Saturday, June 27, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Equilibrium (Part IV)

The adjudicative system today was a lot different than it was when Hokusai was growing up. Instead of a single jury, deliberations were done with two separate arbitration panels, of five people. On each panel, three were regular people who served as arbiters, while two were educated arbitrators. There was still a judge—though, the position was now called adjudicator, to align with an a-word motif—but it was their responsibility to manage and mediate the court, rather than make summary judgments, punish the half-guilty, be corrupt, and stand above the law. The court system on Varkas Reflex was quite new, and while societies on the other colony planets generally stuck with the systems created on Earth after millennia of development, the Varkans decided to throw most of that out the window. Theirs was not an unfair process, but it wasn’t formal either, and it wasn’t orderly, nor predictable.
The good news was that Loa and Pribadium were both deemed innocent for the potential crime of erasing the episodic memories of the dimensional gravity scientists. The bad news was that Hokusai was not. She was sitting in the courtroom now, which was usually used for zero-g darts. One of the eight alleged victims was responsible for coming up with new forms of gravitational recreation, so this was her spot. Of course, she didn’t remember doing any of that, which was why they were all here now.
Gangsta Dazzlemist was playing the part of adjudicator, Katica Petrić was acting as advocate for the defense, and the investigator from before was the adhering attorney. Two people were chosen at random to approximate the role of arbiters. One was a permanent resident, while the other just happened to be in the middle of a decade-long vacation. Neither of them exhibited any signs of caring whether they were there or not. The only truly qualified person here was a bona fide arbitrator from Bungula. He had reportedly moved here to make sure proceedings such as this didn’t end up in kangaroo court. Anywhere else in the stellar neighborhood, most of these would be considered conflicts of interest, or at least inappropriate selections, but people here didn’t see it that way. If they were impacted by whatever had happened, then they were believed to have the right to decide the consequences and conclusion.
A slapdash Gangsta was sucking his teeth repeatedly, out of boredom, as if waiting for someone else to start, except that this was his duty. He apparently knew this, and finally perked up. “All right. Let’s get goin’. Adherent Blower, what’s your accusation?”
“It’s Boehler. Risto Boehler,” the investigator responded.
“Is that your accusation?” Gangsta joked.
“Hokusai Gimura stands accused of maliciously erasing the memories of seven innocent scientists.”
“Okay,” Gangsta said. “Hokusai? Are ya guilty?”
“I am not. I did know it would erase all of their memories, but I was told that it would not hurt, and I did it with no malice.”
“‘Kay, cool. Go ahead and ask your questions, bro.”
“Thank you. Madam Gimura, when did you first arrive on Varkas Reflex?”
“Twenty-two thirty-nine,” she answered.
“So, you were part of the original colony fleet?”
“No,” she said truthfully. “I arrived in my own vessel.”
“This vessel was much smaller than standard technological development in the 2230s would allow, correct?”
“I’m ahead of my time.”
“And how exactly are you ahead of your time? Where were you educated?”
“Earth. I was just born smart.”
“When were you born?”
“June 27, 1985.”
“So that would make you three hundred and two years old. You’re a tricenterian.”
Hokusai bobbed her head side to side. The reality was that she was much younger than that, because of all the time travel she had experienced, but she couldn’t say any of that. Fortunately, perjury didn’t seem to be a thing here, so okay. “Well, it’s more complicated than that, because of relativity.” That wasn’t quite a lie anyway.
“Sure,” Risto began. “I’m just gathering some information. Let’s get to the real questions. You’re the one who invented what scientists refer to as dimensional gravity?”
“How does it work?”
“You would need at least three postgraduate degrees to have any hope of understanding it.”
“I have equivalent-seven.” He didn’t say this to brag. Equivalent-seven wasn’t even all that much in this day and age. With no need to use one’s education to make money, and literally all the time in the universe, casually gaining profound amounts of knowledge over the course of several decades was commonplace. “But assume I don’t. Explain like I’m five. How does it work, at its most basic level?”
Hokusai squirmed in her seat, and looked to her wife for help, but Loa could only frown at her. “Gravity is a force, enacted upon an object to a certain calculable degree, according to mass, density, and proximity. My technology generates a field of negative mass, extracted from another dimension. It doesn’t lower the gravity under your feet; it’s more like it gets between you and the gravitational object, so that the object can’t pull on you anymore. This energy can be manipulated to adjust your weight.”
“Wow, that’s some smart five-year-old,” Risto remarked.
Hokusai tried to dumb it down further. “Water makes you buoyant, so you can float on it. It doesn’t negate gravity, but it can make you feel weightless, because the water is trying to push you up at the same time. Think of my tech as just a lake of water that isn’t wet, and is made up of particles other than dihydrogen monoxide.”
“What particles is it made of?”
“Are you still five years old in this question?”
“Fair enough, I’ll move on. Who did you work with to create this technology? Who else was on your team?”
At this, the professional arbitrator, Jericho Hagen shifted in his seat, as if perturbed by the question.
“No one.” Another truth, but it was hard to believe.
“You did all by yourself?”
“That’s impressive.”
“I had decades upon decades to work on it.” That wasn’t totally true, though. Hokusai had indeed been inventing things since the 20th century, but dimensional gravity was a more recent endeavor.”
“Still,” he went on, “others have had about as much time as you, and they never did it, so you must be something special.”
“I must be,” she said.
“When you came to our planet, you agreed to help us combat the high-gravity problem by letting us use your dimensional gravity technology, yes?”
“I did.”
“Yet you didn’t allow us to reverse-engineer or reproduce it, right? You handled every aspect of early construction, and didn’t let anyone else in?”
“That’s not the whole truth. I trusted my apprentice, Pribadium Delgado with it.”
“Yes,” Risto understood. “You trusted Miss Delgado, up until the point she disappeared. Then you disappeared as well, along with your wife.”
“I didn’t disappear.”
“Oh, no?”
“I always knew where I was.”
“Quite. But we didn’t, and still don’t. Care to share where you were during that time?”
“I don’t.”
“Don’t what?”
“Care. I don’t care to share. That’s classified.”
“Well, that’s a good segue. Let’s talk about the neural implant chips, and the classified data on them. Did you have anything to do with their creation?”
Jericho shifted in his seat again.
“I didn’t,” she said. “I wasn’t here, and hadn’t heard of them until yesterday.”
“Yet you had control over them.”
“Enough time to push a button, and erase everyone’s memories.”
“Enough time for that, indeed.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I was told the button would only purge the data on the chip, not affect the rest of their respective brains.”
“But you knew it was a possibility?”
“Of course it was a possibility. There was a possibility that, when I pressed the button, the whole building transmuted into gold. The chances were absurdly low, but still not zero. Osiris gave it to me, knowing full well I would use it, and probably sooner, rather than later. He knew the risks, and I accepted his consideration without spending time considering these risks myself.”
Jericho could clearly bite his tongue no longer. Arbitrators were not usually meant to speak during the trial. Like the juries of ancient days, they were expected to only listen until deliberations began. He couldn’t suffer the ineptitude anymore, though. “You’re not asking her any real questions!”
“I’m sorry?” Boehler asked.”
Jericho stood up. “This is supposed to be a trial. You’re supposed to find out what she did, why she did it, and whether she’s a danger because of it. The four of us are then supposed to figure out what to do with her. You can’t just keep letting her off the hook. Where did she go after she disappeared? Don’t let her not answer that. How confident was she that the memory-erasing button was safe? Ask that question.  Make her tell you what this other dimension is where we’re getting our gravity. This isn’t the 21st century anymore. There’s no such thing as proprietary privilege. Ask the damn questions!”
Adjudicator Dazzlemist pretended to bang a gavel, and released a sort of barking sound with each one. “Mister Hagen, this is highly irregular!” He said it with about as much seriousness as a clown at a comedy club.
“This is a joke! You don’t want justice for these people’s lives. Do you even know what life is? It’s memory. I’m two hundred and sixteen years old. I spent four of those in stasis on my way to Alpha Centauri, so I’m not really two-sixteen, I’m closer to two-twelve.”
“You chose stasis for a six-year flight?” Gangsta questioned.
“That’s not my point!” Jericho contended. “I didn’t make any memories during the trip. I was essentially dead. Because memories are all we have, the act of erasing someone’s memories is tantamount to murder. So let’s do a real trial, and figure it out.”
Gangsta’s face changed in such a way to make his name sound a bit unrealistic. He finally lived up to his position as a world leader. “This isn’t a real trial. This is more of a mediation. We’re trying to determine, not the truth, but what we should do with that truth. We know that Madam Gimura erased the victim’s memories, and we know she didn’t do it on purpose, because we have testimony from Madam Nielsen, Miss Delgado, and Dr. Petrić. All we need to do now is decide if she’s too dangerous to stay on-world. I understand that you would prefer we make this all very formal and regulated, but your response to the lack of organization was a chaotic outburst of passion. I hope you can appreciate the irony in that.”
Jericho sighed. “I do.”
“Good. I have some questions of my own. “Dr. Petrić, you possess knowledge of dimensional gravity, correct?”
“As do you, Miss Delgado?”
Pribadium didn’t know why she was being addressed, but had to answer, “yes.”
“This place thrives on safety. There aren’t a lot of laws that we care about, but we care about that. I see no reason for you to fill out seven billion forms to request an assignment on a ship collecting hydrogen from this system’s mini-Neptune, Lycos Isledon. You wanna go, just go. The only reason our species used to have closed borders, visas, and passports is because people were greedy and dangerous back then. We got rid of that when we got rid of most of the motives for crime. Still, crime does exist, because people still have complicated motives. It would be equally difficult to categorize Madam Gimura’s actions as harmless as it would be to categorize them as malicious. I can’t have someone on my world who has erased seven people’s memories, and it doesn’t much matter whether she did it on purpose, or not. It throws off the equilibrium, and it has to be stopped before it gets out of control. She can go live somewhere else, which I know she’s capable of doing, because she’s three centuries old, and she’s done it before. My judgment is permanent exile. Thank you. You’re all dismissed.”
Hokusai wanted to be upset, but the reality was that her technology was safe, and there was nothing particularly appealing about this planet, so she didn’t need to stay. He was right, she could live anywhere. So she would go without a fight.

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