“Any last words of advice?” Cal tried to keep his voice light, the words joking, but his mother saw through him.
“You don’t need advice,” she said. “No one can handle this better than you.”
“You handled it pretty well when it happened to you.”
“No,” Lil shook her head. “It wasn’t the same. Val made a lot of people angry, and angry people are a headache, but what Ny did will leave people afraid. Fear can change people in ways anger never could.”
“You’re not exactly reassuring me here.”
“You don’t need reassurance any more than you need advice.”
That was true. Cal knew what needed done, and he was ready to do it. The system was already in place for this, and he trusted it to see them through. He had planned exactly how to explain things, and there were contingency plans in place for unexpected problems.
There were also five more minutes to get through before the meeting started, and he needed his mother to fill the silence.
“I had a good talk with Jen today.” She knew him so well. “We were reminiscing about Val’s sentencing and how angry everyone was. She made an interesting point, I thought. Before Val burned the Ark, we followed the charter and voted in our judges, but no one ever gave it much thought. There was so much work to do. Everyone was focused on survival. The idea of crime seemed as far away as Earth. After a while, people started voting in the most useless person they knew, so that the useful people wouldn’t have the extra distraction of a judge’s work. Then when it came time to deal with Val, they were all yelling about how the judges weren’t competent and two of them were way too young, and…you’ve heard it all. Jen’s point was that after that, people took judge selection a lot more seriously. That’s put us in a good position today.”
“So you’re saying I should be thankful for Val?”
“Yes. And honestly, though she made my life hell at the time, this isn’t the first time I’ve had that thought.”
The door opened and a young man poked his head in. “We’re ready to take him in.”
Right on time. “Thank you, Carl. Kim.” He nodded as another man followed Carl into the room. The three of them crossed to the opposite door, which Cal unlocked with his own card.
The storeroom had been cleared of its boxes of files and the pile of musical instruments that was its last occupant. A small cot was against the far wall, and a table with two chairs sat in the center of the room. Ny was in one of them, his back to the door.
“Come with us, please,” Kim said. There was a hard edge to his voice that Cal had never heard before.
Ny stood, and the two temporary guards flanked him as they followed Cal out of the room.
The Gathering Hall was in the same building as the governor’s office, but Cal chose to take them outside and around to the main entrance. This was partially so that Ny could breathe fresh air and have a few minutes to stretch his legs and partially for Cal himself–he didn’t like to enter through a different door than the rest of the colony. It sent the wrong message. A small thing, maybe, but succeess and failure hinged on the small things.
As planned, they were the last to arrive. Since the entire colony was in attendance, entering from the outside meant walking past hundreds of eyes as they made their way to the front. Cal felt his usual nerves increased by the weight of the situation. He couldn’t imagine what Ny was feeling, but he hoped those eyes meant something to the man. His actions had impacted every one of these people. He should feel the burden of that.
At the front, his mother took a seat in the front row next to her brother and Wyn’s daughter. The three current judges sat in seats facing the assembled colonists. Cal waited until the guards had escorted Ny to a fourth seat, set a little apart, before turning to address his people.
“Thank you all for coming, and special thanks to the apprentices assigned to stay with the children and those unable to leave the med center. This is being recorded so that everyone can hear for themselves all that is said today. Though it is always wonderful to see the entire colony together, the reason for today’s gathering is not a pleasant one. For the first time in our history, a member of our colony has intentionally harmed another.”
Most of the people in the room had come with no idea what the gathering was for. Cal watched as their faces registered a range of emotions.
“I know that this comes as a shock to many. I know that you all share my sadness and even anger. We all depend on each other for our very survival. Putting the colony’s wellbeing over our own is one of the highest values of our society. The violation of that value cannot be taken lightly. The very possibility of such an act also naturally breeds fear. We will not give in to that emotion. I have full confidence that you all care deeply about this community and about each other. This is an isolated event, and together we will respond with truth and justice.”
Cal paused for just a moment. The room was deathly silent, all eyes fixed on his face. He was relieved to see more determination there than fear.
“The facts of the incident have been carefully investigated and are not in dispute. I will explain our findings as clearly as I am able. Those who have involvement in the case will be called upon to give their own witness. Nothing will be kept back or hidden. You all will know the verified facts, and we ask, as always, that you keep all discussion of this incident to those facts. Further speculation is not useful.”
Briefly, Cal told the story of Wyn’s attack. He saw confusion over the work dispute, shock and sorrow at the personal nature of the attack, relief as the gathering realized that Wyn was alive and stable, anger at the news that permanent damage had been done to her voice box and possibly to her cognitive function as well.
When he finished, he called on Max to give more detail about the nature of the motive. Dr. Nokes explained the medical evidence and confirmed Wyn’s current status. Harm Griffin, the chief psychologist, gave an account of his conversations with Ny, attempting as much as possible to use Ny’s own words to explain what he had done. Finally, Cal asked Ny directly about the attack. In a barely audible voice, the man confirmed everything.
In the front row, Xi cried softly. The rest of the room was still.
“In accordance with the charter, our three judges will pass the final judgement and will determine the sentence to be given. We are aware that this case is the first of its kind and that all of you have a stake in true justice being accomplished. The charter is clear that everyone should be given an opportunity for input into the process. We will not do that tonight. Now that the facts have been presented, the judges will determine guilt. If anyone in the room objects to their determination, you will have an opportunity to voice that objection. Other thoughts should be saved for later. We all will require time to process the facts, to deal with our emotions, and to consider as objectively as possible the best course of action. The sentencing will take place one week from today.”
There was a stir in the room as people took in this new information. Cal waited for it to die down before continuing.
“Judges are excused from their usual duties until the sentencing, so that they can devote their energies to thought, discussion, and to listening to our colony. I have assigned a special admin to process any messages you may wish to pass along to them, and we will hold a voluntary gathering in three days for anyone who wishes to share their thoughts in person. That gathering will be recorded for those who cannot attend. Let me be clear: the judges will make the final decision in this case. Their decision will not be disputed after it is made. I will see to it that the sentencing is executed exactly as they instruct.”
Cal looked around at his people, willing them to be their best selves.
“I ask you all to remember that you elected these judges because you respect and trust them. In this critical moment, continue to treat them with respect and trust.”
Several people were nodding. Cal wished it were more.
“This was an act of evil, and though we will do everything in our power to counter that evil, there is no action we can take that will erase it. We ask our judges to give us justice. We do not ask them to do the impossible.”
He waited while that sank in, letting the silence stretch out as long as it needed to. Then he turned to the judges and asked them for their ruling.
All three spoke together.
No one in the room had any objection.