Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Feb 22, 2006

Fiction: Kangaroo

As Told by Dakota Sue

“I have some personal business to take care of,” Q informed me the moment we touched down at AEGIS again.  I shrugged.

“Mission’s over, so as far as I’m concerned your time is your own.”

“What about Archer?”

“What about him?” I asked.  

“Just making sure.”  He levitated down from the roof and flew into the City.  Finn took Nat’s elbow and ushered her away without a word; Durance lit a cigarette and followed them, preoccupied with his own thoughts.  Paul looked at me and raised his hands helplessly.

“Why don’t you go get the technicians to look at everything we brought back?” I suggested.

“What are you going to do?”

“Go find Archer and report in.”

“Heh.  Better you than me.  Seeya.”

I trudged down to the conference room where our purported commanding officer was doodling idly on a pad of paper.  He glanced up at me and did a double take.

“Where is everyone else?”

“I dismissed them,” I said, dropping into a chair.

“Well, un-dismiss them, they need to be debriefed.”

“What, all the sudden I’m not good enough for you?  Besides, I need to talk to you.”

“Oh?  What about?”

“Finn and Durance have raised what I consider to be some legitimate concerns about what happens to the people we pick up.”

“What sort of concerns?”

“Well, what happens to them?”

He scowled at my reticence for a moment, then shook his head, fluffing his white hair, and groped for his cane.  “This way.”

Mystified, I followed as he stumped his way along through the corridors until we came to what looked like a miniature courtroom; bench, seal, flag, desks for the prosecution and defense.  A few people in suits wearing security badges were sitting around chatting.

“I’d introduce you,” Archer said softly, “but they aren’t authorized to know you exist.  Some of the others here call this the kangaroo court, but we make an effort to be as just as possible given the circumstances.  The only essential difference between what we do here and legal proceedings in the outside world is that everyone here has to have clearance to view sensitive information.”

I looked around.  “But, why?”

He blinked.  “Why what?  Oh . . .” he sighed.  “The law in the rest of the country is such a mess that we’ve had to resort to this . . . expedient to limit the damage.  The only way we can get any sort of rational result from a trial is to do it ourselves.”

“What do you consider a rational result?”

He frowned, considering.  “One where the facts and the evidence are taken into account, not public opinion or wishful thinking.”

“And what about the accused?  Does he have rights that need to be protected?”

“I . . . suppose so.  I mean, there have been capital cases here before . . .”

“I’m not opposed to the death penalty,” I cut in.

He frowned.  “I’m not certain I understand what you’re asking, here.”

“Finn’s objections centered mostly on the fact that he considers any penalty short of death to be dangerously short-sighted.”

“Oh!” Archer’s face brightened.  Then he flushed slightly and looked down at his feet.  “I’m afraid”—he hesitated—“well, to put it bluntly, Finn is a little . . .unbalanced, mentally.”  He thought for a moment.  “So is Durance, actually.”

I sighed and leaned against the wall.  “I know.  I suppose I just needed reassurance that I did the right thing today in shouting them down; I can’t lead this group if they think I’m some kind of soft-headed, soft-hearted idiot, especially not if you’re expecting us to solve problems via the ‘shoot everyone and let God sort them out’ method.”

He shook his head gravely.  “No, and it’s very important that they don’t get the impression that it’s acceptable, either.  I don’t know what to tell you, Susan, your teammates are human like everyone else.  They have their weaknesses.  Some are obvious, some not.”


“What did happen?”

I chuckled.  “We arrived at the estate, broke in and fought with some of Lettam’s creations, then he showed up and we put him down.  He transferred his mind into a robot body.”

Archer nodded.  “Your teammates wanted to kill him?”

“Yeah.  I told them off.”

“Why?” he coughed slightly.  “I’m, ah, familiar with some of your recent history . . .”

“Do you mean the kid that attacked me?”

“The one you killed, yes.”

“He almost ripped my throat out.  Rose got him to loosen up a bit, I had a split second to act, so I did.  I could say that I didn’t mean to kill him, but that’d be stupid.  Sometimes you can’t put someone down without killing them, and killing them will always put them down.  So, when someone’s trying to kill me, I try to return the favor.  If I tried too hard not to kill them, I might hesitate, and in a fight that just makes you really dead really fast.  Now, if I don’t kill them, I’m not going to do it after they’re down.  Emergency’s over.  The rules come back into play.”

“The rules?”

“You know, the foundations of civilization?  As in, a fair trial and so forth.”

He chuckled.  “All right, I’ll grant you that.  What would you do with Lettam?  If it were your decision, I mean.”

“My decision?”  I thought for a while.  “That’s a tough one.”

“Why do you think so?”

“Well, I’m not exactly in possession of all the facts.  For instance, I don’t know if that pilot had permanent brain damage or not.  Plus, I think there’s a few mitigating circumstances.”

“Like what?”

“Why’d he have to attack AEGIS to get technology that’s been in circulation since the 1990’s?  Dr. Atom pulled that mind-transfer trick when I was like six years old, yet for some reason that’s special ‘metahuman’ technology, and is banned from sale on the open market.  However, I don’t know that he exhausted other opportunities.  That’s what these screwed-up laws do to people.  Things that ought to be black-and-white become a mess of gray area.”
“Yes, but you can’t rearrange the world to suit you. ”

I thought some more.  “He’s not likely to commit the same crime again, so we don’t really need to worry about recidivism on that score, however he does have a record of criminal activity in the past . . . what?”

Archer was laughing.

“What is your problem?”

“You are hilarious.  One second you sound like an uneducated boob, the next minute you’re using a word like ‘recidivism’ in a sentence.”

I rolled my eyes.  

“Apologies.  Go on.”

“He does have a criminal record, so there’s a good chance that he might do something again.  However, you can’t sentence people for crimes they might commit, otherwise you’d have to put everyone on the planet in jail.”

“So what’s your decision?”

“Prison.  Now, if it’s an option, he might benefit from occupational therapy.”

“How do you mean?”

“What does prison mean to a robot?  He can’t age, all he can do is be bored.  Set him to designing stuff.  Don’t give him materials, just let him draw schematics and work on theoretical projects.”  I shrugged.  “It might help him to find a place for himself in the world that doesn’t involve being a freak.  But I could be wrong; he could be crazier than I know, and have different motivations.”

“I’m glad I picked you to lead this group.”

“Say what?  I thought I volunteered.”

He grinned.  “Well, maybe you did, and maybe you didn’t.  Now shoo.  I have work to do that, amazingly, doesn’t involve you or your crew.”

“I should probably talk to Finn.  Later, boss.”

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