Sentence

Cal had thought he was delivering good news, but Wyn’s face told a different story. He forced himself not to look away from her pain, as his mother had taught him, but all his reassuring words stuck in his throat.

Max spoke up. “It was the right call. Fair. Measured. Just.”

Not everyone agreed. The judges’ sentence didn’t go far enough for some. They clamored for imprisonment, for suffering. What they wanted was punishment, a natural desire. But punishment wouldn’t help the colony, wouldn’t heal the hurts done, wouldn’t prevent future problems. Punishment was waste. The Charter didn’t allow for waste.

Ny Lee’s sentence was consistent with his crime. He had valued his work and receiving credit for it above his sister’s life and above the good of the colony. As a result, the judges had ordered that he never work in his chosen field again. Since this deprived the colony of his skills, he would take over the job of an apprentice miner. He would serve the colony for the rest of his life by operating mine machinery, closely supervised by one of the judges in his case, while the apprentice he replaced was trained in astronomy. It was a similar sentence to the one Val had received for destroying the Ark, but though she had lost her job, she had been allowed to train her own replacement. Ny Lee would not be put in a position to influence anyone. Most likely, other than the psychologist assigned to meet with him weekly, he would hardly interact with anyone at all.

Wyn gestured with one hand. The doctors thought her damaged vocal chords would heal eventually, but for now, she had no voice. Max handed her a tablet, and she quickly typed, “Where live?”

“There’s a single unit that’s being refitted to have the necessary surveillance. The judges have given his psychologist the power to lift the surveillance in time, to give him more privacy if he shows improvement, but for now, he will be closely monitored.”

Wyn shuddered.

Max put a hand on her shoulder and fixed her with his piercing gaze.

She shook her head in answer to the question he didn’t ask. After a minute, she typed again. “Work. Family. Privacy. They took everything.”

“He tried to take everything from you,” Max growled.

Wyn shook her head again. Cal had never seen anyone look so confused and miserable.

“I know this is all so much to take in. You have as much time as you need to process it. If you have more questions or if there is anything you want, please just ask. At any time.”

She had closed her eyes, but now she opened them and typed a few more words. “Can I see him?”

He didn’t mean to, but Cal looked over at his uncle before he answered. “As governor, I won’t stop you. There is no official reason that you can’t visit. But as someone who cares about you, I would ask that you at least wait a while. I know Harm Griffin is meeting with you himself. Talk to him. And listen. He’ll help you decide if this would be a good decision for you or just cause more pain.”

“Best to cut it off clean and get it over with,” Max said.

Cal flinched at the pain that shot across Wyn’s face. He spent most of his time ignoring emotion, but there was no question in his mind that right now, their presence was hurting this woman more than it was helping.

“Uncle, it’s time to go.”

Max only listened to the governor when he wanted to, but Cal was grateful that today, he stood without arguing.

As he closed the door, Cal got a last glimpse of Wyn’s face. It haunted him all afternoon.

When his work was finished, he took a walk around the colony, giving himself time to breathe before heading home to dinner. It wasn’t an accident that Ny’s sentence had been announced on a family dinner day. Five days a week, the colony would gather to eat in the huge common dining hall. In addition to being logistically easier, eating together created a sense of community that was vital in their isolated position. On days like this, though, the larger group was a liability. Ny’s crime and the consequences for it were a milestone in their history. People needed time to process, and the quiet environment of dinner in smaller family units would provide that.

By the time Cal arrived at home, the dinner had been delivered from the kitchens, and Bree was setting it out on the table. He gave his oldest daughter a hug and kissed the top of her dark hair. She smiled up at him, a miniature version of her mother.

“They told us the news at school today.”

Cal nodded, waiting. She knew what he would want to know.

“I don’t think most of the kids really understand. They didn’t seem upset or excited or anything really. Just like it was something that happened.”

“What about you?”

Bree pursed her lips as she thought. Another inheritance from her mother. “It was fair. Right for the colony, which is what is important. But…”

Cal raised his eyebrows, inviting her to continue.

“I wonder what his sister feels.”

And there was her mother’s true gift. Compassion, empathy, and ability to cut straight to the heart of the matter. Bree was going to make a great doctor someday.

“You saw her?”

Cal nodded. “She is…in pain.”

A shadow fell over Bree’s face. “At first I wondered if she would want him to be punished more for hurting her. But then I thought, he’s her brother. She’s going to worry about him.”

Before Cal could answer, the front door burst open, and Tom and Cara tumbled, laughing, into the room. Jul was just behind. “Slow down, goofballs, before someone gets hurt. Go scrub your hands for dinner.”

The twins giggled again and headed for the bathroom.

Jul shook her head. “They are in rare form tonight.”

“Something at the nursery?”

“I don’t know yet. They barely said a word, just giggled all the way home.” She sighed. “At least someone is happy tonight.”

Cal wrapped his arms around his wife. “Maybe we should learn from them and just enjoy our dinner and a few hours together.”

“Can you do that?” she asked into his shoulder.

She knew him too well.

“Good leaders know how to rest,” he quoted his mother.

Jul looked up at him with exaggerated disbelief. Cal laughed for the first time in days.

“I can at least pretend,” he said.

“Me, too,” she said, resting her head on his chest again.

“Me, too,” said Bree.

Cal smiled into his wife’s hair.

“Me free!” said Cara from the bathroom door.

“Me free, too!” said Tom.

They were still laughing when they sat down to dinner.

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