Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop was still breathing hard when the doors closed behind him. His physical health might be rated good, but that didn’t mean he was in shape. A good physical health reading just stated that all your internal organs were functioning within a certain range. Even with the filters in the building, the air in here wasn’t conducive to any type of physical activity.
The courtroom beyond the big door was busy, but that was to be expected in a PHA Civil Administration building. People tended to get themselves into trouble when they didn’t have jobs, had barely enough to eat, and were basically confined like prisoners. The PHA sections of any metropolis had their own cultures, societal norms, and ways of doing business. They could be their own countries; the poorest and shittiest countries in human history, but they met all the basic qualifications.
Coop looked at the waiting section behind the metal bar that separated the seating area from the actual court proceedings. The place was packed, with people standing along the walls with disinterested looks on their faces. There weren’t any families or friends in this courtroom, just people waiting for their Commonwealth dispensed judgement.
The site brought back uncomfortable memories from Coop’s recent past. There were several other courtrooms in the building, and he’d visited a few of them, but this one was different. This was an adult court, not a juvenile one. A shudder worked its way up his spine, but he ignored the ominous feeling in his gut; and instead studied the room.
The first differences between this courtroom and the others he’d been to were the walls. Every other room he’d been in was the same white polyplast that made up the walls of his PHA unit. Polyplast was the builder’s product of choice for building interiors for the last half century. The material was durable, easily manipulated, easily sanitized, and most importantly, cheap.
This courtroom’s walls were all wood, but it wasn’t real wood. It would have cost millions of Commonwealth dollars to panel the entire 200×200 meter room, and no one would waste that kind of cash on a courtroom in the armpit of Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis PHA-2.
“They say it’s supposed to make the room feel warm,” the woman standing next to Coop whispered when she noticed where he was looking.
The woman was dressed like a ten dollar whore and was twitching with the obvious signs of narcotics withdrawal. Coop didn’t judge her. He knew a hundred women like her, and when the times were right, he’d gotten to know of few of them intimately.
“Don’t know what the hell that means,” Coop replied in a gruff whisper. “A box is a box, doesn’t matter what it’s made of.”
The woman looked like she wanted to talk more, but a look from the two bailiffs made them both shut up. Like the PHA guard outside the courtroom both of the bailiffs were armored, but unlike the guard outside, both of these men were armed with sleek looking pistols holstered at their hips. Those weapons could put an electromagnetically powered projectile through Coops head at two hundred meters. He knew that for sure, he’d seen it done before.
Case by case people were called past the metal barrier, sworn in by the bailiffs, and walked through the justice process. Even though Coop had been told to be there at a specific time, he’d be waiting around for hours until his case was heard; but such was the life of a welfare Rat. Soon enough space opened up for him to find a seat. He sat, and the seat instantly conformed itself to his body. The nanofibers adjusted to provide the best possible support to the seater, while automatically sterilizing the seat when anyone left. He could take a dump, smear feces all over the chair, and it would be gone by the time he walked out of the room; eaten and repurposed by the efficiency of the microscopic robotic organisms.
The man sitting next to him was called to appear before the judge, and the seat was immediately filled by the whore Coop had spoken to earlier. “They say the judge’s plaque is made out of legit Martian Sandalwood,” she whispered.
The whore was using idle conversation to mask her nervousness. She also placed her hand on Coop’s knee. He only allowed it because he had similar nerves, and this might be the last time either one of them had contact with the opposite sex for some time. Her hand didn’t migrate north, so he didn’t have a problem; it might be momentarily comforting, but he had higher standards now than in his earlier youth.
He studied the plaque with the judge’s name on it. <The Honorable Judge…Asshat,> Coop didn’t care what the man’s name was. What he cared about was what it the plaque was made of.
If the whore was right then that fifty centimeter long nameplate was worth a hundred thousand bucks. Martian Sandalwood was expensive stuff, and having it shipped 225 million kilometers from Earth’s oldest colony made it that much more valuable. Unlike the rest of the courtroom, which was fitted with the laminate, light brown, faux wood paneling, the plaque looked legit. It was a blueish-white color and looked like someone had taken a paintbrush to it, making the fine grains pop. Like all things Martian, there was a hint of red to it; which a half century of terraforming had failed to totally eradicate from the environment.
<I could pay rent for five years with that thing,> Coop tried to think of ways he could steal the valuable piece of wood. All the scenarios ended with him missing a large chunk of his head, so he abandoned the idea.
Twenty more minutes passed, and then the whore was called up. Her hand tightened on his thigh for a brief minute, betraying her fear. “I’ll see you on the other side, baby.” She scooted past him, giving him a nice view of her chest, and then she was gone.
Coop only half paid attention to the whore’s proceedings. She was guilty, and she wasn’t going to get off this time. She cried out when her sentence was read, and then tried to resist the bailiff who was escorting her toward the door marked “PRISONERS” in bold black letters. All that got her was a hundred thousand volt shock, and getting tossed through the door like a sack of potatoes. Coop didn’t even bat an eye, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before and would probably see again.
He waited another hour passed until he finally faced the music. “Mark Cooper,” the Bailiff’s voice was augmented by the audio set worked into his armor.
Coop stood up, tried to smooth out some of the wrinkles, and walked calmly towards the front of the room. He was in his Sunday best; which meant that it was his father’s clothing from a quarter century ago. No one in the PHA could afford this type of clothing anymore.
The metal bar silently slid back as Coop approached, and then quickly snapped back into place once he was passed. A bailiff tossed him a thin copy of the Commonwealth Constitution encased in polyplast; which Coop easily caught. “Repeat after me,” the armored man didn’t wait for Coop to acknowledge. “I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
Coop was pretty sure that if there was a God he didn’t give a shit about a little Rat like him. “I swear.”
The bailiff snatched back the protected document, and pointed toward the defendant’s chair. A public attorney stood next to Coop’s chair in a suit only slightly less wrinkled than Coop’s. The older man looked tired. His face was drawn, there were dark circles under his eyes, and more wrinkles than his middle-aged years accounted for. The state attorney on the other side looked just as tired, so Coop saw that as a win.
“The United Commonwealth of Colonies vs. Mark Cooper,” the prosecuting attorney looked just as surprised as Coop felt.
Every other time Coop had been in front of a judge it had been him against the PHA, not the Commonwealth. <What the fuck is going on?> The ominous feeling that had been festering in his gut vanished as his whole stomach fell through the floor and halfway to China.
“You are charged with grand theft auto of government property. How do you plead?” the judge, who hadn’t looked up in the last few cases, actually raised his head to look Coop in the eyes.
Those eyes didn’t convey anything good.
The whole story behind the charge had been funny up until a few minutes ago. In some way unknown to Coop, some idiots from the suburbs had gotten lost and ended up in the PHA. Considering you had to go through checkpoints to get into the complex it was a pretty impressive feat. Coop had been minding his own business, when he’d seen the air-car fly by. Since it was the first time he’d ever seen an air-car, he went to investigate. When he arrived, the driver had entered the Civil Administration building, but left the car running. It was just asking to get jacked.
Coop was better than most with computers, so he knew how to turn off positioning software on just about anything. He hoped in, powered down everything that would track the vehicle’s location, and planned to drive it to the nearest chop shop. He’d make a couple of grand off the deal, get some spare parts to sell himself, and get to eat some decent food for a week.
The problem was that he didn’t know how to drive. He didn’t think it was difficult at the moment; up, down, left, right, forward, back, it didn’t seem hard. He made it about a block and a half before he plowed it into a support pillar for the Maglev train that ran above this section of the PHA. The cops found him unconscious in the driver’s seat, but the car hadn’t taken much damage.
How that equated to a Commonwealth level crime was beyond Coops ability to comprehend. “We plead guilty, Your Honor,” the public attorney stated without missing a beat.
“Yo, what the hell!” Coop couldn’t stop the outburst. “Wait a minute.”
“Silence in the court,” the judge banged the gavel.
Coop shut up before he ended up on death row, because that’s where he felt like he was going. Death was the penalty for an uncomfortable amount of crimes, but with population control being such a problem it was a logical solution in many people’s eyes.
“Let’s review the facts of the case, Mr. Cooper,” the state attorney looked like Christmas had come early. “There is surveillance footage and biological evidence recovered at the scene of the crime; in addition to you being caught inside the stolen vehicle. The vehicle had government tags, and was carrying classified government property.”
“Your Honor, the defendant was unaware of any classified Commonwealth property within the vehicle at the time of the alleged crime,” the defense attorney took the words right out of Coop’s mouth.
“Whether the defendant knew about the property or not is irrelevant,” the judge quickly squashed Coop’s attorney’s feeble plea. “The classified information was present.” The judge hit a few buttons on his Personal Access Device (PAD), and the square device brought up all the relevant information.
“The government vehicle was signed out by a Lieutenant from the Commonwealth Fleet, and had technical manuals of assault shuttles in the back seat. Along with the Lieutenant’s government issued PAD.” If Coop didn’t know any better he would have thought the judge was just as displeased at the Lieutenant as he was at Coop.
<The guy must have been a dumbass if he left all that crap in the back of an unlocked, still running air-car,> Coop wondered how in the hell someone so incompetent could get that job.
“So I’ll ask again, Counselor. What do you plead?” the judge’s gaze could have cut right through battle armor.
The defense attorney gave Coop a look he knew all too well. It was a hopeless look. The prosecution had Coop dead to rights, and there was nothing the attorney could do about it. Coop’s gut, which was already buried deep in the ground beneath him, completed its journey through the Earth and into China.
<They could kill me over this?> the defense attorney saw the light go off in Coop’s head, and thought up the best plan he could.
“We still plead guilty your honor, but we also plead mercy,” pleading mercy in a 25th century courtroom was like hoping to hit an incoming ship-to-ship missile with a baseball bat and survive. “Mr. Cooper has committed no other crimes of such a serious nature. My client is a misguided youth who has been raised in a poor environment with no discipline or accountability. We beg the court to levy a lesser punishment.”
Coop might have taken offense to the poor environment crack if he wasn’t busy having an existential moment contemplating his own mortality. Knowing you were one gavel smack away from a one way trip to a lethal injection had a tendency to shut out the world around you.
“The court accepts your plea, and will consider the plea for mercy,” the judge hit the screen on Coop’s profile several times to unlock the “Authorized Personnel Only” portions.
There was a minute of tense silence as the judge considered all the information. Unlike the attempted, and failed, legal precedents of the past; a judge was not required to have a jury of the defendant’s peers to render a verdict. The modern judicial system placed the full authority on a judge who was given the godly power upon his appointment.
“A history of aggressive behavior, violence, disregard for others,” the judge condensed his criminal career and mental health into three brief statements.
The judge’s face went from unyielding disappointment to contemplation, and then he smiled. Coop knew instantly he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear.
“The court accepts your plea of mercy, Mr. Cooper,” Coop felt his stomach leap back into his body as hope flooded through him. “I sentence you to ten years in medium security at Attica,” Coop’s stomach dropped back out again, and the ray of hope became a bout of nausea. “But if that doesn’t sound like something you want to do, then I offer you an alternative sentence of a four year mandatory service obligation in the Armed Forces of the United Commonwealth of Colonies.”
The judge smiled when he saw the confused expression on Coop’s face. “You have twenty four hours to make your decision, Mr. Cooper,” the bang of the gavel sent an electric shock through Coop’s system. “You are released on your own recognizance until noon tomorrow. Next case.”