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judge tales

judgement damaris browne


The courtroom was full. He might have found a seat, squeezed onto the bench behind the prosecution table, but Matt Sheridan preferred to stand at the door in any case. That way he could see everything. Everyone. 
The Colony Prosecutor had done as good a job as could be expected, but they all knew the evidence was weak. From the moment they’d picked Collard up on the murder charge his attorney had been making noises about applications to dismiss the case. With the arrival of the Judge of Truth, he’d had his chance. 
And if she let Collard go, as seemed likely, Sheridan wanted to be on hand to deal with the repercussions.
“... and so, your Excellency, gossip, innuendo, evidence so circumstantial as to be worthless...” 
Sheridan tuned the attorney out and looked at Collard. If nothing else, three weeks inside prison had wrought devastation on him, which was some kind of rough justice. 
His skin was pale, pasty, and despite the way the hearing had gone he looked anxious and ready to throw up – but, then, the Judge had kept her eyes fixed on him with one of her icy stares, which was enough to make any man blench. From time to time he also rubbed his chest and arm. With any luck, he'd picked up a rash. Or worse. 


“Make him speak!” 
The shout came from the back of the court, and other voices rose in agreement as one of the women stood.
“I’m sorry. I know what you said about not disrupting your court, your Excellency.” The woman twisted a scarf in her hands. Sheridan recognised her as the mother of the second murdered girl. 
“But we’ve sat here all this time, waiting for him to say something. If he’s not guilty, like his lawyer says, why can’t he speak for himself? You’ll read his mind. You’ll know he’s telling the truth. If he’s innocent, he should speak. Can’t you make him speak?” 
“You will sit,” the Judge said, her voice cold. She waited until the woman sat again. “The right to silence is enshrined in your legislation. No one may be forced to speak in his own defence. No one may be required to incriminate himself. In my court those rules are sacrosanct. No matter what.” 
She turned her stare back to Collard. He winced, looked away, and rubbed his arm again. 
“Since the advocate for the defence has finished,” she continued, “I shall retire to consider my decision.” She stood. Everyone got to their feet. 


“This court is adjourned.” 
She walked forward, towards the small chamber which acted as her retiring room. As she drew level with Sheridan she paused. 
“I do not appreciate officers entering my court when a hearing is in progress, Major.” 
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” The apology came automatically, but Sheridan was puzzled. Public rebukes were standard, but this one had come out of nowhere. 
“Moreover, this is a court of law, not a place of entertainment where you may disport yourself in idleness, lounging against doorposts.”

“No, ma’am, I’m sorry.” 
She looked around the room, as if realising for the first time that everyone was watching her bawling him out. 
“We shall continue this conversation in my chambers.” 
Sheridan followed her, understanding at last. 
He waited for the door to the retiring room to close before speaking. 
“What’s wrong?” 


She moved to the side table and poured a glass of water. 
“Am I right in thinking that Doctor Lewis is working in the outreach clinic in the city this afternoon?” 
“You’re feeling ill? I’ll get him back.” 
“No. No, I am quite well.” She hesitated, then put the glass down without drinking. She moved to the room’s chair and picked up the book she’d left lying on it. 
“What arrangements have you made for the Doctor’s transport to and from the city?” 
“One of the patrols took him down, like normal. They’ll bring him back when he’s done.” 
“How quickly could the Doctor return?” 
“I’d send a bike over the footbridge in an emergency – cut out the drive around the river. How quick do you want him here?” 
“I do not. That is...” She sat down. “I have to think. I am not sure. You had best leave now.” 
Confused, but knowing he'd get nothing further, he left. 
In the courtroom the families of the victims were talking among themselves, but all were watching Collard.  


None of them carried weapons, but that might not stop them trying to kill him with their bare hands. Sheridan called up security and ordered another team to the court. 
The wait for the Judge went on and on. 
The families showed signs of suffering from the long delay, but Collard seemed to suffer even more. When the door to her room opened he looked set to pass out. 
She went back to her chair, but remained standing. 
“I am a Judge of Truth. I seek the truth and I pass judgement. Of those two duties, the first is by far the most important. I am also a Judge of Justice. Sometimes, however, it arises that truth and justice cannot be reconciled. It would seem that this is to be the case here.” 
Groans came from the families; one of the women began crying. The Judge sat and turned her attention to Collard, and her icy tone became frigid. 
“I believe that the Defendant knows the truth of what happened to the young women who were killed. He will not speak while the threat of prosection and punishment hangs over him. Such is his right, and I will not deprive him of it. So, if I am to discover the truth, I must meet his objections. 


"Accordingly, provided that he gives full and unequivocal answers to my questions, and makes no attempt to lie or prevaricate, I hereby confirm that I will dismiss all charges laid against him – ” 
The families began talking loudly, and two of the men jumped up, before a warning movement from a guard made them sit again. 
“ – and I furthermore grant full and complete immunity from prosecution in relation to these and to all and any other offences which come to my attention whilst he gives evidence.” 
The talking subsided to a muttering. Sheridan suspected reason had taken over. If Collard was to be freed, at least this way they’d know for sure what happened. And there were other ways of bringing justice to a killer. 
Collard’s attorney got to his feet. “Your Excellency, before my client could come to any understanding, there is the question of, let us say, unauthorised punishment. We are in the middle of the police compound, the families of the victims are also here. As we have seen and heard, feelings are running high.” 
“Major Sheridan will undertake to ensure your client’s safety from any acts of vengeance attempted within my jurisdiction.


“Further, once these proceedings are completed he will personally escort your client from the court to whatever flight-craft you may have arranged for your client's departure from the planet. Major, you will take all necessary steps in this regard.” 
“Whatever you say, ma’am.” 
“In the meantime,” she continued to the lawyer, “I give my word that no police officer, no one who is in any way subject to the authority and discipline of the Commander, indeed no one on this base, will cause harm to your client or touch him in any way.” 
The attorney called for the transcript of the Judge’s promise, read it over, and smiled. He nodded to Collard. Collard looked concerned and undecided, but the lawyer talked at him in a low voice for a minute or more. 
“Yes,” he said eventually, when the attorney was done. “Yes, I killed them.” 

The Judge was thorough in her questioning, yet, for all the information she extracted about the killings, Sheridan guessed she was picking up the full nauseating detail direct from Collard’s thoughts in order to spare the families a greater ordeal. 


He also wondered if she was using her powers to do something to Collard in order to heighten his memory and any sense of guilt, since he became more and more grey-faced as the confession unravelled, and his breath came short. 
At length she finished. A deep silence fell over the room, broken by the sound of weeping. The Judge’s face seemed carved from marble – cold, hard, white as death. 
She never took her eyes from Collard, and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His attorney went to speak, but the Judge’s eyes flickered towards him and the words died on his lips. 
When at last she spoke, her voice was sharp like a knife, as loud and deep and deadly as gunfire. 
“You are a merciless, impenitent, murdering savage.” 
Collard recoiled, as if she had thrust the words straight into his brain. 
“The callousness of these murders is matched only by the foul depravity of your actions both before and after you killed the young women whom you preyed upon, and not merely those named in the indictments against you here, for I see from your mind that they are but a fraction of all those whom you have butchered over your lifetime. 


The guard stopped, stunned, at the Judge’s voice. 
The attorney shook Collard, trying to raise him. “What’s the matter?” 
“He appears to be experiencing a heart attack,” the Judge said coolly. 
“What? You have to help him,” the attorney said to the guard. 
“No,” the Judge said. “I gave my word that no police officer would touch him. None will do so.” 
The attorney looked at her. “But that’s not what was meant.” 
“Was it not?” 
At the back of the court someone laughed. 
The attorney licked his lips. “We have to call a doctor.” 
“Doctor Lewis has been summoned. However, he is in the city. It will be some time before he can return to the compound.” 
“Then a medic. Anyone.”


“All other medically qualified personnel associate with the the base are subject to the authority of the Commander. Accordingly, they come within the remit of the promise which I gave.” 
“But he'll die if we don’t do something.” 
“Yes,” she said. “He probably will.” 
“You knew,” he accused. “You knew something was wrong with his heart. You tricked him into confessing and then you gave him a heart attack. You’re killing him.” 
“My mission is Truth,” she said. “Truth, and justice, and the passing of judgement.”

Author's note:

The Judge is fully conscious of the ethical issues involved in deliberately allowing a man to die without taking steps to assist him, no matter how depraved that man might be. Rest assured she will struggle with the decision and its aftermath in The Judge's Conscience – Book 3 of The Judge of Truth series.


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