A short story that I wrote a long while back. I think I may have even tried to submit it. It’s not my best, but really interesting to see some of my older writing.
Harriet Moonsen sat all alone in the conference room, dirty from days of hard work without stopping to clean, exhausted, and looking utterly defeated. Her noble crusade had been cut short and her captors could see failure written all over her body.
She had been detained and placed in the small conference room hours ago, but no one had come to speak to her yet. Keeping her waiting wasn’t a ploy to coax answers out of her, her captors simply didn’t know what to ask our how to ask it. They were delving into old reports, fruitlessly attempting to find an intact protocol explaining how to deal with her. The issue confronting them was that even the basest form of what she had attempted–but failed to complete–hadn’t occurred in more half a century. All of the punitive measures that used to exist to remedy her type of behavior had been outlawed from society for being immoral or inhumane. The only way they could punish her was to send her on deep space reconnaissance–a fate that sent chills down the spine of most, but did not bother her.
This made the waiting not so much tense as it was intensely boring. There was nothing they could do to her that would cause her great pain or that would stop her from wanting to rid society of that parasite of a rock they so proudly call “The First Colony.” When they finally decided to enter the conference room and talk to her, she guessed they would only ask why she had attempted it, but she had already decided not to answer, because they didn’t deserve an explanation. Besides, even if she did explain her logic to them, they would only be offended and spew the same cant about the ‘Great Society’, and she had no desire to listen to that.
Detective Jope Jameson, a tall man at an even two meters, with a muscular physique to go with his large frame, sat hunched over at his desk operating his table-screen, searching for any guidance of how to deal with that crazy young woman. His appearance suggested to most a strong and commanding man, but as the years had moved along he found that it only covered a weak man with only a flicker of passion left. He glanced over at the small section of his table he had dedicated to the security cameras in the conference room hoping to see a person equally as distressed and disheveled as himself, but alas Harriet Moonsen was calm and composed.
His partner, Elaine McSorenson, ran across the room towards his desk, confident and excited about the unusual situation they were in and presumably bearing with her some type of brilliant strategy. Elaine didn’t really belong in the Police Arbiter’s Department with all of the intelligence and self-belief that she carried in her small, slender body. Her shoulder length, curly blonde hair bounced as she came towards his desk, nearly shouting, “O.K. Jameson, lets talk to this women. I’ve been reading old interrogation reports for hours – we need to be direct with her and see if she will answer.”
“It would help if we were able to threaten her some way,” he responded in a defeated tone.
“Yes. In most of the old reports I’ve read it seems that they insinuate that they will do something to cause harm to the prisoner unless they cooperate. The problem is that I don’t know how we could threaten her.”
She paused thinking about the reports she had read and said, “I noticed the same thing, but we’re dealing with a different type of person now and different policing methods. There is nothing we can threaten her with like they used to–holding her here is already a grievous breach of her rights–and besides, I think that she will respond to a direct questioning approach.”
“Why do you think that?” he inquired.
“We’re a different race now–more ordered and obedient–and I have no doubt that she will succumb to those natural tendencies and answer our questions.”
“Very well then, after you.”
She entered the room first and sat down directly across from Moonsen, who hadn’t made but the slightest movement since McSorenson had entered the room. Jameson sulked in after her, sitting down slightly to her left and avoiding eye contact with Moonsen. He was apprehensive of the interrogation and it was reflected in is tired eyes and he didn’t want her to see that. McSorenson noticed it, but there was nothing to do about it.
Jameson was an old timer who had chosen to work as a police arbiter detective because he liked to mediate disputes and that had become the primary role of the police in the last 20 years. This sort of work–the detective part of the job–was far too adversarial and time consuming for him. They had spent the last month tediously uncovering Moonsen’s plot after he had stumbled upon the initial lead by sheer chance and now that they had finally detained her, he couldn’t bear the thought of trying to pry information out of her. He didn’t think that he would be of any use in that capacity (not to mention that he thought the endeavor would prove futile), but the Police Arbiter’s Department decided that they would stay on the job until the end.
“So Elaine,” Jameson started, “would you like to question this fine young lady here or can I ask the first question?”
She was startled by his sudden willingness, but finally said, “By all means Jope, please do.”
He began timidly, “Ms. Harriet Moonsen, born and raised on New Marstrand, United Asteroid Colonies. Is there any way you would like to amend this information for the record?” He was attempting to sound firm to set the tone, but he feared it was working.
Moonsen sat with her elbows on the table, hands linked, and staring straight at the table. She didn’t want to talk to these ‘everyone contributes, everyone gains’ puppets who sat across from her–she didn’t even want to look into their sanctimonious eyes. They were so full it anyways, she didn’t think that the Moon Colonists–those damn Moocos–were contributing, so why should they gain?
The detectives’ hands were tied by the very rules that the society was built upon. If they followed those rules they couldn’t harm her and they wouldn’t dare detain her much longer than they already had. There was no incentive for her to talk, so she would sit quietly and wait.
McSorenson didn’t bother asking Jameson if he was done before tapping a few keys to activate the table-screen, bringing up a diagram of the Moon Colony with population statistics on the side. “30 million inhabitants. Do you see that? Maybe you would if you bothered to lift your head and look. You planned to murder 30 million human beings. There hasn’t been a case of murder in over 50 years, and I don’t even want to venture a guess at the last time there was a case of mass murder.”
She lifted up a glass of water a took a sip before continuing, “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Moonsen’s only response was to lift her head and show a hairline smirk and then shrug her shoulders.
The two detectives were shocked and McSorenson was visibly disgusted with her apathy. Her very attitude was unthinkable in this beautiful, peaceful ‘Great Society’ and imaginable only by the most inventive storytellers. Jameson was equally disgusted and with uncharacteristic zeal felt compelled to yell, “We accuse you of attempting to mass murder 30 million human beings–an unthinkable act in our time, and a detestable one in any century of human existence–and all you can do is look us straight in the eyes and shrug? I thought people of your low caliber were bred out of this race a long time ago – I’m disappointed to find out that I was wrong!”
His younger self had momentarily possessed him and let out a rant, and then he snapped back to his present reality, stood up and left the room, leaving the two women alone. “Well, I am quite impressed Ms. Moonsen– that man is so lethargic, I didn’t think he could be passionate about anything, but apparently he happens to be fond of our ‘Great Society’ that you have attempted to throw into chaos.”
She leaned back on her chair and surveyed her adversary, impressed that despite her partner’s passionate outburst, she had just barely flinched. Moonsen was generally calm and unperturbed by the fact that she was accused of an unthinkable crime. McSorenson knew that they would figure out what to do with her shortly, though whatever it was would not fit the crime and would probably leave her in a position to attempt mass murder again. With what time she had with Moonsen, she needed to figure out her motives, and find out if there are more like her.
Best to jump right in, she thought. She was positive that enough direct questions would force her to answer. “Do you have any accomplices Ms. Moonsen?”
“What reason could you possibly have for destroying entire moon colony? Everyone on Earth, on the United Asteroid Colonies, on Mars, and on the Moon Colony have all of the basic human needs fulfilled from birth, and then some – explain to me why you felt compelled to destroy part of that? Everyone contributes and everyone gains – why inject distrust and hatred into that system?”
With the same passion Jameson had shown, she tried, or rather yelled, again, “WHY!?”
A larger smirk than before appeared on Moonsen’s face and then she finally answered the detective in a smug and condescending tone, “you wouldn’t understand detective, so I won’t bother explaining it to you. The only pertinent question here is: why won’t you leave me alone and let me be on my way?”
There was no forthcoming reason for Jameson’s little outburst in the conference room, but it didn’t really matter because it hadn’t reaped any effect–desirable or undesirable. Actually, he thought that perhaps his partner finally respected him because of it. Of course he probably would never really know unless she decided to tell him outright, because he knew he could never bring himself to ask. Even thinking about asking such an odd question made him cringe slightly.
All of these nonsense thoughts were counter productive–his partner was in there now prying information out of the accused, and he was just sitting hunched at his desk. He tapped a few keys on his table-screen to bring up the various pieces of information they had used to capture her in the first place to see if there were any clues to her motive. Looking at all this information again made him think of how he had accidentally been put on the trail of Moonsen in the first place–sitting at his desk in the same manner he was just now.
He had been browsing through some reports from other Police Arbiter Stations about the current arbitrations involving some petty thievery and reckless behavior by young people who still didn’t know any better–just basic everyday stuff. His partner had just nipped out to arbitrate a dispute about idea theft, when an alert popped up and then quickly disappeared again in front of his eyes. It was odd enough to see a computer alert and unheard of to have it disappear once it was activated, so he decided to take a look at the logs. It was by pure chance that an old police algorithm was still in place in the system to detect the acquisition of certain materials for producing high yield bombs, which was triggered when Moonsen had requested them from a material station on New Marstrand. Why it disappeared they never figured out, but luckily Jameson had seen it and it lead them down a long road to where they were now.
There he went again, being an unproductive day dreamer while his partner was in there making headway. When he looked up from his table-screen he saw that McSorenson was making her way out of the conference room, and the look she had didn’t bode well. She sat down across from Jameson, swiped whatever physical items were on the desk and then breathed out a long, “Fuck,” and then told him what he never expected, “I could barely coax a sentence out of her. This isn’t as easy as those old reports I read had made it seem.”
“Looks like she isn’t one of us, though she seems to have a lot in common with some of these criminals from these old reports. If we could just figure out her motive we might be able to use if against her and force her to tell us if there are more like her on the U.A.C. Why do you think she did it?”
“I don’t know Jope. The files seem to suggest that she is your everyday happy U.A.C. citizen – she contributes her hours to the community and has plenty of time for her passions, she has a healthy family, and a social life on par with the rest of us. Like us, she lives in what our ancestors called utopia–how could she want to destroy it? If you’re forcing me to guess, I’d have to say she’s insane on a scale that I’ve never even heard of.”
Jameson digested her words for a moment before agreeing and then suggesting, “Maybe we’re approaching this in the wrong way,” he said with a renewed interest and confidence in his detective skills. “Before we can figure out why she planned destroy the Moon Colony and use that to make her tell us if there are any more like her, we need to figure out why she is so blasé about this entire affair. Everything about our society is screaming at her that what she tried to do was wrong and evil, and yet she doesn’t even show an ounce of guilt and she’s more confident than the two of us combined, even in her precarious position. There must be a reason that she is acting like this.”
McSorenson thought for a moment about what Jameson was saying, and for the first time since they had apprehended Moonsen, she thought about what they would do with her after they had figured out why she had attempted it and if there were more people that shared her sentiments–there wasn’t any recourse for her crime as far as McSorenson knew. It had been such a long time since there was any crime committed that couldn’t be arbitrated, that most of the punitive measures of old had disappeared. She was sure Jameson hadn’t thought of that either, but he had thrown a surprise at her today so she asked, “Jameson, what are we going to do with her once we’ve collected all the information that we want to file a report? The worst we can do to her is to assign her to deep space reconnaissance, but somehow I don’t think she will even consider that a punishment–she’ll do her quick tour and then come back and try and blow up the Moon Colony again.”
He was taken aback by the question–his immediate thought was that they would send her home once they had arbitrated the case, but considering the circumstances that seemed absurd. Then a dark thought crossed his mind–they could dish out their own justice by taking her in to space and dropping her out of an airlock–but no, that was as unforgivable as what she had planned. How could he have even thought such a thing? Maybe that forgotten, supposedly obsolete gene that had awakened in Moonsen was stirring in him–no, that was absurd. Finally he said, “Well, last I checked, the Police Arbitration Code doesn’t describe any type of punitive action besides deep space reconnaissance and even if it did, there aren’t any facilities left to incarcerate her in.”
A sinister glow appeared on McSorenson’s face, “That’s her strength Jameson, that’s what she has on us.”
They entered the second conference room and McSorenson said, “Chief Arbiter Eri McSorenson,” prompting a video screen to appear on the wall dialing the Chief Arbiter’s office.
“Unfortunately no, he’s my brother. He’s older than the both of us and I’m hoping his age and position might be able to help us with our little conundrum sitting in the next room.”
The screen came to life showing the youthful face and graying hair (the one trait of aging they had ever managed to get rid of without using dye) of Eri McSorenson. “Little sister,” he said, “always a pleasant surprise to have you call–what favor are you planning on calling in today?”
Elaine laughed lightly and responded, “Well big brother, I think today I’ll be calling in the favor you owe me from the first time I saved your life. You remember don’t you? I believe we were skiing illegally on one of the few glaciers left, and you fell into a crevice, but luckily for you one of us had remembered to bring rope.”
“Ah yes, that was a good save indeed little sister. Very well, it must be a big favor if you are calling that one in, what can I do for you?”
She hesitated slightly and then gestured at Jameson, who said, “Well Chief Arbiter, as you know we have a women by the name of Harriet Moonsen in the other conference room at our station who has been accused (with ample evidence to back up the accusation) of attempting to mass murder all of the inhabitants of the Moon Colony. She is unwilling to give us any information regarding motive or accomplices, and even if we did reach an arbitrated agreement with her, which would have to consist of a tour on a deep space exploration vessel, we are certain that she would not hold up her end of the agreement.”
The Chief Arbiter was dumbfounded, “So you are saying that she would most likely attempt to destroy the colony again? Even if that is so, I see no other recourse then to allow her to return to her colony after she has completed her deep space assignment. After all, we must also remember that she has not actually committed any offence yet.”
Elaine then took over, “We thought you would say that, but we wanted to know if there is any precedent–is there no other action we can take?”
There was silence as the Chief Arbiter took a moment to collect his thoughts. He tapped away at his table-screen with one hand, while resting his head on the other, until he finally looked up. He sighed and then said, “Well, since you called in your favor Elaine, I think that I can allow you to have her under complete surveillance for up to one year after she returns home, or until you believe she will not attempt this revolting action again.”
Being under surveillance was a huge breach of civil liberties, and was almost unheard of these days, but there were various situations when it was still allowed, so in a sense it was a great victory. “Thank you brother, that is exactly what we were hoping you would say. We will arrange transport and surveillance for Ms. Moonsen later today. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye little sister,” and then the screen went blank.
All along Moonsen had been secretly listening in on the detective’s conversation with their superior–they were so trusting of every individual that they would never suspect devious of deceitful behavior. All she had to do was touch a few keys on the table-screen and then she was conferenced in to the conversation without anyone being the wiser. It was enjoyable to her to pit her clever, unrestricted mind against their weak, conformist skills.
She had laughed quietly to herself during conversation – just as she had already known, they found there was nothing they could do to her but release her after her deep space assignment. It was a small setback that they would keep an eye on her every exact movement, but in a year they would have to cease and desist, and she would be free to do as she pleased again. The virgin ‘Great Society’ was a perfect fit for the clever criminal–you could get away with murder even if they knew it was you. The conversation with the Chief Arbiter ended and she leaned back in her chair, satisfied with the progress of her case.
Then she heard Jameson say, “How long do we wait until we call him on the private channel to discuss the real favor?”
Her heart sunk–what could they possibly be talking about? She straightened up in her chair and her breathing and heartbeat increased steadily as she listened to this secret conversation unfold.
“Wait a couple of minutes and then you call him on his private line using your personal account.”
“O.K. You think he will sanction our little idea?”
McSorenson didn’t hesitate before saying, “He has to.”
Jameson waited as he was instructed and then dialed the private line. The Chief Arbiter answered immediately scowling at McSorenson, “Just as I suspected, I knew there was no way my little sister would call in a favor just to put surveillance on someone. Tell me then, what is it you really want, and do you really think I’ll say yes?”
“Well big brother –“
“You’ll call me Chief Arbiter, Sir this time thank you very much.”
She managed to squeeze a quick apology between her teeth before continuing, “Chief Arbiter, Sir, we respectfully request that you allow us to dispose of this cretin who foolishly believes she deserves the rights and privileges afforded to citizens simply because she was born a citizen. We believe that she has forfeited her rights by attempting to murder 30 million human beings. What do you say, Sir?”
He waited for a moment before responding and when his answer came, Moonsen was crushed, “I agree with your assessment of the situation – does your partner concur?”
“I do, Sir,” Jameson promptly responded.
“Very well then, take her on the transport leaving for the Moon Colony this evening and then let space deal with her. I’ll see to it that there are less people on the transport.”
He moved to end the conversation, but first he said, “And would you please make sure it looks like an accident–we don’t want people knowing that the Police Arbiters are murderers. I’ll delete the conversation on my end and you do the same at yours.”
And with that the conversation ended. Jameson and McSorenson went to their desks to start planning the accidental death of Harriet Moonsen.
Moonsen hadn’t thought that they were capable of such outright cold-heartedness. They were supposed to be perfect citizens of the ‘Great Society’. They valued life in all its forms. It was impossible that they could actually consider throwing her out an airlock–ending her life. It was too soon for that.
Half an hour passed before there was any activity in the office. Besides the two detectives and Moonsen there was no one else, because the other police arbiters were out completing their daily rounds. McSorenson sat calmly at her table-screen while Jameson paced in a circle around the bullpen, nervous and unsure about what they were planning. He stopped his pacing by McSorenson’s table-screen because he saw that she was beginning to become annoyed with him like an elder sibling does with his juniors. He tapped a few keys on her table-screen and then looked at her and said, “Can we please go in now? We’ve figured everything out, and now we just need to tell her.”
“I don’t know–we should probably wait so she doesn’t try and murder us too.”
The last point struck a nerve with Jameson and compelled say, “Yes, perhaps we should wait–wouldn’t want any unsanctioned murder to go on.”
“If you’re going to be like that Jameson, then I think we should go and inform her of her impending demise,” said McSorenson as she made her way towards the conference room imprisoning Moonsen. Reluctantly, Jameson followed right behind her like a duckling following its mother.
For the first time since Moonsen had been brought to the station she looked slightly vulnerable and scared, but she was desperately attempting to hide these traits from the detectives. Maybe there was some way she could convince them that she was insane to stall them–she couldn’t tell them her reasons and why there might well be others like her. Ideas bounced around in her head like bees in a glass jar, but none of them seemed like they could work. The ideas became suffocating. She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t noticed the two detectives enter and sit down across from her. When she finally jerked herself out of herself, she put on her confident act as best she could.
McSorenson started with, “Have you decided to talk? You seem a little less like a stone gargoyle than you did during our earlier conversation, don’t you think so detective Jameson?”
He felt like his old self again, caught off guard and unsure of what to say. “Uh, yes, I think you’re quite right partner. Maybe my feelings about our fine society played at her conscience?”
“Yes. Well young lady, since you don’t want to answer any questions, we’ll have to send you on your way. We have a transport waiting to take you to the location on the Moon Colony where you will be assigned to a deep space vessel,” she said calmly, rising from her seat and motioning towards the door.
Moonsen didn’t stand up though, and she didn’t look the least bit jubilant, because she knew it was how they planned to coax her towards her accidental death and she didn’t want to let them. She panicked and blurted out, “You’re just going to end it like that? Are you trying to trick me into something?”
“There’s no conspiracy here–you’re free to go as soon as you have completed your assignment.”
A new idea drifted into Moonsen’s mind. It was perfect and they couldn’t find a good reason why not to let her go as she pleased. With a smile appearing on her face she said, “I think I would prefer to leave for my assignment from Earth–I believe that is within my rights.”
“Unfortunately the Police Arbiter’s code won’t allow for that. I do wish we could let you, but unfortunately my partner Jameson here is quite the stickler for protocol, and he would report me if we didn’t follow the code to the letter.”
Jameson smiled and confirmed what McSorenson had said. “Unfortunately protocol is there for a reason, so we must follow it.”
Even though she had planned to kill all those people, the idea of being dead hadn’t crept into her mind until this very moment. She knew that those 30 million people would have been dead had she succeeded, but that was different–they weren’t like her, they were Moocos! She thought about the darkness in an unlit room and the darkness when you slept and wondered which one death was like. There were myths that there was a life after death, but they were mostly forgotten because everyone lived long enough that they didn’t need or want a life after death. She was only a youngster though. Her life had barely started. Not only did she want to stay alive, she needed to.
Quickly she blurted, “I heard you talking about killing me! Please don’t do it! I’ll do whatever you want.”
The detectives exchanged suspicious looks. Things weren’t proceeding exactly as had been expected, but this would work. Moonsen had transformed in one split second moment from a confident maniacal extremist to rarity in this day and age–a human afraid of death. McSorenson intended on capitalizing on this uniquely tragic position they had forced her into.
“Well miss Moonsen, I strenuously deny that we had any intention of foul play–we are citizens after all and you know that we aren’t capable of killing another human–“
“I would have believed you about four years ago,” she interrupted, beginning to tell her story without the previous hesitation. Her quick change of position troubled Jameson, but McSorenson was happy to continuing listening.
“What happened to you four years ago that makes you believe that we are capable of killing?”
“Well,” she was choosing her words with purpose and care, “it was four years ago that I killed a person for the first time. When I consciously decided that I was going to kill another living being, I knew that we hadn’t bred the violence out of our race like we have always been taught, and I’m sure that the police arbiters know more about this than a simple asteroid girl.”
The detectives’ faces were blank. Of course the mass murder of an entire colony was much more hideous than the murder of one individual, but the fact that she had admitted to actually following through with the murder was unbelievable. They couldn’t understand how this women could simply sit in front of them with a straight (though admittedly frightened) face and tell them that she had committed murder. To add to her incredible revelation, she assumed that they were just like her.
McSorenson asked the only real question that was nagging them and the entire Police Arbiter’s Department, “Why did you do it and are their more of you?”
“The answer to the second part of your question is easy–I am the only one that I know of.”
Her mood changed a touch towards the angry as she answered the why. “To answer the first part you must know that the sentiment amongst the most us, detective, is that that useless rock of a colony is nothing but a leech, surviving off of the success of our hard labor and efficiently run societies. Its only usefulness was proving to everyone that it was possible to live on a rock other than earth, but that was a long time ago. We contribute, and they gain.”
Jameson thought that there must be more like her if the general sentiment amongst all of the U.A.C. citizens is that the Moon Colony is a leech, but he was more curious to figure out the root of the why, “So you think that people should be murdered because their colony doesn’t produce the natural resources that we are all provided with from birth?”
“That’s right detective. You see Earth, Mars, the United Asteroid Colonies, even the Mercury orbiting habitats all add value to our society in their own individual ways–whether it be natural resources or processing or manufacturing–but the moon only imports and we allow them because of some moral code that has been developed throughout the ages. Can you honestly tell me that you think that this is fair?”
“It’s right, I know that much.”
McSorenson added, “Besides, it isn’t as if your people are out slaving in a factory or a mine so that the people on the Moon Colony don’t have to work. You know very well that it only takes a handful of community hours each day to watch over the systems and spreading it out across the population means that hardly anyone has to work much.”
“I’m afraid I have to disagree with your belief detective. We may not work much to maintain our plants and thus our society, but we do work and the Moocos don’t,” she yelled, “–that’s the problem. They’ve been dependent on generations of our people’s work. In the beginning there was real, tough work that their ancestors never paid for, but we want them to pay for it now.”
“This is insane. You’re insane. How can you condemn an entire planet to death because you don’t think it’s fair?” Jameson bellowed fiercely.
“I’ve answered your ‘why’ detectives and it doesn’t matter if the explanation satisfied you or not–it is the only explanation I have. I hope you won’t be killing me now after I’ve been so cooperative.”
Moonsen glanced at the clock on the table-screen and then instantly looked like a different person, as though her personality was programmed to change at a specific time. She looked each detective in the eyes and then said, “Well detectives, since you have so kindly concentrated all attention on me for the past several hours, my original mission should be complete in approximately one minute.”
It was a scene straight out of the old novels that Jameson read–they had been played and now their puppet master was going to torment them. There was nothing they could do.
“While I won’t bore you with the vast details of our little conspiracy, I will leave you with one piece of true intelligence that you can bring to your superiors–I am not alone. Though, the headlines coming over the news services shortly will reveal that bit of information to the world soon enough, so if you plan on your intelligence still being novel, you should call your brother quickly Elaine. I was planning on returning to my friends after a little deep space reconnaissance, but it seems you have decided otherwise–I don’t intend on giving you the pleasure of throwing me out of an airlock.”
McSorenson could hardly contain her rage and Jameson had already jumped to Moonsen’s side of the table before she had a chance to react. It was too late though, because Moonsen had thought her little farce through to the humiliating end. She had bit down on a capsule she had hidden in her mouth the entire time, and then she was dead, leaving the detectives sitting on the floor of their conference room waiting for the news they thought they had prevented to fall down from the heavens.