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The Price of Justice

By Judith Proctor
Page 1 of 3

They walked slowly down the corridor, Blake adjusting himself to Avon's pace. Mobile, Avon might be, but it was easy to see that he was favouring his left leg. A legacy from the Federation's torturers? He wondered about that - the best operators prided themselves on never leaving a visible mark on their victims: they claimed they could produce a subject in court with no evidence of anything untoward ever having happened to them. There were doubtless many members of the Federation legal system who honestly believed that claims by prisoners of torture and brain-washing were rebel propaganda and nothing more. It was hard to remember sometimes, that although the system was corrupt, there were still good men and women present within it.

      So what had happened to Avon? Had he injured himself falling out of the flyer? Blake's philosophy was: when in doubt, ask. So he asked.

      "What happened to your leg?"

      Avon glanced down. "Gauda Prime. A gunshot smashed the kneecap; they didn't fix it properly."

      "That wasn't on the tape."

      Avon sounded tired. "There's a lot of things that weren't on the tape."

      That was something Blake would have to find out about later. There was so much for them both to catch up on.

      As they entered the power hall, the murmur of conversation died down. Eyes turned automatically to lock on Blake with Avon at his side. Taking advantage of the attention, Blake took a step forward and spoke loudly.

      "The trial is over. I'm dropping all charges."

      He should have known it wouldn't be that simple. His followers had expected a blood offering and now it was being denied them.

      Surrounded by a buzz of angry voices, one of them leapt to his feet and pointed an accusing finger.

      "Just like that?" Hendrix demanded angrily. "We spent a month planing this. We invested more of our resources than we could afford. Some of us risked our necks. And for what? So that you could say it wasn't necessary after all!"

      Others rose, clamouring to be heard, words lost in the rising hubbub. Blake strode to the centre of the hall and shouted for silence, his voice rebounding over the arguments. He stood and waited while the volume slowly dropped. Once silence returned, he cast his eyes slowly over the audience.

      "This is a democracy," he said. "You can all have your say. We will follow the usual procedures."

      He was aware of a sideways look from Avon, but had no time to deal with that right now. He gestured Avon to a chair and pointed to one of the many raised hands.

      The man who took the floor was obviously angry, his hands clenched into fists. But before addressing everyone, he took a moment to relax, and when he spoke, his voice was taut, but reasonable. "One of our aims in carrying out this operation was to show that the rebellion can enforce its own justice. To take a Federation collaborator from within their own security and execute him ourselves, is to show that we can reach wherever we need to, to show that we are not powerless and to convey a warning to any who think of betraying us in the future."

      Blake nodded; it was a fair enough point. Looking for another speaker, he automatically selected a woman at the front to speak next - Helena could usually be guaranteed to put forward the humanitarian viewpoint in any discussion. True to form, she didn't let him down now.

      "We determined to execute a traitor if he was found guilty. If Avon is innocent, would you have him killed merely to gain publicity?"

      "Innocent, my foot!" yelled a voice from the back. "You saw that tape!"

      "Wait your turn!" Blake snapped.

      The mood of the group was balanced on a knife-edge. They were good men and women all, but the strain of living so close to death every day could easily dull the value placed on human life. Given a possible target to use in retaliation for their own sufferings and losses, they were only too likely to take it.

      He gestured at Shona, who was still sitting at the table assigned to the defence. Strong-willed and capable, he could rely on her at least to argue from logic rather than sentiment.

      She gave him a sideways look, as if to imply that he wasn't going to like what she had to say, then stood. There was silence. Shona was widely acknowledged as his second-in-command: whatever she had to say would be listened to with respect.

      "Blake." She spoke firmly, with authority in her voice. "A few hours ago, you said to us that we must not become like the Federation. We must not kill needlessly, but neither must we abandon the principles that we live by. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. If we release Kerr Avon without a trial, then we are acting on the whim of one man - yourself. In doing that, we would be falling back on the autocracy of the Federation rather than promoting the rules by which we wish to live. The Federation High Council, once a free body, now exists only to rubber stamp the decisions of the President. If we wish a fair and honest legal system, then we must be prepared to continue with this trial and reach a decision on the basis of the evidence, not on the judgement of any one individual."

      She had a very good point. Under any other circumstance Blake would have agreed with her. The catch was that all he had to go on here was his own inward conviction that Avon hadn't intended to kill him. Would that be enough to sway the trial in the direction he wanted it to go?

      "That's a very fair argument," he acknowledged. "But surely, as the man bringing the original charge, I'm the one who has the right to drop it?"

      Shona shook her head. "The mere fact that we all contributed something to the project means that the charge could be considered to be levelled by all of us acting as a community. Besides, Roj had other friends here. They also have the right to press for prosecution."

      He was trapped. There was no chance that he could browbeat all thirty of them into accepting his will. He'd taught them to stand up for their rights. If they had taken his teaching to heart, then rationally that had to be considered a success, not a failure. He'd just have to shift his ground and fight from a different angle. He held up his hands to end the discussion. "I accept your point and I will abide by the judgement of this court. However, I am no longer willing to act as prosecutor. I request that I be allowed to speak in the prisoner's defence."

      "Those in favour?" Shona asked.

      Blake mentally counted hands as they went up, but it was an easy result in his favour. They were all his friends after all. They might have misgivings, but would allow him to act as long as he stuck by the rules.

      He would have liked to ask Shona to prosecute, but given that she had been studying the defence only an hour ago, it seemed unlikely that the others would accept her. "Who will speak for the prosecution?" he demanded.

      Three hands promptly went up.

      "You choose one," Blake said to Shona. He felt incapable of making such a choice himself: the consequences were too great. He took his seat at the defence table and watched while she allowed the three to debate among themselves for a few minutes, before finally forcing them to make a choice - Hendrix. Blake couldn't decide how he felt about that. He'd known Hendrix for a year and a half. There wasn't another man that he'd rather have at his back in a fight. The pilot was a skilled man, loyal and fanatic. Almost too fanatic perhaps. Blake could recognise the symptoms, he'd been there himself - back in that time when destroying Star One had seemed the most important thing in the universe. The aliens had done him a favour in some ways: they'd reminded him that his first duty was always to humanity and not to the rebellion. When he'd first started fighting, that had been so obvious that he'd never even stopped to think about it. Then, as the Federation seemed more and more corrupt, and his own legend began to take him over, he'd become driven by the legend, forced to prove to himself that he could do the ultimate and topple the entire system.

      Now, he was content to settle for less: raids on indoctrination centres, attacks on munitions factories, sabotage in the systems that introduced suppressents into the water supply. It was slower, and less spectacular, but it was having an effect. He was in touch with groups on other worlds who were making similar efforts, but campaigns on the frontier worlds were being bedeviled by the effects of pylene 50.

      Hendrix strode confidently to take his seat opposite Blake. That confidence was unsettling - it indicated a man with no doubts. Black and white were such simple colours to deal with, but life didn't exist in black and white, it existed in shades of grey, and never more so that when Avon was involved. To Avon, the law only existed to be ignored, he simply didn't feel himself bound by the concerns of others. If he wanted something, he would lie, cheat or steal to obtain it. And yet Blake counted Avon as an honest man. If he said he'd do something, then he did it.


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Judith Proctor

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