BONUS SCENE FOR CENTRAL GALACTIC CONCORDANCE READERS
Setting: This scene takes place on the frontier planet of Abassaran, about three years after the events of Minder Rising and about two months before the events in Pico’s Crush. Imara Sesay Sòng and Lièrén Sòng each help the people of Abassaran make a better life in their own way.
“New Frontier Justice”
Imara Sesay Sòng was glad she’d believed the weather AI’s forecast and taken a coat that morning, because the day had turned blustery and unpleasant. The scarf she’d found in her pocket was the only thing keeping her past-due-for-a-trim hair from blinding her as she walked to the Erdo Beselt city administrative center. The newly added third floor didn’t improve the utilitarian architecture, but aesthetic details were an expensive luxury for a town still in debt to the settlement company.
She stretched out her talents toward the building as she approached. She and Derrit both benefitted from Lièrén’s patient tutelage in how to use their minder talents. Most of hers would always be low level, but she was getting better at using them together to amplify their combined result. She skimmed through the crowd of minds until she found the familiar mental signature of Lièrén. She sent him a tiny pulse to announce her arrival, though with his stronger talents, he’d probably sensed her as soon as she’d neared the landing pad, if he’d been paying attention. He had a lot on his mind today.
He responded with an image of his location in the town hall, the largest room in the building. Is Derrit coming?
I don’t know. I left it up to him. She still didn’t know if that was the right thing to do, but at fifteen, Derrit was old enough to start charting his own star lanes, especially where his minder talents were concerned. If he’d been “recruited”—CPS-speak for “dragooned”—for the Citizen Protection Services’ Minder Corps three years before, he’d have had no choice. Derrit’s high-level shielder and cleaner talents would have forced him into their enforcement and corrections divisions, regardless of how little her gregarious, protective, and warm-hearted son would be suited for that line of work. He definitely took after his deceased father.
Lièrén sent her a soothing wave of love and sympathy, meaning she hadn’t been containing her worries very well. She returned the same to him, letting him know how much she appreciated his support. He was her shelter when everything rained down on her.
The crowd in the building’s lobby made for slow-going to get to the big community hall. Despite the recent influx of another wave of settlers and the flurry of new construction projects, Erdo Beselt still had small-town sensibilities. A criminal inquiry drew onlookers, especially since it would be the first serious test of the blend of frontier and minder justice that Lièrén and the town council had worked out for cases involving minders accused of crimes.
“Hey, Imara, over here!” Elmeri’s loud, cheerful voice cut through the conversational murmur of the people waiting to be allowed into the hall. Imara didn’t need her talents to find her young road-crew employee. Elmeri’s enviable height made her easy to see.
Imara threaded her way to the big hall’s side door, trying to get a feel for the mood of the crowd. She’d never be as good as Rayle Leviso, her dancer friend from Concordance Prime, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a high-level empath, constantly buffeted by the complex emotional state of everyone within a thousand meters. He’d had to learn containment at a young age to avoid being overwhelmed. She was still learning to use her very late-blooming polymath talents.
In the gathered townspeople, curiosity and anticipation prevailed, with occasional pockets of acidic resentment. For all that Erdo Beselt as a whole welcomed any minder as just another settler, individual citizens still harbored the knee-jerk prejudices against minders they’d been raised with.
Elmeri, still in her indestructible work coveralls, grinned at Imara. “Thanks for the afternoon off, boss.”
Imara smiled back. “Thanks for playing guardian at the gate.” Elmeri had strength to go along with her height, and played hypersphere as a goaltender in her spare time. Only a determined effort would get past her.
“Your husband asked me to watch for you and your boyo.” Even though Imara’s and Lièrén’s wedding took place months ago, Elmeri still delighted in the novelty. Few on Abassaran even bothered with cohab contracts, much less marriages. Her genial expression changed to a frown. “Uh, oh, Lizard saw you. He’s headed this way.”
Imara smoothed her expression into the professional smile she’d used for years as a licensed bartender, and now found equally useful as a government employee in a public job. Lizarro, the settlement company’s latest representative, never passed up an inappropriate opportunity to air his latest grievances. One of her official duties as Erdo Beselt’s Infrastructure Development Manager was to listen politely; her tacit duty was to come up with workarounds for the obstacles Lizarro dreamt up, and help keep the town on the hyperspeed track to being debt-free ten years ahead of schedule. She’s been assured by other, more experienced settlers that Pozivol one of the better settlement companies, but in her opinion, that was like saying a flood was better than a forest fire.
She was saved from having to deal with Lizarro by the simultaneous opening of the town hall’s multiple doors, signaling the start of the proceeding. She followed in Elmeri’s wake, and made her way to the seats that Lièrén had saved.
His conservative attire and respectful demeanor caused most people to underestimate him, which he deliberately cultivated. As the CPS’s official representative, he was there by invitation, not right, and enough people on the planet—including her son—had good reason to dislike or fear the CPS. He was also a top-level sifter, twister, and telepath, although he’d led the agency to believe his talents were well controlled with CPS drugs, and permanently impaired from the accident that had nearly killed him on Concordance Prime. She liked to think she and Derrit helped the locals see the ethical, loyal, and deeply honorable side of the man they both loved. Once she got close enough, she felt his well-hidden tension. As they sat, she slipped her hand into his and sent a thread of healing talent to ease his incipient headache.
He turned briefly smile at her. “Thank you.” He was still the handsomest man she’d ever seen, and well deserving of Rayle’s nickname for him, “Agent Flux-Hot.” She really was the luckiest woman on the planet.
Tu’umi, the City Administrator, waited for most of the spectators to be seated, then called for quiet. Her voice boomed through the room, amplified via the small earwire adhered to her jaw.
“Most of you have read the rules, because you voted to adopt them, but I’ll recap for the newcomers. Erdo Beselt’s justice system follows the Central Galactic Concordance model, with a few exceptions.” She began ticking them off on her fingers. “First, all parties, minder or non-minder, get the same treatment. Defendants, complainants, and witnesses have the right to to request or refuse telepathic examinations. Minder defendants may refuse to submit to a telepathic exam, and if they do, it’s not an automatic guilty plea. Second, during the proceedings, minders will be monitored but not controlled by minder security, unless they prove unwilling or unable to control their talents. Third, defendants may request judgment based solely on forensic analysis of physical evidence, but may not arbitrarily strike testimony from minders, either as principal witnesses, or when providing independent corroboration of another witness’s testimony. We require separation of duties, and allow admission and examination of undisclosed conflict of interest.” She glanced briefly at Lièrén. “Fourth, if a defendant is judged guilty as charged, no separate or additional penalty is assessed if the commission of the crime involved the alleged, admitted, or proven use of minder talents.”
Through their mental connection, Imara felt a subtle sense of satisfaction from Lièrén. As CPS liaison, he’d been instructed to oppose most of the new provisions, meaning he’d had to maneuver the Erdo Beselt council into overruling his recommendations. She’d suggested the town leaders would love the opportunity to thwart the CPS, but he’d done the patient, delicate work of getting them to think it was their own idea.
“One more thing. We require respect and silence from all observers.” Tu’umi swept the room with the quelling gaze she’d effectively used on the tens of thousands of teenagers she’d taught during her former academic career. “Sulembo, Pat, and Elmeri will escort you out of the building if you don’t behave.”
She nodded to the advocate who’d been appointed as temporary adjudicator for the case, then walked to her seat in the first row of the audience.
Imara felt the unmistakable mental signature of her son from somewhere to her right, but at the edge of her range. She couldn’t penetrate his shields, but she knew him well enough to guess he was lurking in the back of a standing-room-only section. It was hard not to send him a quick pulse of greeting, but it would only add to the pressure if he thought she was watching for him or judging him. Lièrén kept his attention politely forward, but gave her hand a gentle squeeze. It was partly because Lièrén had been given no choice whatsoever in his CPS career that she wanted better for Derrit.
Erdo Beselt didn’t have enough crime to warrant a full-time judge, so they made do with temporary appointments among the few townspeople who had legal training and experience, and drew the jury panel from the volunteer list.
The inquiry involved a clear case of assault, and a murky case of motive. The non-minder victim claimed he’d done nothing to provoke the attack by his neighbor. The minder, who’d used his telekinetic talent to seriously beat down a man twice his size, claimed the victim had gone from merely pushy to downright malicious when the minder refused to sell his homestead land.
Neither man had agreed to telepathic questioning, so the part-time constable had arranged for two sifters with lie detection skills to be present during verbal questioning of the men. In the Concordance, standard practice was to bring in a single, independent sifter, but they had hundreds to choose from. There weren’t enough in Erdo Beselt to avoid a conflict of interest, so they’d compensated by bringing in two and having them submit separate evaluation reports. Under Erdo Beselt’s new blended justice system, the reports were admissible in the criminal proceedings, and given the same weight as other forensic evidence.
The adjudicator stood, tapped his earwire, and addressed the participants. “This is a public proceeding, so records will be available to any citizen, business, or government.” The room’s speaker system made it easy for everyone to hear his quiet voice. “First, we need to deal with a problem. Magellian is out sick, so we need someone to act as minder security for this proceeding.”
Silence prevailed in the room as people looked around expectantly. Imara’s shielder talent was close to mid-level, but possibly not enough to provide effective security if the telekinetic wanted to cause trouble. She also hadn’t advertised her talent, so it would likely be a surprise to some people. It was a small price to pay if it proved their new frontier justice system could work. She started to speak, but Lièrén gave her hand a warning squeeze.
From the back of the room, Derrit’s voice rang out. “I’ll do it.”
* * * * *
“Is there more stew left?” Derrit reached for a third homemade wheat roll.
Lièrén smiled. “Yes, in the pot.” He was half convinced the boy… no, young adult had an interstellar drive in his stomach that ran on food instead of flux. When it was Lièrén’s turn to cook, he always made enough to feed four hungry Jumpers. Between Derrit, who was already taller than Lièrén, and Zuzu, their pet ferwinkle who’d recently birthed kittens, they rarely had leftovers.
Derrit stood, grabbed his bowl, and bolted for the kitchen. Imara laughed. “He’s just like his father. He was always starving after actively using his talents.”
Lièrén nodded.“I’m sorry he had to, but I’m glad he was there.” He’d have said more, but Derrit came back with his full bowl.
“Good stew, Shúfù.”
“Thank you.” It still warmed Lièrén that Derrit had chosen the Mandarin honorific of “Uncle” to proclaim their familial relationship. The Sòng Family Trust had legally adopted Derrit and Imara to protect them from the greedy CPS, but Derrit’s acceptance of Lièrén as family came from the boy’s generous heart.
“My turn for cleanup,” Imara announced. She gave Lièrén a meaningful look before she left with the used plates. She was purposefully giving him time alone with Derrit for a minder-to-minder discussion. Despite her willingness to explore and use her newly discovered polymath talents across all minder classes, she still thought of herself as just a filer, with the ability to remember everything, but of little value, because that’s how the CPS viewed the patterner class in general. Sadly, the CPS had lost its way in so many things. Like treating young men as monsters and enemies of the galactic peace.
He caught Derrit’s eye. “You made a difficult decision today. Do you regret it?”
Derrit shook his head, then finished his bite. “Not… well, sort of. Now everyone knows I’m a high-level shielder.” He hunched one shoulder, as if to ward off attention.
Lièrén nodded. “When I was in school, the CPS Academy instructors taught us to take responsibility for the world around us. They meant that the strong have a duty to protect the weak, because that’s how civilization thrives. However, we were just children, and took our teachers quite literally. It took me years to realize that it was beyond our capacity. You can only be responsible for what you do and how you treat others.”
Derrit frowned. “Yeah, well, wait’ll they find out I’m a cleaner, too, with the ability to blank-slate someone’s mind. That will go over well.”
“It’s true that some people will always fear you, and fear makes them angry, so they lash out.” Lièrén knew better than most the cost of having a scary, high-level talent. “Think of it this way. The defendant in today’s trial is a small man who is unreasonably afraid of big, burly men, and perceive them as a threat, even when they’re minding their own business. To him, his neighbor’s casual comment about buying more land was a declaration of war.”
Derrit took several more bites of stew before he spoke again. “Have you lost friends when they find out you can twist memories so smoothly that only a filer would notice?”
“I wish I could tell you I haven’t, but it wouldn’t be true. My former co-workers mostly refused to be alone with me, and not just because they were afraid I’d discover their corruption.” Derrit and Imara knew some of the truth of Lièrén’s previous career as a covert agent, but not all. “Even your mother, who is the bravest person I’ve ever known, was scared of me at first, mostly because she worried about you.”
Derrit’s expression became mutinous. “You would never hurt me or Mom.”
“I am honored by your trust. Not everyone knows me as well as you do. All they see is the CPS emblem on my collar, or remember the latest tri-D drama where evil minders telepathically conspire to rule the galaxy and make slaves of non-minders.”
“Hah!” Derrit made a derisive sound. “As if minders could organize like that. It’s like the old Mandarin song your great grandfather likes to sing, about how three minders can’t even agree on the color of the sky.”
Lièrén smiled. “Very like.”
Lièrén found his bride in her second-floor home office, pacing as she finished verbal notes on a draft policy for her department. As soon as she stripped off her earwire, he crossed to her for a kiss, because it had been hours since he’d held her, and felt like days. He’d become hopelessly addicted to physical affection with the people he loved. He opened his mind and welcomed the mental mesh of her talents with his as he pulled the tie to set her wild, glorious hair cascading down her back.
“So?” She raised an eyebrow.
“He’s good. The shielding part was easy, because he’s so strong, but he’s no longer just ‘that nice Sòng kid.’ It’s a hard lesson for people pleasers to realize some people will never be pleased.”
“It’s a hard lesson for anyone.” She smiled and kissed his chin, then nestled into his embrace and sighed contentedly. “I don’t care how many uplinks tonight’s storm blows down, because Archer is on call, not me. Maybe it’ll convince the council to quit relying on Pozivol’s glitchy, metered uplinks and invest in better tech.”
“Give them time.” He gave her a teasing smile. “Not everyone has forecaster skills like you do.”
“I think I missed out on that particular talent.” Imara snorted. “The weather forecasts are more reliable than I am.”
Lièrén brushed his thumb against her hairline. “If it’s any consolation, my great grandmother used to tell Sòng Tiān Cì the same thing when showing him how much money she’d made for the family while he was off on some wild scheme or other.”
Imara laughed. “Sòng Tiān Cì is sunstruck.” Her smile faded. “But I think he laments loudly about his failures to hide his successes, so people bet against him. Kind of the in-your-face version of what you do, when you lie with the truth.”
Lièrén tightened his arms around her and switched to telepathy. And that, my beloved bride, is proof that you are a better forecaster than you know. You’ve only met him twice, and already you know one of the Sòng Family Trust’s greatest secrets.
Yeah, well, I still think he’s still sunstruck.
Lièrén chuckled. “You the rest of the family.”
The next book in the series is Pico’s Crush (Central Galactic Concordance Book 3), where old friends and new chase a killer who has made a paradise planet his hunting ground. Lièrén Sòng makes a cameo appearance.