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.