Authors: Ed Hyde
He Without Sin
Copyright © 2016 by Ed Hyde All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover art by Patricia A. Downes, Dutch Hill Design Published by SkydogCreations LLC, Michigan
To my constructive criticizers and, especially, my patient editor.
But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwelleth.
Douay-Rheims Bible 2 Peter 3:13
A Question of Guilt
It’s Come to This
I look around the courtroom and see several faces I recognize as former crewmates and associates from the Academy. Some of the crew members are missing; I presume they may be called as witnesses. The ones in the gallery have, like me, no doubt already been deposed as to the matter in question. That’s a good thing — I do not want to have to sit in the witness stand.
One former crewmate is absent from the proceedings with an iron-clad excuse—he’s dead.
The next trial will be different and not in a good way. I’m not looking forward to it, to say the least. I’ve already learned I will be called as a witness in that trial, will have to take the stand, and will be grilled about my part leading up to the events that almost took the life of yet another crew member. He is, thankfully, recovering from serious injury and is not present for medical reasons.
Sitting through these interminable proceedings I’ve had plenty of time to reflect. The places and events I recall seem remote and surreal to me already, so soon after our return. Remote not only because of the great distances we traveled but remote because they lie in the seemingly distant past; surreal in sharp contrast with the mundane courtroom setting.
With this crew I have shared an adventure spanning light-years and seemingly eons, and yet I can scarcely find one who will make eye contact. There is a pleasant exception. I have not seen or spoken to her since our debriefing. I seem to see in her face evidence of the desire for us to resume discussing plans for the future. It may be wishful thinking, but I hope not.
Court proceedings lurch forward in an oddly annoying way. Cryptic terms cloud the reason for endless delay; objections are raised over maddeningly childish topics and then resolved by semantic twisting and juggling; heated arguments arise over outwardly insignificant points that must, one hopes, conceal momentous legal portent— justifications for exasperation are manifold.
The prosecution’s opening statement was ominous and disturbing. Paraphrasing, it went something like ‘the state will prove the defendant guilty of causing the death of his subordinate through the defendant’s inaction and failure to enforce required standard procedures.’
I turn again to look at David and his representative at the defendant’s table. David looks different. Not older, but more vulnerable than I remember. His civilian clothes impart an aura of weakness, to my mind. Why did he not wear the uniform and insignia of a veteran commander?
And who is his counsel anyway? Who agreed to let David testify, and why? Sure he can be a charmer—confident, affable and witty, but there is the other side—quick to take offense, to anger, and to answer without filters. No, I >would not allow it. It almost came to disaster earlier in the trial with David on the stand. A simple request about the chain of command: ‘Please describe, as completely as you can, the chain of command aboard your vessel’ or nearly that. I could tell, from long experience looking at the eyes, watching the mouth work, that David was ready to snap out an answer that would be regarded as inappropriate and argumentative. Fortunately, his counsel objected and pointed out that the chain of command listing every member of the crew had previously been submitted to the court as trial evidence.
Compounding the earlier risk, he’s been recalled to the witness stand after the most recent delay. The judge calls for order; the bailiff declares the court once again in session.
“If we may, your honor, we will follow up where we left off,” begins the attorney for the prosecution. He recaps key points leading up to the discovery of the body, emphasizing the fact that, one, by that stage of the mission all officers should have been aboard ship and, two, that David did not know the whereabouts of his second in command.
David’s visage hardens; I wonder if the prosecutor notices?
“Question: Why would your second in command, who you admit was on the surface of the planet without your knowledge and in noncompliance with protocol, ostensibly wander off into a desolate and dangerous mountain pass?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he had to take a leak.”
The prosecutor reacts only with a smile.
The judge is not amused, pounds the gavel, and announces an immediate recess.
“The defending attorney and your client will please meet with me and the prosecutor in my chambers. Now.”
Judge Compton, living up to his no-nonsense reputation, departs the room. David’s attorney, clearly stunned by the sharp reaction of Compton, signals David with a movement of his hand and arm to follow him into the judge’s chambers. The prosecutor makes a small show of graciously letting them go first, and then follows, still smiling. A low murmur can be heard from the courtroom visitors. No one leaves the room during the few minutes that they are gone. Carol looks at me with her ever calm and composed expression, which I return with an eye roll and shake of my head.
I am surprised to see Dean Carson. To my knowledge, he has never commanded nor crewed on any deep space missions, and yet, obviously, he is receiving longevity treatments. He must have an enlisted family member.
The quartet returns, wordlessly, and each member resumes his former position. Their faces are somber and unreadable. There is the swish of a robe, adjustment of seating and, finally, the pounding of a gavel.
“We are again in session,” he says, giving the bailiff a quick signal that he need not trouble to announce it.
“Commander Means, I am under the impression that we, you and I, have an understanding of the seriousness of this proceeding. Is that a correct assumption?”
“Yes, your honor, it is.”
“And is there that exact same understanding between myself and the honorable members of the bar here representing their respective sides of this case?”
“Yes, your honor,” they respond practically in unison.
“I would like to remind all participants in this case— litigants, witnesses, representatives, interested parties, and visitors—that the defendant is on trial for negligence and dereliction of duty as Commander of a deep space vessel resulting in the death of his second in command, Master Wesley Brachus. The penalties for a guilty verdict are by no means insignificant and may indeed lead to further civil prosecution. Let us proceed keeping the seriousness of this case in mind and act and speak accordingly. I would issue a warning to all of you: Do not make me feel the need to repeat the terms of this understanding.”
"I don't recommend it. Have you thought this over? Of all the directions to choose, with your background and ability, why this? You are doing so well!" she says with a mix of pleading, hope and grudging resignation already apparent in her tone.
"I've thought it over. Jared's going," I offer, already knowing that it will not help my case.
"I heard. Jared is a fool. You're not. He is only going because you are."
She may be partially right about Jared. I remember a few years back, when he and I were playing with firecrackers. It was my dumb idea to light them and throw them barehanded. One exploded so quickly that the concussive shock to my hand startled me and scared me out of that plan before I lost any digits. But then we had the idea to blow empty tin cans up into the air. At first, this seemed safer, but it wasn’t. We had to place the empty can upside down over the firecracker with just the tip of the fuse sticking out. Now, instead of a hand in danger, a face took its place, as we had to kneel down near the can to light the fuse. There was just a split second between the lighting and the explosive launching of the can in a more or less vertical direction. Jared’s contribution to this hazardous occupation was to incorporate the added step (no pun intended) of stomping on the can, after the fuse was lit, to drive it into the ground before it exploded upward. This innovation had three consequences. First, the full force of the explosion was concentrated into the launching of the can—none of the energy leaked out around the rim on the ground—and that was great. But, second, stomping after lighting resulted in a higher state of danger since the fuse was burning while the stomper was stomping leaving very little time indeed to clear the projectile’s possible path. Last, an over-enthusiastic stomper might accidentally stomp out the fuse before it can ignite the firecracker. In this case, one of us had to lift the can and inspect the situation. After all, the fuse had clearly been stomped out. Or had it? I am surprised that one of us doesn’t have a can-shaped indentation on our forehead.
"Alright, you may have a point. He does say what he thinks and sometimes people don't like to hear it, I'll give you that, but he's no more fool than me. He has some good ideas. He's smart technically and he knows his responsibilities. This job will be good for him as well, but probably in a different way than for me."
"So, why is it good for you?"
"It's a career choice; it's what I want to do."
"There are plenty of things you can do here and still be in your field. Plus there are more career advancement opportunities if you stay home. You know that. Why not continue as you are?"
"First, I disagree. The learning opportunities on missions like these are enormous. We are going to get cross-trained on a whole number of fields—you name it: medical, genetics, psychology, and more. The deep space missions have small crews; everybody has to back up everybody. It will open up plenty of opportunities in the future. I don’t want to continue where I’m at now. It’s going nowhere, it’s boring and it’s a dead end. This is the career I want now. When it’s over, we’ll see then what the opportunities are."
"There's no money in it; talk to Richard."
Richard is one of my old school chums. He’s the one that all the parents want their kids to be like when they grow up. ‘Oh, Richard got an award for…’ or ‘Did you hear, Richard got accepted to…’ or worse yet, ‘Say, why don’t you ask Richard to help you with…’
It’s really too much. No mention, ever, that Richard is a dull person whose dull life is already planned out for the whole foreseeable dull future. That’s not for me.
"That’s not right, Mom. There's enough money, and besides, the other benefits more than outweigh any drawbacks."
“Name one, just one!" she quickly counters, sensing an opening.
“Mom, we’ve gone over this, we've covered this."
"I need refreshing; tell me again."
"There’s all the training. And I’ll be working with top notch people, people who will be able to help me later on.
When it's over..."
"Yes, 'when it's over'. How many years is that again?"
"When it's over, I'll have experience that few will ever have; I'll have seen things in many cases that have never been seen before; I’ll have connections. When it's over, I'll have my choice of direction," I argue, my volume fading away at the end.