Stanza III: The Trial

Chamber of Justice #6
Haskiid Station
Neutral Pillar Space, Nodon Cluster
48 standard cycles before the Crescendo

Synthesized Recollection

Ra-Nok was already in the courtroom when the arbiter arrived.

He kept his head turned down, eyes on the polished steel of the table as instructed by his advocate. The arbiter said nothing, but Ra-Nok could hear the shuffling of documents on his podium. Somewhere in those documents was the final judgment of the trial.

The arbiter felt the same then as he did when he first laid eyes on the creature. He felt a strange mixture of pity and discomfort at having a class C sentience as a petitioner of his court. It wasn’t so much Ra’nok’s sentience classification, but his appearance that put him on edge: the exposed bony plates that covered his powerful muscles from head to toe, the drooping spines that hung from his back, the ever-expanding and contracting pouch under his neck, and the cold black eyes that blinked with two blue films. All of it was jarring, but not as much as the fact that he wasn’t sure that the tether which held the beast in place would hold him if the sentence did not go his way.

The reinforced nanite tether that secured Ra’nok to the ground by his neck hummed softly, indicating there was more keeping him in place than just the physical tether. Ra-Nok tried to keep his voice from rumbling as he waited for the final part of the trial to begin. Although he had committed no crimes, the binding did not bother him for he knew that if it was not him tethered there, it would have been his mother instead. He felt a pang of pain through his chest as he pictured it. He was glad his community accepted his request to represent the Telnoru instead of his mother since she would have been the one to stand here given her role as matriarch and preserver of truths.

They filed in and Ra-Nok still kept his head down, never forgetting his coaching. “They will accept you if you show them that you are not a threat to them.” If his advocate had truly believed those words, then why had the armed guard never left her side?

Even now, the armed guards still followed her close as she filed into the chamber. She flashed Ra’nok a smile. He knew this was how many extrics showed each other affection. Ra’nok wondered how anyone could share an expression of affection to someone they had only just met. The Telnoru had many rumblings to express affection, but these all had to be earned. He could not make himself rumble an emotion that he was unable to authentically feel. But he also understood that extrics famously practiced deceit, even in friendly exchanges. Ra’nok did not need to understand this fact, in order to accept it.

 Once everyone had taken their seats around the semi-circular chamber, the arbiter cleared his throat. “Will the chamber deputy confirm that the petitioner’s automatic translator is temporarily disabled?”

Ra’nok’s advocate stood up, “Objection. The petitioner should be made aware of the ruling at the same time as the rest of-”

“Objection denied,” the arbiter said dryly without sparing her a glance.

The deputy approached Ra’nok cautiously and waved a sensor near the left side of his head. Ra’nok wanted to turn and see what the man was doing but he obediently kept his eyes averted. The deputy nodded and the arbiter cleared his throat again.

“The panel’s final judgment of this case, AS7C-LR628, that of the petition from the Telnoru tribe with the support of the Sentient Land Rights Agency to the Pillar’s Territory Management Bureau and the Asarian Council of Lands, has been decided. The panel has come to a split majority judgment on the matter to deny the petitioners of their request and has offered appropriate remediation for the petitioner’s grievances instead.”

The decision drew out a series of gasps and mutters from the attendants. Some of the reporters began sending out updates from the case before the arbiter could finish his sentence. Ra’nok lifted his head and rumbled softly to his advocate.

The advocate’s tick roughly translated the rumbling to: “WHAT.”

This single word was not what the rumbling was meant to convey. The rumbling that Ra’nok had made with the help of his complex speech diaphragms had a closer meaning to “There is a shared understanding among the gathered here that is lost to me. Please help me to understand.” Of course, there were also emotional qualities to the rumble which could not be conveyed in Silari, the symbol-heavy lexicographical language commonly spoken by most extrics. Ra’nok’s rumbling was laced with empathic signifiers that made an emotive plea for the listener to adopt the speaker’s emotional state and consider it before replying.

But there was no way for the advocate to understand this. All she heard from her tick was the “WHAT” spoken in a flat mechanical voice. It lacked the nuance that translations from other languages had. She simply raised a hand to silence him, and Ra’nok understood that there would be no further communication for now. He heard the judge continue and wondered why his words were now as alien as they were before he agreed to receive the implanted device.

The advocate tried to be as inexpressive as possible. She still wasn’t sure if the Telnoru could read facial expressions and body language in such a way, but she would prefer if she didn’t project the waves of disappointment that now crashed through her.

The arbiter continued, “The request from the petitioners was to halt all strip-mining operations in the Boswon Valley of Asar. As the panel has come to understand it, the justification for such a request was that the indigenous dominant species of the area, the Telnoru, would have their burrow colonies disrupted to the extent that their culture would cease to exist without intervention from the Pillar to halt all resource mining operations and designate the valley as protected community for the Telnoru. The first petition of this sort was denied since the panel found that such protection could not be granted to the Telnoru given their species’ Class C sentience categorization.

The advocate stood, “point of order!”

The arbiter sighed, “You may not exceed the two nano limit set for all points of order allotted time during the reading of the judgment. The content of these points of order shall have no bearing on the current judgment but may be considered by the panel if a re-trial is granted,” he spoke dispassionately.

“The bulk of the evidence presented by the petitioning body challenged this very notion. We have taken the very foundation of the Pillar’s own Reclassification of Sentience Act and the mountain of scientific evidence that led to its submission to argue our case that the basis for classification of the Telnoru’s sentience is erroneous and thus is a violation of their sentient rights.”

“Yes,” the arbiter said, “but regardless of how you feel about it, the Reclassification of Sentience Act failed to pass. As such, we cannot act as if it did. That said, the panel did take your challenge of the Telnoru’s reclassification as the pivotal issue in this case. If you’d let me continue to read their judgment, then we can understand their rationale.”

He paused for a moment, then continued, “The panel considered the petitioner’s claim that the Telnoru’s unique communication was not properly assessed by the Pillar’s current system of sentience classification which heavily weighs the complexity of communication in its evaluation. This was something that the Reclassification of Sentience Act sought to remedy, but this act failed to pass by majority support—so the panel could not weigh the act and its supposed merits in their decision.”

“Point of order,” the advocate stood calmly again, remembering to not hint to Ra’nok that anything was wrong. “We understand not acting as though the act has been codified, but the panel cannot cast aside the mountains of evidence that the act was built upon. Even if it did not secure the votes to pass, democracy cannot override scientific consensus.”

This caused some outcries and muttering from the gallery and the arbiter quickly raised a hand for silence. The chamber fell back to a hush.

“I will remind the gallery that the debates are over. The advocate’s points of order will be recorded should they be relevant in a future re-trial, but a response is not required and will not be offered. The panel continues,” his voice faltered as he became acutely aware of the reporter’s recorders transmitting his face as he read the panel’s judgment. “We weighed the sociological analysis of the Telnoru against the analysis of Telnoru speech by the automatic translation algorithms and what the panel decided was that the sociological evidence was grossly overstated as the automatic translation systems consistently produced intelligible but extremely rudimentary signifiers consistent with Class C sentience.”

“Point of order.”

“Your time is approaching the halfway point, but you may continue madame advocate.”

“The petitioning body rejects the findings from the automatic translation algorithms as we have presented sufficient evidence to show that there is a large amount of bias in the algorithm against non-extric sentience due to the dominance of extric speech systems in the database that makes up the translation systems of the Pillar.”

“As a Class C sentience,” the arbiter continued, “the Telnoru will retain the rights afforded to creatures of that class, but the panel does not recommend granting the Telnoru the privileged sentience protections given to Class A and Class B sentients. The panel also believes it would be a dangerous precedent to challenge the results of the classification systems for each non-privileged species as this would be a massive drain of time and resources and would likely not yield any evidence more conclusive than the Pillar’s initial evaluation of the species in question.”

“Point of order—it should be noted that scientific understanding is constantly expanding while the ages of many species evaluations are now approaching nearly three hundred cycles in age. Without a comprehensive system for re-evaluation of classification status, the petitioning body believes that a system where these classifications can be properly challenged on credible scientific grounds is necessary.”

“Since the Telnoru were found by the panel to not possess the characteristics necessary to promote their sentience classification to a Class B, their petition to have their land protected as a culturally significant homeland cannot be granted—however, their rights as a Class C sentience do entitle them for protection against significant disruption of their environment. As such, the panel has decided that it would be appropriate for the Pillar’s Territory Management Bureau and the Asarian Council of Lands to work together and find a suitable property, no less than half of the size of the current area of habitation, to be designated a Telnoru protected reserve.”

“Point of clarification. Will the strip mining continue?”

 “If you’d just let me read the rest of the judgment, we may come to find out. Pillar peacekeeping forces will be stationed on three permanent bases that will be constructed on the border of this land to enforce the boundaries of this reserve and to help resolve any disputes between migration and land acquisition within the reserve. No other organization shall infringe on these lands. The panel believes that even without a sentience reclassification, this alternative solution addresses and adequately remediates the petitioning body’s primary concerns.”

The chamber was silent as the arbiter began to return the printed judgment into its sealed container.

“Will the strip mining continue?” the advocate asked again.

The arbiter sighed, “Please direct your questions to the appropriate authority, madame advocate, as mining operation details were not discussed in the judgment.”

The arbiter stood and the people in the chamber began to mutter. They watched Ra’nok, eyes still cast down towards the floor. “Deputy, you may now re-activate the petitioner’s automatic translator. I leave the disclosure of the judgment to the discretion of his handlers,” he said as he nodded in their direction and quickly exited the chamber, his footsteps fading down the hallway. 

The advocate hesitated, not knowing whether to tell Ra’nok now or later. The Telnoru raised his head, mouth slightly agape. A low whine escaped from his throat.

The advocate took a step back and breathed in deeply. She explained the judgment as best as she could. As soon as the tick implanted in Ra’nok began to translate her words into meaning, his dorsal spines stood on end and he raised his head and opened his mouth, revealing rows of razor teeth. He bellowed a rumble that shook the ground on which they stood.

The advocate staggered backward, and the guards raised their energy weapons.

Ra’nok’s rumbling was a symphony of sorrow. If there had been any other Telnoru there to hear it, they would have heard a melody with the power to crush their hearts and strip them bare. It would have choked their throats and paralyzed even the strongest among them. It wove together the memories and pain of this moment into the larger tapestry of history that stretched back to the seed of their memories. This new hellish chord affixed itself on the harmonies that vibrated from Ra’nok and poisoned his speech with a pain that nobody there could hear and much less comprehend.

The automatic translators implanted in all the gathered tried to process the vibrations that buffeted the air. After a short pause, everyone heard the same simple two-word translation: “I’M ANGRY.”