minute!" Lilly screamed, slamming as many doors as she could in their apartment on Satellite A-0102-2093 for emphasis.

"She'll get over it," the judge muttered to himself, "they both will."

21st April, 2154; Human Colony Terra Nouveau, Satellite A-0102-2093

"Take. Your. Hands. Off. ME!" Lilliana screamed at her father as she desperately tried to ram her 19 years of life on the satellite, the only life she'd known, into a suitcase wholly unfit for the task.

"Pumpkin, Pumpkin," the judge said, in what he hoped was his best placatory manner, "How was I to know they'd be sending her on swamp detail?"

"Because, dipstick, it's Olde Earth! It's full of swamps. And now she's DEAD!" Lilliana spat in his face.

"Don't…don't say that," the judge implored, some level of him still denying Maya's death was his fault.

"And we can't even bring her back for a memorial service, you dick! WTF is yellow fever, anyway?" Lilliana asked rhetorically in a whirlwind of arms and clothes.

Sidestepping the question anyway, Judge Karolla IX asked, "And where will you go?"

"K-3220-2108," she replied, deadpan; the judge almost choked. 

"Of the four thousand satellites that make up Terra Nouveau, why that nasty, unlawful rust ball?" replied Judge Karolla IX. 

"I have a friend there from Academy. Randy Half-Crown. You probably don't remember, but that's another relationship of mine you mullered," she replied, her suitcase whumphing onto the floor.

"You will not see Randamere Scolacia XXVI," the judge retorted, his gorge rising at the mention of the name. "I understand you not wanting to be, well, here. But risking the teleporter to Titan, and for that scumbag? Would your mother really have wanted that?"

He regretted it as soon as he said it.

"You are the last person across what's left of humanity to lecture me on what mother would have wanted!" she said, the fire returning to her cheeks. She took one last look around the apartment, placed the chip inside her wrist against the lock and dragged her suitcase outside into the premier corridor behind her, not looking back once.

Thirty seconds later, the door slid itself shut and sealed the judge into his apartment with only remorse for company.

15th October, 2154; Outer Human Colony Terra Nouveau, Satellite K-3220-2108 (Titan)

It took Lilliana almost three months to find Randy Half-Crown. Judge Karolla IX came to his senses rapidly and tried to place an injunction on her teleporting. The Elder Court eventually refused his application despite his status, decreeing that any such action would be an infringement on humanity's right to roam not only the colony, but also the solar system. 

She finally boarded the teleporter to Satellite K-3220-2108 six weeks after leaving home. The journey itself drew upon a chain across Terra Nouveau's network of teleporters, stationed as they were on other satellites and larger asteroids.

Lilliana soon realised the advantages she'd taken for granted living on the luxury satellite that were incumbent of her father's — and his many forebears' — position. Organisation on lesser satellites ranged from adequate to chaotic. Conditions ranged from habitable to tawdry, only getting worse the further from Olde Earth's orbit she traversed.

When she arrived on Satellite K-3220-2108, finding Randy Half-Crown proved an arduous task in itself. On her home satellite, you could key in anyone's details and their chips would pinpoint them immediately. On this distant satellite orbiting Saturn's biggest moon the tracking system was next to useless. 

As far as her enquiries informed her, everyone on the satellite had the newest chips installed, which allowed them the conveniences offered by the private enterprises operating across the colony. But the state-run system, despite commanding an entire satellite of its own in orbit around Olde Earth, hadn't been updated for years.

Satellite K-3220-2108's size also served to hinder her quest. Her home satellite housed 30,000 people. Half a million had made their respective ways out here.

Then one night, her luck turned. She was walking back to the apartment she'd leased on a 6-month contract (at least the luxury apartments lived up to the billing) when she sensed being followed. It was only when Randy called her name that she relaxed.

"Lilly!" he almost shrieked. "It's me, Randy."

The tension dripped from her shoulders as she turned around. He'd almost made up the ground between them and she found herself in a bear hug before she could fully take him in. 

Pleasantries - and not so pleasantries - addressed in the corridor, Randy spent the first night in not-a-squat for he couldn't remember how long. They'd talked, eaten, showered (separately) and Randy had fallen asleep on the huge semi-circle sofa that commanded the view of the full-wall TV screen. Lilliana draped a blanket over him and was asleep in minutes herself after flopping onto the room-dominating oyster-shaped bed.

16th October, 2154; Outer Human Colony Terra Nouveau, Satellite K-3220-2108 (Titan)

Despite her assurances that Randy could now call this his home, he'd disappeared when Lilliana eventually woke up the next morning. She'd had the best night's sleep since before her father had sentenced her mother to hard labour on Olde Earth. But, despite Randy and her being reacquainted, the spectre of her father's actions still haunted her. Especially after what Randy had told her last night.

Randamere 'Randy Half-Crown' Scolacia XXVI had been a naturally-gifted engineer; he wouldn't have secured his place at the Academy otherwise. But his family weren't as established as Lilliana's and lived on Satellite B-0817-2099, a whole trajectory out from Olde Earth.

When the two of them began hanging out together after Academy, Lilliana's parents weren't best pleased. Maya had dithered around the subject, asking Lilliana if she really wanted to be associated with 'that sort of boy'. Judge Karola IX had been more direct, forbidding Lilliana to see him.

Her parents' reprimands only pushed Randy and Lilliana closer together. Then, disaster. Components from the MicroSolar annexe, where Randy studied, went missing and magically turned up at his home.

As it was supposedly impossible to gain entry into an apartment other than your own, Randy's guilt was assured. Judge Karolla IX presided and offered Randy a choice: take a menial job at the outer reaches of the colony or serve ten years on Olde Earth.

So compelling was the evidence against him that even Randy's parents believed him guilty. Only Randy, Lilliana and, begrudgingly, Maya suspected Judge Karolla IX's involvement, but it would be impossible to prove.

The lovestruck teenagers never even got chance to say goodbye. Randy chose the outer colony over Olde Earth and was transported there straight from the anthracite amphitheatre on asteroid S-10024-NL5 in which the trial was held. 

That the trial was held on S-10024-NL5 was odd in itself, Lilliana realised at the time. Only cases wherein sufficient doubt of the accused's guilt existed were usually tried in that incredible amphitheatre. She later suspected that her father had made certain the trial was broadcast across the colony, ensuring that Randy's name was sullied beyond their orbit. And it had worked. 

The company on Satellite K-3220-2108 who'd taken Randy on as part of their contracted rehabilitation programme fired him the first chance they had. He then went from one menial job to the next, his circle of opportunity ever decreasing as his frustration overwhelmed his common sense.

During this descent into decline, he'd been amazed to find how many more people, young and old, had suffered similar treatment from the justice system. He began spending more time with them, eventually joining the activist group they'd struck up to fight the injustices. But even before he'd joined, elements of the group had splintered off, taking the law into their own hands as frustration grew at the impotence of the group's legitimate actions.

Lilliana wasn't surprised when Randy told her last night that this faction appealed to his rebellious nature. He soon became a cog in the splinter group, earning himself a reputation that spread beyond Satellite K-3220-2108 to the entire network of satellites orbiting Titan. What little law enforcement existed this far out in the solar system turned a blind eye to the gang's nefarious activities, opting for an easy life.

As he'd relayed his woes to Lilliana, a plan had begun to hatch in her mind. Retribution and revenge were at the heart of it, and she'd have to learn a whole lot more about how things worked out here before finalising the details. But, using Randy's reputation and her father's prejudice against him, she could see a way out. 

When Randy returned to the apartment later that afternoon, she outlined the basics as they'd taken shape in her head that morning. Grateful for both Lilliana's belief in him and the chance to exercise some of that dormant engineering nous that had lain undisturbed for years, he proved a worthy co-conspirator.

22nd February, 2155; Asteroid S-10024-NL5 - trial of Randamere 'Randy Half-Crown' Scolacia XXVI, Judge Karolla IX presiding

Four thousand delegates, one from each of the satellites that constituted Terra Nouveau, filled the anthracite amphitheatre on Asteroid S-10024-NL5. 

Each delegate had docked their egg-shaped cocoons into its respective booth along the amphitheatre's three-quarter circle rows, connecting automatically to the sanitary, air and comms networks controlled from beneath the asteroid's surface. Food and drink was available, too, but few elected to eat anything they hadn't brought from their own satellites. Prohibitive prices and generations of humans adapting to their own satellites' food and drink ecosystems deterred most from risking consuming anything non-native.

Each delegate would technically vote on the trial's outcome, but only to ensure that the judge had ruled fairly. If the majority of jury votes contradicted the judge's, the judge would face a hearing before the delegates who'd voted differently to explain their decision. If a minority voted against the judge, they'd face inquiries, too. For delegates without sufficient arguments, consequences could be dire.

Such was the power, sway and intellect of the judges, backed by hyper-advanced evidence-sifting software, delegates usually voted en masse with the judge.

In a similar fashion, the news satellite had reported only the elements of the trial so far that could reasonably be relayed as facts. To portray speculative commentary that may later prove spurious carried a heavy fine, a risk that tempted only the most blasé editors. But with Judge Karolla IX presiding, even the most lairy toed the line.

The press release had thus been a combination of propaganda and fact:

Randamere 'Randy Half-Crown' Scolacia XXVI faces charges of 'wilful penetration and/or damage of the Ozone Layer', the most serious criminal act in Terra Nouveau's constitution, for which he could face 120 years' incarceration on Olde Earth. He's also accused of pilfering minerals and water thence. 

At the time of the alleged incident, Randy's chip was used to access several appliances in the apartment he shared with his partner on Satellite K-3220-2108. However, when arrested, he had a fresh scar over his wrist where all humans' implants reside.

His shuttle, a commercial vehicle, never left his dock in Satellite K-3220-2108 during the time of the alleged incident. However, a known associate's shuttle had been stolen - theoretically improbable - and that associate cannot be traced; again, a huge improbability.

Suffice to say, all evidence is circumstantial, but there are enough variables to trigger a trial. It's been months since anyone tried to reach Olde Earth outside of the teleport, so the eyes of the colony will be on Mr Scolacia. But, because of his fearsome reputation and track record, Judge Karolla IX may be the one creating the headlines.

At 15:00 sharp, the stage that formed the final 90 degree segment of the amphitheatre's circle became bathed in purple and white light. A great circle in the centre of the stage rolled back in two halves. Grey smoke clambered out of the widening hole, rising through the lights like ghosts of a million souls heretofore sent to the gallows.

Through the smoke and lights a column rose; set into its top, a perfect sphere contained the Judge. In his usual fuss-free manner, Judge Karolla IX addressed the delegates and proceeded straight into the preambles of the trial, including the accusation/charge and why it had got so far without a conviction/sentence being laid down upon Randy.

When his opening speech was concluded, a much smaller circle opened at the amphitheatre's lowest point. An egg of a similar style to those of the delegates, but much smaller, rose into view. 

Inside stood Randy, the hand containing his microchipped wrist fastened into a sleeve that relayed all the pertinent data onto screens as and when it was called for by the judge. 

There were groups who pushed for such readers to be introduced earlier in criminal proceedings, including many of the delegates present. But the judges vetoed that idea. Whether it was because they wanted their moments in the spotlight or were rejecting the idea on some legal principle wasn't clear. But they were not against nudging propaganda, even if they were never seen to create it themselves. 

Randy's egg shuddered to a non-too-smooth halt, locking into place. The only sound that could be heard was the crackle of a multi-layered laser dome crackling white, blue, green and purple above the amphitheatre. Not only did that dome protect the amphitheatre from the Asteroid Belt's flotsam and jetsam, it was also used to control access and egress. 

The judge's voice shattered the silence, "Randamere Scolacia XXVI, also known as 'Randy Half-Crown', under the Terra Nouveau Constitution, I charge you with wilful penetration and/or damage of the Ozone Layer, unlawful procurement of protected minerals and unlawful procurement of water from Olde Earth. How do you plead?"

"Guilty," Randy answered. All across the colony, as well as in the amphitheatre, humans collectively took in sharp intakes of breath, spluttered coffee and choked on their afternoon snacks.

Even Judge Karolla IX was heard sputtering. He quickly recovered, suspicion attuning his senses. "Why plead guilty now, when you could have at any time during these proceedings?" he asked.

"Because I've been under strict orders to allow the trial to reach this far," Randy replied.

"Come on," Judge Karolla IX scoffed. "You wouldn't risk that, Scolacia. Your reputation precedes you. Who would you take orders from?"

"They have Lilly, Lilliana, Judge," Randy whispered.

The collective intake of breath could have caused a vacuum and sucked the colony out of the sky right there and then. Still Judge Karolla IX wasn't convinced.

"Why would they have my daughter and what's it to do with you?" the judge raged.

"Lilliana came to K-3220-2108 to find me. She did. At that moment, I decided to change, leave the gang, everything. And, thanks to her help, I did.

"But they weren't happy. First, they kidnapped her and forced me to go to Olde Earth to collect minerals and water for them to sell on the black market.

"When I returned, they still wouldn't release her. They were never going to. They issued a new demand, instead," Randy finished.

"And what was their new demand?" Judge Karolla IX asked.

"They want justice, all previous convictions wiped clean, to be able to return to normal society. And guarantees against further persecution. 

"While they had my chip, which is how I managed to be in two places at once, they uploaded a list of names, dates and convictions that they want wiped clean. I'll upload it now." And so Randy uploaded the data file for everyone connected to the trial to see.

"And what makes you think they'll release Lilliana this time?" Judge Karolla asked.

"That was their end game. Plus, you now have all their names. You can go to K-3220-2108 and arrest them all if they don't release her," Randy stated.

"You know this will be the end of both me and you, don't you?" Judge Karolla IX said to Randy.

"I'm only the messenger, Judge," Randy said, nodding. The judge's chin slumped onto his chest, before perking up like he'd been shot. Before his next move, he transferred all of his assets into Lilliana's name via the chip in his own wrist; his countenance at once assumed a sense of peace.

"Fine. For my Pumpkin, I overturn all my convictions and those of my peers against the list as presented by Randamere 'Randy Half-Crown' Scolacia XXVI and accept the consequences of investigations thereinto," he said, slamming the gavel down for the final time.

Immediately, Judge Karolla IX's sphere was locked into place as, so the judge expected, Randy's should have been. But it lifted off the column to join the other cocoons leaving the dome.

When Randy saw the judge's look of disbelief he spoke into the comms. "Judge," he said "both my name and Lilliana's are on the list you just made free from prosecution. I do hope you have some champagne in the fridge at your place when we get there."

July 08, 2022 17:27

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