Sunday, 11 September 2016

Intergalactic Law Web Serial Episode 13: The Captain

A young woman wearing a pant-suit and high heels - who had been telling everyone all morning how exceedingly uncomfortable she was in the outfit and how she couldn’t wait to get back into her lab coat and tennis shoes - rushed into the room from the side door behind Laura Mulholland. She whispered something rapidly, and wetly, into Dr Mulholland’s ear that made Laura’s eyes widen. She cleared her throat.
“Um, ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the ship’s captain.”
Bing stood automatically, as he was used to doing in a court setting for the judge. This time was different however, he’d never laid eyes on the ship’s captain before; he had never even spoken to anyone who had laid eyes on the captain before. Laura had turned to face the back of the room in anticipation of the captain’s arrival. Her hands were clasped behind her back and Bing could see them trembling slightly. She had spoken about the captain often, even back on Earth, where he had been universally regarded as the smartest man alive.
Two men in lab coats with gold trim around the lapels entered the room and stood at either side of the door; the captain’s closest colleagues/advisors/friends. Bing recognised them both as well respected scientists in their own right. The ship’s internal news system reported on the lives and works of the brilliant minds on board the Sir Isaac Newton with the same fervour as newspapers at home reported on the relationship statuses of actors.
The captain’s wheelchair rolled through the door and the room snapped to attention with the uniformity of a military barracks. The ‘wheelchair’ as it was called for a lack of a better description was about the size of a mechanical street-sweeper. At the front the captain could be seen, barely, sitting upright in a plexiglass tube in a state of near-hibernation. On the outside of the tube, in front of the captain’s actual face, was a holographic projection of the great scientist’s head, smiling warmly as he rolled up to the judge’s table. Bing leaned slightly to the side to look around the hologram at the captain’s real head. The rumours appeared to be true. Bathed in pale blue light inside the tube, the captain himself appeared to be in a vegetative state. He was wearing a plastic clean-suit which covered everything up to the neck and kept the captain’s body practically sterilised so that no-one would have to open the plexiglass tube and thereby expose him to the risk of foreign contaminants. He was drooling slightly into his bushy beard - although the hologram of his head was clean shaven - and his eyes were only opened a fraction. None of that was of any particular interest compared to the fact that the back half of the captain’s head had been removed and was connected to the headrest of the wheelchair by ten thousand hair-like wires.
So the rumours were true, thought Bing, the man is a cyborg. Bing had often thought, and expressed at parties when the subject came up, that he felt cyborgs should be like the Terminator, or at very least Robocop. This opinion tended to result in confused looks as to whether Bing was joking or not and Laura would try to cover her embarrassment by laughing. Of course no scientist would agree that there was any other good reason for linking oneself to a machine than to increase one’s thinking ability. That was exactly what the captain had done. His ‘wheelchair’ was a means to make the captain mobile whilst his brain was linked to the supercomputer, which weighed nearly a ton. 
“Good morning everyone,” said the holographic projection of the captain’s face, who was smiling chirpily. Bing realised that his mouth was gaping open and shut it quickly. He saw Bill Symington do the same.
“I’ve decided to come along and personally oversee these proceedings from the beginning, as I’ve made the decision that I will be acting as judge in this case,” the captain continued. “I gather that Dr Rutherford’s representative has plead not guilty. Is that correct Dr…”
“It’s um, Mulholland, your honour, Mr Mulholland.”
“I… see. And for the prosecution we have?”
“Mr Symington, your honour.”
The captain’s lips pursed. “Am I to take it that neither of you have PhD’s in the field of law?”
Both lawyers shook their heads sheepishly. 
“Hmmm, but I’m correct in saying that a murder trial is one of the most advanced pieces of work that a lawyer can undertake?”
Bing looked at Symington, who was looking right back at him, and was looking just as concerned as Bing felt. “Yes, your honour, that is correct,” said Symington.
“Is it appropriate then that the representatives in this case are so lowly qualified?” The captain looked at each of them in turn. Bing found himself staring at the desk, his cheeks burning red. He cleared his throat. “Your honour, it is perfectly normal for lawyers conducting court cases, even in relation to matters of high importance, to be without doctorates.”
The captain pursed his lips again. “Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure that I am comfortable with the idea, but whilst you were speaking I connected to the ship’s data core and read a few dozen articles on the subject. I concur that you are correct. Alright. The not-guilty plea has been tendered and recorded by the court. We shall reconvene tomorrow morning for parties to address me on a timetable. I wish to start the trial in two weeks if possible.”
Bing’s throat closed entirely and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. Two fucking weeks? He glanced in Symington’s direction. He was sitting down and typing furiously on his laptop.
“Your honour,” said Bing’s mouth automatically. His brain hadn’t been consulted before he started talking, and was now working furiously to reword the sentence ‘and how the fuck do you expect me to be prepared for a fucking murder trial in two weeks?’ into something a bit more diplomatic. “I’m concerned that the timescale might be a bit tight.”
The holographic head seemed to grow larger in Bing’s mind. “No, Mr Mulholland, I don’t think so. Two weeks.”
“Court rise,” screamed the captain’s two  minders in unison. The court stood, and the minders followed behind the captain as his vehicle wheeled out the door.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 12: Plea

Dr Rutherford’s  plea hearing was scheduled for 10am in the Galileo Academy of Sciences building. At 9:25 Alpha still hadn’t returned to the office with the cup of coffee that Bing had sent her to fetch hours ago. As he threw the main office door open to rush into a cab, Alpha limped across the road, clearly fresh from some form of fracas, her body and limbs scuffed. She held out a paper cup which had been bashed out of shape, and which was only a third full.
“Do I want to know?” Asked Bing, taking the cup out of her trembling limb.
“I don’t think so. It might be best if I’m assigned to tasks that keep me out of sight of the coffee shop for a while. They have robots too, and they’re very mean.”
Bing rolled his eyes and slipped into the cab. He told the computer where to take him, and exactly how damn soon he needed to be there. The engine whirred into life, and the car began to move infuriatingly slowly.
Alpha could see Bing massaging his temples as the car glided down the street. She pushed at the office door with her right hand, which was still trembling, and wasn’t strong enough to make the door open. She shoved her shoulder against it and limped inside. Her stolen pet chameleon was pretending to be a leaf on the office plant in the waiting room. She slumped into a chair next to it, facing Honda’s desk.
“What took you so long?” Asked Honda, barely looking away from his computer screen.
Alpha didn’t answer him and continued to stare at the floor.
“What’s wrong with your arm and leg?”
She looked down at them. Her thin metal shin of her left leg was slightly bent, and  the bolt holding the two parts of her arm together at the elbow had become loose.
“Come over here.”
With a great deal of suspicion, Alpha approached the desk. Honda extended himself so that he could examine her damage closely with the big black eye on top of his gripper. In almost a single fluid motion he latched onto the loose bolt and rapidly rotated it, returning it to factory-standard tightness. 
“Put your leg on the desk.”
She extended her arm a few times and it was literally as good as new. With a newfound trust for Honda, she put her busted leg onto his desk. The former assembly-line robot gingerly gripped her shin where it had been bent and pinched it until it was once again perfectly straight. Alpha carefully tested her full weight on it. It was as if she had never been injured at all.
“Honda I… thank you. I really apprec-“
“Get back to work, bitch,” he said, returning to his computer screen.

Bing arrived at the hearing room with less than a minute to spare. They were using a boardroom for this preliminary hearing. William Symington was already seated on the far side of the table. There wouldn’t be a judge today, because the choice of judge in this case would surely be a point of contention. There would be a clerk, probably someone chosen from the crew completely at random, to minute today’s hearing, but no-one was in that seat at the head of the table yet. Various members of the security staff were present.
“Bing, so glad you could make it,” Symington shouted across the room, much louder than was really necessary, drawing titters from the security men in the room.
“I was held up,” he said, not adding you insufferably prick, but hoping that his tone had conveyed it. 
Symington had a stack of neatly filled binders on the table beside him, labelled and tabbed. Siting on the chair across from him, reserved for Bing, was a box of papers which looked like they had been thrown up in the air then stuffed into the box.
“This should be a quick one, shouldn’t it Bing? I take it your man is pleading guilty and then we’ll set a hearing for sentencing in four weeks. Meantime you and I can get together at Sarti’s restaurant to iron out all the little details, my treat of course,” he said, with a little chuckle at the end.
“It’s not guilty today. And speaking of ‘little details’, I’ve not had much opportunity to speak to my client in the circumstances, but I want to have a debate about whether the charge should be murder or manslaughter.”
Symington’s face turned half a shade pinker, but with an almost inhuman amount of willpower, he stifled it and returned his face to its usual golden pallor. He ran his fingers through his slicked-back grey hair and nodded thoughtfully. “It’s a interesting point you make Bing. I agree that it’s worth a discussion.”
Is it? From the video footage, Rutherford is guilty as all hell. Does Symington know something that I don’t?
At that moment Rutherford was brought in, cuffed to Ivan Gunderson, who was snarling at Bing. Gunderson seemed to take it as a personal affront when Bing defended people who Gunderson considered to be guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt - which incidentally was everyone who Bing defended in criminal cases. He knew Gunderson would get over it before long, but right now there was no point trying to speak to him, it would just be needlessly unpleasant. 
The door closest to the head of the table opened and Laura Mulholland walked through it. Everyone stood for her. Laura’s makeup looked as if it had been hastily re-done. Bing could tell she had recently been tearful. She took the clerk’s seat and gestured for everyone to sit.
“Good morning gentlemen, for those of you who do not know me, I am Dr Laura Stane, and I am acting as clerk to the court in this case.”
She hasn’t used her maiden name in years, thought Bing. He leaned towards her and motioned for Symington to join them. “Laura, if this is too tough for you, neither of us would object to someone else being assigned.”
Laura shot him a furious glance. “Thank you, Mr Mulholland, but I’m fine. It is my civic duty to assist the ship’s justice system when called upon to do so. And since I have no decision-making function, there is no conflict of interest for me to perform this role. If, on the other hand, you would be uncomfortable with me acting as clerk to this case, well that’s another matter.”
Symington raised an eyebrow and a small smirk crept across his face.
Bing leaned back in his chair. “Shall we begin?”
“Calling the case: The Captain of the Sir Isaac Newton against Dr Frank Rutherford.”
Ivan Gunderson hoisted Rutherford to his feet.
“Are you Dr Frank Rutherford?” Laura asked the man in handcuffs, who nodded. “Please sit down.” 
Gunderson had him back in his seat quicker than the ship’s gravity could get him there.
        Bing stood. “Madam Clerk, I appear with the accused. Mr Symington appears for the prosecution. My client pleads not guilty to the charge against him.”

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 11: Preparation

“Robots! I need you. We’ve got a case. A big one,” said Bing, tossing his coat onto the waiting room seats.
“Morning Mr Mulholland, would you like me to get you a coffee?” said Alpha. Bing noticed that the lens on her CCTV camera head was cracked. He didn’t ask. Nor did he ask why Honda had been unplugged and was currently slumped across his desk. Bing reached under the desk and plugged in the giant robotic arm.
“Get away from that plug you bitch, I’ll cut you, I swear! Oh, Bing, you’re in early.”
Bing raised an eyebrow at Honda, who looked about as sheepish as a former assmebly-line robot with no face could possibly look.
“Alpha, coffee please. The shop might not be open yet. Go over there and bang on the door until someone answers.” Alpha nodded and jogged out the door. “Honda, rearrange all of my appointments, and print out anything related to murder in the ship’s code of conduct, the jurisdiction plan that Symington and I drafted, and check the ship’s databanks for the definitions of murder, and manslaughter, from the UK, USA, South Africa, India, and China.
“Right away boss,” said Honda. The arm shot forward to the desk-tidy and knocked it onto the floor. Honda tutted. Bing watched as the lumbering robot reached over the desk and tried to pick up a pen, pencil, battery, or screw from the floor with his great three-‘fingered’ claw. Everything was just out of reach and the robot began to whimper. 
Bing sighed, and tossed a pen onto the desk as he passed by on the way to his office. As he shut the door he heard Honda exclaim ‘a-ha!’, and begin to tap furiously at the keyboard, one key at a time.
Bing kept the light off and slumped into his chair. He contemplated taking a swig of vodka, but resisted. Alpha couldn’t come quickly enough with the coffee. At one time, back on Earth, Bing had had a successful practice, which included a criminal department. He had acted for some very bad people, including murderers before. Part of what joining the crew of the Isaac Newton had meant to Bing was leaving that type of client behind. Laura had thought so too. He had been tempted to burst into tears, as she had, on hearing the news that someone aboard the ship had committed murder, but had held himself together, at least while he was in front of Laura. Now that he was alone, and in the dark, he found his heart rate quicken, his breath shorten, and his cheeks burn. For a few minutes he allowed the confused and conflicting feelings which he had been stifling to bubble to the surface. When he felt his watch vibrate as the first email from Honda came through, he pushed everything back down inside and got to work.
The first thing Honda sent him was an email to confirm that there was nothing in the ship’s code about murder. Clearly it wasn’t just he and his wife that had had high hopes that the crew would refrain from murdering one another.
The second thing was another short email from Honda. One of the first orders of business for himself and William Symington, the other lawyer on the ship, had been to decide things like how private disputes would be settled, how disputes against the ship’s administration would be handled, and how criminal trials would be dealt with. There was nothing about murder specifically, but Honda had helpfully sent him the guidelines about what Symington and Bing had agreed they’d do when there was a contentious legal point. Bing’s initial thoughts for a defence was that he could argue manslaughter, instead of murder. Bing and Symington were the only two legally trained people on the ship, so whoever judged any legal cases had to have the law explained to them in an understandable way; as much as possible, the science crew liked having everything explained to them in formulas. The two lawyers would have to debate it between themselves how it would be explained to the judge what the difference between the two killing crimes was so a judgement could be made. They key difference between the two, in every jurisdiction, seemed to be intention. Bing didn’t expect it to come to much, but he was open to the idea of trying to persuade a judge that Dr Rutherford had simply meant to cut the victim’s tie off, as sort of a practical joke, and accidentally almost cut his head off instead. 
        He would come up with something better later.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 10: Intergalactic Murder

Bing Mulholland watched the clip on the monitor for roughly the twentieth time. Two men in lab coats stood arguing with each other, each pointing fingers into the other’s face. The argument progressed to a shoving match, with lots of cursing. Eventually one of the scientists decided he’d had enough. He produced a vibro-scalpel and with an effortless motion he slit the other scientist’s throat, almost to the spine. Blood sprayed and splattered everywhere, and within seconds the victim, like a sack of pudding, dropped to the floor. The slasher dropped the knife and turned to run. He slipped in the blood and fell to the tiles. He pulled himself to his feet, cursed loudly and made good his escape.
The clip automatically began to play again, but Bing shut it off. Across the table from him sat the slasher from the video, Dr Frank Rutherford. He sat shaking his head indignantly and exhaled angrily through his nostrils.
“So,” began Bing, “you’re sure you want to plead not guilty?”
The quantum chemist sighed. He was wearing a janitor’s jumpsuit which he had been given after his clothing had been taken into evidence. The scientist had bags under his eyes. Despite being the middle of the night, Bing was wide awake. All lawyers who deal with criminal cases have a special gland buried deep in their brain that  that releases a natural amphetamine-like chemical to jumpstart their brains when they receive a call in the middle of the night and the word ‘murder’ is mentioned. This gland is not controlled by any sense of morality, justice or inclination to assist one’s fellow man, but the desire for money. For a criminal lawyer, a murder case is the holy grail of profitability. It is another little-known fact that lawyers are a form of supernatural creature; their early ancestors were village-pillaging, gold-hoarding dragons. Much like the common drug-dealer, the lawyer requires a stream of money to keep it from going insane. 
“Yes Mr. Mulholland. I am pleading not guilty.” 
Bing knew that the emphasis on the ‘Mr’ was intended to be condescending.
“Ok. That’s fine. There will be a hearing in a few hours. If you don’t mind I’d like to call our meeting to a close at this stage to allow me to prepare. The only issue for the hearing is your plea, which we’ve established. Try to get some sleep and I’ll come see you again before the hearing.”
The scientist sighed again, but nodded. Dr Rutherford moved like a thin, dead tree wafting in the wind, ready to break. His arms almost seemed too weak to lift themselves under the additional weight of the handcuffs on his wrists. The guard took him to his cell and left the door open.
Before Bing was ready to leave, he watched the video of the crime one more time. Rutherford and the victim were having an argument. Of course the two scientists would never consider it an argument; they would call it an enthusiastic debate over competing theorems. Rutherford became increasingly animated, more animated than Bing would have thought him capable of being given how thin he was, but the footage was crystal clear.    Rutherford turned away, walked a few paces to a drawer, and removed a vibroscalpel. The vibroscalpel had a thick cylindrical handle, like a torch, and a five-inch triangular blade, which was only half an inch wide, and less than a millimetre thick at its base. Rutherford, without another word, marched back to the victim and waved the vibroscalpel at his throat. It wasn’t an overtly violent action, but it didn’t need to be. The victim’s throat opened and pint after pint of blood spilled out onto the floor. The victim collapsed and hit the ground with a splash. He twitched for a minute or so before going completely limp. Rutherford, his client, the one insisting he would be pleading not guilty, stood over his now deceased colleague, surveying his handywork. For a second, Bing imagined he saw a smile creep across Rutherford’s face.
      I need a fucking coffee, thought Bing.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 9: The Call

Laura opened the door to him with a smile, which quickly faded when she smelled the reek of vodka from him. 
“I see you started early,” she said.
Bing felt his cheeks turn pink. Laura giggled and stepped aside to let him in.
Bing’s chest had tightened when he thought that she was upset with him showing up already semi drunk, but it loosened at the sound of her giggle. He had feared for a second that she might have regretted inviting him over and was about to close the door in his face. He stepped into the house and, as he had suspected, it was exactly as he remembered it. The first thing that everyone saw when they entered the house was a stencilled quote on the wall facing the door: ‘There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing - Robert Burns.’  Bing had always hated that quote.
Laura closed the door. Bing heard something behind him drop softly and turned around to see that Laura’s dress was now on the floor. Wrong as usual, Burns, he thought as his lips met his wife’s.

Bing and Dr Mulholland lay breathless in bed. He watched his wife’s chest rise and fall quickly. She caught his eye and smiled. 
“That was great Bing, thanks for coming by tonight.”
“Of course,” he said. Laura leaned over the edge of the bed and tossed Bing’s trousers at him. They landed limply across his lap.
“You should probably get going, I have to be at the lab early tomorrow.”
Bing stared at his trousers in disbelief, and waited for Laura to laugh and tell him it was all a joke. It never happened. She had stepped out of bed, pulled her dressing gown on and stepped into the bathroom. Bing stood up to follow her but was stopped by a buzzing coming from his trouser pocket. Light flooded into the dark bedroom from the bathroom, he could see Laura in the mirror. She was brushing her short hair, but wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing, she was watching Bing. Bing could also see himself in the mirror. He wasn’t a tall man, and didn’t get to the gym very often. In his mind he looked like a pig standing on its hind legs when he was naked. He ignored his buzzing phone for now, pulled on his shirt and stepped into the bathroom.
“Laura, I…”
She turned towards him. He’d never considered her to have much of a poker face, especially since he’d known her for so many years. But right now he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. The buzzing in his trouser pocket stopped briefly, then started again.
“I had honestly thought that when you invited me here this evening that you wanted to-“ he paused, not quite sure how to put his thoughts to her. Dammit man, you’re a lawyer, words are supposed to be what you’re good at! he chastised himself. Laura’s face remained expresionless, almost inquisitive, like a curious owl. Is she torturing me on purpose? Is she really going to make me come right out and say it?
His phone continued to buzz in his pocket. It was only his imagination, but he could swear that it was getting louder.
“I thought you might be open to the idea of me moving back in.”
Her face did a little movement, as if trying to express every possible feeling at once, but succeeding at none of them.
“Oh, I see, well I would need to think very seriously about that.”
“Of course, I better get that call,” he said, scurrying back into the darkened bedroom. Stupid, stupid, stupid Bing! He was glad that his wife couldn’t see how red his face had turned in the dark.
“Bing Mulholland here,” he said. It was Ivan Gunderson. He was worked up, more so than usual. He half-listened to the ranting policeman while watching Laura, who had gone back to brushing her hair. She wasn’t watching him anymore, focusing only on her hair. 
“Wait, say that again Ivan,” said Bing. He hadn’t been listening properly and thought that he had heard Ivan say something. But that particular something was bad. Very bad. He wanted to make sure he hadn’t misheard.
He hadn’t. 
Laura finally turned around again when she heard the sound of Bing’s phone hitting the floor. She stepped into the bedroom to find Bing sitting on the edge of the bed, his face deathly pale. 
“Bing, what is it?”
His gaze met hers. Something had happened. Something no-one had anticipated that the inhabitants of the Isaac Newton would ever have to deal with. 
“Theres been a murder.”
Laura’s eyes widened. “Who?”
“A scientist. I… I can’t even remember the name. Gunderson just said it to me a minute ago.”
“Christ. Have they caught someone?”
He nodded, and began to button up his shirt. He caught a glimpse of Laura’s face and saw that there was a tear in her eye. “I knew it. I fucking knew it. I said from the beginning that Copernicus was a stupid idea. This ship was supposed to take us away from the mistakes of the past, but we’ve not escaped anything, have we? We’ve just brought the problems of old Earth with us.”
Bing was fully dressed. “I need to get to the station. The accused wants to speak with me.”
She nodded. “Of course.” She kissed him on the lips and hugged him. “Call me tomorrow?”

Bing nodded and left. He hadn’t told her the extra piece of information that he had; it would have been too hard for her to hear that the alleged murderer hadn’t been one of the blue collar crew. It was a fellow scientist. 

Be sure to tune in next week for episode 10: Intergalactic Murder.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 8: Stress

Bing’s lunch consisted of vodka. His afternoon headache was normally manageable, but as it turns out having two robots working for him was an extremely stressful prospect. 
Alpha had returned from retrieving his morning coffee to find that Honda had put her stolen pet chameleon into the paper recycling bin. She had lunged across the desk at Honda and thumped him repeatedly with a stapler. Honda had tossed her across the room with ease, smashing open the door to the stationary cupboard. Alpha had jumped up and ran towards the robot, screaming and brandishing a set of scissors found in the wreckage of the cupboard. The huge robotic arm slammed her to the floor and pinned her there, but Alpha answered by stabbing the scissors ferociously at Honda’s eye lens. Bing, acutely aware of how powerful both these machines were, tried to separate them with a broom handle and some harsh language. He knocked the scissors from Alpha’s hand and pried her out of Honda’s grasp. The robots stared at one another icily. Without breaking the stare-lock, Alpha stepped over to the waste paper bin and gingerly picked up the chameleon, who was perched on the rim, fairly oblivious to what had been going on around him.
“There there little doggy,” she said, stroking the chameleon, “mummy’s here.”
Bing considered the eventuality that none of this was actually happening and he had just gone mad. Before Alpha had come into his life, he had never seen or heard of a robot having such a genuine-appearing connection to a living being like this. He had heard stories about robots struggling with artificial emotions, and he saw it every day in Honda, but there was something very different about her. True to his word, he had contacted the administrator of Alpha Bio Labs to discuss what Alpha had done, and negotiate what was to happen next. Bing intended to ask about Alpha’s programming, why she was the way she was.
He had sent Alpha to retrieve another coffee, since the first cup had been lost in the battle between her and Honda, and assured her that he would keep her ‘doggy’ safe. The rest of Alpha’s tasks had been outwith the office that day too, and Bing’s clients just had to ignore the fact that throughout their meetings with him there was a small green chameleon slowly and carefully walking across the desk. After the last client left at 12 noon on the dot, Bing had hit the vodka.
Bing had no end to his list of reasons to drink today, but the top thing on his list was not his unusually quarrelsome robot employees, it was the enigmatic invitation from his ex-wife.
He had not spoken directly to Dr Laura Mulholland since he walked out of the house. The communication had been through her lawyer William Symington. There was also the occasional, and deeply regrettable, drunken email sent to her. His stomach was in knots. He had dumped, and been dumped, before, but this was his first marriage, and by extension his first failed marriage.
But is it failed? Bing wondered. They had certainly gone through a rough patch, and Laura seemed to have gone for the nuclear option of divorce very quickly. It occurred to Bing that she might be having second thoughts. By his third vodka he was sure of it. I was the one who left, even although the whole mess was her fault. She served divorce papers on me to get a rise out of me, she never intended to go through with it. 
Bing was feeling better as the day progressed. He did very little actual work in the afternoon, he couldn’t even begin to think about it. His mind was focused on the evening ahead of him. He left early and hailed a cab to take him to his old house, the house he had once been very happy in, and after tonight, expected he would be very happy in again. And moreover, he could leave behind his shitty little office in Copernicus and return to his old practice in Galileo.
The whole ride over he played out various scenarios in his head about how this evening would go, and how he would approach it. He initially thought about playing it all aloof; after all, she was the one who had extended the invitation. She’d blinked first, and she would likely be trying very hard to smooth things over this evening. He wondered how far she would have went. Maybe dinner would be waiting for him, to bring back memories of when the house was his home too. Laura’s cooking quality was variable. She had a brilliant mind, and Bing loved the way that it worked, but she had a total inability to concentrate on any one thing for more than a minute or so, which led to many an overcooked dinner. Every time she put down a plate of mush that vaguely resembled the spaghetti it had once been, they both began to eat it and pretended to enjoy it, but before long they would both be crying with laughter.
Then again, he didn’t want to play it too cool. He wasn’t certain, but he was pretty sure that he wanted things to go back the way they were, and he wanted her to know it. 
The cab stopped outside Bing’s former matrimonial home. He opened the door before the automated message from the speaker had finished telling him to have a wonderful evening. The creak of the wooden gate at the end of the path brought back memories of the first time they entered the house. They were both exhausted from the days they had spent travelling from Earth to the Isaac Newton by shuttle. They had been dropped off at this house by a cab that night too. The house looked exactly the same. They were so tired that night that their brains weren’t functioning at full speed. They were sure there had been some mistake. The house was a mansion, several times the size of the house they’d had in the suburbs of Glasgow in Scotland where they had lived. They hadn’t even bothered to take a full tour of their new house that night, which was fully furnished for them arriving. The computer which chose and ordered their furniture and decorations had had a profile of them which, judging by the decor they had ended up with, seemed to have painted a picture of a pair of nationalist fanatics. Every piece of upholstery was a different style of tartan. There were pictures of highland cows in every room. Stencilled quotes from Robert Burns adorned several of the walls. And the living room rug was a giant saltire. 

Bing was smiling at the memories of the ridiculously decorated house, which he imagined remained the same as it had always been: there were no furniture stores on the ship, and no-one had been particularly keen to trade a leather couch for one that looked like a reject from a bagpipe factory. He stopped at the front door and re-tucked his shirt into his trousers and checked his breath. Been better, he thought, I’ll use some mouthwash when I go to the bathroom. He rang the doorbell and waited for his wife to answer.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Intergalactic Law episode 7: Honda

What the hell is she doing here? Thought Bing.
Alpha was standing on the pavement directly outside Bing’s office door waiting for it to open. It was difficult to tell with a robot whose face was a CCTV camera, but Bing was under the impression that she seemed nervous.
Bing remained in the alleyway. He had purchased his coffee from the back door of the cafe across the street from his office. He had never been a fan of the stimulant-free infusions that the cafe sold over the counter. The technician hired to clean the gunk out of the dispensing nozzles had an entrepreneurial streak and had rigged one of the machines to make a drink which tasted nothing like coffee, but had the wakening qualities of a jet of steam to the nether regions. He sold this from the alleyway door to the cafe. Most mornings the alleyway was filled with a mob of bleary eyed workers. It occurred to Bing that with his monopoly on stimulant drinks, the gunk-cleaner was probably one of the most powerful men on the ship.
Alpha’s hands clutched at the strap of her handbag as she looked up and down the street. Bing sighed, and trudged out of the alleyway. The robot’s lens locked onto him and she straightened up. Although she wasn’t wearing any clothes over her thin metal frame, she made a motion as if smoothing out creases from her top.
“Mr Mulholland. I need to speak to you.”
Bing said nothing, but eyed her suspiciously. He walked around her and unlocked the office door. Alpha followed him inside.
“Morning Bing,” said Honda, the receptionist. Honda was a robotic arm which had previously been part of a construction line for a large car company. He watched silently as the other robot followed the lawyer in. Honda picked up a pencil in his pincer-like grip and used it to tap some keys on the computer keyboard in front of him. Bing felt his wristwatch buzz and saw from the screen that he had received an email.
From: Honda

Subject: Other Robot
Body: Who is that other robot?

Bing sighed again. “We’ll discuss this later, Honda. Alpha, come with me.”
Above Honda’s pincer was a black hemispherical lens. He watched Bing and the other robot, Alpha he’d heard Bing call her, go into his office and shut the door. The robot looked down at where he was attached to the floor with large bolts. The other robot moved with ease, just like a human. Honda knew what was happening here: the other robot was his replacement. His boss had clearly grown tired of Honda’s inability to move around, and his lack of dual hands. Honda felt himself beginning to overheat. He picked up the pencil again and typed into the computer’s search engine: “can robots have panic attacks?”

“What can I do for you Alpha?” asked Bing, aware that his watch had buzzed again with another incoming email. 
“Well, Mr Mulholland, I have gotten myself into some trouble.”
“I see. Why don’t you tell me about it.” He subtly checked his email. It was Honda again:

From: Honda

Subject: Other Robot (2)

Body: Am I fired? Is it because I don’t have legs or hands?

Bing flicked the email closed. He had grown used to the fact that his receptionist had all the self-esteem of an unpopular teenager, although why he had been programmed this way remained a mystery to him. He ignored the buzzing of several subsequent emails being received and tried to focus on Alpha.
“Do you remember when you came to the labs yesterday, and we went into Enclosure A, and there was the doggy?”
Bing remembered a somewhat different version of that story, but he nodded. He was equal parts interested and fearful of where this story was going.
Alpha opened her bag and very gingerly removed the chameleon that she had encountered the day before. “I, um, I went back and I took the doggy. My boss was mad. He wanted me to have my memory wiped, so I ran away.”
Bing had wondered when this day might arrive. Robots back on earth were nothing like the ones on the Isaac Newton. The artificial intelligence of even the most menial of  the ship’s robots, such as his brooding receptionist, who was continuing to send emails to Bing’s watch, was quite astounding. Bing and William Symington had had a discussion several months ago, accompanied by some fine wine, about what would happen if a robot broke the law. On one hand the robot is property it has no rights and strictly speaking the robot’s owner should be held liable for any criminal wrongdoing. On the other hand, a robot has a mind of its own (albeit an artificial one) and, as Alpha had shown, is capable of committing crimes of its own volition.
“What will happen to me, Mr Mulholland?” asked Alpha, gingerly running a finger down the chameleon’s back. The lizard seemed entirely content sitting on Alpha’s arm.
“To be honest, I don’t know. You might be the first robot to have taken it upon yourself to commit a crime.”
“I’m not a criminal. They weren’t being nice to the doggy.”
“Of course,” said Bing, gently. “I could make a call to the Alpha Bio Labs administrator and see if we can sort something out. Ok?”
“Thank you Mr Mulholland,” she said, sounding relieved.
Bing paused for a moment, but concluded that there was probably no simple way of raising the subject of money. “You realise that as a client of the firm you will have to pay for my services?”
“Yes, that had occurred to me. I don’t have any money, and I can’t go back to the lab. Maybe I could work for you to pay for my services?”
From the other side of the wall there was the sound of an eavesdropping robot knocking over something heavy out of shock.
Bing sighed. “Fine.” As if one mental robot isn’t enough, he thought.
“Fantastic, what should I do first?”
“Go to the alleyway across the street and get me a coffee from the guy at the back of the cafe.” Bing handed her some money from his wallet. He opened the office door for her, but went out first.
“Honda, this is Alpha. She’s going to be working with us for a while.”
Honda’s pincer snapped shut involuntarily, crushing the pencil he’d been holding. The robot quickly swept it into the bin, hoping that no-one had noticed. 
“Nice to meet you Honda. I’m going to get Mr Mulholland some coffee. Can I leave my doggy with you?” She sat the chameleon on the desk in front of Honda and skipped out the door. 
Honda waited until the door swung shut behind her before saying anything. “Am I fired Bing?”
“No, Honda, you’re not fired. Alpha is a client and will be working for me to pay off her bill.”
“Ok, next question: what the hell is this thing?” said the robot peering at the chameleon with its big round lens. The chameleon’s eye moved to look at Honda, who recoiled in horror. “I hate it.”
Bing sighed and retreated to his office. “Has anyone called?”
“Ivan Gunderson phoned and said he wants to speak to you about prosecuting the scientists at Alpha Bio Labs. He sounded impatient.” Honda picked up a pencil and used it to nudge the chameleon towards the edge of the table.
A small fly buzzed onto the table.
“Ah, good morning Reginald, how are you this morning?” Said Honda to the fly. Honda had spent much of the previous day trying to catch the fly, who had entered the office uninvited. After several hours of chasing the tiny beast, Honda had realised that it meant no harm and was most likely lost. Once he stopped trying to kill it, he considered that it was quite nice to have another living thing in the office when Bing wasn’t around.
The chameleon turned towards the fly, and with a flick of its tongue swept the insect into its mouth.
Honda looked on in disbelief. His emotion simulator had never acted in this way before. He found that the instructions coming out of it were overpowering his normal protocols. He lifted the chameleon by the tail, and dropped it in the paper bin.
        “Ah, better,” said the robot.