Saturday, 25 June 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 6: Exhaustion

The light emitters that floated in the centre of the cylindrical living space of the ship, like a trio of miniature suns, were very slowly dimming into their night-mode. The whole ship was bathed in an orange glow. Ebbington Mulholland sat on the steps of the Galileo General Hospital smoking a black market cigarette, ignoring the sneers of the hospital staff and visitors that passed him by. He had given the news to Dr and Mrs Dorrit that he had found out what had attacked Dr Dorrit and who was culpable. In all likelihood there would be an enquiry into the whole thing before the Council of Scientists. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, Bing would be able to follow up with a lawsuit for damages. The Dorrits had thanked him for his efforts and been happy to make payment of his retainer immediately. 
A cab pulled up at the kerb in front of him. He stumped out his cigarette and stepped inside. The car was driverless. A scanner had already identified Bing and had all his details from the ship’s central computer.
“Home,” was all Bing had to say, and the cab’s computer driver was on its way. As tempting as it was to sleep the whole journey away, he had to check his emails. He pressed a button on his wristwatch and a hologram interface appeared floating in front of him. He selected his emails, and to his delight there were only three.
The first two were from his robot receptionist, Honda. Honda was a robotic arm that had previously been employed by a car manufacturer. The first email from the robot was to tell Bing that there was a fly in the office and he didn’t know what to do. The second was Honda following up to tell Bing that everything was ok, because he and the fly were now friends.
Honda made Bing’s head hurt. He didn’t know who had programmed the robot, but he had vowed to find the bastard and have him committed to some form of institution. Honda’s redeeming features were that he had been cheap to purchase, and had once saved Bing’s life. Because of that combination of factors, Bing couldn’t bring himself to replace Honda with something more competent.
The last email was one that Bing hadn’t expected. The sender was Dr Laura Mulholland. Bing wondered if he should leave that one for the morning, when he would be more mentally agile. His curiosity overpowered him. He opened the email to find out what the woman who was divorcing him wanted. 
Hi Bing, I hope you’re well. Would you be interested in coming by the house tomorrow night for a few drinks?

Bing turned off the hologram and stared out the window. The cab was driving up a ramp onto one of the ship-length highways. Unlike the circumferential highways, these ones were equipped with magnetic boosters that propelled vehicles along it at tremendous speeds to make the journey from one end of the ship last minutes instead of hours. Bing was momentarily pressed back into his seat by the rapid acceleration of the vehicle. The whole ship became a blur. Things popped into and out of view in rapid succession, and Bing’s brain could barely make sense of any of it. 
He closed his eyes and tried not to think. Only three months ago he and Laura had been happy. Then Bing had found out that she had been unfaithful to him and had walked out. He had gone to live at a hotel and booked himself in for a week to think things over. His next move had not been clear cut in his head. He wasn’t sure if he was going to return home, but five days after leaving, a messenger appeared at his hotel room door with a letter from the office of William Symington, the ship’s other lawyer. Laura had begun divorce proceedings. 
Many things had gone through him that night: thoughts, feelings, and alcohol. The alcohol had been a cheap, grain alcohol, but it was all that Bing could acquire at that late hour. The sale of alcohol - as with most other recreational stimulants and depressants - was prohibited on the ship. However, manufacturing alcohol for one’s own use (and maybe very quietly selling a little on the side) was overlooked. Laura and her friends operated a small vineyard in their spare time, and their wine was very highly regarded. It had been one of her scientist friends with whom she owned the vineyard that she had been unfaithful with. The night he received the divorce papers, Bing had drank excessive amounts to rid himself of the image of Laura and Dr Gunther Prost writing vigorously in a vat of grapes; the green fruit being mashed by their naked buttocks thrusting back and forth. He had drained the entire bottle of grain booze and passed out. Judging by the monumental hangover the following day (which continued to the day after that as well) he was lucky he could only obtain a single bottle.
Bing hadn’t spoken to Laura directly since the day he left. He had corresponded, and had meetings, with Symington about the divorce though. Bing and Symington had been good friends since working together on the ship. He was a much different lawyer than Bing. Whereas back on Earth Bing had been a criminal defence lawyer with a limited amount of civil experience, Symington had been a high-flying  commercial lawyer, specialising (and earning a fortune in) hostile takeover negotiations. As the only two lawyers on the ship they had been instrumental in establishing a form of court system that also fit in with the ethos of the Council of Scientists who, in every sense of the word, ruled the ship. 
Despite the fact that in every dispute Bing and Symington would be on opposing sides, outside of the courtroom they were very good friends. That changed in Bing’s mind the day he received the divorce letter from Symington’s office.
He remembered vividly the confrontation, and Symington’s justification for his actions:
“Come on now Bing, this was inevitably going to happen. I’m the only other lawyer on the ship. She can’t very well be represented by you, so she had to come to me.”
In hindsight, Bing knew that Symington was right. That was just the way it was on this ship. Unfortunately, at the time he had stormed into Symington’s office, the wounds were still too fresh, and he had responded by calling the other lawyer a ‘backstabbing arsehole’, kicked over a potted plant, and slammed the door on his way out.
The cab had reached the end of the highway and was slowing. It took a direct route to the elevator at this end of the ship, which would take him from the industrial complex on this side of the cylinder to the city of Copernicus 180 degrees around the axis. Bing looked up through the cab’s skylight at Copernicus on the other side of the ship. When he’d had this view of Galileo earlier today, the city had reminded him of a bejewelled crown. Copernicus on the other hand reminded him of a crusty scab.
The divorce proceedings so far were not going in Bing’s favour. He and Symington had established what law from various jurisdictions on Earth would apply on the ship. When it came to divorce the presumption was that there would be a 50/50 split of marital assets. But in practice that hadn’t really worked out in Bing’s favour. The home, furniture and cars shared by Bing and Laura had in fact not been their property. It belonged to the Academy of Science; Bing and Laura had the use of it by virtue of Laura’s position as a senior scientist aboard the ship, so Bing had no claim on any of it. Bing was entitled to half the contents of their small joint savings account, and that was it. 
As it turned out, the Academy of Science owned all of the houses and apartments on the ship. The ones in Galileo could not be rented, but had to be assigned by that Academy. Bing had applied for accommodation in Galileo but had been refused. He had gone to the accommodations office to complain. It was only open one day per week because no administrator had been hired specifically to deal with accommodations, or any other administrative matter really. Each scientist, in addition to their scientific duties, was expected to devote a few hours a week to one aspect of the administration of running the city of Galileo.
Bing had arrived at the office to find the sign on the door:

Office of Dr G Prost
Head of Botanical Engineering and Accommodations Officer

     Bing immediately felt his blood boil and his fists clench. He looked through the window to the office to get a look at this Dr Prost. He was nearly seven feet tall, muscular, tanned, had wavy blonde hair, and a chin that could be used as an anvil. He was chatting with two young female lab assistants, who were wearing short skirts, short lab coats and high heels. They seemed to be hanging on his every word and laughing hysterically at his jokes. Bing turned quickly away before doing something that he might regret.
After further inquiry, there appeared to be only one place on the ship with rentable accommodation: Copernicus.
Copernicus was an afterthought of a city. The ship had been designed to house the greatest minds of Earth on a voyage from the crumbling remains of the birthplace of the human species, to a new home far away. Of course, as with every set-up of this type, there were a number of people whose talents lay in other, much more profitable areas than science, who had managed to buy their way onboard. 
Despite the greatest of intentions, it became clear that the ship couldn’t run with the science crew alone. There were also jobs that, despite great advancements in robotics, humans were able to do better. A second, blue-collar, crew was hastily added to the ship, and the city of Copernicus was retrofitted to house them. This move, incidentally, was the reason why the scientists had created positions for two lawyers, due to the high number of disputes anticipated among the blue-collar crew. William Symington was headhunted for a position aboard the ship. The intention of the Council of Scientists had been to employ a second lawyer much the same as Symington, however, Bing had been guaranteed a place aboard the ship by virtue of his marriage to Laura. He was appointed as the ship’s second lawyer, because he was going to be there anyway.
The cab shot through the elevator tube and landed in central Copernicus. The buildings were grey concrete, and all seemed to be slightly tilted, like rows of twigs stuck into some mud with only a medium amount of care. The city was mostly silent at this time of night. The ever-present background noise of ambulances and ship’s security vehicles somewhere off in the distance was the only noise that could be heard. As the cab drove along the empty streets Bing saw the occasional homeless person. From the dark alleyways between the buildings there were the low rattlings of people or things interfering with the trash bins. Bing hoped that the free-range landsharks hadn’t made it this far without being caught and/or killed.
The cab parked in front of Bing’s apartment building. 
Forty six credits have been deducted from your account. We hope you have had a pleasant journey.”
Bing remained seated. He looked at the front door of the building. There was a code-entry system. No doorman. The elevator would take him to his empty apartment where he would sleep and get up to go to work the next morning with his robot receptionist. He would work all day, and then return home, watch some TV, go to bed, and do it all over again. 
He brought up the email from Laura again and re-read it. He clicked ‘Reply’ and typed the words ‘OK’.

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