Day 781: Reese’s Journal Entry 23: The Trial of A and Z

I’ve not entered anything in a journal for over a year. I don’t know why I stopped keeping any journal for so long. At first I just told myself I was too busy, and there was some truth in that. After the disaster of The Committee for Law’s simplistic attempt to recreate the genius of Moses and James Madison failed and with it the Ninety Day Republic, The Emergency Committee Eddy reconstituted has been running things. I’m chaffing under their rule worse than anything under the Zoës. It’s worse because, once again, I’m part of it. Eddy appointed me to the Truth Commission.

If Act One ended with the Zoës, and Act two with the Ninety Day Republic, Act Three started when The Emergency Committee arrested Alex and Zelda for Conspiracy Against Bios Rule. I could see Zelda’s arrest coming, and even as a member of The Truth Committee, I couldn’t stop it.

I had warned her Eddy was fuming over her editorials. Each one got more strident. The news section of the expanded paper was storied with bad news. The first complaints were minor and unofficial. It was like the old days, several people said to me. I could see what they meant. The first one that caught my eye was a report of a stolen bicycle, since it reminded me of why one of my escape attempts backfired. There were lots of reports of rude behavior. I thought that odd, and less than newsworthy. I asked Zelda about it, because it seemed like a cross between sour grapes and a low-grade, itching powder kind of incitement, to use a word bandied about at Truth Commission meetings.

“It’s news because this stuff never happened when the Zoës were in charge,” she said.

“I’m sure it did,” I said. “You just never reported it.”

“is that a fact? Who was rude, except for Eddy and his friends?” she replied.

“Are you including me in that?”

“I know you were in the hardware store with Eddy when the tornado hit.”

“Guilt by association. Isn’t that the kind of thing you’ve been campaigning against?”

She dropped her gaze. “You’re right. Sorry about that, Reese. See how easy it is now?”

I thought about the bicycle. She saw me thinking her comment over.

“Sin,” she said.

“What?”

“I’m reporting on something that used to be rare. That used to be fixed right away, at the source. Sin. Here’s a nugget: When people were rude back then, and it was rare, they’d catch themselves and say ‘sorry’ and you’d say ‘don’t mention it’ and it stopped there. Now, if they even notice themselves being rude, doing little things that hurt in some way, they ignore it. Hide from it and hope it will go away. It can’t. Sin is like black mold. Instead of getting smaller because we put light on it, it’s growing because we keep it in the dark. That’s true personally and corporately.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t leave in the Exodus. “

“It was tempting. I saw this coming. But I’m a reporter. People need honest journalism more as things get worse.”

Honest journalism. It got more rare in the old world the worse that world got. I was glad to hear that the concept had been resurrected. As things under The Emergency Committee spiraled downward, I was more glad for that honesty with each turn of the screw. The Committee, obviously, was not. Members began to point fingers at me. When the warrant came out, I was surprised, relieved, and a bit disappointed to find that my name wasn’t on it.

I think Alex was targeted because he was paying for Zelda’s printing costs out of the profit from his hardware store. That made him a co-conspirator. Ever since Eddy’s men came in and confiscated the nails and hammers (never returned) for the election posters, he’d been a vocal opponent of Eddy and all he did. Long after Eddy won the election (it wasn’t even close), Alex kept his Gabby poster up, even though Gabby was Eddy’s second in command. Gabby had to come by and ask for him to take the posters down. Then Alex had Zelda print up a poster with the original Seven Laws of the “The Ninety Day Republic,” which was a dig at the Executive Committee. To everyone who asked and many who didn’t, it was to show that things had been working out just fine with only a few laws. He’d left off the law number eight (the first enacted after I left the Committee) about not leaving town (we couldn’t leave the region under the Zoës). That was another dig at Eddy and the Sheriff. ‘Libertarian principles’ he’d say and take out a diagram he’d been working on that ‘proved’ nearly everyone who entered his shop secretly agreed with him over Eddy.

I arrived at their trial in a borrowed orange jumpsuit. I didn’t want to prejudice Zelda since both of us had attracted unwanted attention by not wearing “the orange.” I took a seat near the back of the hall and watched it fill with people. Since attendance at meetings having gone from ‘a good idea’ to a punishable offense to miss, the jumpsuits were soon wall to wall. Looking over the ubiquitous orange, I realized there was nowhere in the region that many jumpsuits could come from. Region 1920, nearly half unpeopled, could never have made them. Before the Zoës left, we were getting things through trade. So where did all the jumpsuits come from now that we were cut off? Was the mold Zelda spoke of creeping into the other regions? It was as if things were created by magic or invisible Morlocks.

At the Bench, acting as a panel of judges, were Eddy, Gabby, and four others I had seen before but didn’t know. Zelda and Alex were brought before the Bench in orange jumpsuits, their hands bound behind them with cotton–rope handcuffs and one of the Sheriff’s black-jumpsuited deputies holding on to each of them. The sight shocked me, because I could not imagine anyone in the world that the Zoës ran needing to be handcuffed. Then the glaring exception came to mind: Mortimer. Even in the Zoë’s world, we had crime.

Two tables had been set up in front of the bench: prosecution and defense, and Zelda and Alex were seated at one bench. The other was vacant. On the other side of the prosecution’s table were twelve chairs in a roped off area. More I didn’t know. Eddy was drawing jurors from other sections of Region 1920.

Eddy stood and gaveled the meeting to order.

“This trial will come to order. For the record, and because I have been accused of bias…” The crowd interrupted Eddy with boos and calls of support. “Thank you. I have been accused of bias so I want the record to show I am stepping down from the Bench for this trial and will not be part of the Judgment Team. I will, however, be acting in the capacity of prosecuting attorney.” With that, Eddy handed the gavel to Gabby and stepped down from the Bench and the dais and sat at the prosecution table.

Gabby stood and banged the gavel. “This trial will come to order. The honorable Gabriel Stamford presiding. Let the record show that Edward Parker has recused himself from the panel of judges and will act as Prosecuting Attorney. Let the record further show that no one was willing to stand as Defense Attorney and the Defendants will therefore represent themselves.”

I would have been willing to stand as Defense Attorney if I had been asked, but I couldn’t imagine I could do as well as Zelda.

Judge Stamford turned to the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are hereby sworn in and charged with bringing an honest verdict when the evidence is presented.” He banged the gavel again, said, “This court is in session. This trial is underway” and took his seat at the bench. “The prosecution may open its case,” he said.

Eddy stood. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The prosecution will prove that the defendants, Zelda Hackmeijer and Alex Fromm have been willfully and knowingly acting against Bios rule. They have supported rule by Zoës, directly and indirectly, and are thus guilty of conspiracy against Bios rule, that is, rule by you, the people. We will prove that beyond a reasonable doubt with physical evidence and sworn testimony. The Prosecution rests, Your Honors.”

Eddy loved it, I could tell. His natural bent toward political grandstanding really shined. This was theater to him. This was letting power flow through him directly in a way he craved, a way he missed as the head of the Executive Committee where what he did was behind the scenes and only indirectly awesome to those he lead. Here, he got to strut his power before the whole region.

“The Defense will present its case,” Gabby said.

Zelda rose and raised her bound hands together and with a look said do you intend me to plead my case while bound?

“The deputies will remove the Defendants’ restraints,” Gabby said. One of the deputies removed a large knife from its sheath, reached across the table and cut the cord binding Zelda’s hands, then cut the cord on Alex’s hands, leaving them to work the bindings loose while he and the other deputy stood to the side of the room, within easy reach of their table.

It took a while to work the rope loose. Zelda stood the whole time, and the Bench and Prosecutor became uncomfortable. It was a misstep: Struggling with the bindings sent a message of thuggery on the part of the State. When the last cords fell, Zelda swept them off the table and onto the floor, pinning Eddy with a glare that made him look down at his table, shamed. In a way, I was a bit encouraged to see Eddy could be shamed. Maybe that’s why the Zoës brought resurrected him in the first place.

“My fellow citizens,” Zelda began. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The Prosecution will show you the same newspapers you have all read. My case is already before you, already something you’ve long talked about, something you knew because you bought my newspaper each week to see what I had to say next and to see the ways in which we aren’t treating each other the way we used to. They will tell you that my codefendant, Alex Fromm, is guilty of conspiring with me to undermine the order of this region, to undermine your freedom and our democracy and return you to the rule by Zoës. But the evidence they will present, The 1920 Sentinel stories and editorials I wrote and Mr. Fromm supported, will show nothing of the kind. I did not call for the return of Zoë rule; we did nothing to undermine the good order of this region. We merely printed the truth and reflected on our condition. We did nothing to abuse the freedom of the press.”

Zelda sat down and I saw her first tactical mistake. There is no law, no constitutional amendment, under The Articles of Emergency that guarantees freedom of the press. If she tries to build a case on The Articles of Emergency, not only will the legal part implode, it will remind the Jury of the chaos and rancor that precipitated the end of the Ninety Day Republic.

Eddy rose from his table. “The Prosecution enters into evidence this edition of The 1920 Sentinel, reserving the right to enter all publications past and present.”

“I object, your Honors,” Zelda said. “The 1920 Sentinel has been in continuous publication for five hundred years, and only in the recent past have I had sole editorial responsibility.”

“Overruled,” Judge Gabby said.

Eddy continued: “I direct the Jury’s attention to an Editorial printed two months ago. Please note the name affixed at the end is that of one of the defendants, Zelda Hackmeijer. The editorial lists a series of small social faux pas then concludes as follows:

What have we become then since we asked our brothers and sisters of spiritual nature to leave us to our own devices? Since then we have had increasing rudeness, thefts, even public assaults. With what we see in the open degenerating so rapidly from that balanced and growing state we were once in, perhaps there are crimes that go unreported? With fistfights and thuggery gone public, can rape be far behind? Is it already happening?

“That’s what the Editor in Chief of The 1920 Sentinel thinks of you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, people of Region 1920. You are rude, worse than that, you are thugs; you are hiding rapists in your midst. Here is another one:

We have, collectively, recapitulated the Fall [and she capitalized the ‘F’ in fall to link it to the Zoës’ religious bent] and tilted the moral plane downward. What can we do to fix ourselves? The old term ‘bootstrapping’ comes to mind.

“’Bootstrapping,’ in case you don’t remember, is the technique of starting with existing resources to create something more complex and effective. Not bad, if that’s what you mean by it. But she goes on:

But while we may be able to pull on a boot by its straps, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own efforts. We have no lever, nowhere to stand. Our state will continue to decline.

“’Our state will continue to decline.’ Why? Because as it was originally understood and as the Defendant was using the term, ‘bootstrapping’ means doing the impossible, lifting your whole body off the ground by the strap on your boot. The answer then, implied in this editorial, is to have the Zoës come back, isn’t it? Restore us? Lift us up? Rule us?”

Eddy continued pulling out editorials and articles, which the Jury was already familiar with, and one after another showing them in this new light, interpreting the words as a call for the return of Zoë rule. It wasn’t hard to do. I knew Zelda wanted it, or at least was pretty sure that if I’d asked her, she’d have said so. And watching the Jury, I got the sense they were going Eddy’s way. He must have thought so, for when he said The Prosecution rests, he turned to Zelda and smiled.

Zelda rose. “The Defense calls Reese Smith to the stand.”

I wasn’t expecting that. There was no seat near the Bench, since this had never been a courtroom before, so I stood. Zelda looked to the Bench but Gabby didn’t seem to notice he had a role.

“Do you promise to tell the truth, Reese?” Zelda asked.

“I do.”

‘Is that satisfactory, your honor?”

Gabby seemed to realize what was being asked. “You’re sworn in then,” he said.

After a pause, Zelda asked, “Reese, you were asked to serve on the Truth Commission. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“And you are a member of that Commission now. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“And the Commission serves under The Articles of Emergency. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Do The Articles of Emergency overturn the Laws of the Ninety Day Republic?”

“I object Your Honors, to the term Ninety Day Republic. The Defense is belittling our valiant attempts to create home rule from scratch.”

“Objection sustained,” Gabby said. “The Defense will use no pejorative terms when describing the government.”

“I will restate, Your Honors. Reese, do The Articles of Emergency overturn the laws of the Republic?”

“I don’t know.”

“You serve in the committee that brought the indictment against me and against Alex, and you don’t know whether The Articles of Emergency overturn the laws of the Republic?”

“That’s right. It was never mentioned. There was never any discussion of the status of the laws of the Republic under The Articles of Emergency.”

“And is that not the gist of this article in The 1920 Sentinel? The one that, and I quote to show how vague this all is, ‘among many others,’ is named in the indictment? For the Jury: ‘…that the Defendant did print or aid in the printing of an article calling into question the validity of The Articles of Emergency.’ The article in question simply states what you just stated under oath, that, and I quote you now, Reese, ‘there was never any discussion of the status of the laws of the Republic under The Articles of Emergency.’ There was never any public discussion, which is what the article in question asserts, and apparently, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, there was never any discussion in the Commission that brought the indictment against the Defendants who stand trial today.”

“I object,” Eddy said from his table.

“Overruled,” Gabby said.

“What? You’re not supposed….” Gabby slammed the gavel hard and Eddy shut up.

“Reese,” Zelda said, barely suppressing a smile, “you were on the committee that drafted the first of the laws of the Republic, is that correct?”

“It is.”

“And what is the very first law? The law your committee felt was the basis of all laws, was more important than the laws against murder and theft and usury, because those all flowed from breaking that first law. Could you state for the record what the first law was?”

“No falsehood.”

“No falsehood. The first law is no falsehood. Do you, as a member of the Truth Commission that brought changes against the Defendants assert that the articles written by me and published by The 1920 Sentinel contain falsehoods?”

“I do not.”

“Did other members of the Commission feel they contained falsehoods?”

“They did.”

I was sorry she asked that. I expect a more experienced attorney would have gone over my testimony with me in advance. Zelda was a reporter acting as an attorney. Even the people attending the trial could see it was a mistake. Gabby brought the trial to order.

“Ms. Hackmeijer, do you rest?”

“No, your Honor. Sorry. Reese, you spoke with me shortly before the indictment came down. Do you recall what we talked about?”

“Sin.”

“Sin and…”

“Sin and reporting bad news.”

“Reporting bad news is one of the crimes I and my codefendant are accused of. So when I explained to you why I reported bad news, what did I say was that reason?”

“You said reporting bad news was shining a light on sin. That when people sinned back when Zoës were in charge, they apologized immediately, and sin was stopped at its source. But now, if people even notice they have sinned, they pretend they didn’t; they hide.”

“And what analogy did I use? To describe sin, what analogy did I use?”

“You said sin was like a black mold. It grew in the dark. But when you put light on it, it grew smaller.”

“Do you think it is a fair analogy to what the articles under exhibit are doing, shining a light on our situation.”

“I do.”

“Thank you. The Defense rests.”

“Is the Prosecution ready to give its summation?” Gabby asked.

“Yes, your Honors,” Eddy said to the Bench. Eddy rose. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. The Prosecution has delivered for your consideration articles in The 1920 Sentinel that call into question our society, that call for a return of the despots who ruled over us, the Zoës. The Defense does not question that these articles were written and paid for by the Defendants. By their own admission, the Defendants assert the lie that Zoë rule was better than Bios rule, that under our own rule we’re just a bunch of sinners, that morally we’re a black mold in need of guidance by the…enlightened? angelic? No! MYSTERIOUS AND CAPRICIOUS! Zoës. They are, by their own admission, guilty as charged of conspiracy against Bios rule. And that question, whether together they did agitate against Bios Rule, is the only question before you, as you will hear the presiding Judge inform you when he charges you with your task.” He sat down. “The Prosecution rests, your Honors.”

“Is the Defense ready to give its summation?” Gabby asked.

“Yes, your Honors,” Zelda said to the Bench.

When Zelda rose in her orange jumpsuit, I was reminded of our former, Zoë ruled state. Before the revolution, we were a community. Honest about our faults with each other. As the orange jumpsuits became the new norm, so did hiding the truth from each other, which was Adam’s first reaction to believing the Lie that he could be like God, knowing good from evil without participating in the evil. He hid himself.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury,” Zelda began, “the Prosecution has declared that we are ‘guilty of conspiracy against Bios rule.’ And there are your two keywords: ‘conspiracy’ and ‘Bios.’ That we opposed Governor Eddy and The Articles of Emergency is clear from the newspapers I wrote and my co-Defendant supported. Many of us do as well, as I know from conversations I’ve had throughout Region 1920. What the Prosecution has done is conflate their rule by decree with ‘Bios’ rule, as if there could be no other rule. But before there was Governor Eddy and The Articles of Emergency we had our short-lived Republic. Whether by design or incompetence, it failed.”

She looked at me when she said that. And she was right, even though it hurt to hear it said.

“But rather than fix those laws or give the new Republic time to work, Governor Eddy, who also happens to be our esteemed Prosecutor, seized power and declared a State of Emergency. We are now under The Articles of Emergency, but they are secret. Unpublished. I ought to know. If they were going to publish them, they’d do it through my newspaper, and Alex’s hardware would have been confiscated to nail them to our lampposts and trees.

“So the first charge is bogus: We do not oppose Bios rule in principle, even if we think it has gone wrong. We oppose The Articles of Emergency in general and Governor Eddy in particular. As for the second charge, ‘conspiracy,’ my codefendant, Alex Fromm, has been subsidizing the printing costs of The 1920 Sentinel. But he has done so openly. Even a cursory examination of our books will show that Alex actually and openly paid for each free copy of The Sentinel. He did that so The Sentinel would remain free to you, as it has been for over five hundred years. So there was no conspiracy, just a free and public gift to you of what so many of you had come to think of as your public newspaper. I was, and am, grateful to Mr. Fromm for this generous, public and civic subsidy. The Defense rests, Your Honors.”

When Zelda sat down, Judge Gabby waited and the courtroom brought itself to order without a gavel.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury,” he said. “The Defendants are charged with Conspiracy Against Bios Rule. You have heard the evidence; you have heard the Prosecution and the Defense lay out their cases regarding the guilt or innocence of the Defendants. The question before you is whether the Defendants have violated Article 23 of The Articles of Emergency that states “all criticism of The Articles of Emergency must be cleared by the Truth Commission in advance of publication.” You must now retire and return with a verdict. Sheriff, please escort the Jury to Samuel Room where they will remain until they call for you to let you know they have reached their verdict. You will then escort them back where their foreman will read that verdict out. This court is in recess until then.”

Zelda stared straight ahead until a deputy grabbed her arm and raised her from her seat. Judge Gabby had at the last second unofficially but completely changed the charges against Alex and Zelda. I was on the Truth Commission, and I never heard of an Article 23. Zelda was right: The Articles of Emergency are not public. Gabby could have made Article 23 up on the spot and we’d never know.

The Sheriff would not let me in to see Zelda. I could hear yelling from the Samuel Room. Several more deputies showed up and cleared the public from the Meeting Hall. I was allowed to stay because I was a member of The Truth Commission. The deputies remained on guard at the doors. I saw Gabby go into the Jury room. I don’t know if that was ethical or not. Shortly after he left, the Jury returned. Zelda’s face dropped when she saw the empty Meeting Room. I think she knew what was coming down. The Jury filed in. Eddy took his seat at the Prosecutor’s table, then the Judges were seated. Gabby gaveled the trial into session.

“Has the Jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, Your Honors,” said a woman in the back row.

“Please stand and read your verdict.”

“On the first count, conspiracy, we find the Defendants not guilty. On the second count, opposition to Bios rule, we find the Defendants not guilty. On the third count, criticism of The Articles of Emergency, we find the Defendants guilty.”

Zelda said jumped up from the table. “I object Your Honors!”

Gabby banged the gavel. “Sheriff, seat the Defendant!”

A deputy thrust Zelda back into her seat. “Your Honors, this third charge was not specified in the indictment.”

“The third charge is implied in the indictment and therefore was included in the lawful directions from this bench to the jury.” Gabby banged the gavel. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury. You have discharged your duty. You are dismissed. Sheriff, please clear the Jury from the court.”

With so many additional deputies than the two the trial started with, the Jury was very quickly escorted from the room. I hung back, out of view of the Bench. Gabby banged the gavel.

“The verdict having been delivered as guilty on one count each of criticism of The Articles of Emergency, sentence will now be entered into the record.” Gabby cleared his throat. “You have been found guilty of criticism of The Articles of Emergency, a crime against the well being of society, a crime which undermines society at its root. You are therefore sentenced to death. You will be taken from this place to the Regional Security Building where you will be hanged tomorrow morning at 10:00 until you are dead. This trial is concluded.” Gabby banged the gavel and the bench rose to leave.

“No!” Alex shouted. “That’s not right!” He was still shouting when two deputies grabbed his arms and tied them behind his back. He continued shouting through the black bag they placed over his head. Zelda said nothing and was allowed to walk out of the courtroom with her hands tied behind her back and her head bare. She was enraged but had nowhere to aim it.

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