Roderick spelt in the next morning. When the sun doesn't come up for the next few days, it was easy to get in a few extra hours. Roderick's first few days were all right. Usually he didn't commence the tribunals until the sun came back out. The town folk were not as cranky when the sun was up. When the sun finally emerged from behind Alpha Prime, Roderick knew it was time to get back to work. As a neutral arbitrator for the territory, Roderick dressed himself in something a little more formal, just to give people the impression that the Rocket Patrol was taking the people’s grievances very seriously. When he came down that morning stairs, Mag pie was eager to offer him something for breakfast. “I’m not too hungry right now Mags.” Roderick said as he came down. He paused for a moment and took a deep breath and sighed as a pleasant aroma filled his nostrils. “Are those biscuits?”
“Yes they are.” Mags said with a smile. She always made biscuits on his first day.
Roderick smiled back. “Can I grab a few and take them to the hearings?”
“Of course you can, Ben.” Mags said as she went back to grab a few fresh biscuits for him. She tossed them into a paper bag and rolled the top of the bag up so the steam wouldn’t escape. She happily handed the bag over to the commander.
“Thanks Mags.” Roderick said as he took the bag from her. For a moment he felt like a small kid that was being handed his lunch before taking off for school. He left the saloon and started to stroll down the street towards the courthouse where he would preside over local disputes that couldn’t be resolved by the local magistrate. The Rocket Patrol agreed to do this as the people trusted them to be an honest, unbiased judge on the matters. While Roderick found the process to be boring, he understood it was necessary process to keep the piece in this small but very productive off world colony. While walking towards the courthouse, Roderick almost bumped into someone who was running out from around the corner. It was Emma, the little girl he had saved from the Sabre Lion the night before. “Whoa there, little one.” Roderick said as he grabbed her arm. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah.” Emma replied. “I’m just going to a friends place to play.”
“All right.” Roderick said as he looked down at her. Seeing her in direct daylight, Emma looked different from the previous night. She looked under nourished. He held up the small bag that Mags gave her. “Biscuit? Mags just made’em.”
Emma looked in the bag and grabbed a biscuit. As she took a deep bite, Roderick could see the stream rising from it. “Thank you.” She said to him after finishing the first bite.
Roderick shook the bag again. “Take one for your friend too.” He watched as she happily took another. He knew they would both be eaten before she even got to her friend’s house if she was going there at all. “I’ll be at the courthouse all day and after that I’ll be at Jethro’s Saloon. Drop by if you need anything. All right?”
“Yes Sir.” Emma answered before finally running off.
When Roderick finally arrived to the courthouse, he could tell it was going to be a long day as there were close to a hundred people standing outside. They were lined up and ready to plead their case. Roderick was well aware that not everyone was going to like the decisions he was going to make that day, but his goal was to be fair and consistent. His goal was to make unbiased decisions to keep the peace and settle disputes, never showing favorites and recusing himself whenever there was a conflicts of interests. He made it clear to Mags to never bring up a case because he would never hear it so she was not to ever put him in that position. She had no problem respecting that request. There was no way Roderick was going to be able to hear everyone’s case today, but he would try to do as many as possible. It usually took three or four days to hear everyone’s case, which is why his visits usually lasted a week. Today’s crowd looked a little bigger than usual, but people were eager to be first. Usually the line would shorten when people realized they wouldn’t he heard today or if one case lasted a while and took up a good chunk of Roderick’s time.
Whenever Roderick felt an urge to say something witty or harsh, he silenced himself by taking a small bit out of Mag’s biscuits. He kept his cool and breezed through the first several cases with ease, and then things got sticky. The Millers came in with another complaint about cattle grazing on their land. Turns out their neighbors, the Jones family, didn’t keep their cows fenced in on their own property, letting them graze into the Miller’s yard, eating their grass and leaving spots of manure everywhere. The last time Roderick heard this case, he had ordered the Jones family to build a new fence and keep their cows on their own land but it turns out that never happened. After listening to the two men scream at one another, Roderick finally stepped in.
“All right, settle down people.” Roderick started, “From what I gather, that fence I asked for wasn’t made yet?”
“No Sir.” Mr. Miller replied.
“Mr. Jones.” Roderick continued. “From what I was told, your crops and meat crops were so good last year, you didn’t have enough room to store it all. Is that true?”
“Yes Sir.” Mr. Jones answered.
“And how are they looking season?” Roderick asked.
“Just as good, maybe better.” Mr. Jones answered.
“Now be honest with me.” Roderick started. “You like it when the cows graze into the Miller’s yard. From what I gathered, he takes good care of his property and the cows enjoy eating there.”
Jones paused for a moment. “Yes Sir.”
“And because Mr. Miller doesn’t use any chemicals,” Roderick added, “When you slaughter your cattle the meat is of a higher quality… is it not?”
“Yes Sir.” Mr. Jones replied.
“So would it seem unreasonable to compensate Mr. Miller for helping you create a product of higher quality?” Roderick asked.
“No Sir.” Mr. Jones answered.
“What percent of your crops do you think would be fair?” Roderick asked. “This would also save you from having to give away overstock at discounted prices. Give us a number.”
Jones paused for a moment as he pondered the request. “Five percent.”
“Mr. Miller.” Roderick said as he turned to face the other man. “Mr. Jones is offering you what I think is reasonable compensation for allowing his cows to graze on your property. Do you think five percent is reasonable?”
“I believe so.” Mr. Miller answered.
Roderick sighed as it looked like this matter would finally be resolved. “Mr. Jones, failure to abide by the terms we just agreed to will result in a fine and possible jail time at a lunar prison facility. Is that understood?”
“Yes Sir.” Mr. Jones said as he nodded.
“Excellent.” Roderick said as he signed off on a ledger and softly pounded a small gavel onto the table before him. “I consider this matter to be resolved.”
Roderick was about to hear the next matter when suddenly a voice went off in his head.
“Commander Roderick, we have a situation.”
Roderick stood up. “I require a recess. I’ll be back in 30 minutes.” He pounded the gavel into the table again and walked out of the room and into the bathroom, pretending he wanted to pee. Once in the stall, he locked the door. “Report.”
“An unmarked vessel has landed two miles south of the town.”
“How many life forms?”
“Censors detect two life forms but there could be more inside their vessel. They are walking towards town.”
“Are they armed?”
“Dammit.” Roderick said as he walked out of the bathroom and left the courthouse. Located next to the courthouse was the Sheriff’s office, which was convenient if he needed the Sheriff’s help to break apart a fight should one break out during the hearings. “Sheriff, we need to talk.”
“What’s up Commander?” the Sheriff asked.
“We have two armed me coming walking towards town from the south.” Roderick answered.
“How do you know this?” the sheriff asked.
No one was aware of the implants Roderick had that allowed him to stay in constant contact with his vessel. “I just do. We need to meet these men and disarm them before they come into town.”
“Why?” the sheriff asked. “My deputies can handle them.”
“No they can’t,” Roderick responded, “They’re off worlders.”
The Sheriff sat up and grabbed the gun off his desk. “Let’s go.”