I realized that in serializing this story, I have begun to leave each post on a cliff-hanger. Very bad form: if that becomes a habit, my novels will suffer to the point of death.
So, this time, in our flashback, we flashback further, then flash-forward. Hey: it’s Valentine’s Day: I should be flashing somebody!
Aside: this ‘little’ sub writing exercise is already north of 2300 words… what did I say about 1500…? I so need to get these folks out of town! I wonder if the cocoon in Abandoned Factory has hatched…
Lily recalled the trial: the two days after Ai’s android returned first to College Station then sometime later, Japan. Just the thought that Ai was still present in the country – somewhere – gave Lily a warm feeling inside.
She’d not wanted to go at all but had been briefed by the county prosecutor that she had to be there. At least for the first day.
There was a tap at the door frame of her flat.
“Y’all’s want me to come along?” Her boss at the orphanage, Carol, asked.
Lily finished pulling her hose on, up above her knees. Her nicest skirt just covered them. She shook her head.
“As you’ve always told me, ma’am: our kids come first.” She stood and squeezed her feet into the only pair of dress shoes she had. Tight! It’d been over six months since she’d worn these… had she gained weight?
“I was told they only need me there to say what happened to me that… night.” She rolled her shoulders once. “Maybe I’ll be back by lunch!”
“Law might be simpler now but it’s still the law.” She turned to go back downstairs. “I’ll be sure to have the kids in the kitchen leave you a portion.”
Just… just how long was this going to take?
It was like nothing she’d seen on television growing up. Everyone stayed seated, except the prosecutor and defense lawyer when they had something formal to say; no yelling, no great speeches. No drama at all.
Lily made another surreptitious glance about the courtroom. There was one troubling thing: except for one of the bailiffs, who was Black, she was the only non-White in the room. She’d long-suspected that one objective of her father’s terror campaign was the creation of an ethno-state. She understood why, intellectually, but sometimes…
Damn you, Dad.
“Please answer the question, Miss Barrett!” The judge called.
“Huh?” Crap! She’d totally tuned out! There was a titter from the only woman on the five-person jury.
She saw the judge suppress a glare and asked the appointed defense to re-ask his question.
“Can you clearly identify the defendant as the one who shot you the night in question?”
“Of…” Lily stopped. She’d gone over to the gate to close off the orphanage’s parking lot. A woman stepped out of the darkness towards her, asking first about Ai, then pulling a pistol. She fell backward…
She’d never seen the woman’s face. At all.
Lily looked right, towards the other table. That mid-forties woman had washed-out, dishwater blonde hair combed straight back. Her face was built like a wedge. Her scowl on her oversized jaw seemed permanent, but now the corners of her mouth turned up…
“No,” Lily said, turning to address the judge. “I did not see who shot me.”
“Given this admission,” the accused’s lawyer continued easily from where he sat, “I move for immediate dismissal of charges.”
Wait. What? Did I just lose?
The prosecutor coughed once, attracting the judge’s attention.
“If I may? The other witnesses from the discovery process…?”
Lily could’ve sworn she heard a “shit!” from the opposing lawyer.
“Proceed,” the judge said.
The prosecutor nodded to one of the bailiffs. The White one, Lily noted, feeling very out of place. He pulled the hunter green cloth off of the object off to her left, on the far wall of the courtroom.
A sixty inch flatscreen. Blank. Lily wondered if there was footage from a camera she didn’t know about near the orphanage…
With a flicker, she beheld Ai – Ai proper and not her silly CG rendered self she always showed Lily – and her sister, Fausta; thirty years old to look at, five to talk to. She didn’t fully recognize where in their Home they were, but there was a hint of green to Ai’s right. They must be standing somewhere she’d never been.
“I call on Ai and Fausta, of Machine Civilization, to relate what they saw the night in question.”
“Objection,” the defense said tiredly, knowing…
“Overruled. Proceed… but carefully, sir.”
True, Lily thought. They were all very young in this situation. She forced herself to take her eyes from her friends to the top of the table before her. But, she couldn’t stop her smile.
I’ve the best friends ever!
Behind her large sunglasses, Fausta’s microcrystal search array took in more than half of the tavern. Coupled with how much faster her thoughts were than humans, she regarded the situation: Lily to her right, too scared to move; Orloff (*****, the classified name was a flicker of lightning through her processors) realizing the proximate threat to one he must protect, had his hand in motion to his pistol; the shooter, her permanently angry face reflecting the question of her mind: ‘how to finish the job?!’
And how do I balance all this against the Four Laws?
Faster than her human companions could see, Fausta stood and had her right hand about the shooter’s neck. Using her android’s body strength she sharply tapped the vegas nerve, on both sides, to be sure. As the waitress sagged into her arms, she made for the door.
No killing. Not today.
Fausta was very pleased with herself.