A MATTER OF JUSTICE
An Adaptation of 12 Angry Men for the Battletech Universe
By Sentinel 28A
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Finally done! Sorry it took so long. Now to get back on Choosers of the Slain. Hope you liked this story.
Sentinels Headquarters Virentofta, Sancrist
Virentofta, Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
26 June 3060
Sorensen looked around, astounded. "I don't understand this! How can you believe this little shit is innocent? Look, you know how these people lie! You know their kind! I don't have to tell you that. They don't even know how to tell the truth in those slums!"
"I don't have to listen to this," Darkwood snarled, got up, and went to the window, turning his back on Sorensen.
Sorensen didn't even pause. "They don't need a big reason to kill each other, either. You know, they get drunk and then bang, someone's lying in the gutter with their brains on the street. Nobody cares! That's how they are! You know what I mean? Violent as hell!" Sterling, shaking his head, got up as well, followed by Falx, turning their backs on him. "Where are you going? Listen to me! They're fighting and drinking all the time, or using drugs, and they don't care." Now Sheila walked away, as had Caii and even Johnson.
"Okay…okay, look," Sorensen stammered, "I've known a few who were all right. I'm the first to say that. But they're the exceptions. It's like they have no feelings—now where are you going, Tai-sa?" Duenan had left the table. "I can speak my piece too—you let everyone else do it! They're no good. Not one of them! We'd better watch out—take this kid on trial! We let him back in the regiment, he'll just kill someone else! He doesn't care!" Sorensen slammed his fists on the table. Rowley reached out and drew the knife out of his reach, toying with it and not looking at him. Senefa got up and began to walk around the table. "Dammit, I'm trying to tell you…something…" His voice trailed off as he noticed Senefa stop next to him. Wayne Sorensen feared little, but the cold hatred in Senefa's eyes frightened him like nothing ever had before.
"I have had enough of you," Senefa said quietly but firmly, all the more terrifying because she was not yelling. "The venom you spew is disgusting. If you open your mouth again with this trash, I will kill you. And make no mistake, Major Sorensen, I mean every word of what I say." Sorensen was very pale now. He remembered that Clanfolk did not engage in hyperbole. Nor did they make idle threats.
"I was just trying to say—"
"I said be quiet." Sorensen instantly complied. Senefa visibly fought for control of herself. "Can we return to the table now?"
When everyone had, Senefa circled the table again, back to her own chair, gripping the back of it. "I still believe the defendant is guilty," she began. "I will tell you why. The most damning evidence was given by the woman across the maglev tracks who claimed to have actually witnessed the murder being committed."
"Let's go over it, then. What did she say?" Sheila asked.
"As I recall, she said that she went to bed at eleven o'clock that night. Her bed was next to her window, and she could look directly into the apartment where the murder was committed. She tossed and turned for over an hour, unable to sleep. Finally, she turned towards the window at 12:10 AM—she was quite certain of the time—and saw the defendant stab his father. And as we agreed before tonight, one can see through maglev line windows as they pass by. Finally, it was confimed that the maglev was right on time. This is unshakable testimony."
"Couldn't agree more," Rowley added. Darkwood sighed, took off his glasses, and wiped them on his uniform tunic. "Should've brought this up earlier." Rowley threw Darkwood a poisonous glare.
"I do not see how you can vote for acquittal, given this evidence," Senefa concluded.
Darkwood squinted at the clock. "I hate to interrupt the train of thought, no pun intended…but what time is it? I can't see the clock."
"A little after six," Nicia answered helpfully.
"Wow, it's getting late. I've got the duty at seven tonight." He looked at Duenan. "No way to postpone this, is there?"
"No, MechWarrior. You'll have to call for a replacement. This by law takes precedence. Am I correct, Commander?" Sheila nodded in confirmation.
"Excuse me," Whelan asked Darkwood, "can you see clearly without your glasses?"
Darkwood laughed. "Not clearly at all! My eyes went bad—that was one of the reasons I had to leave Lohengrin. Why do you ask?"
"It just occurred to me, actually…let me ask you another question. What do you do when you wake up at night and want to know what time it is?"
Darkwood shrugged. "I grab my glasses and put them on. I have to lean really close to the clock to see it. Otherwise it's just a red blur."
"So you don't wear your glasses to bed."
"I don't know of anyone who wears their glasses to bed."
"Where are you going with this?" Nicia wanted to know.
"I was just thinking," Whelan explained. "The woman who saw the killing? She wears glasses."
"Big whoop, so does my grandma," Rowley snapped. "So does Sheila's hubby. For that matter, so does Sheila—reading glasses. So what?"
"Max, me and your grandmother aren't murder witnesses," Sheila replied.
Duenan raised a finger. "Did she wear glasses, the witness?"
"She did wear glasses!" Falx recalled excitedly. "Yes, I remember quite clearly. They were rather thick."
"Bifocals, to be exact," Sterling added. "She kept staring at me for some reason. They were bifocals, and Miss Falx is correct, they were quite thick, and she never took them off."
Darkwood replaced his own glasses on his nose. "You know, I never thought of that."
Sheila rubbed the metal knuckles of her left hand in thought. "Darkwood's right; my husband doesn't wear his glasses to bed either. The woman testified that she had rolled over in the middle of her tossing and turning and looked out the window. The murder took place and she saw it through the last two cars of the passing maglev. We established it took four seconds for those cars to pass. She said that the lights went out immediately after the maglev passed. She couldn't have had time to put on her glasses and look, not in four or five seconds, especially if she was half-asleep. I'm not disputing that she saw someone kill the father…but I am disputing that she saw the boy. She might've just assumed, like the old man downstairs."
"How far was it across the maglev lines?" Senefa asked Nicia.
"Thirty meters. About eighty feet."
"How the hell do you know what she saw, Sheila?" Rowley said harshly. "Maybe she's farsighted." She glanced around the table. No one supported her. She shook her head in wonderment. "How the hell does Sheila know all this?"
"I don't," Sheila returned. "But neither does anyone else."
"What we call 'reasonable doubt,'" Falx smiled triumphantly.
Sheila turned to Sorensen. He sat silent, his hands in his lap. He didn't look at her, only shook his head slowly. He was defeated. Now everyone turned to Rowley.
"He's guilty," she answered the unasked question. "Right, Senefa?"
"Negative." Senefa sat down. "I am convinced. There is reasonable doubt."
"But…" Rowley frantically looked around the table. "What are you all looking at? What do you want?"
"Your arguments," Duenan stated.
"I gave you my arguments!"
"We're not convinced."
"Take all the time you need," Sheila said lightly. "We'll wait."
Rowley put her hand on Senefa's. "Senefa! You've got to stay with me on this! A guilty man is gonna walk! You want him in the regiment? You want someone covering your back—a murderer on your six?"
"I am sorry, Rissa. There is reasonable doubt," Senefa repeated.
Rowley whirled on Sheila. "Quit staring at me! You're not going to intimidate me, Commander Sheila Allegra Arla-Vlata! I have the right!"
"You're right. You do," Sheila answered.
"You're alone," Darkwood pointed out.
Rowley almost spat at him. "So the fuck what."
"It takes a lot of courage to stand alone," Sterling said quietly.
Rowley was on her feet, hands on the table. Her mouth opened, then closed. They were waiting for her arguments, but Rissa Rowley had none. Her face contorted, almost in tears; unable to face them, she fixed her eyes on the table. It was silent for a long minute. Finally, she spoke. "All right, dammit. All right. Not guilty then. But I still say we're going to all get bitten on the ass for this." She looked up at Sheila. "What if you're wrong?"
"I might be," Sheila admitted. "But what if we're right? I'm willing to take those odds."
Rowley turned her back on them, walking to the window, arms around her body as if to reassure herself. Duenan took one last glance around the table, rose, and walked to the door, knocking on it. The guard opened it. "We're done," was all she said.
"Very good, ma'am," the guard replied. She came to attention, held open the door and Duenan, with one look over her shoulder, walked out. The others did as well, slowly. All of them exchanged something with Sheila as they did so. Some showed approval. Some showed anger. Some showed simple defeat. All showed respect. Senefa bowed her head slightly, which Sheila returned, close friends.
Finally, only Sheila and Rowley were left. Rowley left the window, picked up the knife, and held it hidden from the guard, walking up to Sheila. She stopped only inches away. The knife was held in the now accepted underhand position, pointing at Sheila's stomach. The two faced each other. Then Rowley, with a long sigh and a wry smile, flipped the knife around and handed it to Sheila hilt-first. There would be repercussions from this room, but for now, Rowley accepted that she had lost, and walked out. Sheila snapped the knife shut and put it in her pocket.
"Are you finished, Commander?" the guard asked from the door.
"Yes," Sheila replied. "Quite so."
She turned off the lights and left the room in darkness.