Dr Rutherford’s plea hearing was scheduled for 10am in the Galileo Academy of Sciences building. At 9:25 Alpha still hadn’t returned to the office with the cup of coffee that Bing had sent her to fetch hours ago. As he threw the main office door open to rush into a cab, Alpha limped across the road, clearly fresh from some form of fracas, her body and limbs scuffed. She held out a paper cup which had been bashed out of shape, and which was only a third full.
“Do I want to know?” Asked Bing, taking the cup out of her trembling limb.
“I don’t think so. It might be best if I’m assigned to tasks that keep me out of sight of the coffee shop for a while. They have robots too, and they’re very mean.”
Bing rolled his eyes and slipped into the cab. He told the computer where to take him, and exactly how damn soon he needed to be there. The engine whirred into life, and the car began to move infuriatingly slowly.
Alpha could see Bing massaging his temples as the car glided down the street. She pushed at the office door with her right hand, which was still trembling, and wasn’t strong enough to make the door open. She shoved her shoulder against it and limped inside. Her stolen pet chameleon was pretending to be a leaf on the office plant in the waiting room. She slumped into a chair next to it, facing Honda’s desk.
“What took you so long?” Asked Honda, barely looking away from his computer screen.
Alpha didn’t answer him and continued to stare at the floor.
“What’s wrong with your arm and leg?”
She looked down at them. Her thin metal shin of her left leg was slightly bent, and the bolt holding the two parts of her arm together at the elbow had become loose.
“Come over here.”
With a great deal of suspicion, Alpha approached the desk. Honda extended himself so that he could examine her damage closely with the big black eye on top of his gripper. In almost a single fluid motion he latched onto the loose bolt and rapidly rotated it, returning it to factory-standard tightness.
“Put your leg on the desk.”
She extended her arm a few times and it was literally as good as new. With a newfound trust for Honda, she put her busted leg onto his desk. The former assembly-line robot gingerly gripped her shin where it had been bent and pinched it until it was once again perfectly straight. Alpha carefully tested her full weight on it. It was as if she had never been injured at all.
“Honda I… thank you. I really apprec-“
“Get back to work, bitch,” he said, returning to his computer screen.
Bing arrived at the hearing room with less than a minute to spare. They were using a boardroom for this preliminary hearing. William Symington was already seated on the far side of the table. There wouldn’t be a judge today, because the choice of judge in this case would surely be a point of contention. There would be a clerk, probably someone chosen from the crew completely at random, to minute today’s hearing, but no-one was in that seat at the head of the table yet. Various members of the security staff were present.
“Bing, so glad you could make it,” Symington shouted across the room, much louder than was really necessary, drawing titters from the security men in the room.
“I was held up,” he said, not adding you insufferably prick, but hoping that his tone had conveyed it.
Symington had a stack of neatly filled binders on the table beside him, labelled and tabbed. Siting on the chair across from him, reserved for Bing, was a box of papers which looked like they had been thrown up in the air then stuffed into the box.
“This should be a quick one, shouldn’t it Bing? I take it your man is pleading guilty and then we’ll set a hearing for sentencing in four weeks. Meantime you and I can get together at Sarti’s restaurant to iron out all the little details, my treat of course,” he said, with a little chuckle at the end.
“It’s not guilty today. And speaking of ‘little details’, I’ve not had much opportunity to speak to my client in the circumstances, but I want to have a debate about whether the charge should be murder or manslaughter.”
Symington’s face turned half a shade pinker, but with an almost inhuman amount of willpower, he stifled it and returned his face to its usual golden pallor. He ran his fingers through his slicked-back grey hair and nodded thoughtfully. “It’s a interesting point you make Bing. I agree that it’s worth a discussion.”
Is it? From the video footage, Rutherford is guilty as all hell. Does Symington know something that I don’t?
At that moment Rutherford was brought in, cuffed to Ivan Gunderson, who was snarling at Bing. Gunderson seemed to take it as a personal affront when Bing defended people who Gunderson considered to be guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt - which incidentally was everyone who Bing defended in criminal cases. He knew Gunderson would get over it before long, but right now there was no point trying to speak to him, it would just be needlessly unpleasant.
The door closest to the head of the table opened and Laura Mulholland walked through it. Everyone stood for her. Laura’s makeup looked as if it had been hastily re-done. Bing could tell she had recently been tearful. She took the clerk’s seat and gestured for everyone to sit.
“Good morning gentlemen, for those of you who do not know me, I am Dr Laura Stane, and I am acting as clerk to the court in this case.”
She hasn’t used her maiden name in years, thought Bing. He leaned towards her and motioned for Symington to join them. “Laura, if this is too tough for you, neither of us would object to someone else being assigned.”
Laura shot him a furious glance. “Thank you, Mr Mulholland, but I’m fine. It is my civic duty to assist the ship’s justice system when called upon to do so. And since I have no decision-making function, there is no conflict of interest for me to perform this role. If, on the other hand, you would be uncomfortable with me acting as clerk to this case, well that’s another matter.”
Symington raised an eyebrow and a small smirk crept across his face.
Bing leaned back in his chair. “Shall we begin?”
“Calling the case: The Captain of the Sir Isaac Newton against Dr Frank Rutherford.”
Ivan Gunderson hoisted Rutherford to his feet.
“Are you Dr Frank Rutherford?” Laura asked the man in handcuffs, who nodded. “Please sit down.”
Gunderson had him back in his seat quicker than the ship’s gravity could get him there.Bing stood. “Madam Clerk, I appear with the accused. Mr Symington appears for the prosecution. My client pleads not guilty to the charge against him.”