Justice is a strange quality that societies seek out. It’s complicated by the fact that what may be a punishment for one individual, isn’t necessarily so for another. Civilizations go to extremes trying to find justice. Even farther to find a fair and even-handed judge. — ed, N.E. Lilly
by David B. Riley ©2008
Roy scratched his head, then turned and whispered to the black and red android clerk, “What are these reptiles called again?”
“Skogorn,” the clerk answered.
“Does he or it have a name?”
“It’s believed to be a male. It’s number two hundred.”
Roy leaned back in swivel chair. “What is Skogorn 200 charged with?”
“Theft, your honor,” Cheops answered.
Roy looked at the large reptile, which reminded him of drawings he’d seen of smaller dinosaurs like the hadrosaur. “Does he even understand the language?”
“Of course he understands,” Cheops insisted.
“What did he steal?”
“An anti-gravity generator,” Cheops said. “They’re worth seven million drom.”
“What would he do with that?” Roy asked.
Cheops shrugged. “No idea, your honor.”
Roy announced, “I’m setting a trial date for the 200th day of the current year. Damn, I wish you people used months.”
“You can’t set a trial. The defendant didn’t ask for one,” the clerk pointed out.
“Exactly,” Cheops agreed. “He’s presumed guilty.”
“Trial is set,” Roy cracked his gavel. “We are adjourned until tomorrow.” He shot out of the courthouse before anyone could figure out what had just happened.
He hopped on the tram and was home in minutes. The blue servant girl whose name he could never remember took his shoes. He relaxed in the big chair and she brought him his favorite jug. He pulled the cork out with his new teeth and took a swig. This was his best backyard batch yet. Whatever was cooking for supper smelled delicious, though he knew smells can be deceiving.
There was a ring at the door. The blue servant girl escorted a familiar figure into the living room. Out of habit, Roy stood. He hated his guest, but old manners die hard. “Chief Administrator Hobbs?” He gestured toward another chair, then reseated himself. He didn’t offer any of the moonshine from his jug.
“Judge Bean,” the man with green eyes and enormous ears who almost looked human said, “it’s bean a year since we recruited you.”
“Overall, we’ve been pleased with your performance,” Hobbs said.
Roy felt there was a “but” coming.
“But, lately, well our legal system prides itself on its efficiency. That’s what we liked about you, our scouts rated you as the most efficient jurist on Earth. Some of your trials lasted less than five minutes.”
“Is there a point in this? My supper is ready.”
“Well, last week, you dismissed an indictment against a known criminal. Today, you scheduled a trial against a Skogorn. A Skogorn? They don’t even recognize your authority or speak the language. How are they going to have a trial? Emperor’s Attorney Cheops is furious.”
Roy took a swig. “He doesn’t have to appear before me.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then, he can present his evidence at trial.” Roy stood. “I have supper waiting.”
“I never asked for or wanted this job,” Roy said.
“You’d be dead in a pine box, if not for us.”
Roy nodded. “Yep. I reckon I would.” He went to the dining room, leaving his guest behind.
The supper proved disappointing. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, it just lacked the zing his wife made food with. The Mexicans liked spices. These blue people didn’t seem to. He rubbed his neck. That was one good thing. These people had fixed his neck, which tortured him since his salad days when a lynch mob had tried to hang him. Gradually, he drifted off to sleep.
The next day’s docket was light. Most of the cases were petty offenses. Then, they brought in one of those red and black androids that looked like his clerk. “Empire Versus 3313,” the clerk announced.
Roy looked at the screen in front of him. It often took a few moments to translate into English. The audio translator was much faster. The charge was theft. He scrolled down. The item taken was an anti-gravity generator.
“We have reached a plea arrangement, your honor,” Cheops declared.
“Have you now?”
“The defendant will return to his home planet. He will forfeit all assets. He will accept a suspended detention sentence.”
Roy looked at the android’s emotionless face. “Tell me, what did you want the generator for?”
“They’re worth a lot of money,” the android replied.
Roy leaned back in his chair. “Are they now? Back in Texas, I once fined a man forty dollars. That man was dead.”
“Your honor?” Cheops asked. “We don’t understand your point?”
“Well, some people call me the hanging judge. In Texas, I was just a justice of the peace. It was Judge Parker, the federal judge, who was the hanging judge. He hung everybody. I described my court as the only law west of the Pecos.”
“An enlightening tale,” Cheops said.
Roy’s .45 caliber revolver made a loud thud when he slammed it on top the bench. “I had one law book, one gun and one jug of whisky. Now, I have these computer things. I have armed bailiffs.”
“They’re called Centurions,” Cheops pointed out.
“I know that,” Roy snarled. He picked up his revolver. “And I still have one gun.”
“Your point?” Cheops asked.
Roy slammed down the gun and glared at the prosecutor. “It is your honor. Court rules require you to address me as your honor.”
“Yes, your honor,” Cheops said.
“I fine you ten drom for contempt of court.” He figured that was around a day’s pay for a prosecutor 3. Then he looked at the android. “How do I know you won’t sneak back in to this planet and steal something else.”
“I’ll be registered with Customs.”
“But you people all look alike. You could just change your number.”
“That’s not possible,” Cheops insisted.
“It just isn’t,” Cheops insisted.
“Their embassy,” Cheops insisted.
“It’s true,” the clerk, who looked just like the defendant, added.
“The defendant will be held in custody until I receive a satisfactory report from Customs explaining why this individual can’t sneak back in and steal something else.” Roy cracked his gavel. “We are adjourned.”
Roy didn’t like the detention area. This one was cleaner than ones he’d seen in Texas, but it was still a jail. He unfolded the chair and plopped himself down a few feet away from the bars of the cell. He started drawing on the pad of paper he’d brought with him.
Skogorn 200 slowly sat up from the bed and stared at him. Roy simply continued to draw. Quite a long time went by.
“What you draw?” Skogorn 200 finally asked.
Roy looked at the little button device that translated thing into and out of English for him. “I was pretty sure you could understand.” Roy turned the pad toward him.
“What is it?”
“It’s a gallows. Back in Texas we would hang criminals on these. It broke their necks, really fast,” Roy explained. “I’m going to build one in the back of the court room.”
“Capital execution is forbidden,” Skogorn 200 informed him.
“You know a lot more than you let on. I said I was going to build one, didn’t say I was going to use it,” Roy said. “Think of it as a decoration. Something from home.”
“It would seem you could find a more pleasant reminder.”
Roy shrugged. “Perhaps, but it’ll have the added benefit of scaring the crap out of the defendants—and maybe even those blasted lawyers.”
“We do not have lawyers on my world.”
“That’s a thought. Why’d you steal an anti-gravity generator? You work in a mine.”
“I want to go home. I have no funds for the passage,” he explained.
“How will that get you home?” Roy asked.
“I built a ship from surplus parts. It needs a generator.”
Roy folded the chair back up. “You are a resourceful fellow.”
The next morning, Roy was actually in court early. He had the report from Customs in front of him. The android defendant was present. Roy declared, “The plea agreement is accepted.”
Then, he leaned back in his swivel chair and said, “Bring in Skogorn 200.”
“That’s not on the docket,” the clerk protested.
“Bring in who I say to bring in.”
“You can’t,” Cheops said.
Roy picked up the revolver. Most everyone was pretty much used to his waving it around. They weren’t used to it going off. After the roar died down, there was total silence. He looked at Cheops, bleeding from the shoulder. “It’s your honor, dang-nabbit. It’s just a flesh wound.” Roy wondered how he hit the shoulder. He was aiming for the leg. He was getting out of practice. “Now, where’s Skogorn 200?”
The reptile was brought in. “You get the same deal. Exile to your world. Don’t come back. I order you released and give you ten days to arrange passage.”
“That’s preposterous!” Cheops shouted.
Roy picked up the revolver.
“Your honor!” Cheops yelled.
Roy cracked the gavel. “Release the prisoner. And our prosecutor might want to go downstairs and see the medics.”
It was cold in the early morning. Roy tightened the cloak around him. He hated the clothes these people wore. He vowed he was going to make that blue girl make him some proper western wear. The spaceship wasn’t anything fancy. Roy poked his head inside. “You stole another one, then?”
“Yes,” Skojorn 200 said.
“Are they easy to steal?”
“The detectives can track them down. They emit a signal. This time, I completed the ship before stealing one.”
“A wise move.”
“I will be long gone before they look for the device. I am ready to leave.”
Roy backed away from the ship. “Good journey.”
“Why you help me, Judge Roy Bean?” the reptile asked. “I am simply cheap labor for the mines.”
“You’re a long way from home, just like me,” Roy said.
“Perhaps, someday, you will return to Planet Texas.”
The strange little ship lifted off the ground, then flew off into the sky. Roy’s gaze shifted from that to a little star in the sky he gazed at frequently, wondering what they were doing back on Earth and, especially, back in Texas.
David B. Riley lives in Vail, Colorado. He’s been writing for “Too many” years. In addition to numberous short stories, he has published two novels, including The Two Devils, a weird western novel. He’s also edited a number of non-fiction projects and anthologies.