The office Greskin Mile shared with the Master Barrister for the Accused was divided in two by a pane of glass. The air in Greskin's partition was clear, while that in the Master Barrister's partition was hazy and faintly yellow. Beyond this there was no differentiation: on both sides of the glass were mountainous stacks of dataplates in vaguely furniture-like mounds, screens covered in dense text, and discarded disposable cups and bowls strewn about the floor.
"I know, I know," said Greskin as we walked in, "it looks like a tornado blew through here, cha."
"What's a tornado?"
The Master Barrister put down four plates and stepped over three scuttling staff. "Good daycleft, Accused," came the translation through unseen speakers as a blossom of Pegasi breath splashed against the glass and diffused.
"Hello," I said with a congenial smile.
The Master Barrister bowed and then returned to work. Greskin took my arm and led me over to what turned out to be a chair after he pushed a slurry of transparent dataplates aside. He swept his hands down the front of his white suit with a frown. "How do I look?"
"Faeces," he grunted, and then tapped at one of the screens on the wall until it turned into a mirror. "Faeces!" He pulled on the bag under one eye and regarded himself critically. "Lizards to lies, I look like a zombie! You know the Mouth of Fetch is going to have a field day with this, cha."
"The mouth of what?"
"A comedian. Nevermind. How are you? All set? Do you want to have a boo in the mirror, dude?"
I agreed in order to be friendly, stood up and shambled over. I noted that my skin was darker than it used to look in the hospital, which I chalked up to spending more time outside. The dozens of little scrapes and cuts on my face had healed up nicely, with only the occasional faint white line yet to fade away. I seemed to have roughly equal amounts of short stubble on my chin as on my head, and it amused me for a moment to imagine that my head could be inverted without seriously affecting my hairstyle. I saw lines at the corners of my eyes that were new. The furrows in my brow had sprouted tributaries.
"Well," I evaluated, "...I still look like the me that I've been looking like as long as I've been me. Um. These last few months."
I retied my red robe. Greskin looked over my shoulder. "This is going to play well."
"Surely the trial is not decided on the basis of appearance..."
"No," he admitted, "but I have to know how to position you in my tell-all book. Myself I'm sympathetic to you, and I'd love to be able to sell that angle when all is said and done. You know what I'm talking about? I'm being frank with you because we're pals. If we win I'll be rich, but even if we lose I'll be famous -- and I'll have to squeeze that for something, cha."
I shuddered at his use of squeeze, thinking of Duncan. "Of course," I said.
The car Greskin and I rode in had clear windows and I watched the Pegasi city pass beneath us with fascination. Some structures looked distinctly human, which Greskin explained was because of the heavy human presence on Pegasi Secundae, a world Solar engineers had crafted for their newly met neighbours. The courthouse was typically Pegasi, however: a frozen froth of great metal bubbles, the face of each dome gleaming with a distinctly different lustre in the ruddy morning sun. Gathered out front was a roiling crowd of Pegasi, staff, robots, and plastic-coated human beings.
"What's with all the hullabaloo?" I asked.
Greskin chuckled. "You, dude."
The Master Barrister's car circled down first, room made beneath it by a cordon of staff with crackling antennae. The Master Barrister emerged and pushed into the milieu, his staff breaking a wave before him. Where the wave crested it seemed to me that people were crawling right over top of one another, like ants. Many on the periphery bore animated placards or held glowing banners between them. I caught sight of one which read DEATH TO THE PEACE KILLER in bold red letters.
Our car descended. The chants of the human beings reached my ears, a liquid slosh of overlapping shouting.
The mob overwhelmed the ring of Pegasi staff in a flash and enveloped the car, which bounced and swayed under their jostling, knocking hard as one corner dipped low enough to hit the street. Shouting faces stared in at me from every window, slapping the glass, spitting, swearing. "Mother of love!" I cried.
"Faeces," said Greskin.
A skinny, wide-eyed woman fought her way forward to press her small, plastic-coated breasts flat against the glass. "Marry me, Terron!" she shrieked just before she was roughly pushed aside by a shaven little person with gnashing yellow teeth. The little person struck the glass with a fist and a tiny crack appeared.
"Faeces!" said Greskin again.
"Sir," said the golden robot at the controls, pointing through the windscreen. People were falling away, clapping their hands over their coated ears. "I am broadcasting a dispersal signal now."
"Mustard!" screeched Greskin, tearing the telephone nub off of his own neck angrily. He rubbed his ears and winced. "A speck of warning next time, robot, or I'll see you end up as a fender."
"Sir, my apologies."
Outside the car a long, transparent tube was being led out from the courthouse by a flotilla of staff supervised by six golden robots. It was connected to the car and Greskin opened the door. Accompanied by two golden robots of our own we walked through the tube into the building, the yammering multitudes now held at bay by reinforced squadrons of staff, Pegasi and robots.
A group by the door was chanting, "Kamari Forever! Kamari Forever! Kamari Forever!"
The courtroom was grand. Black pillars supported three levels of galleries with a broad aisle running down their middle into the well. The well itself held two transparent cubical tanks connected by clear tubing. At the front of the well was a tall, three-part podium with compartments now closed behind wood-like panels. At the right of the podium was a booth connected by a battery of cabling to the wall behind. The left wall was a screen or dataplate, currently displaying which seats in the galleries were reserved in several dozen scripts. Along the right wall ran another closed gallery. The ceiling was a giant mirror, and so was the floor.
The tank on the left side of the well featured two chairs and a table which stuck through the transparent side and extended to a distinctly Pegasi chair into which the Master Barrister for the Accused had folded. He nodded respectfully to me and I to him as I took my human-proportioned seat inside the cube and rested my hands on the smooth table. Greskin unleashed a pile of plates and began tabbing through their contents distractedly. I lifted my hands to make room. "Thanks," he mumbled, and then pulled on the table until it extended a little further into the cube.
A moment later it retracted again. Greskin looked over, his eyes narrowed in annoyance. "To the Master Barrister," he said into the air: "I need more table." He tugged the tabletop over a handspan.
The Master Barrister pooted out a string of coloured clouds and the translation echoed inside our little tank: "Co-counsel, you are disrupting my information array." The tabletop jerked back.
Greskin growled but returned to his notes. I turned around. The galleries were filling up -- human beings, human executives, little people and Pegasi. Their babble fell away as three tones sounded and a wall of white steam billowed up at the front of the courtroom.
When the air cleared a golden robot stood in the well just below the wide podium. As the robot spoke Pegasi fumes streamed from its neck, and at the same time I could hear its muffled voice vibrating through the air and hear it crisply broadcast through the language management system. The golden robot was also gesturing a constant sequence of intricate signs as it announced the commencement of the proceedings, asked us to rise, and then introduced three judges:
The Superior Master Judge of Pegasi Secundae was a Pegasi being, mottled white and grey, with curiously long eyelashes and staff whose legs seemed extra long and knobbly. The Superior Master Judge folded into the centre bench of the podium, revealed as the panel covering it withdrew downward. Watery blue eyes surveyed the courtroom, horizontal lashes swiping over them languorously;
The Supreme Justice of Callicrates was a human being with fawn-coloured skin and a pate of stubble obviously recovering from a recent shaving. She was very old and she looked as if she were made of finely crinkled paper. She wore a long black gown and had intricate sepia tattooing along the backs of her hands;
And, the Social Extension of Hennisphere was a blue orb with a camera lens on the end of a flexible robotic arm sticking out the top of it. It rested on a bed of thick cabling which snaked away behind it, presumably to facilitate the constant run of informatic canisters moving into and out of a gate system dedicated to communicating with the Great Hennisplasm. (Greskin explained to me that the filament of Hennish life contained at the heart of the blue orb was fairly useless without nearly constant feedback from the hive mind back home.)
The closed gallery to the right opened next, presenting sixteen creatures: eight Pegasi, five human beings, one little person, and two human executives. The jury was half Pegasi, half Solar -- regular folks all, demigods and apes and fume-speaking aliens alike.
Several of the court clerks appeared to be Rouleighs, like those I had met aboard Castle Misne. They wore little round dataplates in front of each eye, and seemed to be speaking a primitive dialect of Pegasi through the use of pipes.
I looked over to the tank of the prosecution, its sliding table now shared by a black robed human being and a human executive on the inside and a bright white Pegasi on the outside. "To Simon: that's Yock F. Planner," said Greskin. "He's a devil in the courtroom. Taught me a thing or two at school, cha. And the executive is named Fortune. I don't know anything else about her."
"What about --" I started to say, but Greskin put his hand over my mouth. Loud echoes of my voice died away. Everyone in the courtroom turned to look at our tank, the smoke of Pegasi translation of my utterance still dissipating from nozzles at the vertices.
"To Simon: you have to specify who you're talking to," whispering Greskin urgently. "You have to say to whoever or the language manager defaults to public."
"Ah," I said, again jumping as my voice was broadcast. "Oh faeces!" I said next, and the courtroom exploded into laughter. Greskin closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. The Master Barrister shook his head.
"Order in the court!" commanded the Pegasi judge, banging a little hammer which emitted rings of white steam.
Greskin jumped to his feet and walked to the front of the tank. "Our apologies, your honors. My client is unfamiliar with our protocols and did not mean to speak out of turn. He now understands how to proceed."
The human judge frowned. "Your briefing was obviously inadequate, Mr. Mile. See that you make no similar omissions again."
"Yes, your honor."
"Let us have the opening statements," expressed the Pegasi judge.
The Pegasi counterpart of the Master Barrister for the Accused rose from its stool and walked to the centre of the well, its four little arms clutched behind its back. After an interval of slow, bouncy pacing fumes began to uncoil from the spongy mouth, and a moment later the sexless voice of the translation filled our tank:
"Membership in our confederation is predicated on a guarantee of security from hostile action from neighbouring members. This is the service provided by those who maintain our stellar highways: a promise to close the way in case of barbarism. When the unspeakable happened, when a clear hegemony extended its reach to the worlds of a foreign star, we voted our meta-governors new powers to cope with the crisis. And when our navies went out to help our neighbours at Cassiopeia, they were savaged by a terrible weapon. Worse than that, every Solar being who was watching the broadcast was savaged along with them.
"That hegemony was Kamari's. That weapon was the Nightmare Cannon. And the Solar being responsible for its application was Terron Volmash, the accused."
Things went on in this vein for quite some time. Yock F. Planner, the human co-counsel, stood up to summarize a timeline of the naval incursion into Cassiopeia and the subsequent invasion of Kamari, rattling off startling metrics about the number of troops and materiel involved in the whole enterprise. Next came statistics about the aftermath of the Horror in terms both psychiatric and economic. "Nine point one quadrillion adjusted hours," he concluded heavily. "Think about that ladies, gentlemen and inferior masters -- think about nine point one quadrillion hours from the galactic coffers. All to stop one man. And he sits before you today."
When that little floorshow was concluded the Master Barrister for the Accused rose and made a few points about the heavy-handed application of certain laws, and the cloudiness it would lend to future interpretations. The remarks were very brief.
Then Greskin stood up. He cleared his throat.
"Honored judges, members of the jury," he pronounced carefully, "please direct your attention to the court's screen." He pointed to the left.
The screen illuminated with a holographic projection of the man I had seen rendered as a statue beneath Thallos: the long face of Terron Volmash, his expression grave. He wore a red cape pinned at one shoulder by the bronze medallion. His auburn hair was wavy, his forehead high. Green eyes shone out from the screen and commanded attention. He opened his holographic mouth and spoke with a voice not entirely unlike my own:
"People of the galaxy. My friends, my neighbors, my kin. Life, by definition, resists death. In nature mortal threats are met with mortal action. This is a testament to the tenacity of life, and its will to grow where the wild leads it.
"I have lived my life at the heart of one of Solar life's most precious blossoms. I have had the privilege of living the Kamari Way, and knowing her art and her craft and her love. This is history. This is a golden age. I am blessed to have been here, and would not trade even one day for a reign in Babylon or Athens, Rome or London, Texamerica or Mars.
"But we have been threatened. We who know only peace are accused of aggression. The citizens at Cassiopeia are to be denied the right to choose a Kamari life. Their destinies are steered for them by the tyranny of Epsilon Eridani and her grand machines of war.
"See now how we are stung. See now how we sting back, for we are alive and free and proud.
The screen went dark. The courtroom was filled with muttering, silenced as Greskin Mile stepped forward again, his thumbs hooked in the belt of his white suit. "That was Terron Volmash," he declared flatly, and then slowly strolled around to loiter behind my chair. He put his hands on my shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. "This," he announced crisply, "is not."
The courtroom burst into a fog of noise and fume. The human and Pegasi judges banged their gavels for order. The Hennish electronic eye on a stalk looked around quickly with a series of jerky movements. Greskin waited patiently, hands now clasped behind his back. When the din settled he wandered unhurriedly back to the front of the tank.
"The defense intends to demonstrate that the accused is a distinct personality, wholly divorced from the will and mind of Terron Volmash. Say 'hello.' His name is Simon.
"Do we prosecute the son for the crimes of the father? We do not. Do we prosecute the twin for the crimes of his brother? We do not. Do we prosecute the clone for the crimes of her source? We. Do. Not.
"Nor can we in conscience prosecute Simon of Space for the crimes of Terron Volmash, no matter how desperately we crave to find a neck to hang for our sorrow. Terron Volmash has escaped justice. That is an unpleasant fact, but it is a fact. We cannot take out our frustrations on this man. Justice of the mob may demand a scapegoat, but the justice of reasoned beings calls for a higher standard.
"Honored judges, members of the jury: I call on you to uphold that standard. Thank you."
And that was that. Greskin sat down and the day's festivities seemed to be over. The galleries started to break up. I looked around. "Is that it, then?"
Amid a flurry of shouts and questions from the newsfeeders we were manuverd back down the transparent tunnel and reboarded in the car, this time separated from the hooting hordes by a fence guarded at intervals by robots and staff. Greskin pulled the door closed. The umbilicus was detached with a series of a snaps. We ascended, and in a blink the courthouse shrank from a monumental temple of my condemnation to a toy-like bauble I could occult with my thumb. A golden robot piloted us over the city and back to the Solar Pavilion. "What happens tomorrow?" I asked Greskin.
"Prosecution witnesses," he said. "Sleep like sheep so you don't yawn."
I nodded and boarded the lift. When it opened I walked briskly down the corridor and entered my apartment, my robot guards taking their posts on either side of the door and then freezing in place.
I had a visitor.
"Hello," I said.
"Mr. Volmash," said the thin man in a simple grey suit, bowing slightly.
"My name is Simon," I said uneasily.
"My name is Silas Chung." He held out a slender, pale hand. I shook it briefly. "I represent the Movement for the Equivalency."
That got my attention. "What do you want?" I asked, narrowing my eyes.
"Can we sit down?"
I hesitated. "Okay."
Silas Chung sat down in the chair nearest him and I pulled up another, crossing my legs and folding my arms across my chest. "To be candid I've been warned about you people," I told him.
"By whom?" sniffed Silas with a dismissive wave. "Executives? Royals? Some other paranoid servant of galactic power?"
"Keep your own council," advised Silas Chung. "I have nothing to prove to you."
"Why are you here? Why wasn't I consulted or even informed?"
"My ally is the equivalent mathematic. I can walk through walls." He shrugged. "I came to chat with you, Mr. Volmash."
"I told you, my name is Simon. I can call security."
"No. You can't. May we chat?"
"What about?" I snarled.
"Consider, for example, the staff of the Pegasi beings," he said airly, crossing his legs and smiling in a social way.
"What about them?"
"I concede the point. Much in the world is remarkable."
Silas smirked. "I concede the point. Have you wondered how it happened? Have you noticed how different they are?"
"What do you mean?"
"For one thing, consider the gross structure of the bodies. The Pegasi are bilaterally symmetrical while their staff are radially symmetrical. Fundamentally quite different. The staff are not dwarf children or some other mutation of a germ-line product. They're something altogether different. Have you wondered how that came about?"
"How did it come about?" I grunted, impatient with his pompous tease.
"It evolved out a parasitic relationship."
"That seems reasonable."
"Can you guess which one was the parasite, and which the host?"
I blinked. "I don't follow you."
"The Pegasi were the parasite."
"What's the point of this lesson?" I asked irritably and then paused, furrowing my brow. "The Pegasi were the parasite?"
"Oh, yes," said Silas, grinning warmly. "They've been co-evolving for fourteen million years, of course, so it's academic to differentiate their life-cycles at this point...not entirely unlike the mitochondria in your own cells. But the ancestors of modern staff were once a sentient race in their own right, complete with paleolithic technology -- combustion and religion, crystal-flake tools and effluvian language."
I swallowed, watching Silas' intense brown eyes. "What happened?"
"An infestation by a primitive animal, a reproductive hijacker, an opportunistic beast: the ancestors of the Pegasi, who adapted on the shoulders of the staff and used their stability as a platform for their own evolution. After a few million years the masters were reduced to insensible slaves, and bugs had become the new people."
"You should host nature documentaries," I suggested.
"I do," said Silas. "I manufacture learning materials for our cause, so that these kinds of relationships in nature can be better understood. It helps our disciples clarify the present, and understand the threat against our race."
He was watching me carefully. I held my expression in check, giving away nothing. "The threat from whom?"
"The human executives," said Silas Chung seriously. "Our ambitious parasites."
I smiled tightly and stood up. "Listen, thanks for stopping by...er, Mr. Chung. It's been a full day and I don't feel particularly like chatting about politics right now."
Silas did not stir. "This isn't politics. This is destiny. You know they keep us down. You know civilization wants to thrive free and form a union across the stars, but they prune it. Why?"
"They believe the Great Melange will be to our long term benefit."
"They believe," repeated Silas significantly, his brows arched. "Do you know what I believe, Simon? I believe in civilization being free to take whatever shape its own denizens believe in."
"People's beliefs are out of scale with the galaxy," I parroted.
"People's beliefs are all we have," he countered. "And while they may be individually short sighted they are cumulatively wise. But we cannot just accumulate numbers, we must also accumulate time. This is what the executive perspective cannot fathom -- they infinitely fine-tune the systems of the worlds to keep them in balance, poised precisely on the border between order and chaos."
I found myself drawn involuntarily back into his lesson, putting my hands on the back of my chair and leaning. "What's wrong with that?"
"Easy," replied Silas; "not enough order, not enough chaos. To understand a system in time is to see that oscillations centred on an optimal path are more valuable than the optimal path itself. Dynamism is more important than efficiency. The extremes can be ignored when the common motion is toward new fitness. This is a kind of vitality the executives cannot know, because they were not born wild."
I shrank at that, recalling Jeremiah's own lament that his kind were born too rational. "What of these oscillations? You use the model to excuse genocide?"
"Civilization must be annealed by war and peace, by starvation and excess, the way metal is annealed by heat and cold to make it less brittle. If we are restrained by the executives we will become weak. Think about it. It is obvious."
Thinking about it made me uncomfortable. "You colluded with Kamari," I accused.
"Yes," admitted Silas easily, crossing his legs the other way. "When the Neighbourhood militarized against Kamari we knew you would need weapons they could not fathom."
"Then you endorse the Horror?"
Silas shrugged. "The Horror was horrible. There's no denying it. That kind of destructiveness represents one extreme of the oscillation. Freedom is worth the tragedy. And the tragedy is small, in galactic terms. We are spread too far to extinguish Solarkind. Even if you had destroyed a whole star, what's one among forty? An epic lesson for the rest of us, that's what." He smiled. "It wouldn't be the end of the world."
"Your attitude appalls me."
"Curious, considering the source."
"I do not have the mind of Volmash."
"You should. He was a better man than you. He would not consent to be the puppet of parasites. He knew Social Annealing would make us flexible and strong, and the Equivalency would make us the masters of our destiny."
"Why? Because we wish it? Or because it is best?"
"We wish to determine what is best for ourselves."
I sneered with bitterness and barked, "Why?"
"It is a matter of human dignity!"
I nodded. "Pride, then. I understand you now. Have you come to recruit me? To be frank I find your opening manoeuvres repulsive."
"I'm here to find out who you are. If you're at all Terron Volmash, I'm to rescue you."
"To rescue me? How?"
Now it was his turn to smile tightly. "We have our ways. You have many supporters who would work hard to make a life for you, out of respect for the blow you have struck against the oppression. Supporters more trustworthy than Aro Frellis or Abermund Blighton."
"You would rescue Terron Volmash, despite the blood on these hands?"
"Everything worth doing involves a little blood. That's what wild life knows that manufactured life cannot."
I walked quietly across the apartment and stood by the door, which slid open. "I don't want to waste any more of your time, Mr. Chung," I declared flatly. "Good afternoon."
After a brief hesitation he rose and walked over to me. "The Equivalency could be your salvation. We have more allies than they know. The Rouleighs are with us, and through them the Pegasi. The Galactic Union is inevitable, and we will be there to arm it. When our math is ready the first to feel our wrath will be the executives and their pawns."
"Hush. I think the robots can hear you."
Silas Chung chuckled mirthlessly. "No. They can't."
He breezed past me and started down the corridor. I looked at my golden guards. Their heads were not inclined toward me. I snapped my fingers before their eyes. No response. Experimentally I stepped out into the corridor. Nothing happened. I took another step and the door slid closed, sealing the golden robots inside.
"Hey," I called.
Chung did not look back. He walked swiftly into the lift and disappeared with a hiss of air. A moment later the door of my apartment slid open again and the robots grabbed my arms from either side. They escorted me back inside wordlessly. The door slid closed again.
Silas Chung's equivalent magic had faded and the golden robots were back on watch.
I had dinner with Pish, Vera and Duncan. We talked about nothing of consequence. If I tried hard I could almost imagine we were a family, eating together in our home on some planet, our cares as large as our bills and small as our yard.
After Vera and Pish left Duncan opened a Renetian desert wine. It was excellent. I told him about the mysterious representative from the Movement for the Equivalency. Duncan nodded somberly. "I don't know what to believe anymore," I told him.
"Believe this," he said; "anyone who tells you what's good is simple is meaning to exploit your faith for something. I have no doubt the Equivalency's plans for you aren't limited to a subsidized retirement. You're too valuable a symbol for those sympathetic to their cause."
"What's good isn't simple?"
"By fire, no," declared Duncan firmly. "What's good is the murkiest thing you'll ever try to know. If Jeremiah thought he had a grip on it the executives would show us how to live. If the Queen of Space knew she'd interfere in any world before it could fall into barbarism. No, sir. It's the people who tell you the truth is obvious that you must be most afraid of -- because what makes sense to a man isn't what makes sense to the universe."
"That's what Jeremiah says."
Duncan emptied his glass. "Jeremiah is wise."