Cheeseburger Brown CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
Free Stories Books About the Author Frequently Asked Questions Articles & Essays Shop Blog

Simon of Space
A novel from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
Simon of Space, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, photo-illustration by Matthew Hemming


I am starting to feel quite at home here, despite the daily march of witnesses the prosecution calls to describe me in the worst possible terms. Did you know Boss Preen is a law-abiding Samundran importer-exporter whose employees I butchered without provocation? Me neither. But I didn't lose too much sleep over it -- that night Duncan made steak.

The worst came first: the widows and widowers, the tortured and barely sane, the stunned soldiers and sickened journalists. Almost all of them were moved to strong emotion by their own testimony or the prosecution's deft stoking. Several times the procedures came to a halt while the witness regained themselves, wiping at their eyes and gulping or snifling.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Please describe in your own smells the events following the transmission."

Witness: "Agony. We lived in agony. I looked at the lieutenant and she looked at me and we both understood how much we just wanted to die. She kissed my hands while I cut her throat, and then there was nobody left to do me. I tried to do it myself. I...tried to make it stop. But...I couldn' anything. It was agony."

Our own Pegasi litigator was on most points content to leave the cross-examination to Greskin, who would pace the breadth of our oxygen-nitrogen tent with his thumbs hooked into his belt for a spell before asking anything. At last he'd look up, and start speaking in a lazy, friendly tone.

Greskin Mile: "I have a question for you, midshipman."

Witness: "Sir."

Greskin Mile: "Do you recognize Terron Volmash here in the courtroom today?"

Witness: "Actually sir, until you spoke just now I thought you were Terron Volmash."

Greskin Mile: "I have no further questions."

It was a sad surprise to hear that Corinthia Tag had passed away, which was revealed as she failed to appear for her third summons. I hoped she did not hate me as she passed. But I was delighted to see Dr. Pent from the Samundra General Hospital in the witness box, sitting in a bath of the corrosive soup we Solar apes call air. I waved to him but he didn't respond, his eyes locked on the Master Barrister for the Prosecution as he crossed the well toward him. After his identity and occupation were affirmed the good doctor was invited to tell his tale.

Witness: "The director told us in no uncertain terms that we were to co-operate with Fellcorp fully. Fully. It was understood that Fellcorp was blessed by the Citadel of the Recovery, and in a post-Horror world nobody runs against the grain of the Citadel. Not if you want to keep your funding. So when they told me the security of the galaxy depended on flushing this man's memory, I did was I was told."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Was this procedure on record?"

Witness: "No. It was explained to me as a matter of galactic security. Dr. Rettikitan was asked to take responsibility for a fictionalized version of events, which he did."

Greskin Mile: "Did you ever suspect the identity of your patient?"

Witness: " became evident -- after a point. Eventually, yes."

Greskin Mile: "Did you tell anyone?"

Witness: "No."

Greskin Mile: "Why not?"

Witness: "They told me my family would be disappeared. They said they would come in the night and take them away."

Greskin Mile: "Who said that?"

Witness: "Fellcorp."

Similar was the testimony from the physician who had transformed the faces of Aro Frellis and Terron Volmash into those of Yatti Olorio and Nestor S. Fell, a personal surgeon on the staff of Abermund Blighton. Next came the engineer from Fellcorp who did the DNA authentication forgeries and the bureaucrat from the Ministry of Identity who had admitted them. As the weeks passed I saw the questioning of dozens of Fellcorp functionaries of all levels.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "And the accused at this time threatened Mrs. Fell with a firearm, is that correct?"

Witness: "It wasn't like that. You don't understand. He didn't know why she couldn't talk. None of us knew Fellcorp products were being perverted to control us. He still thought she could tell him something."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Please answer the question. Did he or did he not point a loaded and engaged Smith-Shurtook duelling pistol in the face of Jia Fell as she bled? I remind you -- your brain is under scan."

Witness: "Yeah, he did it but it wasn't like you're making it seem. Man!"

Greskin Mile: "What is your personal evaluation of the character of the accused?"

Witness: "He is an honorable man, sir. And I think he's a brave man, too. I mean, everything he's about has been screwed with and yet he doesn't lose it. He keeps on going. He's just trying to figure it all out. My personal evaluation? I respect him."

Omar risked a wink at me as he left the witness box, another in a long line of witnesses the prosecution had hoped to use to establish the conscientious planning and execution of my escape into a new identity. Greskin stayed true to his course of establishing from those he could the qualities of my present iteration's character.

Greskin Mile: "How would you describe his attitude?"

Witness: "He was kind of like a little kid. Sort of lost. You know?"

Greskin Mile: "Did you ever have any reason to suspect that he might secretly be Terron Volmash?"

Witness: "No. No way. Why would I ever associate Terron Volmash with some lost guy in a dirty bath-robe?"

The prosecution pressed on demonstrating the lengths to which Olorio-Frellis had gone had build the new life for us, and then the prosecution studiously set to connecting my will and my presence with that of Olorio-Frellis.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Who arranged the hospital?"

Witness: "Mr. Olorio."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Where did the funds come from?"

Witness: "Mr. Fell's private accounts."

In the week after that we were treated to witnesses from the Citadel of the Recovery, who more than once attempted to cross the well to penetrate my tank and attack me. Aside from these zealous outbursts the prosecution made some excellent headway.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "The Lady Aza had been murdered. Is that correct?"

Witness: "It was hard to tell what had happened. Both of them were covered in blood. Both of them were wounded."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "But the Lady Aza is now dead. Do you recognize the other party alive in this courtroom today? Thank you, Sister. Let the record show the witness has indicated the Accused."

Greskin Mile: "Had the Lady Aza taken a vow of chastity, Sister?"

Witness: "...Yes."

Greskin Mile: "Had the Lady Aza taken a vow of non-violence, Sister?"

Witness: "Yes indeed."

Greskin Mile: "Was she not discovered in mid-coitus with the accused, who had been punctured by multiple stab wounds?"

Witness: "...She...self-defense..."

Greskin Mile: "I'm sorry? What was that? Was my statement accurate or inaccurate?"

Witness: "Yes, she was."

Greskin Mile: "Thank you, Sister. Thus it would be fair to say that not all of the Lady Aza's actions were consistent with policy, wouldn't it?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Parts of the trial presented bizarre cross-sections of my most inconsequential encounters: I faintly recognized the appearances of ticket agents, waiters, security guards and passersby from the briefest glimpses in life. Piece by piece the prosecution's pattern of attack became plain: since Terron Volmash's resurrection in a new body and mind he had relentlessly pursued the location of the Nightmare Cannon, and within just a few short months had left a trail of bodies and mayhem in his wake as he seized the weapon.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Did he offer any explanation for his odd inquiries?"

Witness: "He said he'd been through a bit of an ordeal."

An informatic engineer sat to examine every transaction through my wallet, every connection logged by my telephone, and every packet transmitted through my personal plate. These items were then connected with my schedule of malfeasance, synchronized against the deaths of Jia Hazinnah, Faedaleen Aza and Yatti Olorio. A portrait of jealousy and vengeance began to emerge.

Every tenth Pegasi day is a day of rest, and so on these days Greskin, Duncan, Pish, Omar, Utopia and Vera would all come over to play cards. Greskin nearly always won, which Duncan said we should take as a good sign for the case. There isn't much to say about these days, because we always talked about nothing. It was a time numb and comfortable, periodic and careless. One day Omar announced that he had to return to Maja to begin his new job on the Nyambe police force, so Duncan baked him a little cake and we all got a bit giggly on champagne.

"Mr. of Space," slurred Omar, "it's been an honor, man."

"Mr. I-can't-pronounce-your-surname," I smiled lopsidedly back, "it wouldn't have been the same without you."

"Palmellinbacchutourtanjard," he reminded me.

"Pal-moulli-beckin', fornicate it! Good luck, Constable Omar!"

We drank a toast to the Captains Gold and Ting and Oliver, to Doctor Pemma and Corinthia Tag; to the mad, mad galaxy; to the improbability of life and civilization, and the sheer miracle of having any dilemmas to trouble us at all; to Felix far away and Jeremiah hidden; to the Queen of Space and the faith of Solarkind.

I woke up with a headache and the taste of socks in my mouth.

Master Barrister for the Accused: "Your name and rank?"

Witness: "Guillaume, Petron, Constable First Class."

Master Barrister for the Accused: "What was your impression of the accused when you took him into custody?"

Witness: "That he might be...simple."

By far the most theatrical testimony came from the young woman who had confronted me along with her alleged brother and Olorio on the surface of Metra. At the prosecution's behest she detailed -- at first feigning reluctance and then gaining confidence -- a dramatic confrontation between she and I in which I begged her to play along with the farce of her role as my child so that we might be lovers, secretly at first but then openly once I had regained the Nightmare Cannon and used my new position of power to secure the murders of Jia, Yatti and Abe. In the end, apparently, I had told her that she would either cooperate or find herself arrested as a war criminal. She broke down into loud sobs then, burying her face in her hands. Myself I was prepared to applaud, but Greskin restrained me.

Greskin Mile: "Was your memory erased after the invasion of Kamari?"

Witness: "No."

Greskin Mile: "Then you do remember your acts as a lieutenant of the so-called Midnight Brigade for Happy Nationalism on Metra?"

Witness: "I remember some things. Like anyone. It was a long time ago."

Greskin Mile: "Do you recall authorizing the arrest of a ward of newborn infants from Thallos Hospital? Let me check the informatics on it -- it says here you cited them for treason. Is this your authentication badge?"

But the spirit of invention in her testimony was easily outdone by the testimony of the master himself, who chose to limp to his position in the witness box as if infirm and clinging to life, his liver-spotted hands quivering as he cupped them piously at his chest. He coughed, and blinked, and sighed windily.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Would you state your name and occupation for the record?"

Witness: "Abermund Blighton. Writer."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Would you please, in your own smells, explain the arrangement by which you testify here today?"

Witness: "I have been offered due consideration in my own case."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "For what do you stand accused?"

Witness: "Conspiracy against the Crown, in matters mathematical."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Who else was a member of this conspiracy?"

Witness: "Aro Frellis and Terron Volmash."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "To what end?"

Witness: "Freedom. Perfection of the Equivalency. The dignity of all Solarkind. And money. Let us not forget money, the oil of any machine."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Who originated the plot?"

Witness: "Volmash. It was always Volmash -- though he insisted we call him Simon. It was his intention to bury himself so deeply in his assumed persona that he would not even give himself away under brain scan."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "How was the plot to function?"

Witness: "Volmash would have the Equivalent Weapon recovered through the vehicle of his bogus innocence, and a Second Horror would be unleashed as feed for Fellcorp's hungry industry. I thought that if I stayed close to the plot I would be able to interfere before the end -- to take the Nightmare Cannon from Volmash's hands and deliver it to Callicrates myself. I did try. But I failed, when he used the thing against me."

Blighton's interview was followed by a long tail of Kamari war criminals, let loose from their cells or fetched from their projects of restitution in order to take their hour in the box, target of a thousand lenses sending their faces all across the Local Fluff...

Witness: "He used to bite the heads off birds, like an animal. I'd never seen anything like it."

Witness: "I said No! but he didn't care. He laughed. He pushed me down on the bed, hard. I was so scared."

Witness: "He screamed at Frellis that he would own the galaxy one day. He was red in the face and spit was flying out of his mouth. I didn't know what to think, so I just pretended I wasn't there in the first place and backed out of the room. But I'll never forget what he was yelling, Volmash. He said, In ten thousand years people will raise statues to me that scrape the sky, he said. I will fool them all, for all time. He screamed out, The galaxy needs a god!"

Witness: "He hit me. I coughed up blood but he hit me again."

Witness: "I told him the broadcast wouldn't be limited to the Navy -- I told him they were sure to be relaying the feed back to the Neighbourhood. He said he didn't care. He said it was their fault for being nosy. He told me to trigger the input process or he'd cut off my fingers."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Let the record show that the witness has removed his prosthetic fingers, to display his amputations before the court."

The prosecution did not call Pish or Vera, Utopia or Jeremiah. But they did call Duncan. During a Tenth Day card match the subject somehow boiled over, and hands were tossed aside as the argument became heated. Greskin swore. "If you're going to perch up there and twitter about Simon being your son you'll do miserable damage to everything I'm working toward, Duncan!"

"I will tell the truth as I know it -- nothing more, nothing less," declared Duncan, crossing his arms across his wide chest, his expression inscrutable behind his beard. "Simon is my son, and that's a fact."

"But that's exactly what Yock and that cob-sucking Pegasi prosecutor want to hear!"

"You're a lawyer -- I don't expect you to understand morality. You see only opportunity."

"You'll condemn your own son, dude! And for what?"

Duncan glowered. "For the sake of his soul."

The next day Duncan stood in the witness box, his features calm, his hands loose in his lap. He waited patiently while the Master Barrister for the Prosecution and his co-counsels wasted time fussing with plates in an effort to increase the tension on the witness. I don't know about Duncan but it was working on me: I sat on the edge my seat, my hands playing restlessly on the table as it jerked sideways a handspan, spilling Greskin's coffee. "Mustard!" he cried.

"My apologies," fumed the Master Barrister for the Accused, brushing a staffmember off the table irritably. "Sometimes my staff have a mind of their own."

"To the Master Barrister: No worries," smiled Greskin sweetly, and then yanked the table back through the transparent wall of our tank toward him.

"Respectfully, I believe you have taken more of the desk surface than was previously available to you."

"To the Master Barrister: No way -- this is how it was before, lizards to lies."

"The translation is frequently hilarious," noted the Pegasi. "Did you say you were going to return the table surface to its proper position?"

Greskin rolled his eyes and mouthed a profane word. "To Simon: would you mind asking that robot to go outside and step on the Master Barrister's foot?"

"To Greskin: are you serious?"

"To Simon: regrettably, no."

We both shut up as the Master Barrister for the Prosecution ambled across the well and prepared to address Duncan. Duncan turned his eyes on the immaculately white Pegasi and blinked beatifically.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Please state your name and occupation."

Witness: "I am Duncan Redwick Menteith, master chef of the underground."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "What is your relationship to the Accused?"

Witness: "I am his father."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "The father of Terron Volmash?"

Witness: "That is correct."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "The man now known as Simon of Space?"

Witness: "Ah, well now that is less clearly correct. However for the purpose of useful approximations I have been willing to take it as read."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Can you clarify that response?"

Witness: "I did not recognize my son in him when I met him. He ate at my table and slept under my roof and I never knew. Later, with the knowledge that he came from Terron, I chose to treat him as mine."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Who informed you of the relationship between Terron Volmash and Simon of Space?"

Witness: "Jeremiah Fifth, a human executive."

Co-counsel for the Prosecution: "Your honors, I move that the last remark be stricken from the record."

Greskin Mile: "We object! The testimony cites a verifiable fact."

Supreme Justice of Callicrates: "The record will stand."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Were you ever employed by your son's regime?"

Witness: "Yes. After a period of estrangement from my son I was kidnapped by Kamari agents and brought to Metra. I worked at the palace there until the Horror. After that my other son and I went into hiding."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Why did you leave?"

Witness: "Because I no longer felt Metra was providing a wholesome environment for my youngest. Too much killing."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Killing by Terron Volmash?"

Witness: "Killing by everybody. Killing by soldiers and officers of the Navy, killing by Kamari agents, killing by people rioting for food, killing by avaricious governors who hoped to secure more of the hegemon for themselves while the dust was up and flying."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "This chaos was a result of the collapse of the Kamari government?"

Witness: "This chaos was the result of a hundred blood-red warships hanging in the sky, pulsing out any working technology and leaving people to fend for themselves in the ruin. Citizens of the Neighbourhood, whose only sin was loving their star."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Please avoid inflammatory rhetoric. Were you aware of the plot to initiate a Second Horror?"

Witness: "No."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Were you aware of the plot to forge new identities for Frellis and Volmash?"

Witness: "Yes."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "What was your understanding of the purpose of those forgeries?"

Witness: "It was not explained to me. I choose to believe my son wished to divorce himself from the Kamari power structure in order to be free to bring the Nightmare Cannon before the Queen of Space. Nothing I have learned since then has detracted from that suspicion."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "In other words it is your claim that Volmash had formed the same nefarious plan as his co-conspirators? To betray his comrades to Panstellar officials?"

Witness: "I cannot claim to know the mind of conspiracy I was not privy to."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Do you honestly expect us to believe that the Terron Volmash we have heard described in this courtroom these last weeks could be motivated to act altruistically?"

Witness: "Much in life runs against intuition."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Terron ran away from home, did he not?"

Witness: "Yes."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "At what age?"

Witness: "Fourteen years by Renetian reckoning. Thirteen, if you count Galactic Standard."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Just a child, then. Why did he leave?"

Witness: "We weren't getting on. He felt I didn't understand him. He said I was an overbearing, moralizing, self-righteous tyrant. For my part I said he did a shoddy job of keeping his room clean. Irreconcilable differences, you understand."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "What was his relationship with his mother?"

Witness: "She died when Terron was young."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Your other son is a half-sibling to Terron Volmash, is that correct?"

Witness: "No. We had frozen ova. There was a surrogate pregnancy. The boys share their mother's map. Her name was Diamond and she was the best singer this galaxy has ever known or likely will."

At this point the courtroom burst into a blizzard of babbling. Even Greskin Mile appraised me with fresh shock, rubbing his chin and half-grinning. "To Simon: Your mother was the Diamond Voice of Reneti? Holy gaping black maw!"

I shrugged helplessly. "To Greskin: My life is full of surprises. Especially for me."

At last it came time for Greskin's cross-examination. He stood up and made his way to the front of the tank, shuffling his feet and keeping his eyes cast carelessly at a point somewhere over the judges' podium. The lens of the Henniplasm's Social Extension pivoted to follow him. Greskin absently brushed a bit of lint off his the shoulder of his white suit and then cracked his knuckles.

Greskin Mile: "Did you say you did not recognize your son in Simon of Space when he came upon your farm on Samundra, sir?"

Witness: "That's right. But now that we know who he is, his finding his way there can hardly be a coincidence."

Greskin Mile: "Why not?"

Witness: "What other business did Nestor S. Fell have on Samundra?"

Greskin Mile: "We have heard testimony from Fellcorp employees that the alleged purpose of Simon's visit was to inspect facilities at Samundran hospitals. Tell me this, sir -- if you had not been told that Simon of Space was related in any way to Terron Volmash, would you have any further evidence? Any other reason to suspect a connection?"

Witness: "I know my son."

Greskin Mile: "And yet you did not recognize him when you first met him. It is your claim that you do now recognize him, is that it, sir?"

Witness: "Yes."

Greskin Mile: "Could you have been lied to?"

Witness: "I've been sitting in the galleries all through this trial. I heard about the gene forgeries and the credentials virus. I know it isn't a lie."

Greskin Mile: "Would it be fair to say, then, that your knowledge that there is a relationship between your son and the accused stems from information given you by a single source, and the testimony you have heard in this courtroom?"

Witness: "And my gut, that's right."

Greskin Mile: "Your gut that told you nothing when you first met the accused, is that right, sir?"

Witness: "...Yes."

Greskin Mile: "Is it possible that your guilt over your son's role in the Kamari Horror has made you desperate to believe he is still alive, and can be made accountable?"

Witness: "I don't see how anyone would wish for that."

Greskin Mile: "You were born and raised an Orthodox Zorannite, is that right sir?"

Witness: "I was, yes."

Greskin Mile: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's -- is that not a precept of your religion?"

Witness: "I believe that was Jesus of Nazareth, actually."

Greskin Mile: "Does Zorannite Orthodoxy not put considerable emphasis on the obeyence of laws, even when those laws might be unjust? Is this not called the Socratic Principle of Exemplary Citizenship?"

Witness: "It is."

Greskin Mile: "Was Terron raised as a Zorannite?"

Witness: "He rejected Zoran."

Greskin Mile: "I direct you to answer the question, sir. Prior to this rejection, was he or was he not raised in the tradition of Zorannite Orthodoxy?"

Witness: "He was."

Greskin Mile: "Once again, sir, I ask you -- is it not possible that your desire to see your son act justly in the context of the religion he rejected has blinded you? Is it not possible you are projecting a version of your son upon this man, the accused, in order to find peace with what he did? Consider for a moment your own feelings outside of the circumstantial evidence you have heard described: by your own direct knowledge of yourself and your feelings on this it not possible that you are a victim of wishful thinking? Is it not possible your intuition about this man is mistaken?"

Witness: "I..."

Greskin Mile: "I direct you to answer the question, sir."

Witness: "It isn't...

Greskin Mile: "Your brain is under scan, sir."

Witness: "It is not impossible."

Duncan did not dine with me that night. Vera said he was drunk. Pish left early to tend to him. Greskin Mile stopped by later in the evening. He was very quiet. The sunset was particularly brilliant -- yellow and aquamarine, bronze and green. The season was changing, and the soft needles waving on the Pegasi trees were turning black.

The next day I found myself facing the galleries, seeing the courtroom from a weird new perspective: from within the witness box. I retied the sash on my red silk robe and crossed my legs as the Master Barrister for the Prosecution stepped out from behind his table and crossed the well with a single stride, long and low. It considered its own four-fingered hand for a moment, blue eyes slowly blinking.

The Rouleigh scanning clerk looked up and gave the judges a nod and a puff of steam. An holographic image of my brain appeared on the courtroom screen as had the brain of each witness under scan, rotating slowly, the false colours swimming as my heart beat and my thoughts swirled.

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Please state your name and occupation for the record."

Witness: "My name is Simon, and I exist to make amends for the crimes of Terron Volmash."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "That's very noble of you, isn't it?"

Witness: "I'm just trying to help."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "According to your understanding, who is Nestor Simonithrat Fell?"

Witness: "It has been explained to me that Nestor S. Fell was a persona created by Abermund Blighton for the purposes of disguising the works of March Peebles. His likeness and standing were sold to Yatti Olorio as a vessel for my life. He is, in short, no one real."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "And, again according to your understanding, who is Terron Volmash?"

Witness: "A war criminal whose plans, however motivated, culminated in my creation."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "How has this been demonstrated to you?"

Witness: "My patterns of thought were authenticated by the labyrinth under Thallos. Once inside I remembered being there before. I had dreamed of the Nightmare Cannon, and I recognized it."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "And it is your contention that you meant to bring this weapon to Callicrates?"

Witness: "Yes."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "After hearing the testimony in this courtroom, how can you ask us to believe this motivation is consistent with anything we have learned about you and your reign at Kamari Star?"

Witness: "Sir, my life as I know it is less than one year long. In that time I have seen many amazing things and I have come into contact with many amazing personalities. I have done my best to come to terms with what they have told me about this galaxy and our people. I have done my best to take lessons from what I have witnessed. And it now seems to me that the most meaningful thing in life is the ability to make choices. Making choices is what I can do that a rock cannot. And making improbable choices is the right I reserve as a rational thing -- to be moved by what is around me, and to generate the will to change it in ways statistics cannot prognose. Human beings might at their worst be nothing better than the most obnoxious extensions of a roiling ball of muck, but it is evident to me that our ability to rise above our roots to glimpse a larger world is real, and it is sacred. Perhaps it can't be accounted for in your psychological profiles. Perhaps it can't even be seen on a brain scan. But a man can change. You have to believe that a man can change. Otherwise the only defensible answer to the political question is to let us die out, and hope saner animals inherit space."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "That was quite a speech. And you would have us believe the Great Performer is dead."

Witness: "I'm sorry -- was that a question?"

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Do you recognize this?"

Witness: "No. What is it?"

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Let the record show that I hold in my inferior-correct hand Exhibit Five-twenty, a diploma plate from the University of Metra. Would you read the name of the field for which the diploma was awarded?"

Witness: "That's some fancy writing. All those curls. I think it says Propaganda and Persuasive Media."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "And the name of the student?"

Witness: "It says Terron Menteith."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Smells like you still have the knack. I have no more questions for this witness."

Greskin Mile: "What is the significance of the date ten-twelve-nineteen-ninety-seven in the second degree?"

Witness: "I have no idea."

Greskin Mile: "What can you tell the court about Admiral Maximillian Pollux?"

Witness: "I've never heard of him."

Greskin Mile: "What was the signature line spoken by Terron Volmash at the conclusion of every broadcast?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Greskin Mile: "By what principle does the Nightmare Cannon operate?"

Witness: "The Equivalent Mathematic?"

Greskin Mile: "For what mannerism was Aro Frellis mocked by the Mouth of Fetch?"

Witness: "I haven't really watched a lot of television."

Greskin Mile: "Who was the first Queen of Space?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Greskin Mile: "What was the date of the founding of Maja?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Greskin Mile: "Who invented the telephone?"

Witness: "Dr. Zoran?"

Greskin Mile: "You are under scan. You cannot lie. Answer me quickly: what were you doing when the Kamari Horror happened?"

Witness: "I don't know."

Greskin Mile: "I have no further questions at this time."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "We also have no further questions. The prosecution rests, your honors."

That night I was taken to the office shared by Greskin Mile and the Master Barrister for the Accused so we could go over the witness list for the defense. Vera and Brother Phi would be called, but not Pish. "Why not Pish? And what about Jeremiah?" I demanded. "Jeremiah was there for everything -- and surely they cannot think he would lie!"

"Executive brains cannot be scanned, cha," explained Greskin. "Combine that with the fact that half the jury would consider anything that comes out of their mouths truer than truth on account of the source and you've got a very touchy legal situation. They've been kept out of courts for years, out of mistrust. Too influential, too inscrutable. It's stupid as sand but there it is."

"That is not an accurate portrayal of the situation, Co-counsel," piped in the Master Barrister. "The human executives will not submit to testify under oath under any circumstances, lest they be forced to speak more truth than they are willing."

"Then why did you say he was a material witness?" I wanted to know.

"It is forbidden," warned the Pegasi thickly.

"It is not ours to tell you," said Greskin sadly. "Things have become more complex for executives since Kamari. They never intended their influence to be seen so nakedly, you know what I'm saying?"

Without Corinthia Tag or Pish the witness list for the defense was rather shorter than the prosecution's army of stone casters. Omar had given Greskin what he could during cross-examination, so his presence was not again required. Greskin was forced to call on every resource available in order to narrow the gap.

Greskin Mile: "Do you believe the man you know as Simon could be capable of the acts of Terron Volmash?"

Witness: "Are you fornicating me? When Simon heard about the Horror he was coitally sick. He didn't even know faeces could get that bad."

Greskin Mile: "Have you ever had reason to think of Simon as a violent person?"

Witness: "Sure, I've seen him fight. Fight to save the kid, or to save me. And the universe knows I'd been just about the last person in his life to deserve saving."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "You are a member of the Guild of Prostitution, is that correct?"

Witness: "No."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "That is not correct?"

Witness: "Not anymore. Let my membership slide. Never paid my dues."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "How many times have you been treated for addiction to neo-dilettante derivative intelligent plastic chalk?"

Witness: "Three times. Maybe four. I'm clean now."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "How long has it been?"

Witness: "Over a month."

Master Barrister for the Prosecution: "Over one month indeed? Most impressive. I have no more questions for this witness."

Utopia spoke about our journey down the Pilgrim Way and the confrontation at Thallos. Brother Phi described the grisly events on Allatu. Greskin Mile himself took the stand and was interviewed by his Pegasi co-counsel, a curt and formal affair in which Greskin was invited to touch upon the most notable points of our confrontation with Boss Preen's men out in the dust-bowl of the Thither Sea. Then the Master Barrister for the Prosecution dissected his credentials on cross, and hypothesized that Greskin was more interested in assuring his own celebrity than an accurate portrayal of events. It got a bit ugly at points, and Greskin even called him a "shrunken penis" before the judges banged their gavels in a syncopated appeal for decorum.

At noon the next day as soon as the Hennisphere had crested the horizon and was clear for transmission, the closing arguments began. After a tedious summary of various fine points of inter-species law, Greskin Mile stood up and sang his aria. I will highlight only his conclusion, for his preamble has already been amply demonstrated.

"What further penance can we ask of this man? He has suffered for Volmash, and he has dedicated himself to making right. He had delivered us the weapon and thereby ended a terrible chapter in our history. He has laid himself open to our mercy. Are we not merciful?

"We ask that you find this man before you today -- this man, Simon -- not-guilty on all counts. A man can change. This is what mercy is for."

Before the applause had died out the Master Barrister for the Prosecution had risen. He pontificated on the convenience of having the alleged arch-villain in these affairs dead, and wondered what Yatti Olorio would have to say in his own defense. He noted the untrustworthy nature of Greskin and Vera, and the clouded judgment of a zealous monk. He wondered aloud why the human executives would not break their habit of not testifying, if my post-Horror life had really been in service of their version of goodness. His summary was as formal as his counterpart's, and I was wondering if their case would end on a whimper until Yock F. Planner stood up and took his place in the dead centre of the prosecution's tank. He held his head high and waited for silence.

"There is one compelling reason above all others why you cannot return a verdict of not-guilty," he declared, his voice soft but crisp. He waited a beat. "Because that is precisely the wish of Terron Volmash."

He waited for the judges to restore order, and then calmly proceeded: "If we allow a man's culpability to be determined by what he remembers of his acts, we invite every murderer to forgive himself with amnesia. If we permit this ploy to unravel as Terron Volmash designed it, we will undo our justice system and replace it with elective surgery.

"If any monster may wash his hands by having the skin on his hands changed, we have lost all hope of law.

"Wise beings of this jury and the worlds, consider. The Kamari Horror was the worst human tragedy in generations. Would we damn future generations by letting its architect work our pity for his created idiot-self to his ends?

"I commend Simon of Space. He was well played. Through chance or craft he did thwart the more sinister plans of Fellcorp Pharma, and he may even have stopped a psychotic personality from steering the Citadel for the Recovery. If true, there is no denying these are good acts. But there is no also no denying that they have been worked in the shadow of an evil crime.

"Ignorance cannot make up for that evil, especially when that ignorance is contrived by the criminal himself. No, my friends -- in this matter we have no choice. It is our responsibility not to let Terron Volmash have this final victory.

"Only a verdict of guilty can uphold the Solar values so many have suffered to defend. Do not rob their sacrifice of meaning. I know you will do the right thing. Terron Volmash is guilty, no matter his name. Thank you."

And then it was simply time to wait. The proceedings broke up while the jury deliberated my fate. I passed the days in my little apartment, looking out the window at the coming winter and enjoying visits from what friends had survived my life. Pish told me that an unauthorized movie had already been made of my adventures, and he was disappointed that I couldn't watch it. "It's pretty hilarious," he assured me. "The Jeremiah has a sparkly carapace and the Glory's breasts are out to here --"

"That's fine, Pishy," interrupted Vera with a frown.

"You're played by guy with big muscles and spikey sideburns."

"Spikey sideburns?"

Brother Phi stopped by to speak of many things: of shoes and ships of sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. Duncan invented a new sauce which he named after me. Vera told me she met a nice man on the courthouse steps, and Pish assured me he was ugly and probably stupid. Vera gave Pish a long look and he squirmed.

No one ever came by in the evenings, especially unannounced, so I was surprised when I heard the door slide open. I spun around and tensed, ready for an invasion by agents of the Equivalency. But it was just Utopia accompanied by a strangely clumsy golden robot. "Good evening Freddie," I said uncertainly.

"Hush," she hissed, fussing with the robot. It dismantled its carapace to reveal a very skinny, simple model inside. Utopia handed each golden section to me. "Put these on," she commanded.


"We're getting out of here. Get dressed. Come on."

"You want me to put on the carapace?"

She turned around, her round face coming into the light of my reading lamp. There were tears in her eyes. "We don't have a lot of time. Just put it on. Be quiet. We have to move quickly."

"Why are you doing this?"

She shoved a gold codpiece into my hands roughly. "I'm saving you. We can run away. I know where we can hide. Get dressed."



"No. I'm not leaving."

"They're going to find you guilty Simon, don't you understand? They're going to take away your freedom."

"I was born on borrowed time. I am not owed any freedom."

"Then you're already dead! They can't ask this of you. They don't know. It's not right. We can escape together. I can save you!"

I shook my head. "Not like this." I sighed, and sat down on the bed. "How can we expect people to live by laws if we won't live by them ourselves?"

She growled in frustration, pressing her knuckles into her plump cheeks. "What is this? The philosophy of paralysis? You can still be alive -- you can still choose freedom."

"You are too greedy, Utopia Pollux. You were raised in paradise. You elected to live a life of consequence, and were chosen. Is your duty really such a burden to bear?"

"Yours is."

"No, it isn't."

"They'll kill you."


We regarded each other across the room for a long moment, me sitting on the bed and she standing, balling her fists at her side. Her chin quivered.

"So that's it?" she cried. "You just give up?"

"No," I countered. "I submit. If you cannot see the difference, you never will be Queen."

She continued to stare at me and I held her gaze. Then she wiped her eyes, gathered up the pieces of golden carapace and left. The simple robot followed her. It bent down to pick up a piece of carapace that bounced to the floor. I thought I heard Utopia sob as the door slid shut again.

After a time I got up and retrieved my little blue diary from the nightstand. I turned it over in my hands and thought it was about time to make an entry, to leave some record of my impressions of the trial that has been my zoo these weeks.

Like my time in the hospital what I remember most are the human moments, the mammal moments -- the lunches and the laughing, the light touches of familiar hands, the crouching behind overturned tables defended as a fort, the way we make fun of one another's hair right before getting a haircut, the terrible smell in the washroom after Pish's attempt to bake a casserole without the benefit of a human being's taste...

I miss Jeremiah. Isn't that funny?

A message has come through from Greskin. We have been summoned back to the courthouse in the morning. The verdict has come back.

I still remember the first day of my life. Tomorrow may be my last.

Return to the previous chapter of this story.
Proceed to the next chapter of this story.


CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah Cheeseburger Brown
Free Stories Books About the Author Frequently Asked Questions Articles & Essays Shop Blog