Louisa pursed her lips as she became fixated in her place - crouched down too her nerves playing havoc in her mind. Twirling her deadlock round her finger. She shot her sight up to the guards who stood within the shadows. The heavy tramp of footsteps echoed. Bright yellow eyes glistened amongst the darkness, as guards disarmed the force field and two pairs of scaled hands emerged from the darkness to draw her up. Amongst Gladovians, Askans and other guards she returned to the nightmare. The interview panel and guards towered over her, as a volatile atmosphere developed.
Forced down onto a seat, she sat alone under the glare of a lone light, two guards stood either side behind her. She felt every breath that the guard’s took, as their shadows cast over her. She gulped and moist eyes glanced up to see those who had questioned her. She shivered under their gaze.
‘Right Louisa, tell us how did Dario die?’ a voice from behind echoed
Louisa’s head spun round searching for who had spoken. ‘He must have died from those stab wounds...,but I did not see the person responsible for throwing the daggers.’ Desperation lined her voice, as she cowered under those questioning her.
‘We have your finger prints and your DNA all over the crime scene. Now tell us how you killed Dario,’ another demanded. Pulling her hair, so that her eyes were centimetres away from the gaze of an Askan.
Louisa spoke rapidly, trying to swallow the sob that choked her throat, ‘I went to Dario when he collapsed onto that table, but that’s all I did. I had no involvement in this murder,’ Louisa said, giving off a shallow cry as her head stung from the pull on her hair.
‘Enough of this innocent act,’ a Gladovian seethed as he marched up to Louisa and slapped her face so hard that it set her face ablaze.
Louisa hissed between her teeth, battling the tears as she focused on the floor. A trembling hand tried to sooth her cheek. She regained her breath and focused upon drops of blood that fell from her nose.
‘Why did you kill Dario? Did you not like his skin colour? We have already studied some findings in regards to your species. For a people that have not yet gone beyond your solar system we are unclear as to why a report on your race commissioned.’
‘The data we have analysed, gives a worrying picture, it seems that the governments and others in charge consider reaching space more important than tackling their people’s problems of starvation, poor health care and sanitation. There is a great divide between different parts of your world. If the findings are correct you do not even have a world government body, your race prefers to be sub divided in accordance to smaller countries, each meeting their own needs and interests.’
‘Each tries to exploit each other; whether it is for natural resources, weapons, labour or technology. You humans even have satellites orbiting your planet, so that you may spy on one another and prepare to launch weapons capable of mass destruction,’ an Aranion said, his face marbled in colour with a flush of purple set against a white face half covered in tattoos.
‘From our initial findings we believe you humans are scavengers. Do you shoot space visitors down, so that you can look at their technology?’ an Askan asked menaced. ‘That is the only way you could have crafts capable of space travel, and they seem to be concealed in military bases underground.’
Louisa shook her head, speechless.
‘Answer me girl!’ The Gladovian hoisted her up by a handful of her top, pulling her towards him until only her toes touched the floor.
‘No...I don’t know,’ Louisa shouted pushing the Gladovian away and stroked her dad’s pullover, checking for damage.
‘What does it matter? Dario is dead thanks to you.’ The Gladovian dropped back to his place, and brought his scaled fingers over his head that hung in sorrow. He turned. The Askan colleague patted the Gladovians’ back, and said, ‘you shall be judged tomorrow, and I need to know what you shall plead.’
Silence returned. Louisa stared into several pairs of eyes their gazes lanced all hope. The thud of her heart picked up as nausea set in. ‘Innocent.’ Almost before the word left her mouth, she was falling. Her chair kicked from her. The sound of it bouncing away made no sense to her muffled mind. She landed in a heap on the floor. Suddenly a hand was on her arm gripping so tight, she felt pins and needles shoot down to her fingers. The others crowded around her, some with fists pulled. She was hauled up by the Askan.
‘Change that plea, now! With the evidence we have against you, you be lucky to escape with your life.’
‘There must be something, how about any security footage?’ Louisa pleaded in a quizzical manner.
‘What, the footage that you destroyed?’ another voice said.
‘You have the wrong person! Someone has framed me. I did not kill Dario. I only saw those knives fly, plunging into him. Please believe me, I beg you,’ Louisa flustered.
‘This human is crazy!’ the Gladovian sneered. ‘Take her away before she tells us that ghosts killed Dario,’ the Gladovian said. The guards acted at once and marched her back to the bleak cell where darkness waited. Panic set in.
Thrown into her cell, she landed onto a cushioned surface. Lifting her head she saw the force field shimmer. She watched a collection of guards’ shadows intrude into the cell. She scrabbled fleeing the shadows, as if her life depended on it. The shadows dispersed, leaving three guards remaining like statues on guard. Nested away in the corner she hid under the coarse texture of a blanket, legs hugged to her chest. Unable to control her shivering body, she clamped her eyes tight wishing herself back home under the safety net of her parents and their home.
Hours of silence passed before she heard anything. She was almost glad to hear marching feet approaching her cell. There before her two lines of guards stood. The first two soldiers came and forced Louisa up shoving her to a central spot, her arms trapped in painful grips, as she was dragged forward. Bright white light was slashed into her face from strange triangular white devices that floated beyond the lines of guards.
Raising her hands before her to block the flashes of light, she focused on the floor and followed the two lines of feet. Her heart raced as she took a deep breath, her entire body shivering in fright. A mob cried and shouted. On occasions the two lines of guards were broken. A scornful atmosphere enveloped Louisa, trespassers would snatch her arm and try to drag her out. Guards would tackle the intruders who broke the line and the march would continue to where she would discover her fate.
The entourage halted, and a guard at the front shouted orders. Two silver doors that displayed a number of planets carved, opened and the two lines of guards left their positions to stand alongside the other guards. Her breath froze for a moment, her heart pounded. Those who held Louisa continued, using force to guide her through the double doors. They stood for a moment at the entrance of a cleared central open space. She saw every wall lined with guards of different species. Never had Louisa felt so alone or vulnerable.
Louisa was marched forward down along the overbearing stands that ran down the length of a dreary rectangular room. Sneers and noises of distaste hounded her as she travelled down to the highest silver bench in the forefront of the room. Carved with the same skill as the doors seating rows of Askans, Gladiovians, Aranions and others, all arrayed in formal robes. Each was there to pass judgement.
Beneath the highest bench a dozen cubed seating areas stood in a zigzagged pattern. One cube held Joive and his two companions. Another had the entire research team, and the others had peoples of many diverse worlds. To either side of the highest bench, there were stands that bore a collection of people that had been present at the peace talks amongst the many others, all richly dressed and looked down upon her, waiting for justice.
Pushed from behind, she was made to walk to an elevated platform. Bronze rails that enclosed it, with a part of it that formed a gate. Four guards in total surrounded it. Stepping up to her place she looked round. Anger seared and her knuckles paled under her hands drew fists, as she spotted Joive and his companions. They returned plain, disinterested expressions. Her hands claimed the chilly surface of the bronze rails as she raised her gaze up to the judges who sat in front of her. She gulped as she tried to calm her breathing.
‘This court is convened, for the trial of Louisa the human. Charged with the murder of His Royal Highness Dario, cousin to the ruling Gladovian King and a Gladovian lead to the peace talks, ’ a female Askan judge said. ‘Would the accused state her plea.’
‘Innocent,’ Louisa said. The guards who stood at the front turned their faces away in distaste. An angry whisper travelled round the court.
‘You still believe this play of innocence will work in your favour? The Council will look to the evidence presented. Surely you have been told of the evidence we have?’
Thumping her hands upon the rail in frustration ‘I did not commit this murder! Whatever, the evidence suggests, it was not me!’ Louisa shouted.
‘We have advised Louisa to plead guilty, Mistress of Justice,’ the Gladovian who had questioned her earlier said, standing up amongst his colleagues. He drew his eyes to mere slits as he focused upon Louisa and then turned from her.
Shaking her head in despair. She buried her face into her trembling hands. Not one person believed she was innocent. Lifting her head, she turned towards the bench that held the research team. They all watched her, but looked away as she focused on them. Most stared at the court Council.
’Very well. The Council advises a guilty plea from the accused. First we shall proceed with the evidence and give Louisa the chance to change her plea.
A soft cry came from Louisa who dropped her gaze to the floor. The Council had called its first witness from stands. Glancing up an Askan scientist had taken the witness stand, where he began to point to areas of a holographic image of the treaty room where Dario had been found. Neon white lines marked where Dario’s body had been discovered. Green blood stains were scattered on the tiled metallic floor.
‘As the court can see, we have the murder scene.’ The Askan scientist touched a small panel hovering before him, the holographic image zoomed in size to a molecular level, where DNA helices were on show. Another screen appeared and seemed to be scrolling through many DNA sequences and stopped at one that matched. A picture of Louisa appeared finger prints projected on other screens and a picture of Earth to one side.
The scientist returned to the projection of the murder scene, where a small screen appeared showing finger prints and DNA traces from Dario’s clothing and two holographic projections of daggers. ‘From our database, the DNA and fingerprints discovered on the murder weapons, Dario’s clothing, furniture and floor within the murder zone, matches Louisa’s. No other incriminating DNA was found on the murder weapon, or crime scene. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the murderer is none other than, Louisa the human.’
She hung her head, unsure to what she could do. Her hands became restless. She glanced up and saw that military personnel had taken the stand and security recordings played, showing the last footsteps of Dario before coming to a stop. The final hour remained a mystery since the recordings had gone missing.
‘We still have the security footage missing for areas 895,896,899 for the time of Dario’s murder. We have tried using trackers, and other system searches but have failed. We suspect that Louisa may have taken them and deactivated the recordings.’
‘You people suspect me! Guys I haven’t finished Earth school yet. And you suspect me to dismantle your space technology? Call yourselves intelligent?’ Louisa laughed miserably, shaking her head. ‘When you find them, you will have the evidence of my innocence,’ she added, as she focused on the rails before her too scared to look up.
A loud thud sounded as a Gladovian member of the Council slammed his hand onto the table. ‘Louisa, it would do you well to pay some respect to those who are judging you; after all, it is your life that depends upon the punishment we decide to give. Now tell the court where you hid those security recordings, then you may have more leniency shown when judgment is given.’
‘I don’t know where they are. I didn’t take them!’
The council looked between themselves, many blowing deep sighs. Muttering filled the court as back-ground noise.
‘Very well, let’s have silence again. We shall continue with the witness statements from Joive and his colleagues.’ An Aranion member of the council said as they pushed several sheets of paper away.
Louisa’s head shot up. Her breathing ceased as Joive took a stand with his two companions behind him. The screen displayed the recordings of Louisa’s footage up to the missing section that showed the murder of Dario. Her being taken from her Academy set to the peace talks and then walking to the room that held the peace treaties. Then the screen was blank until the footage of Dario leaving the murder scene with medical support, chaos behind him, and Louisa leaving with Joive and his companions.
A blank grey screen appeared and the recordings stopped. The court was overwhelmed with grief. A few could not hold tears, and a Gladovian woman wept openly in the crowd at the front of the court. There she cradled a young child, two other Gladovians either side of her, one was the Gladovian who had stormed out of the peace talks. He wrapped an arm around the woman and rubbed the child’s back. The Mistress of Justice gave a pitying smile to the woman and those around her. ‘Joive, I need you to recall your last steps with Louisa to the court.’
‘Yes of course. As everyone knows, I had taken Louisa for a private tour--being the first human--well I think that shall be one of my biggest regrets and I send my sincere apologies to Dario’s family,’ Joive said placing a hand upon his chest, and bowed his head towards the Gladovians that sat in a stand. The Gladovian King puffed his chest, and raised his hand to Joive for a mere second, and gave a straight smile.
‘So...once Dario was taken, we... my commanders and I took Louisa, straight to the temporary accommodation. It was best to take her away from the scene... no place for someone so young. We took her version of events and tried to comfort and reassure her. We explained what was likely to happen and how important she would be to the investigation. I must emphasise to the council that neither I, nor my colleagues made any stops.’ Joive bowed his head, and let out a big sigh. ‘It doesn’t seem right that someone so young, be responsible for cold blooded murder...’
’You liar, the lot of you...you bloody well scanned my hands in that lounge we stopped at and then we went to the accommodation.., you’re the ones responsible...you’ve set me up! Dario’s last words were a warning about you Joive... Child, go to my brother. We have traitor in the heart of our peace talks, that Joive and his followers have their own agenda. You must warn my brother, they are not acting for our good but theirs, but what they hope to achieve. I do not know!′ Louisa stood up, leaning over the rails as she pointed directly, at Joive and his two colleagues.
Two guards grabbed her shoulders from behind and restrained her. There she froze under a painful grasp. Her breathing heaved, as she watched Joive return to his own stand. A wave of tuts and murmurs filled the court room.
‘There is no reason to try to pin the murder on Joive or his colleagues; all evidence we hold points to you, Louisa. Now, if there is anything that you can bring in to support your innocent act, please do,’ the Mistress of Justice said as she sat central on the council’s stand.
Louisa turned to the research team, but all turned away from her. She glanced round and gulped. Nothing she said would support her innocence. Her heart plunged at this realisation, and she stared into the eyes of the Council each of whom wore frowns.
She faced Joive, sat with his companions who wore saddened looks. ‘You should win an award, you all are bloody good actors!’ she said, shaking her head. She returned her attention back to the Mistress of judgement who gazed to Louisa and stroked her chin as her neighbour whispered something into her ear. Louisa shook her head and sighed, dropping her head. ‘What defence could I give? Every piece of evidence points to me...but, I shall not plead guilty for something I didn’t do. I had no part in Dario’s murder...I don’t know how my DNA got onto the weapons. I have not even touched them...I....’ Louisa fell to silence as memories flooded into her mind. ‘If only you could read my mind...’. She stroked a hand through her hair and became despondent, she stared into her open palms resting on her lap. I’m not going to get out of this...I may never see my family again, my home, my friends....never again.
‘Will you help yourself and tell us where the security footage is?’ another judge asked.
She yearned for this day to be over. Glancing up, she took a deep breath, ’you’ll need to ask Joive, but I doubt he would be willing to help, for that would prove my innocence. You might as well skip to the verdict, you have made your own judgments already. My own statement will never stand against Joive’s, his commanders, or the evidence mounted up against me.′
‘Your version? The statements of Joive and his two colleagues state the exact same facts to account for the time you were with them. We also have the strongest forensic evidence. What do you suggest we charge you with...on Earth what do murderers get?’
She looked to the floor, a cough echoed within the court room.
‘We have the death penalty for severe crime, such as this one. Many want you to have a death penalty. The peace talks have halted and your death may be the key to restarting the talks. Yet, others think that a life of hard labour, would be more befitting.’
Louisa’s head shot up. Uneasiness and fear grew within her. A satisfying smile appeared upon the Mistress of Justice and many other council members. A few had private conversations with whispers and nod
‘Let us break for the Council to agree on a judgement,’ Joive said, followed by a collateral agreement of everyone within the court.
Louisa sighed and turned around. She assumed she would be taken away and re - called when a judgment was made. Nothing happened. Confused, she looked to a guard who sneered at her.
‘You will not need to leave, Louisa. I don’t think the Council will need that long to decide a sentence for you,’ Joive said with an amused tone lining his voice as the court began to laugh.
Folding her arms, she turned away from Joive, and leaned against the rails as everyone waited. Five minutes, that’s all it took for them to decide on her fate, each Council member focused upon Louisa as they returned to their seats. The Gladovian members seemed most unimpressed, one’s nostrils flared as his frill sat on edge.
‘The Council of Justice has agreed on the verdict of guilty, and despite the enormity of this crime. We the Council believe a life time of hard labour shall be a more befitting sentence. So that Louisa may endure a life of hardship, to contemplate what she has done and live with it,’ the Mistress of Justice said.
‘What, a life sentence?’ several Gladiovians shouted. Standing up amongst the rows of people witnessing this trial.
‘Yes, although this must be most difficult for Dario’s family, friends and those loyal to him. We believe that this is the best possible sentence to punish such an evil act, but we shall welcome any appeals. The council shall advise that three months pass before any appeals are made, so that Dario’s family and friends can deal with their own grief for such a tragic loss.’
‘She needs to die. As far as I am concerned, her death will be our resolution for such a tragic loss,’ another Gladovian said as he lifted the young boy from the woman’s lap and held him at his side to storm off with everyone who had sat within the stands.
‘But I didn’t do anything!’ Louisa shouted after them, shaking her head as she felt a hand wrap round an arm and dragged her away. A collection of guards lined up either side and escorted her back to her cell. Twisting her head, she saw the court disperse, Joive and colleagues followed the angry Gladovians. Whilst the members of the research team conversed between themselves. Not one glanced towards her.
‘A life of hard labour?’ Louisa shouted. ‘What do you expect me to do?’
‘You’ll find out. Think yourself lucky, we all thought you’d get the death sentence,’ a guard to her side said.
‘I’d prefer that, -- a life time of hard labour – but I did not do anything! – how could the weapons have my prints and DNA?’ Louisa said looking to the floor away from preying eyes.
‘You must be suffering from memory loss. Here, enjoy what time you have left before going to hard labour. Perhaps you can dig some forgotten memories out, and have the dignity to admit your guilt,’ another guard said, pushing her into her darkened cell, where the force field glimmered as it was activated.