V. B. Tenery
(Published in Light at the Edge of Darkness anthology, The Writers Cafe, June 2007)
ADINO LEANED BACK BETWEEN his captors and expelled a deep breath. Even brave men aren’t immune to fear. Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid in his predicament.
The spacecraft slowed and hovered over the landing pad outside the Universal Court complex. The shuttle eased into the bay and docked at the harbor. Angry faces glared through the porthole. Nothing less than Adino expected.
The airlock doors slid open with a hiss. Shouts from the crowd pounded his ears.
“Adino, you bigot!”
“You’re not above the law!”
“ . . . killed Stycus, one of his own, he did!”
A white-suited Peace Enforcer transferred his shackles from the ship’s wall to the pair of guards at his side. The bonds consisted of two thin gold wires connected to handcuffs at his wrists. He could snap them apart with one hard jerk, but the implosion would blow him into the next millennium. Not his guards, not even his skivvies, just him.
Friends and foe lined the corridor as the guards led him to the cell designed for Peace Force criminals. Fierce murmurs lashed out as he passed. Barnabus stood at the end of the passage, his face grim. His gaze met Adino’s and then he looked away. He would be the prosecutions first witness.
His cell was a wide circular cubicle with no walls. A force field surrounded a bed, table, and two chairs. Inside the field’s edge, a metal enclosure contained the bathroom. The only place he could escape the camera’s prying eyes. The wall’s metallic surface reflected a virtual screen and keypad that allowed him to order meals.
A woman wearing the uniform of a Universal Court Attorney occupied one of the chairs. Without the severe spiked hairstyle, she might have been beautiful, with her doe eyes and perfect mouth.
She stood and waited as the guards removed his shackles. “I’m Dorcus.” She offered her hand. “I’ll be representing you at trial.”
He enclosed her smaller hand with his own. “Do you have a first name?”
Her brows creased into a straight line. “Dorcus is my first name. The court only uses identification numbers and our acquaintance will be too short to bother with last names.”
The frost in her eyes made his ears tingle. “Are you making fun of my name? My grandmother selected it. With a name like Adino, you shouldn’t smirk.”
“I wasn’t being rude. I meant I’m sorry we won’t have time to become friends. Dorcus is a Christian name. The Apostle Paul called her a disciple. However, having a Christian name could be a roadblock in your career path.”
She lifted one shoulder. “I’m not worried.” With a remote pen from her bag, she summoned a screen from the ceiling. With the remote she keyed in the date, June 12, 2519, his name, and ID number. The screen blinked twice before revealing the charges against him. “Your trial begins day after tomorrow, June 14th.”
“They take the right to a speedy trail seriously, don’t they?”
She nodded. “As well as speedy punishment. The trial won’t last more than two days. The nine court justices will adjudicate your case. I had to forgo a jury trial. I couldn’t fine thirteen unbiased jurors.”
Dorcus took the seat across from him. “I have to be honest with you. I don’t see how you can beat this. I’ve seen the video. Clement will be counsel for the prosecution. He’s mean and he has a personal vendetta against the Peach Force Warriors. Something to do with the arrest of his brother. But there’s one bit of good news. I’ve always found Chief Justice Jarvick to be fair.”
Adino closed his eyes and shook his head. “And you think I’ll get a fair trial? I’m charged with a hate crime—killing Stycus because of his religion. Need I point out there isn’t a Christian amount the nine justices?”
Dorcus’ gaze locked on his. “They may not be Christian, but they’re usually fair.” She held up a small silver disk. “Do you know what this is?”
He shook his head.
She pressed her thumb in an indention in the center of the case. Virtual images of Adino, Barnabus, and Stycus swirled around the force field wall. “This unit can also be voice activated. The court’s only evidence against you lies in this. Review it carefully. I’ll be back tomorrow to hear your side. You should consider a guilty plea. The court might decline the death penalty.”
He glared at her. “Thanks for the ray of sunshine. Why didn’t the court just send the Death Squad to meet me at the dock and saved the expense of a trial.”
A pink flush rose from her neck to her face. “I don’t believe in holding out false hope to clients.”
“Congratulations. You can go home with the assurance you succeeded.”
Anger flashed in her eyes and she hurried to the security exit to await the signal she could leave.
Adino’s anger ebbed and a pang of conscious came over him. “Wait a minute. I’m sorry. I’m taking my frustration out on you.” He ran his fingers through his hair and sat down on the bunk. “I need a favor. Would you bring me a Bible? They confiscated mine when I was arrested.”
She turned to him, the tension around her mouth relaxed, softening her features. “You know that will count against you. I have to register it in your name.”
“Nevertheless, I’d still appreciate it if you would bring one when you come tomorrow.”
She nodded. The aperture flashed, and she disappeared through the opening.
Adino set the disk aside. He messaged his temples with the tips of his fingers. He’d called his father after his arrest, but he was on Oman, a galaxy away. He wouldn’t arrive until after the trial.
Adino rose and knelt beside the bunk, recalling a memory verse he’d learned as a child. And when they bring you into the synagogues and magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing ye answer, or what ye shall say. For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in that same hour what ye ought to say.
The one truth in this crazy universe Adino knew for certain—God kept his promise.
He rose at peace within, warmth settled over him like a heated shelter in the Frozen Zone. He grabbed the disk and watched the images until he fell asleep.
Dorcus appeared the next morning with the Bible as requested. She laid it on the table and surveyed his breakfast tray. “They gave you steak and lobster?”
Adino grinned and nodded. “Dinner and breakfast so far. Last night I ordered a hamburger, for breakfast I ordered sausage and eggs.” He waved a hand at the tray. “That’s what I received both time.”
“How nice for you.”
He leaned back in the chair and placed his hands behind his head. “Yeah, it looks like someone crossed the prisoners menus with those of the justices.” He chucked. “Somewhere last night, a judge got a hamburger that belonged to me.”
He watched her struggle to keep the smile in her eyes from reaching her mouth.
She lost the battle. “You didn’t have anything to do with the switch did you? I’ve heard you’re something of a technology wizard.”
Adino placed his hand over his heart. “Do I look like the kind of guy who’s corrupt the food supply of the Universal Prison system for personal gain?” He would have done so, but his cell unit was a dumb terminal.
She cast him a skeptical glance and dropped into a chair. “Let’s get down to business. Did you watch the data I gave you last night?”
That sobered his mood. “Yes and the view from my helmet weren’t included—the one that supports my version of what happened.”
She lifted one eyebrow. “The guards told me you destroyed your helmet recording.”
“Why would I get rid of it? Besides I didn’t have time. The guards surrounded me and grabbed by helmet within seconds.”
“What did your headset reveal that was different?”
He ran his hand through his short-cropped hair. “Stycus shouted at me. ‘I’ll kill you,’ and reached for his weapon. That’s when I fired.” My helmet had sound. Are you aware I tried to arrest him because he worked for the drug traders in the Draco galaxy?”
“No one argues that Stycuc wasn’t a criminal. They’re charging you with murder because his gun was still in his holster. That and the Prosecutor has labeled it a hate crime. They say you killed him because of his religion.”
He threw up his hand. “I didn’t even know he had a religion.”
Dorcus lowered her gaze. “He worshipped Baal. You spoken out publicly against Baalism.”
Adino clenched his jaw; the heat of anger overwhelmed his judgment. “If I’d known that, I might have killed him in cold blood. Do you know what those people do, Dorcus? They burn their children alive in sacrifice to that—that . . . stone statue. It a practice straight from the bowels of hell.”
Her face paled and she whispered. “Watch what you say. They record our conversations. I’m not always happy with the Universal Government, and I don’t like Baalism any more than you do, but it’s protected under the law.”
He stood, breathing hard, his hands balled into fists. “That includes every pagan belief under the sun except Christianity.”
“I’m an officer of the court, Adino. I didn’t pass these laws. Whether you like it or not, without me, maybe even with me, you’ll face the Death Squad before the weekend. For now, we have to come up with a defense strategy. Any ideas?”
“Just one. Call Victor Seacote as a witness. He’s a retired Peace Force General.”
“Did he see you kill Stycus?”
“The why should I call him?”
Adino lifted his shoulders and dropped them like weights. “Just trust me on this. It came to me last night. When that happens, I don’t ask questions.”
Dorcus crossed her arms. “Well I do. That’s my job. I can’t put a witness on the stand unless I know what he’ll say. Your life and my reputation are both at stake here.”
“Just do it, Dorcus. That’s all I ask. Talk to Victor before the trial.” He eased a heavy breath from his lungs. “What is the truth chamber? I heard about it, but never seen it in action?”
It’s a technological break-through in the judicial system. It can tell when someone is lying. It flashes red when a lie is told.”
“Then why can’t I testify in my own behalf?”
She shook her head. “I’ve already tried. The government thinks you people have found a way to cheat.”
Adino caught a glimpse of his profile in the table’s mirrored surface. A face gray with fatigue gazed back at him. “Yeah, we tell the truth. Imagine that. Something they will neither hear nor accept.”
She lifted her hand. “Regardless, we have to play by their rules. By the way, your name also has a biblical origin. I researched it last night.”
She seemed pleased with her newfound knowledge. “Adino was the mightiest warrior in David’s army when he ran from King Saul. Adino killed eight-hundred men with a spear in a single day.”
He gave her a pleased smile. “My father gave me the name. He’s a retired Peace Force Pilot. We make a good pair. A disciple and a warrior.”
Wrinkles formed between her eyes. “I’m no disciple.”
“Not yet.” The woman wasn’t completely hopeless. She had checked out his name in the Bible.
Boredom weighed heavy after Dorcus left. He paced the cell then read his Bible for a while. At last he resorted to pushups until exhausted, he fell asleep.
A familiar almost imperceptible hum reached through his sleep-fogged brain. The hair prickled on the back of his neck and jerked him awake. A sound he knew well. He had sent hundreds of the death droids into battle.
How . . . who? I’m safe. A detonation won’t penetrate the force field.
His gaze followed the tiny saucer-shaped X-720 as it hovered inches off the floor then moved inside the perimeter of his cell.
Someone had lowered the force field.
In an instant, Adino rolled off the steel cot, flipped the bed on its end, and threw the metal structure between him and the X-720 just as the droid fired. He reacted one second too late. The ray blasted a large chuck of flesh from his left shoulder. Hot knives seared his arm as sparks and blood showered down like rain drops and the air reeked of burned flesh.
Mind in hyperdrive, Adino plumbed his memory for a lecture the droid designer had given at the Academy. He should have paid more attention.
The droid had one flaw if memory served him. Unlike the death ray in the hand weapon, he could deflect the X-720’s beam and it had a ten-second lapse between flashes. Adino used the bunk for cover and lunged into the bathroom. Inside, he ignored the painful throb that ran from his shoulder to his arm and ripped the metal mirror from the wall. Meanwhile, the X-720 concentrated its power to cut through the metal barrier.
Adino hefted the heavy mirror, the surface wet from the blood on his hand, and waited for the next blast.
With the mirror in place, he stepped in front of the droid. The reflector slipped, and the blast singed the hair off his right temple.
He stumbled back to safety, wiped the blood off his hand, and counted to ten. This time, the ploy worked. The mirror held steady. The ray flew back at the tiny saucer and turned it into instant soup.
Guards swarmed into the cell block, weapon drawn.
Adino dropped the mirror and leaned against the wall. “Great timing, guys. I could have used you two minutes ago.”
In sick bay, he had time to consider who might have activated the droid. He had too many enemies to even make a guess. Someone hadn’t wanted to wait for the trial verdict, and whoever sent the droid had connections. The X-720 wasn’t available on the black market, and just anyone couldn’t waltz into the prison and lower the force field.
Had to be an inside job.
When he returned to his cell, someone had cleaned up the mess and reinstated the force field.
Adino lay back on his bunk and open the Bible that had somehow remained intact through the battle. He read for a while then knelt beside his band new bunk.
Guards hustled Adino into court at 9:00 the next morning. Dorcus sat at the defense table. Her smile vanished when she saw his bandages. “What happened?”
He gave her a wry smile. “You should see the other guy.”
Her brow furrowed. “Don’t be cute, Adino. Tell me what happened.”
He leaned in close. “Someone set a death droid on me.”
She took a deep breath, let it out, and stared at his bandages again. “Are you sure you’re able to stand trial? I can get a postponement.”
Adino shook his head. “No delay. I want it over with today, one way or the other. I won’t give them another shot at me tonight.”
Dorcus shuffled the papers on the desk into a neat pile. “Your premonition about Victor Seacote may help us. We at least have a chance with him in our corner. Although—he’s reluctant to publicly support your Christian philosophy.”
Adino and Dorcuz stood with everyone else when the nine justices entered, majestic in their black robes.
The chamber clerk called the court to order. Chief Justice Jarvick glanced from Clement to Dorcus. “Are you ready to proceed with the trail?”
They both answered in the affirmative.
Clement stepped forward. “Our first witness, Your Honors, is Barnabus,” Clement entered his ID number into the record.
Barnabus stepped into the chamber. A laser scanned his badge and a mechanical voice announce. “ID confirmed.”
Clement introduced a virtual disk into evidence. “Your Honors, this contains data taken at the crime scene by cameras in the area.”
Life-size images sprang up before the bench. Clement stood to the right of the chamber as the characters ran though the same grotesque movements Adino had seen his first night.
Clement stopped the disk. “Tell the court what you saw.”
Barnabus cleared his throat. “I wasn’t in the area, but I heard Stycus yell something, but it wasn’t clear. As you can see, I rushed in just as Adino fired the fatal shot.”
“Had Stycus drawn his weapon?”
Barnabus shot Adino a pained glance. “No, the weapon was still in his holster.”
“Then Adino didn’t shot Stycus in self-defense as he claims. He didn’t even try to arrest him.”
Dorcus jumped to her feet. “Objection, Your Honor. Defense is leading the witness.”
Justice Jarvick turned to Barnabus. “Objection overruled. You may answer the question.”
Barnabus’ spine straightened. “I can only tell you what I saw. I won’t speculate on what Adino’s intentions were.”
Clement moved on. “Had you ever hear Adino speak against Baalism?”
“Yes, off duty. He explained what Baal worship was and what it did to families—ever chance he got.”
“Did you know Stycus was a Baal worshiper?”
Barnabus shook his head. “No. He never mentioned it to me.”
“No further questions, Your Honors.” Clement returned to the defense table. “Your witness, Dorcus.”
“I have no questions for this witness, Your Honors,” Dorcus said.
“Prosecution rests, Your Honors.”
Dorcus rose from her seat. “Defense calls General Victor Seacote.”
Adino’s gaze followed his old friend as he made a grand entrance. Tall and straight, his spotless uniform adorned with medals, Victor entered the chamber. The laser flashed and confirmed his identity.
Adino recalled many evenings spent with the General and several other recruits. The General’s home was a hang-out whenever the troops came in from the field.
Dorcus moved to the lectern in front of the chamber. “General, you are acquainted with Adino, are you not?”
Seacote nodded. “Yes, Adino served as my lieutenant until I retired last year. He proved his courage in many battles, especially in the Gorgaii Wars.”
“Have you ever heard Adino speak against Baalism?”
Seacote shifted in his chair, discomfort lined his face. “Many times. I’ve joined him on occasion. You don’t have to be Christian to know that Baalism is evil.”
“Objection,” Clement shouted.
Justice Jarvick face was impassive. “Overruled.”
Dorcus pressed on. “General, when you heard what happen to Stycus, what was your first impression?”
Seacote glanced over at Adino. “I knew immediately, what had happened.”
Clement rose and with an elaborate sigh. “Objection. Please, Your Honor. He couldn’t know what occurred. He wasn’t there.”
“I’ll allow it, Counselor. Proceed, General.”
Dorcus turned to Seacote. “How did you know?”
“I knew both men well, they served under my command. And I knew Adino’s skill with that particular weapon.”
Dorcus make eye contact with each of the nine justices. “With your permission, I would like to ask the General to perform a demonstration before the court.”
The justices nodded in unison.
Clement rose as if to make an objection. Justice Jarvick scowled at him and he sat back down.
General Seacote stepped from the chamber and another Peace Force Warrior entered the area. The General introduced the man as Thaddeus.
Both men walked to the defense table and removed weapons from a box. Thaddeus took fifteen paces in front of the General and turned.
General Seacote held up the weapons before the bench. “This is a mock up of the murder weapon we use in training. It’s harmless, but it’s the same size and weight as the real thing. When I fire at the badge on the warrior’s chest, it will emit a loud ringing sound, like this.” He fired and the bell shattered the heavy silence.
Adino smiled. He realized what the General was doing. He personified the answer to s prayer.
Seacote addressed the court. “We will recreate what I believe happened at the crime scene.”
Both men placed a weapon in their holster.
Thaddeus yelled. “I’ll kill you,” and he grabbed for his ray gun. Before his hand reached the butt of the weapon, the bell on his chest rang. The old man had drawn the gun so fast, Adino didn’t see his movement.
Clement thundered to his feet. “So-he can draw his weapon fast. This is a waste of the court’s time. It proves nothing. He’s not Adino.”
“Objection overruled. Dorcas, I’m giving you some leeway here to make your point.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
The General returned to the truth chamber and Dorcas resumed her position. “General, how fast can Adino draw his death-laser?”
“He averages 31.6 milliseconds faster than me. That can be verified by records at the Peace Force Academy.”
“And how fast could Stycus draw?”
General Seacote grinned. “He averaged 16.7 milliseconds slower than Thaddeus, the soldier I used in this demonstration. This can also be confirmed by academy records.”
Clement was on his feet again. “Justice Jarvick, I object.”
The Chief Justice raised an eyebrow. “Overruled. General Seacote has served the space community with courage and honor and he sits in the truth chamber. Take you seat, Clement.”
Dorcas wended her way back to the defense table. “I have no further questions. Your witness, Counselor.”
Clement rose and moved toward Seacote. “General, are you a Christian?”
Seacote’s face hardened. “You know I’m not.”
“Just answer the questions. You’re very fond of Adino, aren’t you?”
General Seacote nodded. “Yes. He’s one of the bravest warriors I’ve ever been privileged to have at my side in battle.”
“Just answer the questions, General. Would you lie to save your friend?”
“I might, but you’re forgetting, Clement that I sit in the truth chamber.
Clement raised his hands and splayed his fingers. “No further questions.”
At closing arguments, Clement took thirty minutes. Dorcus took twenty minutes for her summation. She re-ran the video from the crime scene, and the one made during General Seacote’s demonstration. The court retired for deliberation.
Two hours later, the chamber clerk summoned everyone back into the courtroom.
Adino’s heart dropped into his stomach. The somber faces as the justice’s took their seats seemed to auger a guilty verdict.
Justice Jarcick called the court to order. “We have reached a verdict. Defense counsel has asked each judge to verify his decision by a voice vote. When the voting ended, it was three guilty, three not guilty. The vote had tied.
Adino swallowed hard. His life rested in Jarvick’s hands.
Jarvick gazed down at Adino. When he spoke, his voice was heavy, almost as if against his will. “I vote guilty. The death sentence will be carried out immediately.”
The spectators erupted in applause with only a few angry shots against the decision.
Shaken, Adino turned to Dorcas to confirm what he’d heard.
She nodded, her face distorted with disgust. She placed her hand on his arm and her eyes welled with tears. “I’m sorry, Adino—.
He placed a finger on her lips. “Don’t. You did your best. The outcome of this trial rested in the hands of a higher power that this court.”
Shouts and pounding outside the courtroom made Adino turn.
General Seacote, flanked by Barnabus and Thaddeus burst through a side entrance, weapons drawn. The General shoved two guards aside, took their guns, and stood behind Adino.
The General glared at the bench. “That death sentence won’t be carried out today, Jarvick. I heard about the death droid someone sent into Adino’s cell last night, and Clement just happened to be in the area. This trial was a charade from the start.”
He handed Adino a weapon. “Come Lieutenant, we’re taking you out of here.”
As the four men backed out, Adino glimpsed Dorcas’s face. Her gazed search his, then flew to the black robed men behind the bench. She stood rooted for a moment, her posture uncertain. Suddenly, she ran toward him. “Wait. I’m coming with you.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the corridor, and fired the ray gun at the door’s lock. Heat from the blast fused the metals together, blocking egress. “General, I hope you have a plan. That door won’t hold them back for long.”
With the General in the lead the tiny band headed for the stairs that led to the roof, sealing the doors behind them at each level.
“Of course I have a plan,” General Seacote yelled over his shoulder. “But its success depends on your father’s skill as a pilot. He’s bringing the Pelonis to the roof. Your father arrived an hour ago.”
As they burst onto the roof top, Adino stared at the General. “You can’t hover a fighter ship.”
“I can’t, but your dad said he could hold it stationary long enough for us to board. If he can’t—we have a problem.”
Dorcas turned to Adino, her face pale.
He gave her hand a squeeze of reassurance and mentally crossed his fingers. “Don’t worry. Dad’s the best pilot the Force ever had, and he always does what he says he will do.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Adino saw the Pelonis approach the building. The ship made one pass and returned to stand almost motionless three feet from the roof’s surface. The side of the ship opened and Barnabus handed Dorcas through, then he and Thaddeus climbed aboard.
Barnabus reached for the General’s hand as the ship lifted off. The force of the take-off knocked General Seacote to the ground. Barnabus slammed hand back inside the aircraft bouncing against the far wall. The door closed and the Pelonis soared away.
Tight-lipped, the General held up his hand to indicate someone was speaking into his helmet.
After a moment, he turned to Adino. “Your father couldn’t hold the ship steady any longer. He’s coming back for us.”
Loud noises and blasts from the stairwell meant the door wouldn’t hold much longer, and a bright flash whizzed past Adino’s ear. A Universal fighter headed toward the rooftop, guns sending cement chips and rocks into the air around them. He and General Seacote took shelter behind a metal shaft. Seconds later, the Pelonis came into view and fired at the fighter ship, getting a direct hit. The fighter fell from the sky, but there would be more, and soon. The Pelonis settled into quasi-hover mode and the ship’s door banged open. Barnabus yelled, “Come on. Hurry.”
The General rushed from cover with Adino on his heels. Thaddeus pulled the General to safety inside and reached for Adino’s hand. At that moment, the roof door collapsed and Warriors spilled through the opening, weapons on full blast. Heat from the gunfire scorched the air around Adino. His fingers started to slip from Thaddeus’s grip, his legs still dragging the roof’s foundation. He sent up a silent plea. Lord, don’t let them leave me behind.
With all the strength he could command, he put both feet on the roof and shoved upward. Beads of sweat popped onto his brow and he hung in mid-air, Half in, half out of the ship. By some miracle, both arms and one leg landed inside. Barnabus grabbed Adino under the arms and pulled him aboard.
The General yelled at Adino’s dad. “Get us out of here, Frank.”
Breathless and shaken, Adino rolled to a sitting position, shook his head and grinned at the General. “So this was your plan, huh?”
Seacote gave his a slow smile, and shrugged. “It worked, didn’t it?”
Adino nodded. “Yeah, it did. But you left my heart and posterior back there on the roof.”
Nervous laughter filled the cabin as the Pelonis sailed out of reach of the ground fire, lifting into the atmosphere.
Adino strapped himself into a seat beside a shaken Dorcas. “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?”
She shook her head and heaved a deep breath. “No, but when I heard the verdict, I remembered something my grandmother use to say. ‘I’d rather be a servant in Heaven than reign in Hell.’ I could no longer represent clients in the Universal Court’s so-called justice system.”
Adino leaned close and whispered. “Look on the bright side. If they catch us, you may get my old cell with steak and lobster.”
She laughed. “That makes me feel so much better.”
He chuckled and yelled. “Where are we going, Dad?”
His father waved at him from the cockpit. “Wherever God leads us, son.”