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THIS. IS. FICTION.(we hope)

This Story May Upset More Sensitive Readers.


      "This hearing is in progress. This is the Tribunal proceeding in the matter of numerous heinous crimes against free and intelligent beings of various member and non-member realms by the reigning Sovereigns of Aequ'm..."
      "With respect, I Object, Your Excellency."
      "Very well, Judge Parsomn. State your objection."
      "The accused, and their party, are no longer recognized as the legal rulers of our land, and the people have renamed it."
      "Understood. However, at the time the crimes were committed they wore the crown of the land, and they and their staff were the lawful government of the province so named. But. In recognition of your objection, a line will be inserted into the record of this proceeding noting the change. Now. Shall we continue?"
      "Yes, Your Excellency."
      "These crimes, which number some two hundred and seventeen individual charges to the, former, Sovereign's account, include the seizure of free citizens, the subjection of them to involuntary surgeries which included dismemberment, emasculation, scalping, and other massively disfiguring procedures while leaving some of the victims alive, and killing others. And then imprisoning that living person in abhorrent conditions to serve as house and service monitors for the entire territory of Aequ'm Terra while bodily affixed to technological devices to keep them alive and functioning."

      The Presiding Judge paused for a moment as an uneasy murmur passed through the courtroom.

      "Several of those so imprisoned are available to testify in person against the, Former, Sovereign and their accomplices. And, I will say now, their appearance and overall condition may make some of those in attendance ill. However, at least three of those so freed have requested, and one vehemently insisted, fully knowing the risk to their own life in attending in person, to testify in this proceeding."

      The murmur passed through the room again.

      "I understand the emotions this issue has raised amongst our populace. But this Tribunal requires a degree of decorum. As is demonstrated by the presence of the Observing Judge and representative of the Legal Counsel of the People, Her Excellency, the Lady Marseilles. Mad'am, do you agree that restraint should be exhibited by the audience?"
      The Lady stood to reply, her stately manner and grave expression were remarkable to behold. "Of course, Your Excellency. However, as you stated, our emotions are quite heated at the moment, so perhaps a bit of tolerance by the Court will continue to be seen."
      "And so it shall."

      The Presiding Judge then introduced the two individuals seated to either side of him.
      "Judge Parsomn will speak for the charging officials who represent the interests of the citizens," he nodded to the woman on his right.
      "It is an honor to represent our people in this matter," she said gravely.
      "And Judge Tonnis will speak on behalf of the accused."
      He rose part way out of his seat and nodded to those in the room, "My solemn duty is to ensure a fair and objective presentation of the facts."
      Those in attendance murmured again.

      The full reading of the charges, as well as the list of the accused took some time. But it began and ended with the two then-reigning Sovereigns who were seated together at the table before the judges with their court aides on either side and the rest of their co-accused behind them.
      During the reading, some of the accused shook their heads or even began to speak, but were silenced by the Presiding Judge. The Sovereigns sat emotionless and silent.

      "The first victim requested in no uncertain terms to be first. He is Arbucus Gellam of the Village of Helstrum." The Presiding Judge looked expectantly toward the double doors that were now open, but no witness was there.
      A court aid appeared in the door, "He is coming Your Excellency. Slowly, but he is coming."

      There was a moment of pleasant chuckling in the room.

      Eventually, Arbucus appeared in the doorway, walking somewhat awkwardly and slowly on artificial legs with one prosthetic arm mounted in an odd position slightly forward of his right shoulder swinging to and fro for balance.
      Each of his steps reverberated heavily on the floor of the chamber until he finally lurched into the seat in the designated witness box.

      Once he was settled the Presiding Judge addressed him directly. "Arbucus. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Yes. Of course, Your Excellency."
      "Very good. Judge Parsomn, your first question for this victim."
      "Thank you. But first, Arbucus, you are walking much better than you were when I saw you on the broadcast, it was, last season, I believe."
      "Yes, Your Excellency, it has come along well. It has been a lot of work."
      "No doubt. Now my question. When you were in the center, what did they have you doing, and how did you do it, and for how long?"
      "I was Monitor Four dash One." Arbucus shifted in the seat, then he spoke again, "There was no way to keep track of time. We were either on duty, or not. They fed us before and after every shift, and it all ran together. But when they took me off the line somebody said I was one of the longest serving ones there. Almost a thousand days by their reckoning."

      The murmur returned briefly.
      "Continue please, Arbucus," the Presiding Judge said in a moment.

      "The way the monitoring system worked, I watched displays of local information for a sector of Mondstrat City. And when there was a reported incident, everything from an emergency medical situation to a criminal report, or a lot of fires, thoroughfare incidents, anything like that, I directed the responders to it. Then they added things like electrical service and then later, the passenger ways. There was a lot to watch."
      "Without hands, how did you notify and control the responders?"
      "Sometimes with the voice activation system, then they brought in an eye tracking device. We would just scan the screens, and when something happened, we'd direct the response. From what I learned, there were always at least three monitors per sector, it took two or three of us to activate a major response, that would be a large fire or major criminal incident. For something like a thoroughfare light being out, if one of us noted it, it would go on the regular worklist, and might take several shifts before they dealt with it."

      Judge Tonnis was next to question him, "My compliments as well on your efforts to walk again. Now my question. You sound proud of your work, that you did it quite well. That you knew you were serving the people and doing a necessary service to the city. Is that a correct assessment of your performance there?"
      "Yes, Excellency. I did a very good job, they had me do a trainer recording for the center. And I did it, showing the whole process from when a contact or request comes in to final closure. What choice did I have? If you failed, if you were incompetent, if you started screaming and demanding to be taken out. You didn't survive. I'm still alive. And yes, now I'm like this. But I'm still alive."
      The judge representing the people asked the next question revolving around how they were taken care of.
      "They used to send a medical worker around to check on us once in awhile. Then the feeding apparatus was given a scanner and that's how they did that. Until I was taken out, I hadn't seen another person for I don't know how long. Hundreds of cycles."
      There was a follow up question, "Did anybody do anything for you during that time? Talk to you, anything?"
      "There was no diversion. We didn't get music, or a video presentation, nothing, when you were not on duty you were turned away from the displays and were fed and slept. There was nothing else, you had to dream. I got very good at visionary dreams."
      The judge for the accused asked another question, "But it sounds as though, even given the circumstances, you were well cared for."
      "They had to, we were crucial to the system, and there were very few extras. If one of us died or failed in some way, it put a strain on the system."
      The Presiding Judge asked a follow-up question of his own, "How could you tell if something had happened to somebody else?"
      "Sometimes I could hear the service workers taking somebody in or out if it was near me. But most of the time it was because when I went on duty the display would cover more of the city. Sometimes a lot more. Then you knew they were dividing it up between the rest of us."
      After a couple more questions and answers, Arbucus lurched to a standing position, then after a slight and somewhat stiff bow to the judges, he walked out the way he had come in.
      During his entire appearance Arbucus never looked toward the table of the accused individuals, or those seated at it.

      "Our second direct victim testimony is from Jelena Corthwight."

      The audible murmur and outright gasps flooded the court as the doors opened and two attendants wheeled in a cart with a person on it who was connected to an array of medical equipment.
      Except the person was only part of a person. She, and it had been born a 'she', no longer had arms or legs of any description, her chest had been altered to be flat to fit in the bracket that had held her, her scalp had been removed to prevent her hair from growing and changing how the restraint fit.
      The attendants brought her in and placed the cart in front of the witness box, then they checked to make sure she was as situated as she could be, then they left.
      The Presiding Judge let the murmur go on for a few breaths then he called for calm before he spoke to the witness. "Jelena Corth..."
      The witness cut him off, "I am not Jelena any more. They took her away from me. All I am now is Monitor 27 dash 3. Jelena is dead."
      The Presiding Judge sat serenely for a moment then continued, "Jelena. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      She was silent for a time, the venom in her eyes was undimmed as she stared at the Sovereign's table and those accused behind it. "Yes."
      Judge Parsomn, as the Associate Judge for the people, asked the first question. "What were you before this happened to you?"
      "I was beautiful. I danced. I danced on stage for the Sovereign at the Grand Gala with the Brightstar Troupe. I had a suitor and we were to be betrothed during the festival." She stopped to glare at the table again.
      "No. I meant, what was your profession."
      "I was a funds controller for the City of Lenbro."
      "Thank you."
      The other Associate Judge then asked, "What happened that you left that position."
      "They said I was misusing illness time."
      "What else?"
      "That I was working outside."
      "Were you?"
      She was silent, but then, finally, she answered, "Yes."
      "You were convicted of falsifying records and obtaining payment under those false documents."

      The murmur rippled through the room again.

      The first Associate Judge asked the next question, "What was your sentence for that finding?"
      "I was sent to the reform colony at Estwhile. But I never got there. They said I was eligible for another program. This was it."

      This time the murmur was louder and longer. The Presiding Judge cleared his throat and it died down.

      She had a follow up as well, "How long had you been Monitor 27 dash 3 before you were released?"
      "I haven't been released. I can't dance, I can't eat by myself, I can't even relieve myself, at all. All of that is gone, and the medical consultant said they can't do anything for me like they did for Narvin. When they took my legs off, they took my entire pelvic bone."
      The Presiding Judge asked a question when she paused, "Who is Narvin?"
      "He was my suite-mate in the medical unit after we were rescued. He didn't want to speak here. But they got him into a mobile chair that he can operate, and he's learned to use his new arms."
      "Again. How long were you there?"
      "I've been told that I was on the line for almost two hundred days."

      When the murmur died down again the other judge asked, "Didn't the consultant say they may be able to give you an artificial arm and you said no?"
      Now her glance was sharply to the side toward the judges, but the venom was still there, "They said it'd be attached in the middle of my chest because all my shoulder bones are gone and the nerves are dead." She glanced down, "It would be right there. What kind of person has an arm in the middle of their chest?"
      "I see. But you still declined."
      She didn't answer.

      The Presiding Judge nodded to the attendants, "While you see to Jelena, we'll stand down." He got up with the other two and they filed out.

      There were two other direct victims who told their stories.
      The first told about when they saw another Monitor being moved on a medical trolly by attendants.
      "A technical worker was replacing one of my screens. Behind them I saw two other workers pushing a trolly along. Another one of us was on the cart. I couldn't tell if they were dead or alive. I only saw them for a moment, but I remember it like it was this morning."
      There was a follow up question about what else they could see.
      "There were bases for racks like mine on both sides, I could see one way for a long way, and there was," he paused, "three, I could see three more that way. There was no way to tell if anybody was in them or not. The bases had the same pipes and wires going up. On a couple of them I could just see the base of the frame like the one the other monitor was on on the cart."
      "How long were you there?"
      "I was in the first position on row nine for a long time, then they moved me to row three, first in four then to position two. Just from what I overheard while they were moving all of us, I think they closed row nine or moved it or something. In total was three hundred and seventy three days. I was sent there after I was struck by a vehicle and had to have surgery. I wasn't convicted of anything, but they said I was lucky to survive the incident. I don't know if that was true or not."

      The next testifier was barely able to speak, and had been diagnosed as having traumatic organ failure to death, but was able to whisper long enough to let the Tribunal know that they had not volunteered to be a monitor on the system when they woke up from what they thought was a minor surgical procedure while under sentence for several minor crimes.
      The victim was calm as they spoke softly, "I was told the surgery would correct a digestive problem that I had been having for years. Then I was in the rack on the training screen. I never saw anybody else for over a hundred and ten days. I didn't even know my legs were actually gone for a long time. I thought they were just numb from the restraints." They paused and took several deep breaths, "I'm glad to have been released. I knew I was getting too weak to stay on the line. They would have killed me and brought in somebody else. Now I can die in peace."

      The Presiding Judge waited until the very weak patient was wheeled out of the room on their care bed before he spoke.
      "So ends the victim testimony period of the proceeding. On the marrow, we have expert statements, then we will begin direct questioning of the accused. Until then, we stand down."

      "The Tribunal proceeding on the matter regarding the former Sovereigns of Aequ'm Terra is resumed. The experts chosen to offer testimony have requested to remain unknown, and that wish has been unanimously granted by the panel. These are persons whose credentials all three of us and the honored observer have personally reviewed closely. They are qualified to speak to the subject. Given the circumstances, I will conduct the questioned of the expert. If my associates have a question, they will submit it to me, and I will direct it to the expert." He paused. "Agreed?"
      "Yes, Excellency." The Associate Judges responded.
      "Bring in the first expert and test the concealment.

      The court assistants guided the heavily concealed expert to the box where they sat behind a shrouding screen which even distorted their voice to the point where you could not reliably say if the witness was male or female. Which was exactly the point.
      The assistant stood and faced the judges, "The witness is ready, Excellency."
      "Anonymous Expert, the Tribunal is aware of your identity. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      The distorted voice replied, "Yes, Your Excellency."
      "It will suffice that you were engaged in the ongoing care of the Monitors once they were released from surgery and placed in the training program and then assigned to the line. And that you are facing charges on your own and will stand accused in due time."
      "Yes, Excellency."
      "What sort of services did you do for them, and how did they not see you doing it?"
      "The latter is very easy to explain, Excellency. From the way they were installed in their position, they could not see below them, or behind them. In most cases I could do what needed to be done without ever seeing the face of the Monitor. I cleaned their waste tube and checked where it attached to the implant in their body. I observed their in station status monitoring to verify their life readings and checked the status of their screens and the audio interface if they had one. I also maintained the feeding machines on the line, and the other assets that kept them working."
      "I see. Yesterday we heard from a Monitor whose health had been failing while they were still in the center. On average, and to the best of your expert opinion, how long did the average monitor live once assigned to the line?"
      "I will state it this way. If five were taken to surgical preparation, one would not survive it. Another would fail to adapt during training. Three would be assigned to the line. One of those may have catastrophic problems of some type, the other two would adapt and serve fully on the line for many hundreds of cycles. Some would do quite well for four hundred, or more. Well over two years in many cases."
      "What sort of catastrophic problems would they have?"
      "It varied. Some would have physical problems with the apparatus. They would develop infections, or have rejection issues with the implants that took time to manifest. Others would soon show mental issues. I know of several cases where they had been doing well, then they just died."
      "Did the, apparatus, they were connected to notify you that they had died?"
      "Usually, Excellency. Sometimes the Monitor would be unresponsive but still physically alive. I would have to verify that and then move to have them taken off the line."
      "Would there be a post-mortem examination?"
      The expert was silent for a time, "In some cases that I know of, yes, Excellency. Especially if there was no obvious cause of their failure to thrive." Another silence. "In other cases, it appeared the person was simply removed from the apparatus, which I would then clean and prepare for the replacement."

      The murmuring was muffled, but it was there.

      One of the Associate Judges whispered to the Presiding Judge. Then the Presiding Judge nodded and spoke to the expert.
      "We would like to know if you heard any discussion between those in their stations. Was that even possible?"
      "It was not possible in most circumstances, Excellencies. The auditory interfaces each Monitor wore made normal conversation impossible. If Control had to speak to a Monitor, they did so over the interface with any information that must be displayed on their aspect screen."
      "I understand the main screen was the grid map of their sector of the city or region they were covering. What was on the other two screens?"
      "The usual arrangement was that the larger screen was front dead center. To the left would be a smaller screen oriented vertically with information about available service units, how many medical transports were idle, if there was a traffic patrol available in their district, and so on. The other side would have the queue of contacts, which was active, if any were waiting to be handled, like that. The bottom of that screen was personal information for that Monitor, when their feeding time was, when they would go off shift. They could control their ambient temperature and moisture with that panel. If they wanted it cooler when they were working, or make the map screen lighter or the street identifiers larger. Things like that."
      "Was there any way for the Monitor to contact Control, or even you if they needed, well, I guess, something that wasn't on the screen?"
      "They could, and many did contact Control, which was the Lead Row in the major Centers. Those were Monitors of the Monitors. They were specially trained, they had different screens, and could access every interface in the center whether the Monitor was on duty or not."
      The other judge spoke to the Presiding Judge.
      "We would like to know. Control monitored the Monitors. Who monitored Control?"
      "I do not know Excellency, but I do know they were monitored, so to say."
      "I have one last question. How did you end up working in that position and how long were you there?"
      The expert seemed amused by the question, then they answered, "Excellency, if you can believe it, I was sent to the Center through a post on an employment board at my housing unit. It promised good pay and even accommodations in exchange for service. Except, once I began, I could not leave. They said it risked project security to let us travel outside until our term of service was up. After awhile, you get used to it. I was there for over five years, I never went outside the compound until the day the forces opened the Center and took us out."

      "Anonymous Expert, the Tribunal is aware of your identity. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Yes, indeed. Excellency."
      "You took incoming non-critical service orders from the Monitoring Center and assigned traffic and sanitation and other crews for the city. And, in fact, still do so. Correct?"
      "Yes, Excellency. There were four Monitoring Centers that covered the entire city. Now there is one very large new Center that gets all requests. I don't know anything about it other than it is new."
      "Were you aware at any time in your career before this matter came to light of the nature of those in the old Centers?"
      "No, Excellency."
      "You never got an odd communication from any of the Centers that made you wonder if something untoward was occurring?"
      "There was the occasional statement in an order that I now see in that light. But before, when something like that would come through, we would call that Center's Control and they would explain it."
      "Do you remember any such messages and what Control said of them?"
      "Yes, Excellency. I got one that said 'I need help, please come get me'. Like I said, I called into Control, and they said it was a mistaken relay from another call from a citizen that needed a transport to medical. I never thought any more about it. Now I know, it was probably from one of the Monitors that wanted to be rescued."
      "Anything else?"
      "A coworker of mine got a message that asked them to come inspect the Monitoring Center. He too referred it back to Control. It was what we did. We didn't think anything about it. I'd always been told that the Center was a secure version of the type of problem resolution center they had at the finance house. You know, people at desks with notepads and all that." They stopped then finished, "It was what everybody believed."

      "Anonymous Expert, the Tribunal is aware of your identity. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Excellency. It is my duty, and honor. to do so."
      "You were at the Reform Board that recommended certain sentenced individuals for a special program that sent them to the Monitoring Centers."
      "Yes, Excellency."
      "You have stated that the Board was never informed of what was done to those sent to the centers."
      "No, Excellency. To us, it was another program for those who may be assisted in returning to the citizenship."
      "What are some examples of other programs you used?"
      "There were many. We offered some entrance into military service. There were school-based programs for education and retraining. We had a successful array of apprenticeships for the guilds. In fact, two of those we referred to an apprenticeship worked to restore our community building. One of them remembered me from when they appeared before the Board. They both completed the program, became certified, and are now fully employed."
      "That is good. But those you sent to the Monitoring Centers had a different outcome."
      "We were unaware of that until it came to light. The instant we saw that on the broadcast we recalled any who we had recommended and who had not been relocated, there were a few that I know of who were still waiting transport. They did not go to the Center's intake facility." They paused, then continued, "I have been on the board for a number of years. I sorrow at those who I voted to go there. But we were not informed of what was happening by those we served. We thought we were doing right with what we did."
      "Who did your board report to?"
      "To the Community Justice Adjutant for the Sovereign, Exellency."
      "Where did the list of programs for offenders come from?"
      "The Community Service Office for the Sovereign."
      "When the standards of those eligible for referral changed, do you know how the Centers were able to recruit others?"
      "No, Excellency. I was surprised when I heard that some were still going there without meeting our criteria."

      "Anonymous Expert, the Tribunal is aware of your identity. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "I will now make it public that you stand accused of atrocities against your fellow citizens, a charge which you still face, but you have pled for leniency for your statement here today. Is this correct?"
      "Tell us, what did you do for the Centers? And for how long?"
      "I was on the surgical team that prepared the people to be put in the Monitor racks. I was there for nearly seven years."

      The murmur that ran through the room was loud and prolonged.
      The statement even shocked the former Sovereigns at their table and they leaned together and whispered together, as did several of those behind them.
      Finally, the Presiding Judge held up a hand and asked for quiet.

      "If you will, describe your roll and the procedure as most usually performed for the last several years of your service."
      "Yes. I was a surgical physician's assistant at one of the intake centers. The preparation team would bring the person in. They were already asleep, or nearly so. We would put them on the support system, and then evaluate their body for the procedure. We marked their extremities for removal. We also checked their sexual organs, if it was a female, we performed a uterectomy, males we emasculated. And even the skin on their head where hair grew for removal, and any other foreseeable difficulties."
      Even through the distortion, the voice was flat and emotionless as they talked.
      "Then we did the work. We stopped the blood flow into the leg, if we didn't it could kill them almost instantly, and then removed the leg from the pelvic bone. We had tried removing the pelvic bones, but that procedure was more traumatic to the person and many of them died. It also did more damage to the nerves, we didn't do that long. It was better to leave the pelvic structure. We could then attach the waste expelling tube attachment points to it." The expert paused, then continued. "We became very proficient at it."
      The expert paused for a time, the room was breathlessly still, then they continued speaking.
      "We would finish the procedure. Then stabilize the person on the table, then we would move them to the rack and attach them. We'd connect the audio devices, the waste tube. A couple of years ago we began putting the feeding tube into their throat. Then we would watch them for a time, and then move them out. They would never be awake in our facility; we were told that that was for the best for security. They'd leave us and go to training. Most of the time I'd never see them again. They'd only come back shortly if there was a problem that had to be surgically corrected, and then, when they were brought back, they were already asleep. That didn't happen very often. But we did do some upgrades and changes on those that had been in the rack for a time. New waste tubes, that kind of thing."

      The Presiding Judge let the silence hang in the air for a time, then he asked a question. "How did you end up on the surgical team?"
      "I was military. I worked in a military medical facility. A representative from the Center's office came around and said they were beginning a new project for community services and asked for volunteers. I volunteered. But we were as much a prisoner as those we worked on. We were kept at the reformatory. We had good food, theater, I went to San-Jo classes and earned my master's sash. But we couldn't leave. Even when my service time was up, they said I was critical to the system and I had to stay or I would have been charged with abandonment. I stayed. Really, I had no choice." There was a pause. "They implied that if one of us tried to leave we'd wake up to find ourselves in one of the racks. I was there until the authorities came in and took us out. It was a relief to be arrested."

      For the first time in the session, one of the accused indicated that she wished to confer with the judge representing their cause.
      The former Sovereigness was escorted from the table to the far corner where Judge Tonnis met her and they conferred quietly for a time.
      At length Judge Tonnis stood straight and could be seen considering whatever the accused had said to him, then he returned to his position. After the accused had returned to her seat, he spoke quietly to the Presiding Judge, who then asked a question of Judge Tonnis who then answered. The Presiding Judge could also be seen considering whatever idea had been proposed. Then he spoke to the expert.
      "Tell us. Were you ever briefed as to the crimes committed by those your team worked on?"
      The expert was silent for a moment, then, "Yes. In the beginning, they told us what the subject had done, and how they had earned the trust to be put into the service of the citizens they had wronged."
      "When did those briefings cease?"
      There was an audible gasp from the table of the accused, the Presiding Judge ignored it.
      "It never did, totally, when we were doing new intakes. I do remember cases where the attendants who brought them in said they didn't have the information, but they'd have it sent to Control. I don't know if it ever was or not, or now, even if they had been sentenced. Since then, I have been told that some of those who came through were innocent and should not have been used, which disturbs me." They paused again. "But we had not done a new conversion in quite some time. For the last, I guess, year or so, more, we've been doing maintenance to those already in a rack. One of my colleagues supposed that the other intake center was doing them, and soon we'd get new surgical equipment and have to go through training again. I wasn't looking forward to that."
      The accused leaned together and had a brief but very animated discussion. The Presiding Judge let it go for a short time, then reminded those in the court that they would have their time for conference before their rebuttal.

      "We have one final question for this expert. You stated in your proposal for your testimony that you would make a request of this court for a sentence in exchange for your testimony and a nolo answer to the charges."
      "Then make your request."
      "I have answered your questions to the best of my ability. I admit that at the request of those above me that I did things to our fellow citizens that are beyond imagining. But I plead this: I thought it was for the best of our greater citizenry. Now I know that wasn't so. But I cannot hide what we did. I ask not to be forgiven and exonerated, I ask only to be sentenced to spend the rest of my life at the isolation facility. I can teach others San-Jo."
      The Presiding Judge frowned at the murmur in the room again, then he spoke to the expert. "That is reasonable. Your request will be considered. Thank you for speaking."
      "Thank you. Your Excellency." It was the first time in their testimony that the expert had used the proper honorarium.

      As the expert got up under their cloak they paused in front of the table of the accused and stood there for a moment. The tension in the room was palatable. But they did not speak to the former Sovereigns, they just stood there, as if memorizing their faces. Then they followed the attendant out.

      The Presiding Judge sat silent for a time, then he spoke slowly.
      "I believe that the testimony we have heard is quite enough for this session. We shall stand down until the marrow. When we reconvene, we shall hear from the accused. From now until then, as opportunity presents, the accused may conference in preparation for their time."

      "As was agreed before the proceeding began, both of the primary accused will speak together. The first of the accused to speak to the charges will be former First Citizen Saulisar. Senior Sovereign. Prime Military Consol. And so on." The Presiding Judge paused. "Saulisar. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      The older gentleman at the table sat stiffly for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, I do. Your Excellency."
      The Presiding Judge then addressed the stately woman next to the gentleman, "Your ladyship, Mariachala. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      The woman's face did not change, her eyes did not move. She did not speak.
      "If you do not answer, madam, summary judgement can and will be issued." He paused, and adjusted his statement slightly. "Former Sovereigness Mariachala. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"

      "Thank you, both. Judge Tonnis will address the accused first."

      "Very well. Saulisar, when you ascended to the ruling counsel, did you know the manner in which the monitoring centers operated?"
      "No, Excellency. I was only aware, like most other citizens, that there were Monitoring Centers that had full time dedicated staffs, and that they had been working, and working well, since after the civil crisis during my grandfather's time as Sovereign. I did not know about the change to the surgically altered Monitors until much later."
      "A follow up if you please. When you learned of the exact nature of the, altered, Monitors, what did you do?"
      "I was a very young man, and I was frankly horrified at what I saw. Then my mother explained that the vast majority of those working there were long-sentenced criminals and others who had no other option to earn their way. That they were provided for during their service."

      Judge Parsomn had the next question. "Saulisar, to follow up on that. Were those you saw as a young man persons who were quadruple amputees?"
      "Some were. Others were working at tables in another section, intact I guess you would say. The transition to rack mounted full duty monitors had just gotten underway at that time. It had been approved years before and was just coming to completion in the larger Centers."
      "How did your mother feel about those monitors?"
      Judge Tonnis immediately interrupted, "With respect, Excellency. The gentleman can not know what the late Sovereigness's emotions or personal thoughts on the matter were unless she expressed them directly to him. And as she passed several years ago, she cannot be questioned, or she would be at the table awaiting her call."
      Judge Parsomn replied before the Presiding Judge could say anything, "Agreed. I will rephrase the query. Did you mother express any disapproval of the new monitors directly to you at that time?"
      "Only regret that there were persons in our society who could commit acts that would make such a treatment an option instead of putting them immediately to death."
      "My own follow up," she gestured to the box where the victims had been seated, "not all of those were long-sentenced, when did that change?"
      "I do not know. I was told after my ascension to the throne that the system was self-sufficient and that I was not to become overly involved." He paused. "There were discussions of the overall monitoring system from time to time. Response rates to requests, time to fulfillment, those types of subjects. But that was all."
      "Yet they operated in the name of the Sovereign."
      He took a deep breath, "Yes. They always had, since the beginning."

      Judge Tonnis spoke slowly as he asked his next question. "I know others will bring it up, so I will ask Former Sovereigness Mariachala now. Your family directly profited from oversight fees charged to citizens and organizations for the monitoring of their properties and the transit, and all of that. What is the status of those monies?"
      "What monies? What profit? Today we do not even own the raiment we are wearing, Someone else provides our food. Nobody has even told us what happened to our animals. If we were told we were free and allowed to walk out of here, we'd have to go to a hostel for the night and ask them for a room to sleep in as our homes have been seized."
      The murmur ran through the room again.

      Judge Parsomn nodded silently for a moment, then she asked, "It has not been addressed in any of the information I have seen. Were the Monitors paid for their time on the line processing requests as other civil workers are, and, indeed, as were the regular Center workers they replaced."
      The Former Sovereigness answered immediately, "One does not pay property. When you are sentenced for a Crown Crime you become property of the Crown for the duration of the sentence, by statute. Contrary to what some say, this was not my idea. The law was written a hundred years before any of us were born."
      The former Sovereign glanced at her, then answered on his own, "In the beginning, they did earn a bit that was placed in an account in their name to be paid to their families at the end of their service. It was never paid out, so that was discontinued."
      The Presiding Judge asked a follow up, "What happened to the funds that had been placed in those accounts?"
      "I don't know, Excellency. It was probably reabsorbed into the master account for the Centers. We were prohibited from direct involvement with the operating finances of the Centers."

      The Presiding Judge spoke again during the following silence. "Saulisar. Now I would like to ask the crucial question for this entire matter." He paused and then spoke carefully. "I have not seen anything to indicate who made the original decision to begin the surgical procedure. I have also not seen where that was approved by the Sovereign at the time. Do you know where the idea originated and how it came into practice?"
      "No. Excellency."
      "What do you know of how this practice came to be?"
      He sat there for a moment. "Only this, Your Excellency. And I heard it from an aid to a family member, a long time ago. Back during my grandfather's time there had been a disturbance in what was then called the Civil Response Center. It was after the civil crisis. The person that spoke to me said many of the attendants in the Center didn't wish to work any longer. My Grandfather's negotiator got them to return to work for a time, but they knew it would not last. So, they began investigating alternatives, and they seated a separate oversight board with complete control over the Centers. I do not know who had the original concept that became what we're talking about here. I only know that it began sometime after all that."
      "The concept of dehumanizing people to work in the Monitoring Centers for the rest of their lives?"
      The Former Sovereign did not respond to that statement.

      The three judges conversed for a time, then the Presiding Judge summarized their discussion and broached another question. "It has been well established that the Monitoring Centers operated on the authority of the Sovereign, and that the Throne Itself is the final authority on the matter. And that the fees collected were in their name, and at least a percentage was dispensed to the Crown accounts. However, it is also recognized that the Sovereign did not directly oversee the operations of the Center and had no direct involvement in the move to the surgically reduced individuals that have been before us. Therefore, we have a question. Who, either individually or collectively, were the, I'll call them the Oversight Board of the Monitoring Centers? Saulisar?"
      "I do not know, Excellency. Some time ago I was told that there had been a ruling by the Overseers about installing another Center in Rocktin. So, I do know that there were, as you said, Directors. But I do not know who they were."
      "Your Ladyship?"
      "I don't know."
      "I will open the question to the others. Do any of you know of who these Overseers were?" The Judge nodded as a woman raised her hand in the second row of the accused. "Yes. Please, come forward."

      "Cassinee Jorgit. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Of course, Your Excellency."
      "What did you do, and how do you know about those who oversaw the Centers?"
      "I was a Sworn Courier. I would pick up any communiques from a secure receptacle and deliver them to the Centers. A few times I got there early and met the gentleman who was putting the folders in their envelopes. He said the Supreme Board had had a very long session and they had just finished up."
      "Do you know who this gentleman was?"
      "No, Your Excellency. Only that he was the only one I ever saw, and I only met him a few times. But he was always friendly and always spoke of the Board as if he were on it, not like he was simply there awaiting the dispatches."
      "Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
      "I believe so, Your Excellency."
      "How did you come to be a Courier?"
      "I worked in the information office for the Centers, Your Excellency. We allocated resources and processing for all of the Centers. We saw to things like their outside connectivity. Once I had to get a new contract for a cooling system for one. I was there for several years, then there was an opportunity to be a Courier."
      "Did you ever go into the Centers and see the Monitors?"
      "Yes, Your Excellency. The first time I had to go into one was Maussauk Center. I didn't know anything about the Monitors. I went in with their dispatches and handed them to Manager Crandal and then I saw two of the Monitors being changed." She paused. "Manager Crandal reminded me that I had been sworn to the service." She took a deep breath, and fought down her emotions, "I am sorry, Your Excellency. I went back out to the transport and was ill for a long time. I could not sleep that night, and had to force myself to go back to the information office the next day."
      "When was that?"
      She thought about it. "I believe it was four years ago, Your Excellency. And I am sorry to say that, since then, I have gotten numb to them. Not long before the shutdown I delivered a parcel to another manager who was in the Monitoring Room at Olcan Center, They were removing one who had died, I was more concerned about being late for a luncheon I was going to than what had happened to the Monitor."

      As she left one of the others behind the former Sovereign's table stood. "Excellency. I was that manager she mentioned at Olcan. I will answer if you have any questions for me."
      "Excellent. Yes. Please come forward."

      "Larken Dofro. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Yes, I do, Excellency."
      "Tell us of your role as Manager in a Monitoring Center. When did you begin, how did you work?"
      He sat there for a time. Then he began, "Excellency. As with one of your experts, the medical one, I was in the military. At the end of my service I was asked if I would like to continue to serve the Citizens in a sworn service. I said yes. " He looked at his hands while he spoke. "They sent me to Olcan, it was old, it was one of the first all... ... All surgically prepared Monitors. Seven of us were there. I was trained to work a rotating and overlapping shift with the others. I was assigned the North Office, I would come on halfway through whoever was in the South Office's shift, and then the new one there would come on halfway through mine. There were five lines in our center, with four in each line. And then three backups in the training and observation room. We supervised them and those that attended to them."
      He paused and Judge Parsomn spoke out of turn, but the Presiding Judge did not say anything to her, "So you had twenty-three Monitors in your center."
      "Most of the time, yes, Excellency. Four lines would be on at any one time, then the fifth would come in and one of the others would stand down." He took a breath and looked back at his hands. "I know you will ask, Excellency, so I will answer first. We would lose perhaps two or three Monitors a month. Not all of those died, but most did. There were some that would become non-responsive, or become uncooperative. We would remove them from the line and send them back to the Preparation Center. I do not know what happened to them from there. Some would come back, some wouldn't."
      The Presiding Judge let the murmur run through the room for a time, then he asked a follow up, "Did you live at the Center as one of our other experts stated?"
      "At first, yes, but then they added more staff and several of the managers were moved into a unit outside of the building but nearby. Because we were outside, we had to do our own food shopping when we were not on duty. But we had to stop at the door and agree that we were in the Sworn Service and to not disclose information to the Citizens what we do."
      Several of those in the seating area were agreeing with him.
      "Did you ever communicate directly with the Overseeing Board or anybody working for the general command office of the Centers?"
      "No, Excellency. If I sent a message, it went to a communication office, then they sent it to the Board. They usually replied through the Couriers. When I was admitted into that service, We were trained at the main complex, then Sworn by a ranking manager."

      The Presiding Judge whispered to the Associates, then dismissed the Manager.
      "I believe a brief stand down is in order. The accused may counsel if they so desire. We shall resume after the meal break."

      "We shall resume the questioning of the Accused, but it has been brought to my attention that another of the Secondary Accused wishes to answer as an expert. Since this proceeding has been so unusual, we have granted their request to come forward and make a statement."

      "Former Junior Sovereigness Kiensi. Do you agree to provide truthful testimony in this case?"
      "Yes, I do, Your Excellency."
      "Very well, please make your statement."
      The woman sat serenely in the box, she looked at all three of the judges, then spoke as if she was discussing a sporting event over a pleasant dinner. "When I first was admitted to the Council, I too was given a tour of the Monitoring Centers. Like my brother, I was sickened by what I saw, but I demanded, as a member of the Family, to know who was responsible for it. And I kept calling for it until I was granted a meeting with two of the members of what they said was the Supreme Board of the Monitoring System." She paused and then continued. "I was escorted into a large room and seated in a large chair. They were at the other end of the room. Already behind a large desk, much like the one in this hearing room, but I could not see their faces. They sat in shadows, with lights behind them. And when they spoke, they were very difficult to understand. It was like they did not want me to recognize them."
      When she paused, the Presiding Judge asked her a question, "Did they speak first, or did you?"
      "They did, Your Excellency. They told me I had been making quite the fuss about meeting them, and that was how they put it. And their voices were so that I really wasn't sure which one was speaking as well. But they said they were part of the Supreme Board and they would tell me anything I wished to know. Then I asked them why they had the arms and legs cut off the Monitors." She paused and looked at the judges. "I did." When she repeated it, she sounded many years younger than she was. "They took their time to answer, but then one of them just said that it was for the greater good of the citizens, that those who were so treated had violated the trust of the people and were now repaying the rest of us for their crimes." She moistened her lips, then continued. "I did ask them if they had seen the results of their decision in person. They said yes, and that they had no remorse."

      The Presiding Judge let the murmur run for a time, then asked a question, "Do you know how they were chosen to be on that board?"
      "Yes, Your Excellency. After that meeting I was escorted out of the room. I asked those escorting me how they were appointed to the Supreme Board. The one man looked back at the door and whispered an answer to me. He said, 'by the board itself, they pick their own'."
      "Do you know who that man was?"
      "No, Your Excellency. I never saw him again. Just as I've tried to visualize those I spoke to, and have been unable to do so. And that was what they wanted, to stay totally anonymous. It could have been you, Your Excellency, and I wouldn't know."
      The Presiding Judge shook his head, "I assure you, it was not me. However, we have been totally unable to discern who it was, and we have been unable to do anything other than confirm that that board does exist, has seven members, whose compensation is apparently in cash distributed at their sessions. It acts on behalf of the Sovereign, but is otherwise totally independent and issues rulings that have no oversight by anybody, including the Sovereign. Do you, based on what you know, agree with that summary?"
      "Yes, Your Excellency. And I would add, that they do all of that while remaining totally incognito."
      "So noted," he indicated Judge Tonnis , "my associate would like to question you directly."
      "Of course, Your Excellencies."
      "As you were on the Ruling Council, can you tell us how were they advised of any issues or development with the Monitoring Centers by the Supreme Board that you described?"
      "Yes, Your Excellency. It is always in a printed folder that is waiting at our seats when we assemble. As far as I remember, and my brother and the others may correct me, I have never seen anybody in person in front of the Counsel to speak, if we needed more information, it went to them in writing and would answered in another folder at the next session."
      She turned and looked at Saulisar, he could be seen thinking about it.
      "She is correct, Excellency. I do not know of any person who ever spoke for them. It would fall to one of the members of the Counsel to read their report into the record."
      "Didn't that seem peculiar?" The Presiding Judge asked him.
      Saulisar nodded as he answered, "It does now, Excellency. But that was the way it was. And I was told, even when I was on the Throne, that that's how it had to be."
      "Who told you that was how it had to be?" Judge Tonnis asked him.
      "I was called by one of the members of the Supreme Board not long after I took the Office. It happened in something of a similar way that Kiensi spoke about. I do not know the name of who contacted me, Excellency. I had called for a meeting between myself and the President of the Supreme Board, and issued a Must Appear order. The order is still open. But they did call me, and simply said they were an independent representative of the people, and their mandate was from the Sovereign and could not be undone even by the Sovereign."
      "Did you repeat your order to appear to the caller?"
      "Yes, Excellency. And they ignored the statement, saying that the way it was, was the way it would be. And that I should accept it. Then they mentioned that my father had not accepted it."
      "Did they threaten you?"
      "Not directly, Excellency. But the meaning was clear nonetheless."
      "They mentioned your father's abdication to you?"
      "Yes, Excellency."

      This murmur included the former Sovereigness looking at her husband then turning to her assistant at her side and whispering.
      The Presiding Judge was just beginning to ask for calm when the side door to the chamber opened and one of the assistants came in, "Excellency. I must speak to you with urgency."
      "Very well."
      The young man hurried forward and spoke to all three of the judges.
      The Presiding Judge and the other two conferred for a moment, then spoke to the assistant. He gestured to the side door where another assistant was waiting.
      "Yes, they are on now. I can put it on the broadcast."
      The Presiding Judge pursed his lips then looked at the Sovereign and his sister, "It would seem somebody from the Board has been listening. They wish to speak to us." He took a deep breath. "Again, as this proceeding has been most unusual, we shall allow it." He turned to the side door and the assistant there. "When you are able, do so."

      In a short time, the assistant bowed to the Presiding Judge.
      "You are on the broadcast in the hearing room. The Judges, the accused, and the Observer are all present. Do you wish to speak to the matter?"
      "Yes." Was the only answer.
      "Then proceed."
      The voice spoke slowly and clearly. "You are all so arrogantly self-righteous. But you have no idea what you are dealing with. We not only control the Centers, we operate much of the background service of the nation. The two Centers taken down were deactivated intentionally as an example to the citizens who are now the Ruling Counsel. Those Centers were the oldest and least efficient. The Monitors there were the last of their kind. As you've seen, they had issues. We have perfected the technique and the new Monitors do not have those issues and last for a much longer period. There are other Centers, still operating, you are benefiting from one right now and don't even know it. There are other services that are still working, and doing well. And there is much more here and elsewhere, in other countries as well. It would be best if you remitted the charges and stood down. Excellency."
      The Presiding Judge glanced at the former Sovereign, then he spoke to the call, "Did you just threaten a sitting Tribunal?"
      "It would be best for all concerned if you remitted the charges and stood down. Your Excellency. Thank you for the opportunity to speak."

      The assistant stepped back into the door. "The communication ended, Excellency. From their end."
      "I'm certain it did. We must consider this testimony before we proceed further. We will stand down for a time."

      The Presiding Judge stood quickly when the Lady Marseilles walked into his chamber after gently knocking.
      She stopped and stared at an empty Monitor rack that was sitting just inside the door, "Oh, you got one as well."
      He sighed, "All three of us did. They were in our chambers when we stood down from the hearing. I've had the observation recordings reviewed, the cameras mysteriously stopped working just before they were delivered. The cameras outside the building recorded a large delivery vehicle arriving, but the registry for it indicates that it belongs to a food vendor service in Old Dewlon. When my inspector called the vendor, he said his delivery vehicle is in their yard, and is a different color. The registry number was not correct."
      "Who had the key to your chamber?"
      "There would seem to be another set of keys. Wait, did you get one of these?"
      "Yes. It was in front of my home. My housekeeper found it and called me." She looked away from the rack, "This is obviously a threat."
      "What are you going to do?"
      "I don't know. We cannot identify the Supreme Board. But they know us, and where we live. And have the capacity and capability to do... heinous things to others."
      "If you rule against them you could wake up in one of these."
      "Even worse. My daughter or somebody else could." He turned his glaze out of the window, "And I do not want it to happen to anybody else."
      "What can we do, and I mean we, I will help from my position however I can."
      "We need to find them. Find the Centers and close them, find this Board and put them in the reform complex, find those that work for them and support them and make them stand down."
      "That may take years."
      "Probably. But now, I need to go back in there with a ruling."
      "What will you rule?"
      "I wish to ask your opinion first."
      "I will advise you as truly as I am able."

      The Presiding Judge was alone behind the bench when the proceeding resumed.
      "This is the conclusion of the matter regarding the maltreatment of citizens in the Monitoring Centers regarding the position of the Former Soveriegn and First Citizen of Aequ'm Terra, Saulisar, and various family members and associates of his." He paused as Saulisar nodded at the table of the accused. "This Tribunal has reached a ruling in spite of multiple attempts by the so called Supreme Board of the Monitoring Centers to intimidate this court and others in this matter." He looked around the room. "And as I suspect that the Board is listening, I wish to be clear. We will not be intimidated. You will be brought to light and stand for your actions. Saulisar has accept full and sole responsibility for all actions in the name of the Sovereign, And he will be sentenced, later, accordingly. In the mean time, the Office of the Former Sovereign is assisting with the investigation into all aspects of the Supreme Board." He paused and fixed his gaze on Saulisar. "Is that as agreed to First Citizen?"
      Saulisar stood and bowed slightly, "Yes, Excellency. What was done in my name...."
      Next to him, Mariachala put a hand on his arm and slowly stood up, behind them and almost immediately, Junior Sovereigness Kiensi joined her in standing, as did the majority of those behind them in the accused area, finally they were all standing with the former Sovereign.
      "Continue," the Presiding Judge said.
      Saulisar looked around, visibly moved by the show of support. "Excellency. What was done in Our Name, by and for all of us, is unconscionable, we will all cooperate with the investigation." He stood straight and nodded. "However, I believe we will be investigating the morning mist and attempting to bring the evening shadows before the Tribunal."
      The Presiding Judge agreed, "That is most likely, but we will make the attempt." He glanced at the group, "Did Saulisar speak for all of you?"
      "Yes, he did, and I will assist as I can, Your Excellency," Larken Dofro answered in full voice. As he was still speaking, it was echoed by the others.
      "Very well."

      Then a voice spoke from the broadcast speakers that the Presiding Judge had not ordered to be enabled, "You are all mad. It will come to naught, as will you."

      The Presiding Judge and Saulisar stared at each other.
      "You see what we are up against." One of them said.
      "Yes." The other answered.

The end, but perhaps, just the beginning.

[NOTE: This short story started out as a REALLY bad dream one night. And no, I cannot blame it on an extended tour of a buffet somewhere. It's just another product of the year 2020.
ALSO NOTE: Nobody was surgically altered or otherwise harmed in the writing of this story. All characters and the overall situation are to be considered FICTIONAL. This Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]

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