Free Story Friday – 2-2-18 (Unintended Consequences – A Peacekeeper Index Story)
This is the first of what I hope to make a bi-weekly blog event. Every other Friday, on Odd Weeks, I plan post a free short story. I will eventually figure out how to set up a mailing list to do this, but for now you will be able to catch them here on the blog. Of course, that means I have to write one every two weeks, which will be a challenge. This week, due to lack of time, I will admit to cheating with one I already had.
This story was written with the intent to be a one-off as a way to put a pin in the idea of The Peacekeeper Nanites. Microscopic robots in the brain that kept convicted criminals from committing repeat crime. It went on to become something much more complicated in my head, and eventually led to the origin tale that is the novel eConscience Beta
Unintended Consequences – A Peacekeeper Index Story
© 2015 by J.D. Beckwith
Silence reigned in the courtroom as Mr. Zebulon “Zeb” Brockway Edmonds, Attorney-at-Law began his closing statements. “Your Honor, my client is not some malicious criminal as the prosecution would have you believe. She is in fact the unrealized victim of one crime, and now, via the hands of the prosecuting attorney, the actual victim of two others… namely libel and harassment!
He strode back and forth in front of the judge, one arm casually resting in the palm of the other behind his back as he continued his monologue. “Now, Your Honor, I may make my living practicing law in a modern metropolitan city, but my roots go back to a much more rural upbringing. So I hope you’ll forgive that I’ve thought of a rather nice colloquial analogy for this situation.
“If a fox were killed by a farmer for trying to break into a chicken coop, would you hold the chicken at fault for being too noisy and drawing attention to itself, Your Honor? Highly doubtful. I mean, there might be some extenuating circumstance where perhaps the chicken is parading back and forth at the door yelling the fowl equivalent of ‘na-na na-na boo boo’, but, the more likely scenario is that the chicken is simply cackling over her eggs and being a chicken. No, sir, the chicken is not at fault for the fox’s ill intent, nor for the actions that the farmer takes to protect it.
“That is the situation you have in this case, Your Honor. You could hold this woman,” pointing toward his client, “no more at fault for what happened to the plaintiff than you could the chicken for the fox.
“To further that analogy, Your Honor, what if this isn’t the fox’s first time at the farm? What if he has already had a run in with that farmer before, survived the encounter, yet refuses to learn from it and returns again?” He said the last statement with a gesture toward the plaintiff, who sat at the prosecutor’s table.
He was a study in contradictions; a plethora of prison tattoos cover his forearms, neck, scalp, and even the bridge of his nose while he was dressed in a well tailored suit and tie. Most jarring of all though, were the colloidal scars on the left side of his neck and face, twisting upward to touch the corner of his empty left eye socket and his half-melted earlobe.
“The plaintiff certainly has a previous history of poor choices. In this instance, the farmer, in the form of Peacekeeper Nanites, protected the flock, Your Honor. The plaintiff is responsible for his own thoughts, and, as the Peacekeeper Nanite technology effectively demonstrated, his own
attempted actions. Those actions are on the record of Required Confession from Restrained Parolees. The plaintiff admitted he intended to knowingly engage in a premeditated, illegal act against the defendant. Furthermore, as I’m sure Your Honor is quite aware, it has been established time and again in legal history that verbal antagonism — which was completely unintentional in this case, I might add — is NOT just cause for such acts!
“Additionally, Your Honor, I would like to put forth a note of caution. As conscientious actors within our the legal system, we cannot allow a case of unintended consequences to set a precedent that might be used as leverage against the first amendment of the Constitution. My client was having a private conversation in a public area in direct exercise of her free speech rights which the plaintiff just happened to overhear. The conversation was not even directed at him specifically! Did speaking aloud her opinion that “all Parolees should be required to perform menial labor at minimum wage for the remainder of their lives” kindle the plaintiff’s anger? We don’t refute that possibility. He is a Parolee, so maybe it did make him angry,” he said with a questioning shrug, a wobbling hand wave, and a slight purse to his lips. “But my client had no knowledge that he was a Parolee, nor was she even actively aware of his presence for that matter. He was in the kitchen behind various pieces of equipment. Further, one of the rights of Parolees is that they not be overtly identifiable, in which case, how could she know?
“Your Honor, the prosecution’s entire case rests on leading you to connect a very thin line of dots between events that would somehow show some culpability exists on the part of my client. It simply does not exist. My client is not responsible for someone else’s actions.
“Did the plaintiff’s anger at the defendant’s statements cause him to decide to act illegally? The answer is yes, by his own confession, it did! Did his subsequent Restriction by his implanted Peacekeeper Nanites cause his collapse and injury? That too, is a matter of factual record. However, Your Honor, the causal nature of actions does not convert to a conclusion of direct responsibility. The plaintiff’s anger, which he was not able to control in a positive manner, was his responsibility. His own failure of self-control led to his attempted illegal act, as recorded by his confession, which was the real cause of both his Restriction, and his injury. Had he chosen not to try to throw a boiling pan of hot fry grease at my client, which he knew to be an illegal act, he would not have been Restricted. His collapse to the floor — with said grease falling onto his own person — was the results of his actions, not my client’s. His injuries were of his own making!
“In conclusion Your Honor, my client has testified before you that she regrets the harm that the plaintiff has suffered. Even though, had he not been Restricted, his actions would have led to the same harm befalling herself; she still has compassion for him. That fact alone should show no personal threat or ill intent was, or has ever been, directed toward the plaintiff from my client.
“Your Honor, we ask that you please do not let an innocent victim be turned into a criminal by overzealous attorneys. And we also ask that you please do not let a victory for the Peacekeeper Enforcement Agency be turned into a mockery of justice by a frivolous lawsuit over a self-inflected consequence. With that, Your Honor, the defense formally asks that the plaintiff’s suit against my client be dismissed with prejudice, and that the plaintiff be held liable for all attorneys’ fees and court costs in this matter. The Defense rests, Your Honor.”
“Very well,” the judge said. “This court will be in recess for two hours while I deliberate,” he announced as he slammed his gavel once, and then left the dais. Noise returned to the courtroom as people and papers begin to shuffle around.
“Don’t worry, Zeb comforted his client, patting her folded hands. “There’s no way he can let this go forward. Come on. Let’s get out of here for a bit. We’ve got two hours.” He took her arm and they walked out the courtroom doors together.
“All rise!” the bailiff ordered loudly as the judge reentered the courtroom from his chambers. He seated himself and rapped his gavel three times in quick succession. After reciting the prerequisite formalities, the judge began his statements.
“I’ve reviewed this case thoroughly, and while I agree in principle with the arguments of the defense, I cannot help but see the pain and suffering that the plaintiff has endured. Let me be clear in saying that the fault for his injuries is not, in the opinion of this court, directly the result of the defendant’s actions. However, there is sufficient evidence that they were indirectly — through either negligent social behavior, or direct antagonism — caused by the defendant.”
A low murmur began in the gallery, causing the judge to rap his gavel for order. Zeb’s features darkened into a perplexed frown, but then lightened as he realized his client was looking at him fearfully. He gave her a reassuring pat on her hands, and gently encouraged her to return her attention to the judge.
The judge continued, “The court, at this juncture, cannot know with certainty which of these is truly the case. Therefore, reasonable doubt forces me to find the defendant not guilty on the charge of felony criminal threat.” The court suddenly began to buzz again with chatter, and Zeb patted his clients arm once more, and gave her a small smile as the judge banged his gavel to restore quite. “However”, he said, “on the charge of hate speech, I find the defendant guilty as charged.” The courtroom buzzed even louder this time. Zeb felt his client begin to sink to her seat, but he looked at her and shook his head quickly, indicating that she needed to remain standing.
The judge rapped his gavel several more times, calling for order repeatedly before the buzz died down again. “But, since I have not been shown conclusive proof of intent to harm by the prosecution, I will disallow the monetary damages being sought. Instead, I will take this opportunity to address an unforeseen gap in the protections and rights afforded Parolees. This court now renders the following decisions and directives.
“Firstly, by way of its granted power from the U.S. Congress through the Judicial Code Enforcement Act, the court directs the Peacekeeper Enforcement Agency to enact temporary civil code as follows: any person practicing speech or other non-verbal communications with the intent of inciting a Parolee, known or unknown, to trigger a Restriction event shall be classified as a hate crime. This code shall be enacted, and all Parolees informed of said code change as soon as practicable.
“Secondly, the court directs the prosecuting attorneys, in cooperation with the PEA, to issue a writ of legislation request to add said code to Federal Law, specifically to that law known as the Parolee Bill of Rights, such that if adopted it will be adhered to by all non-Parolee citizenry, thus becoming the law of the land.
“Thirdly, knowing that the functionality of Peacekeeper Nanite technology can prevent a future occurrence of direct verbal antagonism toward a Parolee with this code enacted, this court orders that the defendant be made a Parolee of the State, and released as soon as that has been affected. Should the defendant exercise Right of Refusal then physical incarceration shall be mandated for no less than five years in the federal penitentiary without the possibility of future offering of Parolee status. This court stands adjourned.” The judge banged his gavel once and immediately left the room.
With his client breaking down in tears, Zebulon Brockway Edmonds, Attorney-at-Law turned a stupefied stare toward his counterpart at the prosecutors’ table. The prosecuting attorney was staring at him as well. His brows were raised incredulously, and his jaw slightly agape. Shaking his head, he said to Zeb, “Well, that was unexpected!”