Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha
Disclaimers: In chapter one.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
South Dakota spring has come decked out in her Sunday finest, seemingly overnight. Between the setting of one day and the dawning of the next, trees which had previously shown the sky their brittle bones are budded out in verdant greens and purples and pinks and whites. The air is a perfumed delicacy and the breeze bears the warm promise of summer on its breath.
Sitting on the small porch in front of Maggie’s house, Kirsten takes it all in with peaceful pleasure, thanking any god currently in residence that she’s finally free—if only for the moment—of the dreadful Atlas-weight of her position within this newly ripening society. The trip back from Rapid City had been a silent one, and Kirsten extends her silent thanks to Maggie, who knew enough to know that Kirsten needed the silence to decompress.
The trip had been a mixed blessing. As far as the census went, they had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Unfortunately, however, they hadn’t encountered a judge or lawyer in the bunch. Or at least that anyone wanted to admit, anyway. Three paralegals had been the best they could come up with, and Kirsten was seriously considering promoting them to a judgeship, Bar Association be damned.
"Someone’s coming," Maggie remarks from her place on the lawn, directing Kirsten’s attention toward a perfectly maintained—if decades old—truck currently headed in their direction. Squinting, the young scientist can just make out Dakota’s dark form riding shotgun, and her heart accelerates of its own accord, spreading a warm, welcoming tingle throughout her body. A smile curves her lips, though she dutifully ignores the smirk thrown her way by the watching Air Force colonel.
The driver appears to be an elderly male with a hawk-like profile and eyes to match, from what she can see behind the reflection of the setting sun on his thick glasses. She briefly wonders if this man is Dakota’s father, or even grandfather, but dismisses the notion out of hand when the truck turns up the short driveway. His features, hawk-like though they may be, scream Anglo-Saxon from a mile away.
"I’ll be damned," Maggie half-whispers as she gets a good look at the driver.
"What?" Kirsten asks, startled.
An unwilling grin crosses Maggie’s face. "If that’s not ‘Hang-em High’ Harcourt, I’ll eat my service ribbons."
Kirsten looks at her askance. "’Hang-em who?"
The man in question brings the truck to a stop, turns off the ignition, and slips out through the door he’s just opened. Quite tall, and, like his truck, well-maintained despite his advanced years, he cuts an imposing figure as he looks down at Kirsten through clear, piercing eyes. After a moment, he gives a quick, if stiff, bow of his head. "Madame President."
Kirsten simply stares.
With a quirk of his lips that could almost pass for a smile, he turns his gaze to the woman standing, hands on hips, to Kirsten’s left. "Major Allen," he says by way of greeting.
Maggie manages to conceal her surprise and straightens. "It’s ‘Colonel’ now."
That quirk of his lips comes again. "Indeed." His eyes flick over her body almost dismissively. "I do hope that the increase in rank brought with it a concomitant increase in the ability to, I believe the phrase is ‘keep tabs’ on the men and women under your care?"
Maggie’s dark skin hides her flush, but Kirsten believes she can feel the heat of it from where she’s standing nonetheless. She experiences a flash of anger move through her; an emotion that dissolves into puzzlement as Maggie throws her head back and laughs, loud and long.
"You actually know this gnarled old oak?" Maggie shouts to Dakota between bursts of mirth.
"I’ll take that as the compliment it was no-doubt intended to be," Harcourt replies primly as Koda, grinning, rounds the truck and comes to stand with the group.
Taking pity on Kirsten, she lays a soft hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder. "Kirsten, I’d like you to meet Judge Fenton Harcourt."
"Retired, Madame President," Harcourt murmurs. "Quite retired."
The name tickles her memories. She sifts through them quickly, then looks up, jaw nearly dropping. "Aren’t you—you’re the one who turned down a seat on the Supreme Court!"
"Pah," he comments sourly. "Doddering fools the lot of them. I’m surprised they were able put their robes on without a map, let alone find their way to the bench—unless, of course, it was surrounded by an oaken bar and plenty of swizzle sticks."
Kirsten continues to stare at him, gape-jawed, unable for the life of her to tell whether he is in fact serious, or simply the world’s greatest ‘straight’ man. His gaze, utterly cool, utterly calm, helps her not at all.
Koda once again comes to the rescue, squeezing Kirsten’s shoulder and drawing the Judge’s attention to herself. "If you’re quite through making your first impression, Fenton, maybe we could go inside?"
Harcourt straightens and puts his arms behind his back, clasping his wrists as he takes in a deep breath of spring-scented air. "I think not. I believe I’ll take a walk around the grounds." He eyes Dakota significantly. "Alone."
"Suit yourself. Just meet us back here when you’re through, ok?"
"Mm." He looks down at the three of them, face as expressionless as a granite mountain. "Ladies. Madame President."
When she’s judged the man has gone far enough on his walk to be out of comfortable earshot, Kirsten screws up her face like she’s just bitten into a lemon. "I’m beginning to hate that title."
"That’s exactly why the old coot’s using it," Maggie replies laughing. "Look up the meaning of the phrase ‘burr under the saddleblanket’ and you’ll see his picture staring you in the face." She looks on with appreciation as Koda returns to the truck and hauls out Harcourt’s overnight bag and old-fashioned leather briefcase. "He can find a person’s weak spots without even looking. It makes him a formidable opponent."
"He’s a judge!" Kirsten counters forcefully, ignoring the flash of jealousy that flares when she discovers exactly where the Colonel’s eyes are presently fixed. "Judges are supposed to be impartial, not opponents."
"On the bench," Koda replies, returning to them laden with Harcourt’s luggage, "he’s the most impartial person I know. Just don’t screw up in his courtroom, and never get into a debate with him when he’s not wearing his robes." She smirks. "Unless you’re wearing a full suit of armor."
The others follow as she heads for the house, juggling the luggage as she unlatches the door, and nearly stumbling backwards as Asi takes the opportunity presented to leap on her, pressing against her chest with his large forepaws. "Get down, you…mangy…furball!" She pushes forward with implacable strength, causing him to dance back on his hind legs until his feet slide and he tumbles away. He stares up at her as she pushes by, expression truly pitiful.
"You deserved it, you big dope," Kirsten mutters when he turns the hurt look on her. "Now go lay down and behave."
Ears and tail drooping, he slinks his way to the fireplace, where he lays down with a sigh worthy of the greatest of martyred heroes.
"So, how do you know Judge Harcourt?" Kirsten asks Koda as she watches the tall woman stack the luggage near the couch.
Straightening, Koda smiles and heads back into the kitchen. Reaching into the oven, she pulls out the frybread that she had made this morning, and with a few preparations, she begins dinner for them all. "I’ve known him since I was an infant, actually," she begins, voice low and mellow and soothing. "He and my grandfather were good friends—well, as good a friend as any human being could be to Fenton." She slips a look toward her two companions. "He’s not exactly known for his love of the species."
Kirsten contemplates that for a moment. From what she knows of the man based on short acquaintance, she can’t say she’s a bit surprised at the revelation. "How did your grandfather come to know him?"
"When he was a young man," Koda replies, turning back to the supper she’s preparing, "Fenton was known as a champion of civil rights."
"But you said he hates people," Kirsten counters, confused.
"That may be," Koda returns evenly. "But he loves the Constitution and what it stands for." She smiles fondly, though neither woman can see it. "He was one of the chief warriors in my peoples’ fight to gain back all of our ancestral lands."
"I remember reading about that." Kirsten’s expression is thoughtful. "I don’t recall seeing his name mentioned in any of the history discs I’ve seen, though."
Koda snorts. "If there’s anything he hates more than people, it’s publicity. He didn’t need or want the credit. He did what he did because it was the right thing to do, and when he had won that battle, he moved onto other things."
"Like gay marriage," Maggie replies knowingly.
Koda turns, grinning. "Exactly. And a lot more over the years. He’s a brilliant thinker with a love of the law, and probably the most honest man outside my family that I’ve ever met. He might not be much of a people person, but he’s a good friend, and I’m lucky to have him in my live."
"We’re lucky to have him," Kirsten gently corrects. "Thanks for…talking him into this," she adds, instinctively knowing that without Koda’s intervention, he would never have come.
"He hasn’t said yes yet."
"Details, details," Kirsten replies, blithely waving the concerns away. She turns her gaze to Maggie. "And how do you know him?"
The young scientist doesn’t need to see Maggie’s flush to know it’s there. "A much less pleasant tale, to be sure," the Colonel replies, grinning weakly.
"We’re all ears."
Sighing, Maggie drops down onto one of the worn kitchen chairs, legs splayed, one arm draped across the table. "Fine. It was…quite a few years back. We’d been away on maneuvers for months. Almost a year, in fact, and had just gotten back to home base. Most of my crew had a lot of leave time saved up and they were raring to take it, but the shit with Syria was stirring up again, and all leaves were indefinitely cancelled." She grimaces. "So I asked for, and received, a weekend’s liberty for my men."
"And they took it," Kirsten observes.
"Oh yeah. They took it alright. About four o’clock Monday morning, I get woken up by a phone call from Rapid City PD."
Maggie tosses Kirsten a smirk. "Apparently, seven of my men had taken up residence in the city lockup. Seven counts of drunk and disorderly, four assaults, and one assault with a deadly weapon. A pool cue," she explains in response to Kirsten’s unasked question. "It…wasn’t pretty."
"Yeah. Damn." Clearing her throat, she looks down at hands which are now clasped together on her lap. "I figured…you know…I’d go to the courthouse and get them to release them to me pending a trial. If I was lucky, I could have the charges shifted to a military court and take care of it from there." She sighs, still looking down at her hands. "No such luck. Harcourt had pretty much retired by then and was slumming, filling in part time in the city courts. I took one look at his face during the bond hearing and I knew I had no chance."
"Tim D’Mello." Koda’s soft voice floats back from the stove.
Kirsten looks perplexed. Maggie nods. "Yeah." To Kirsten, "Tim D’Mello was an airman stationed at our base. He raped three women in Rapid City, and the JAG made a deal with the civilian authorities, promising to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law, yadda, yadda, yadda, if they’d release him to the MP’s. They agreed, and he was convicted, but he escaped from the brig, and raped again. Twice in one night." She swallows hard. "He killed the last one. She was only twelve."
"Jesus," Kirsten hisses.
"Harcourt was as hard as a rock," Maggie continues. "He wouldn’t budge. My men were going to receive their day in court; a civilian court for the damage they’d done to civilians, and that was that."
"They pled guilty." She laughs. It’s a mirthless sound. "Why not? They were. He threw the book at them, as they say. Maximum sentence allowed by law, which, for the D and D’s wasn’t all that much, but the ADW . . . ." Her hands clench and unclench in her lap. "The worst part, I think, was the way he looked at me when he learned I was their commanding officer. It was pity, and anger, all wrapped up in a putrid little ball, and I felt like I was seven again and my father had caught me playing ‘doctor’ with the girl next door." She laughs again. "It was a lesson well learned that day. And then I learned another one. We were going to war. Again. I needed those men, desperately. So, I swallowed my pride and went to him and laid out another deal. Which was, basically, anything in exchange for them."
"Did he go for it?" Kirsten asks, though she already knows the answer.
"Yeah. Surprisingly, he did. He knew that the citizens of this country would be much better served with these convicts fighting for their freedoms rather than rotting in some jail somewhere." She smiles. "But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh no. Not nearly. He demanded restitution. A portion of each paycheck they received would go to those they’d wronged, and then, when they came back from fighting, if they came back, they would serve out their sentences in community service of his choosing. And if he found that they stepped out of line again, even the tiniest inch, he’d toss them back in jail and throw away the key. And, he informed me, I’d be there rotting right along side of them." She laughs again, shaking her head. "I believed him. I still do."
"Did they come back from the war? Did they serve out their sentences?"
"Only two," Maggie intones, her voice infinitely sad. "But they did as he ordered, and as far as I know, they never got so much as a speeding ticket since." Her face clears then, and she looks up at her audience. "And there you have it. How I know Fenton Harcourt in five thousand words or less."
"Perfect timing," Koda replies, turning from the stove with laden plates. "Dinner is served."
Stepping out of the clinic, Dakota breathes deep of the warm spring night. Her nostrils flare as she picks up the familiar scent of pipe tobacco. The fragrance brings with it a wave of memories together with a brief, but almost overwhelming feeling of longing—a longing for the past, for the way things had been; a longing for the ability to shift back time just enough so she could find herself on the porch of her family’s ranch house on a deep summer night, her grandfather on one side of her, her father on the other, and bask in the sense of peace and safety and contentment she fears she’ll never experience again.
Letting the feelings wash over and through her, she continues forward to where she can sense her watcher hidden in the moonshadow of a towering oak. He steps out as she approaches, face wreathed in fragrant pipe-smoke. "Good evening."
He peers past her to the building she’s just left. "I see you’ve kept to your calling despite the recent…difficulties."
"It’s who I am."
"Mm." He removes the pipe from his mouth, gesturing toward the open space behind the guarded gates. "I’ve also heard some fascinating—if rather overdone-- tales about a certain Veterinarian leading a charge across a crumbled bridge over the Cheyenne. Very noble, if foolhardy, that woman."
"It’s who I am," she answers again, succinctly, truthfully.
"Indeed. I think—and this is pure speculation, mind you—that your grandfather would have been quite proud of your accomplishments."
Dakota can feel the flush building, warming her skin.
Luckily, or perhaps deliberately, Harcourt has chosen to examine the star-dazzled sky, giving her time to regain the balance his words so effortlessly stripped away.
"So," she says when she finally finds her voice, "will you stay?"
His eyes come back to meet hers, glittering and wise. "For the nonce."
His head inclines the barest fraction of an inch in response.
She hears a slight rustling from above, and a smile breaks over her face. Uncomprehending, his eyebrow raises in silent question. In answer, she puts her finger to her mouth and utters her three-note calling whistle. A brief second later, Wiyo silently alights on her fist, tucking her wings into place and appearing to study the man standing directly across from her.
"Blessed mercy," he whispers, his implacable calm instantly shattered. This is a Fenton Harcourt that no one but Dakota knows exists. "Is this….?"
"It is," Koda answers, holding out her fist in invitation.
She can see his arm tremble as he lifts it and hear the soft intake of breath that is not quite a gasp as Wiyo steps easily onto his wrist. "Hello, old friend," he says in a voice not-quite steady. "I had never thought to see you again."
Stepping away to give the Judge some privacy, she rounds the large tree until its towering branches no longer obscure her view of the sky. The firmament is shot through with a trillion sparkling diamonds cast in display by a careless hand.
Would you have been proud of me, thunkashila?
The cold stars give no answer, but that doesn’t matter. She’s pretty sure she knows it anyway.
"For the last time, Colonel, the answer is no. There is a perfectly serviceable cot in the Judges’ chambers, and I fully intend to make what little use of it I must. Your hospitality, though polite, is unneeded and unwanted."
"Begging your pardon, Judge Harcourt," Kirsten intervenes, "but I’ve seen that ‘perfectly serviceable cot’, and it’s got more lumps in it than my mother’s gravy."
Straightening to his fullest height, Harcourt turns to her, staring down at her through his glasses, eyes sharp as diamonds. "Madame President…."
Kirsten winces. "Kirsten. Please?" Nothing. "Ms. King?"
"Doctor King, I assume your eyesight is adequate enough to confirm to you that which you know is true. I am an old man. And as an old man, I will have an eternity’s worth of sleep when my decomposing corpse fertilizes the ground around my eternal resting place. Until then, I will sleep when I choose, and where I choose. I will brook no compromise on this issue. Am I clearly understood?"
Jaw clenched, Kirsten finally nods.
"Good." Turning, he next pins Maggie with his gaze. "Colonel, am I to assume that you have the case files assembled?"
"Then perhaps you would escort me to my chambers and hand over the materials. I believe I have a bit of light reading to do this evening."
Maggie shoulders the overnight case and hands Harcourt his briefcase. "Fine. Let’s go then."
After nodding to both Kirsten and Dakota, he turns and leaves the house, Maggie following after him like a faithful puppy.
"Well," Kirsten observes as the door quietly closes, "wasn’t that just a barrel of laughs."
"It’s a good turnout."
Nudging Maggie aside and peering through the half-inch or so space between the open door of the Judge’s Advocate’s Chambers and the jamb, Kirsten amends, "It’s a damn good turnout, considering our sampling methods."
The other woman gives a soft snort of derisive agreement. "Talk about ‘needs must.’ I think we’ve got what we need here, though."
What they have got is a jury pool of close to three hundred people. At the other end of the courtroom, a pair of military bailiffs in dress uniforms and braid stand with clipboards, checking off names as the prospective jurors file in and take their assigned seats. Maggie is right. It is a good turnout by any standard, especially considering the sampling methods and the hand-carried notifications to the sometimes dubious addresses. It is a phenomenal turnout considering that many of these folk have walked for miles to reach the Base, while others have biked, SegWayed, ridden mule- or horseback. For the first time since the departure of the mounted cavalry regiments, a South Dakota military post has found it necessary to install hitching posts.
Getting the jury pool together has cost a week’s hard work and ingenuity. Maggie is right. Needs must when the devil drives. Hand it to Old Scratch, Kirsten reflects, he’s had his foot flat on the floorboard for the last several months. But the census of Rapid City, taken over two days, has yielded a heartening three thousand plus surviving adult citizens, many of them residents who have only come out of hiding since the defeat of the android force at the Cheyenne. As many more have recently moved into the more populated city, or what is left of it, from outlying ranches and hamlets.
They took the census the old fashioned way, by hand, names and addresses penciled on legal pads and index cards. On Andrews’ inspired notion, a team scoured the city’s churches for bingo machines. The three working models had been pressed into service as randomizing devices, leaving time and computer capacity free for more urgent military applications. Hurriedly repainted with ID numbers, the whirling balls tossed out a selection that is, mirabile dictu, a reasonably accurate microcosm of Rapid City. The citizens slowly jostling their way into their appointed places on the dark oak benches include Anglos in jeans and Stetsons; African Americans in business suits; Lakota and Cheyenne in ribbon shirts; men and women of every color in sweats and Sunday best and everything in between. The only striking difference between this crowd and a pre-uprising gathering is the ratio of women to men. For every man in the courtroom, for every man on the list, three women have survived.
Kirsten closes the door softly and turns back into the room. Unlike the other official spaces she has seen, the Judge Advocate’s chambers have been spared the ubiquitous grey-and-Air-Force-blue décor. The dark wood and forest green walls, the tartan carpet woven in deep reds and greens, give it an air of almost Victorian formality. The lingering smell of pipe tobacco reinforces the impression, as does the well-worn but not yet shabby assortment of leather armchairs and ottomans. The chamber reminds Kirsten of a traditional library, a University reading room. One could curl up in one of those chairs with a book or hand-held and lose oneself for hours.
The few pictures on the walls are idiosyncratic, too, not the official art of fighter planes and bombers. One shows grain fields stretching golden to the horizon, another a forest glade where a stag bends to drink, his antlers struck to gold like a crown by a shaft of sunlight. The third, a photograph, catches a pair of eagles in the midst of their courtship flight, talons locked with talons, wings spread wide against the receding sky. The image is stunning in its clarity, and paradoxically, its untrammeled sense of motion, as if the two birds might come tumbling out of the frame and into the room at the viewer’s feet.
Behind the big desk by window, Fenton Harcourt gives his newly pressed robe a twitch, and its folds fall into perfect place. He seems curiously at home in this room that seems to have slipped out of its proper time and place. As he taps the ash out of his pipe and refills its bowl from a cordovan pouch, his eyes stray again and again to the eagles, a small, secret smile curving his mouth. It suddenly occurs to Kirsten to check the photographer’s signature when she gets a chance. Or she could just ask.
"That’s one of your pictures, isn’t it, Judge? It’s beautiful."
Harcourt glances sharply up at her over the tops of his old-fashioned half-glasses. For a moment it seems he will not answer her, but he says, "Why, yes. That’s very perceptive of you, Dr. King."
"Our Judge Advocate was a birdwatcher—I’m sorry, a birder, too," Maggie says quietly. "We haven’t seen or heard from her since before the uprising."
"A shame, that. I would have enjoyed telling her about the Cassin’s Sparrow I saw two weeks ago." Harcourt clamps the stem of the cold pipe between his teeth, picking up the gavel from the desk, together with the bulging portfolio containing the charges against the defendants. "Now," he says abruptly, "let us see whether we have twelve persons who are at all capable of rendering a disinterested verdict in these appalling cases."
"Everyone in that room has an interest of some sort in this case, Judge," Kirsten observes evenly. "Bias and disinterest are not the same thing."
Kirsten is almost sure she sees a glint of warmth, perhaps even surprise, in the Judge’s eye, but it may as easily be a reflection from the green-shaded banker’s lamp on the desk. "Indeed they are not. But I doubt you will find more than half a dozen folk out there who have not been personally and traumatically injured by the androids. This case has not even begun, but it is already rife with grounds for appeal."
"Let’s see if we can get these men convicted first, shall we?" Maggie says dryly. "We’ll
worry about appeals later, assuming anyone can find the staff to convene and appellate court."
Kirsten knows what Harcourt will say before he opens his mouth and suppresses urge to kick Maggie’s ankle. "Colonel Allen," he says mildly, "a court is not needed. You are aware, I am sure, of the prerogative of Presidential pardon?"
With that he steps between them, tucking the unlit pipe back into his pocket, and knocks on the inside of the door. Pausing a moment for the bailiff to shout "All rise!" and for the rustles and thumps that accompany three hundred people getting to their feet, he sweeps behind the witness stand and up the three steps to the bench. Kirsten and Maggie slip out much less dramatically in his wake, to take their places in the observers’ area behind the prosecution table next to the jury box. Again the bailiff gives tongue, rolling out the words one after another on a single pitch: "Oyez! Oyez! The Court of the Fifth Circuit of the State of South Dakota is now in session, the Honorable Fenton Harcourt presiding. God bless the United States and this honorable Court!"
For a long moment, Harcourt stands behind the bench, inspecting the occupants of the courtroom. It is a glance very much like the eagles’ in the photograph, bright and implacable. In a rush for the door that morning, a scrambled egg wrapped in fry bread in her hand, Dakota had referred to the old gentleman as "Hangin’ Harcourt," a stickler for the law, letter and spirit. It seems to Kirsten that the epithet is not, perhaps, a joking matter. Despite the man’s respect for his fellow bird enthusiasts or his obvious pleasure in a rare sighting, the lean planes of the his face, cut sharply to the bone under his shock of white hair, would not be out of place on an Old Testament prophet—Jeremiah, bewailing the whoredom of the Daughter of Zion, John the Baptizer munching locusts and wild honey—or a Huguenot martyr bearing his Calvinism like a banner to the stake. Kirsten trusts him to be fair. She is not sure there is any mercy in him at all, or whether she thinks there should be.
A chill passes over her as she stands, waiting like the rest for Harcourt to be seated. The Judge will sign a death verdict, if one is rendered, read the sentence, set the date. But she, Kirsten King, must sign the execution warrant when the time comes.
It is a long way home to Twenty-Nine Palms. A long way home and circles upon circles of hell yet to pass through. To Harcourt’s right, the national flag drapes in soft spirals of red and white around its stanchion, and Kirsten wonders how many stars will be left when the insurrection is over. If it is ever over. If anyone survives. To his left, South Dakota’s flag proclaims, "Under God the People Rule." Kirsten has no interest in presiding over a theocracy, but restoring the government of the people, by the people, is something she would do in a heartbeat if she could.
A heartbeat that would allow her to go back to being a scientist, not a political figure.
Or, more aptly, a figurehead. A figurehead with life and death in her hand, and no way to open her fingers and cast herself free of them.
Finally Harcourt sits, and the rest of the room follows suit. The crowd remains silent as he opens the folder in front of him and studies it briefly. Then he closes it and folds his hands on its cover. Pitching his voice so that it carries to every corner of the high-ceilinged room, he says, "Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming here today despite what must be considerable hardship for some of you. I commend you on your sense of duty even in the present crisis and for your willingness to undertake perhaps the most solemn responsibility of a citizen of this state and this nation. You are here to administer justice. Justice under the law."
He glances around the room. "The circumstances are extraordinary. For one, this court is of necessity a hybrid of military and civilian practice, even though the defendants are civilians and no state of war has been formally declared by the Congress of the United States. So, even though you will see both the defense counsel and the prosecutor in the uniform of their service, the charges laid against these defendants are those allowable in the criminal law of the State of South Dakota. They are not federal charges. They are not war crimes, even though it seems, in logic, that they should be.
"You will be asked, if you are chosen for this jury, to sift a body of evidence that you will find disturbing in the extreme. And you will be asked to render a verdict, bearing in mind that men’s lives will be in your hands, on that basis of that evidence alone. In a moment, the Clerk of the Court will ask for exemptions, which may be granted for several reasons under the law of this state. If you have formed an opinion on any of these cases, or if you do not believe you are capable of rendering a just and true verdict, you will have an opportunity to inform the Court at that time. Madame Clerk."
The Clerk, a trim redhead with Sergeant’s stripes on her sleeve, begins to read out the list of persons exempt from jury service. Kirsten leans slightly toward Maggie and whispers, "My God, he really is a classic, isn’t he?"
"He almost makes me believe in reincarnation," Maggie answers sotto voce. "He’d be right at home in a toga, stabbing Caesar in the gut for the good of the Republic."
A sharp glance from the bench quiets them both as the Clerk drones on, ". . .Persons over sixty-five years of age . . . full time student . . . care of children under six . . . minister of religion . . . .persons unable to read and write the English language. . . ."
Surprisingly few members of the pool choose to opt out. One young woman with an infant in arms sounds almost disappointed that she can find no one else to care for her baby; a young man with watery eyes and a bad cough is hustled out before he can make a gift of his cold to anyone else. Kirsten steals a glance at the defendants where they sit at the table across the room. The four of them are to be tried together, and they provide a study in contrasts. One, Kazen, seems scarcely out of his teens, his eyes wide with obvious fear. McCallum sprawls in his chair; Buxton slumps in his. The fourth, Petrovich, stares at something in the corner of the ceiling which apparently only he can see. Shackles, unobtrusive, clink each time one of them moves. The chains are not where the jury can see them, but any escape attempt will have to drag the defense table along with it.
Half-hidden behind piles of briefs, Boudreaux’s own face is as pale as his clients’. A fine shimmer of wet at his receding hairline betrays his nerves. He is not a defense lawyer by trade, and despite his uniform, not a lawyer. The responsibility for others’ life and death sits no easier on him than it does on Kirsten herself, and it seems to her that his is the one job even less appealing than her own. He must save these thugs’ lives if he can, and he must save them knowing that if they are found innocent they must be released. Knowing that they have been spared the firing squad only to be handed a more subtle death sentence, and a more brutal one, at the hands of their victims.
"Are counsel prepared to proceed with the voire dire?" Harcourt asks after the exemptions have been dealt with. ‘Major Alderson?"
Major Alderson, appointed prosecutor because of his experience as a paralegal and two years as a Senate aide in Washington, rises and turns to face the public benches. He runs rapidly through the standard questions, hardly pausing when he asks whether the prospective jurors have every been victims of a crime, and every hand in the room goes up. Finally he comes to the end. "Are you able, in the event of a guilty verdict, to assess the death sentence against these defendants? Raise your hand if you do not believe you can do so, please."
"Boudreaux surges to his feet. "Objection, Your Honor! Rape is not a capital crime in the State of South Dakota."
"Major Alderson?" Harcourt’s voice is deceptively mild as he taps the manila folder in front of him. "You wrote these charges, did you not? I do not believe I recall any assertion of murder among them."
Alderson turns to face the bench. "May it please the court, Your Honor. It’s true that these defendants are not directly charged with murder. However, testimony from victims shows that women held in the Rapid City corrections facility were killed, and testimony to be offered here will show that these four men co-operated with the killers. They partake of the crime under the law of parties, Your Honor."
"Even though the killers were androids and not persons under the law? We would not try an android for a crime, Major. We would simply turn it off, you know, or send it to the scapyard."
"Even so, Your Honor. That the perpetrators were androids does not change the nature of the crime, or the nature of these defendants’ participation."
Kirsten spares a glance at Maggie, whose lips twitch in a scarcely suppressed smile. "He’s good," she mouths, not wanting to draw Harcourt’s attention again, and Maggie nods almost imperceptibly.
"Nothing like a few years negotiating budgets on the Hill each you to argue."
"Very well," Harcourt says after a moment’s thought. "I will allow you to proceed along these lines, Counsel, and develop your case if you can. But I will charge the jury as I see fit when the time comes. Understood?"
"Understood, Your Honor."
Alderson puts the question to the jury pool again, briefly explaining that the law of parties is designed to prevent accomplices from escaping on lesser charges than a killer who pulls the trigger or wields the knife himself. "And the evidence will show, ladies and gentlemen, that these four men"—he points to them as he numbers them off: "Kazen, McCallum, Buxton, Petrovich—bought their own lives at the price of the degradation and suffering of dozens of innocent women. Though I use the term advisedly. Some of their victims were no more than twelve or thirteen."
A hissing snakes its way through the courtroom, and Harcourt brings his gavel down hard. "Ladies and gentlemen, I caution you now that I will not tolerate emotional displays in this courtroom." The sound subsides abruptly, and Harcourt lays the gavel down again. "Major Boudreax, if you please."
Boudreaux rises and faces the jury pool. Peering over her shoulder, Kirsten can see that many faces are openly hostile. His opening remarks are conciliatory, designed to overcome as much of that feeling as he can. "Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming here today. I know it has been very difficult for all of you, but I also know that you take your duties as citizens seriously. I helped to take the census in Rapid City, and saw there how much you love your country and how eager you are for the rule of law to be reestablished.
"Part of that rule of law is our justice system. Note that I say ‘justice system,’ not ‘legal system.’ Our laws do not exist for their own sake, just to give police and uniformed services like mine something useful to do. They exist to establish and mete out justice, fairly and impartially. And they do that through citizens like yourselves. You are the government, the true law enforcers of our society.
"My question to you, therefore, is a bit different from that asked by the prosecution. It is this: can you, with all you have suffered in the android uprising, all you have lost, including friends and members of your families, hear the evidence in this case and make your determination of guilt or innocence on that basis alone?"
The room is silent for a space, each of the prospective jurors given time to question his or her own conscience. Then, as the Bailiff begins to call them forward one by one for individual questioning, Kirsten rises and slips unobtrusively from the room. Tacoma is due to leave for the wind farm in half an hour, and Dakota may—no, she is not quite ready to say that Dakota may need her—but she wants to be there all the same. It is where she needs to be.
And here we are, once again, at the end of another episode of The Growing! We hope you are continuing to enjoy! Next Thursday we’ll have a bit of a "heating up" of the Kirsten/Dakota relationship, which I’m sure will be most welcomed! As always, if you wish to drop a line, please be welcomed! firstname.lastname@example.org See you Thursday!
Continued - Chapter 26
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