Chapter Thirty Two
"We could always shoot one of the philosophers."
"I don't see the problem - the woman's obviously guilty."
"So you say, Davey. But what about the contract the guy signed?"
"Doesn't come into it - a person can't sign away his life. This
"First off, Davey boy, a person can sign away his own life if he
"Yeah, yeah, yeah - sure, Davey," Colin sighed, dismissively -
and not for the first time, "Whatever you say - it's still legal.
Look," Simoney allowed a note of let's-be-reasonable-about-this
to creep into both his body language and his tone of voice, "If I
want to commit suicide, I can do it, right?"
"Suicide is against God's Law!" yelled the Reverend David
Sessions. Then, under his breath, he was heard to mutter, "Though
in your case, I'm sure the Almighty would make an exception."
"Fucking Hell, Davey - is there anything that's not against your
God's fucking Law?" the particle physicist grabbed healthy
handfuls of his own wavy, dark brown hair in frustration. Damnit,
he thought, as his artificial right thumb squeaked, irritatingly,
now I'm going to have to listen to another lecture about not
using 'foul language.'
Five minutes later, when Sessions had finally wound down his
monologue on 'Satan's Speech,' Dot managed to get a word in.
"Reverend Sessions, will you please simply grant that - under our
man-made British legal system - a person's life belongs to
"My life is my property, and yours is your own." Dot held up her
hand, palm-outward, to silence the vicar's knee-jerk criticisms,
"No, don't say anything right away - think about it for a little
while first. Please?" she added, imploringly.
Sessions concentrated for a little while, mulling over the
various implications of the proposition - and his possible
responses to each interpretation. Eventually, he said, "Alright -
I'll grant that, in this man-made - and, therefore, imperfect -
legal system, what you say is the case."
"Thank you," Colin Simoney said, his voice dripping irony.
Dot darted a warning glance towards the physicist - who,
understanding, was immediately silenced - before going on, to
Sessions, "Thank you, Reverend. Now, if we grant - as you agreed
- that my life is my own property, then I can dispose of it as I
see fit. In other words, I can commit suicide if I wish to. It's
legal under the British system is all that I mean - I'm not
implying anything about higher moralities here, okay? Do you
agree that it's legal?" Dot said, carefully.
Sessions, once again, thought carefully before replying, "Okay.
I will accept that suicide - though a sinful act and against
God's Law - is, nevertheless, not prohibited by this imperfect,
man-made legal system."
Colin breathed out suddenly, gasping slightly. He hadn't even
been aware that he'd been holding his breath while waiting for
the priest's answer. Dot, however, merely pushed the argument
onwards - ever onwards.
"Now, Reverend," Dot said, "If I can commit suicide legally -
under British law, that is - then I can also ask somebody to kill
me. If they agree to do so then that is basically the same as my
killing myself. Yes?"
Sessions thought a little longer over this conundrum. Then he
said, clearly and distinctly, if somewhat hesitantly, "I...I'm
not sure." There was some anguish on the vicar's face - and this
was the first time since the start of jury training that he had
confessed to not being sure about anything.
Dot's forehead was furrowed with compassion as she explained,
"Think of it this way," she said, "If I kill myself using a gun
then I am committing suicide - the gun is merely my instrument,
yes?" Sessions nodded, so Dot went on, "If, on the other hand, I
ask somebody else to kill me - and they agree - then that other
person is my instrument. And so, in that case also, I am
committing suicide. Yes?"
Sessions shook his head in disagreement, "A man is not a gun -
not a mere object. A man has free will - if he kills you then it
is murder, regardless of whether you asked him to or not."
Colin Simoney broke in, "Perhaps I can help. Look, Reverend," he
said, careful to avoid the appellation 'Davey-Boy,' which he knew
annoyed Sessions, "You've agreed that my life is my own property
- under British law - yes?"
"Correct," Sessions said, stiffly, "Under British law."
"Well, then, think of the agreement between two parties as me
giving that piece of my property - my life - to the other person.
Once it's their property, they can destroy it - kill me - if they
wish. And, under British law, that's all perfectly okay because I
freely gave my life to them. Do you see?"
Sessions's face clouded for two or three minutes before he
looked up, a gleam in his eye, "Okay - I see that that would not
be murder. Not under Britain's imperfect legal system. Though
morally, in God's Law, it is murder, of course."
"Of course," Dot and Colin said, in unison - relieved to have
finally got the message across to the mule-headed priest.
"I do have one question, though," that turbulent priest said,
Warily, Dot asked, "Yes, Reverend?"
"I accept that - under British law - one person can freely make
an agreement with another for that other person to kill him.
Then, while the agreement stands, that person can be killed
without fear of prosecution. Do I have that right?" he asked.
"Sounds okay to me," Dot said. Eyebrows raised questioningly,
she glanced about her and received affirming nods from the other
"My question, then, is whether you agree that the important word
is 'freely.' The agreement must be freely entered into by both
people. If, say, Jeff forces James to thumbprint an agreement at
gunpoint then that agreement would not be valid - it wouldn't be
legal. Is that right?"
Now it was Dot's turn to consider for a little while before
replying. "I think you're right," she said, "But - to be on the
safe side. Eris," she said, inflecting her voice just so.
"How can I help you, Dot?" came the contralto tones of the VAS.
"Eris - what is the answer to Reverend Sessions's last
There was a small pause - Eris was currently dealing with fifty-
two separate groups of five jurors or potential jurors
simultaneously - then the VAS's soft voice answered, "The answer
is 'yes,' Dot - an agreement is only legally valid if freely
entered into. One of the major tasks of a jury, in fact, can be
to determine whether or not a particular agreement was freely
"Eris," butted in Colin Simoney, "Why was this not mentioned
during our training?"
"Because the fact is one of those which a potential jury is
expected to work out for itself, Colin."
"I see," Dot said to herself. Dot turned now to the priest, "It
seems that you were correct, Reverend Sessions."
"Thank you," the priest said, stiffly half-bowing - and offering
a thin-lipped smile, the first sign of humour he had exhibited at
any time in the past two weeks.
"The question we have to answer, then," said Gordon Bowman,
unexpectedly breaking in to the conversation, "Is whether or not
this particular agreement was entered into freely on both sides.
I take it we're agreed that the agreement itself was sufficient
to permit the killing?" he added, to immediate nods from three of
his fellow jurors - and one rather reluctant nod from David
"The agreement was thumb-printed by this John Basil fellow,
wasn't it?" asked Colin Simoney. As the other jurors agreed, he
went on, "And there were no threats of violence if he didn't
Again, the rest of the jury nodded their agreement, and Eris
added, unprompted, "The video-records of the lab confirm that no
violence whatsoever was mentioned or suggested, beyond that
implied in the agreement itself."
Dot's glance and tone of voice changed to VAS-commanding style
as she asked, "Eris, how broad a spectrum is covered by those
records - that is, do the laboratory's video-records contain
sufficient information to register the level of stress which John
Basil was under?"
"Yes, Dot," the VAS replied, immediately. Those same
psychologists who had programmed the PPATE (Putting People At
Their Ease) segments of its program were also responsible for the
tone of voice used here - which was designed to encourage further
questions along the same lines.
"Eris," she went on, using the same inflections, "Do the levels
of stress recorded show sufficient grounds to suggest that
threats were used to obtain the agreement?"
There was a long pause before the VAS responded. The jurors
looked at each other in surprise at the length of time this was
taking - they were all, by this time, used to an almost-
instantaneous response from a computer.
The delay could have been caused by the huge quantity of video
information which Eris needed to process in order to answer Dot's
question. The delay also could have been caused by the computer's
having to spend an inordinate amount of time processing a large
number of complex requests from the fifty-odd other juries and
potential juries which it was coordinating. It could have been
caused by a combination of these factors. In fact, however, the
delay was not caused by any of these means.
Rather, the programming of this particular VAS was the cause in
this instance - programming which had been deliberately designed
to introduce a pause of just such a length when the question it
was asked called for an answer based on borderline or ambiguous
data, the length of pause increasing by just this amount as the
answer had to be based on less and less clear-cut data.
The psychologists had done their work well - by the time the VAS
answered Dot's question, all five members of her jury were
becoming slightly uneasy, and increasingly certain that the
stress levels obtained via the video-records were the key to
solving this case.
"No," was Eris's eventual reply, its voice inflecting just so.
There was quite a lengthy pause, as the five humans looked at one
another, reflecting on the VAS's tone of voice. If I didn't know
better, Dot thought to herself, I'd think that computer was
subconsciously expressing uncertainty about its answer.
"There appears to be some doubt here," Bowman said, after a
while, "Eris," he inflected, "Display Mr Basil's personal details
"Everything, Gordon?" the VAS asked, for clarification, "Or just
the records of his MoneyCard account transactions?"
Gordon Bowman looked surprised - the computer did not usually
make bald recommendations such as this. Dot answered for him,
however, saying, "Eris, just the MoneyCard records for the
The details of John Basil's MoneyCard account appeared in a text
file on the Terminal before the five (potential) jurors. Dot,
seated at the keyboard, used the mouse to scroll rapidly through
to the end of the account - the day of Basil's death. As she
watched, she saw a detailed listing of transactions as small as
five or ten pence - records of the purchase of minor items such
as cigarette papers.
A few mouse clicks and key presses soon filtered out such
minutiae, however, leaving only transactions of one hundred
pounds and over in the listing. The size of the displayed file
shrank significantly. Then, suddenly, there they were - records
of John Basil's mortgage payments, clear and obvious on the
The Reverend David Sessions cleared his throat before saying, "I
suspect that these records may well explain why Mr Basil was
willing to take part in Professor Dowes's experiments - and go
some way towards explaining the ambiguity of the stress levels
recorded in the video records."
"Okay," Simoney said, "Basil might have felt driven, by economic
pressures, to obtain money any legal way he could. His consent to
the waiving agreement was apparently freely given, however."
"I think it probably was not, in fact, Colin," Sessions said. At
the others's looks of surprise, he went on, "Oh, Professor Dowes
might have believed it was freely given, but this kind of
economic pressure," he gestured towards the screen, taking in the
damning financial difficulties of John Basil, "Well, I think it
could be considered to be a threat."
"I disagree, Reverend," Dot broke in, "Basil's financial
problems could have been resolved fairly easily, by retraining
for example. There was no compulsion to take part in risky
"I'd say that Dowes exploited Basil's vulnerability," the vicar
responded, stubbornly, "Whether consciously or subconsciously."
Simoney shook his head, slowly, in disagreement, "Firstly,
Reverend Sessions," he said, "There is no way that Professor
Dowes could have been reasonably expected to know of Basil's
Sessions reluctantly nodded, though he seemed lost in thought.
Nonetheless, the professor went on, "More importantly - If Basil
chose to risk death, rather than retraining or accepting charity,
as his method of ensuring that his family kept a roof over their
"Well, I happen to think that such a choice is not the best one
he could have made, but he had every right to make it."
At these words, the Reverend Sessions - to the others's surprise
- abandoned this line of attack. He raised his eyes and changed
his tone of voice to address the VAS, "Eris," he said, "Give us
the wording of the circumstances in which existing agreements may
be waived, please."
"Certainly, Reverend," the cultured voice responded from the
concealed loudspeakers, "'Any two individuals of full adult
status may enter into an agreement to waive all or part of any
other agreement which already exists between those two
individuals, provided only that the new agreement is entered into
freely by both individuals concerned and that each is fully
informed as to the likely consequences of waiving the old
"There is also a list of suggestions regarding the phrasing of
the waiving agreement, along with several examples of such
agreements and their consequences, Reverend. Do you wish me to
read those two lists also?" the VAS asked.
"No, thank you, Eris," the vicar replied, a broad smile
spreading across his face, to the discomfort of his fellow
jurors, "I think that's plain enough.
"If I understand that correctly, then a waiving agreement is
only valid if both parties freely give fully informed consent to
it," Sessions said, inquiringly, as he turned to his companions.
Hesitantly, Dot replied, "I think you're right, Reverend."
Colin Simoney's face brightened, "I'm almost certain that you
are," he cried, heartily clapping Sessions on the back. "In
fact," he went on, "I'd suggest that Dowes behaved in an
unethical manner. The waiving agreement should have had a clear
statement of risks - both actual and potential - inherent in the
experiments. There were no obvious warnings - just the waiving
agreement itself. And that's not enough!
"Davey boy!" Simoney exclaimed, happily, "I think you've nailed
Sessions looked a little confused at Sessions's reaction, "I
thought that you thought Dowes was innocent of all wrong-doing,"
he said, bemused.
"Not at all, Davey boy! Not at all!" the young particle
physicist replied, "I thought she behaved unethically - I just
couldn't see that she'd behaved illegally as well. An unethical
scientist," he went on, more gravely, "Reflects on us all, you
"Science does not support an ethical system per se, and so we
scientists ourselves have to make sure that we behave in a
particularly ethical manner. We have to be our own watchdogs -
because we don't have the built-in ethical certainties that you
religious types do."
"I..." Sessions looked, and felt, moved by the scientists words.
"I didn't understand," he said, after some hesitation, "I didn't
know. I'm sorry. I misjudged you."
Those words, said haltingly but obviously honestly meant, melted
some of the ice between the priest and the scientist. And
Sessions barely noticed that Colin had called him 'Davey boy'
"What the Hell's going on, Absolaam?" demanded Deborah Greene,
fury burning in her eyes - though it vied for prominence with
The three - Wye and the Greenes - were, once more, in the
cabinet room. Graham and the Dictator had been discussing the new
space hotel, Phoenix, when Deborah had stormed in with her
Wye waited until soothing noises from her husband had calmed
Deborah down somewhat before he asked, genuinely puzzled, "What's
going on with what, Deborah?"
"Don't give me any bullshit, Absolaam," came the reply, "I'm
talking about the priest trial. What do you think you're you
doing?" The 'priest trial' was, of course, the trial which had
the Reverend David Sessions on the (potential) jury.
Wye waited a while, grinning annoyingly - by the time he
answered, Deborah was opening her mouth to scream at him. Which
was the moment he had been waiting for, so he asked, smoothly,
"What makes you think I'm doing anything?" All the while, Graham
repeatedly looked from his wife to his Dictator, in the hope that
his wife's demands would be explained.
Deborah spoke carefully, slowly and deliberately, emphasising
every word: "Eris," she said, "Is being tampered with."
A look of horror shot over Graham's face. He turned immediately:
"General," he asked, "Is this true?"
Wye's grin broadened. Then he replied, "Yes, it's true enough,
Graham. What made you realise, Deborah? If you don't mind my
asking," he added, disingenuously.
For a moment, Deborah was unable to answer, so stunned was she
by the Dictator's immediate admission of guilt. Then: "I assisted
with the research behind the VAS's psychology programming,
remember. I know what it's capable of, and what it isn't.
"Earlier this afternoon, Eris voluntarily drew attention to a
piece of evidence. That is within its standard programming, in
general terms. Except that the statement it made was something of
a non sequitur. It was unrelated to the topic being discussed by
the jurors at that time.
"In effect, Eris closed off the jury's line of reasoning and
opened up an entirely new branch of enquiry to the jury. And
that," she said, heatedly, "Is most definitely not in its
standard programming. It must have had the statement suggested to
it by an outside agency.
"The only external agency normally involved in causing such
leading behaviour on the part of Eris is discussion by other
juries and potential juries involved in the same case. But none
of the others had considered the line of pursuit Eris was
advocating, so the statement must have come from somewhere else.
You?" she asked Wye.
Wye shook his head, "No, not me, Deborah - Lao Tzi is the
culprit here. I asked him to prompt that particular jury by
occasionally giving them a jolt. Evidently, he wasn't as subtle
as I'd hoped," the Dictator said, smiling wryly.
"But...But, Why, General?" asked an incredulous Graham.
"Straightforward enough, Graham," replied the General, wearily.
Wye walked over the the window, and began staring out into
Downing Street below. Both Graham and Deborah were reminded of
the day, months earlier, when they had first heard of the Church
of Wye. "This jury is special.
"You know that - I know that. But why is it so special?" he
asked, turning to face Deborah, "Why?"
"Because of the priest," she replied.
Wye nodded, then turned to face full into the room, "Precisely."
For several moments, there was silence. Just as Graham was
beginning to wonder if there was any more to come, the Dictator
went on, "Because of the priest," he repeated, then, "That damned
priest - left to his own devices - would simply vote 'guilty' and
"But they've ended up deciding on a guilty verdict anyway,"
Deborah said, becoming annoyed and wishing that Absolaam would
come to the point. "So, despite your 'guidance' the priest has
succeeded in convincing the other jury members to vote with him -
rather than them changing his mind, he's changed theirs."
"Not at all," Wye said, "The correct verdict in this case was
guilty, in my opinion." At the Greenes's startled looks, he
continued, "No, I didn't think so at first. At first, I thought
that Dowes had behaved unethically, but not illegally.
"Lao Tzi disagreed with me - he thought Dowes was guilty, on the
basis that Basil was under what he perceived to be an economic
threat which drove him to consent to Dowes's agreement. I thought
- and still think - that Lao Tzi was wrong there."
"So do I, Absolaam - Dowes couldn't reasonably be expected to
know about Basil's misperceptions. Even if she did know about
them, they were Basil's business, not Dowes's - and Dowes was
under no responsibility to take them into account."
Wye was nodding his agreement, then: "As to Eris's leading
statement - the one you're referring to, I assume, is where a
reference is made - for no apparent reason - which led Dot to ask
about stress levels shown on the video records of Dowes's lab?"
Deborah nodded. "I thought so.
"In that statement, and a later one which was disguised as a
request for clarification, Lao Tzi was interested in seeing what
the juror's would do with his theory - whether they would accept
or reject it. What happened, of course, was that they rejected
"For myself, I was interested in forcing the Reverend 'Davey
Boy' Sessions to consider deeper issues than merely his god's
laws - to force him to consider the implications of British law
as it stands. And to accept - at least in principle - that
British law works well.
"As it turned out, the Reverend Sessions surprised me. He not
only saw that Dowes's behaviour was unethical, he also saw in
what way it was illegal. And I," Wye concluded, "Agree with his
"But the important thing, Deborah, is that Sessions worked out
his approach by using the legal system as it stands. He did not
take recourse to the laws of his personal god. Which should
mean," Wye continued, hopefully, "That he will be thinking in
terms of man-made laws when he approaches future cases.
"He might even be willing to sacrifice one of his god's absolute
laws in favour of the man-made laws by the time he comes to that
all-important third case."
"I'm not sure, Absolaam," said Deborah, unconvinced, "I can't be
happy about fiddling with the jury for any reason - it stinks of
Wye nodded, gravely. "I think you're right, Deborah," he said,
"Which is why I personally removed the backdoor into Eris as soon
as that trial was over with. The temptation would be too great to
interfere, and the line is way too difficult to draw."
"So Eris can't be tampered with again, General?"
"No, Graham. As it stands, that VAS is self-modifying to the
extent that its database of reactions and information is
constantly changing, as it learns from different cases and sets
of jurors. But it can't be directly tampered with anymore.
"Oh," he continued, "By the way, there is a full video record of
both Lao Tzi's session with Eris during the trial and my own
session afterwards, should you wish to take a look at them to
satisfy yourselves that there's no longer a way back into the
"I'm sure that won't be necessary, Absolaam."
"I wish you would watch them in any case, Deborah," the Dictator
replied, "If only to ensure that I didn't inadvertently fail to
sever all of the direct terminal lines which could be used to
Deborah, the acknowledged computer expert amongst the three,
nodded her acquiescence and stepped over to a private Terminal to
study the video records.
"Incoming message, Sol," came a voice from the loudspeaker in
"Hagbard, put it on the main Terminal. Thanks, Hagbard," sighed
"Anytime, Sol," the VAS chirped.
Over at the main Network Terminal in the cabinet room, an image
appeared. The name and location of the sender was given in the
information line at the base of the screen. Wye barely glanced at
the line, though - he recognised the face, and already knew that
the caller was in orbit.
"Hi, Gerry," the Dictator said, facing into the pickup, "How is
The General's signal travelled to his caller at the speed of
light. However, that caller was orbiting roughly three hundred
and twenty five thousand kilometres - two hundred thousand miles
- from the earth's surface, and light travels at a sluggish three
hundred million metres per second. So it was that it took a
little over a second for Wye's message to reach his caller, and
the same length of time for Gerald's reply to make it back to
Slightly more than two seconds later, then, Gerald's image on
the Terminal responded, "Fine, Dictator," he said, "I just
thought you'd like to see the progress so far. I'll just swivel
the pickup here," his hands vanished from view as he leaned
forward to grasp the sides of the video pickup in front of him.
The image panned across to show a window.
Through the window, Wye saw a delicate-looking skeletal
framework of steel girders, held in position - for the moment -
by barely-visible wires, which glinted in the raw sunlight as
they moved. The whole affair was spinning slowly against the
background of piercingly-bright stars as he stared. In fact, Wye
noticed, the stars themselves appeared to be rotating also - he
put this down, quite correctly, to the spin of the craft which
housed the video pickup itself.
In fact, if the long axis of the cylinder of the temporary base
hadn't been pointing directly at the framework, the newly-started
Phoenix space hotel would be visible only briefly, every few
seconds, as it span in and out of the line of sight of the video
The long axis, the engineers who worked on Phoenix insisted, had
to point at the space hotel, in order to assist in docking the
construction workers's jet-assisted EVA suits and delicate-
looking vehicles as they passed backwards and forwards between
the temporary quarters and the spidery building they were working
Wye had more than a sneaking suspicion, however, that the
orientation of those quarters had more than a little to do with
the breath-taking view afforded through the long-axis windows -
straight ahead was the slowly-growing edifice of the Phoenix,
while fixed behind it could be seen the Earth in all the glory of
its whites, blues, browns and greens.
As they watched through the video-link, Wye and Graham saw
Central America wander past on the Earth below the orbiting
living quarters - they saw the Mexico-Guatemala border starkly
outlined. The results of the Mexican rain forest deforestation
programme could be seen, the man-made boundary between the two
countries was vividly carved onto the surface of the Earth, and
clearly visible from space.
After a while, giving the two viewers on Earth time to take in
the spectacular view, Gerald said, "The Phoenix is coming along
very nicely, Dictator, as you can see."
Wye's mouth was slightly dry after taking in this particular
view, but he managed to say, with a grin, "Damnit, Gerry, can't
you call me 'Sol'? How's your own task doing?" he added.
That damned two-second delay wasn't too bad, now that they had
the view to look at. Eventually, though, Gerald replied, "I'm
doing fine too, Sol. I've been over the framework as it stands,
and there've been very few changes needed - though the low-
gravity swimming pool will have to be moved quite a ways on the
blueprints to allow more room for the free-fall flying arena."
Gerald's task, as science-fiction consultant to the project, was
to transfer entertainments and sports dreamt up by sci-fi authors
into actuality in the Phoenix. Thus, he had worked with the
architects to design various halls and equipment for reduced-
gravity and free-fall activities, mostly based on the ideas of
In theory, his job could have been performed entirely from the
surface of the Earth. Theory had been stretched, however, on the
ostensible basis that he should journey up into orbit to double-
check locations in situ before the builders were committed to a
specific layout, and maybe dream up new ideas when he felt the
effects of free-fall for himself.
In actual fact, the trip into orbit was regarded by everybody as
a perk of the job for Gerald - nobody even pretended to fall for
his spurious 'reasoning' in requesting the trip. Wye himself
actually burst out laughing when he'd heard that the philosopher
had shed three stone of fat, and built up almost a stone of solid
muscle, in readiness for the hoped-for journey into orbit - he
hadn't the heart to refuse him, and so Gerald went on the trip of
his dreams into space.
"By the way, Gerry," Wye said, before signing off, "Your wife's
first case has just finished, so you can give Dot a ring anytime
before tomorrow morning, when the second one starts."
"Thanks, Sol - I think. See you!" came the delayed reply, two
seconds later, before the screen went blank.
Fifteen minutes later, Wye accepted a second call from Gerald.
"Sol," the philosophy said, "I've had an idea..."
Chapter Thirty Three
"The important thing is never to stop questioning."
"My daddy says the Dictator is a bad man."
The speaker, Jamie, was a four year old boy - small, though tall
for his age, and slim, his head covered with a profusion of
tightly-curled, blonde hair. His face was serious, though. He was
disturbed by the subject, as he continued, "My daddy says the
Dictator killed lots and lots and lots of people who never did
him any harm." Jamie was on the edge of tears, "But you say the
Dictator is a good man. Are you fibbing?"
The room was quiet, for once, as their teacher turned over
possible answers. Nominally, he was supposed to be teaching the
young children how to find their way around the Network computers
- how to find answers to difficult questions, and how to obtain
those answers in terms that they could understand, bearing in
mind that they'd only recently learned how to read, write and
Mr Harford, however, was one of the new breed of teachers
trained by Wye's various educational programmes. Only two years
ago (was it only two years?), Jim Harford had been living as a
homeless beggar on the streets of Brighton - some of his
colleagues, notably those who avowedly specialised in teaching
the politics of censorship, had spent that period of their lives
as rent boys and teenage-girl prostitutes.
Others had been addicted to some narcotic or other - usually,
heroin - and many who taught the youngsters about the dangers and
difficulties of addiction still were, unwillingly, addicted to
such substances. The difference being that the ready availability
of those narcotics now enabled them to function and contribute to
society's well-being, rather than spending all their time
thinking about where the next fix was coming from. Or pushing
drugs, selling their body or stealing to feed their habit.
Jim Harford was used, by now, to handling difficult questions
from his students, of whatever age. And he was no longer
surprised when those questions appeared to be irrelevant to the
ostensible subject of his lessons.
After all, his trainer had explained, artificial divisions in
human knowledge are just that - artificial. More important than
sticking to a specific syllabus was encouraging enquiring minds
to ask difficult and awkward questions. That was what was crucial
- not simply forcing information into the young brains.
When all was said and done, specific knowledge could be picked
up from the Network at a moment's notice - far more important was
the attitude which produced people who were interested enough to
bother asking the questions in the first place.
While Mr Harford was turning possible replies over in his mind,
the fourteen students in his class were starting to become
restless. One or two were sniggering and one older boy - a five
year old named Kevin - began taunting Jamie, calling him a
"daddy's boy" and a "cry baby." Harford knew he had to answer
Jamie, and quickly, but first he turned to face the older boy:
"Kevin," Harford said, "Jamie's question is a very good one. It
shows that he's been thinking for himself." Thinking for yourself
was a great compliment, at least in Jim Harford's class, and such
compliments were never given out lightly.
Kevin's face froze and he turned to Jamie with a look of respect
in his eyes. He well remembered the last time he had been praised
for thinking for himself - that had been when he'd asked all
those questions about the new space hotel. The whole class had
spent a whole week finding out the answers to Kevin's questions,
and he - Kevin - had been in charge of directing the whole
When they had put on that month's big presentation for their
parents and teachers, it had been Kevin who'd been wearing the
white coat with the gold cap - it had all been down to his
questions, and everybody knew it. He smiled, happily, as he
recalled the proud look on his parents's faces as they took their
VIP seats at the presentation.
And now Jamie had been thinking for himself, Mr Harford said,
and Kevin knew what that meant. Everybody knew what that meant.
The whole class would try to answer his questions and they would
end up putting together a presentation. And Jamie would get the
credit this time, and Jamie's parents would sit in the VIP seat,
and Jamie would wear the gold-trimmed white coat, and Jamie's
parents would be the proudest in the room.
For a moment, Kevin was jealous. Only a moment, though - he knew
that his turn would come again before too long. Everybody in the
class had their own questions - and everybody would direct a
Kevin's first presentation had given him a new MoneyCard - his
old MoneyCard had been a child's bright yellow, just like Jamie's
was now, but his new one was a student's bright red. He was proud
of having a red MoneyCard, and magnanimously willing to grant
that Jamie, too, would get one before long. Jealously vanished at
the thought that he, Kevin, only needed four more presentations
before he received a blue MoneyCard.
"Now, Jamie," the teacher was saying, "You asked if I have been
fibbing about the Dictator being a good man, is that right?"
Jamie, much cheered up by being congratulated on thinking for
himself, happily nodded his agreement.
"Okay, people," Harford addressed the rest of the class, "How
can we find out whether the Dictator is a good man or a bad man -
or maybe if he's neither one, but just a man?" He was pleased to
see the sea of hands, but there was no doubt about who was to
answer the question - the instant that Jamie's hand rose,
hesitantly but happily, into the air, everybody else lowered
their own. This was Jamie's project - his question, his project.
Everybody knew that.
"Well, Mister Harford," the four year old man replied, "We could
find out why my daddy thinks the Dictator is a bad man, and why
you think the Dictator is a good man." Seeing his teacher's
encouraging nods, he went on, more confidently, "Then we could
check out the facts behind the reasons."
Jim Harford smiled, broadly. "Wonderful idea, Jamie. Shall we do
that, people?" There was no need to call for a vote - not really.
After all, and by unspoken consent, this was Jamie's project and
everybody would help just as they would expect everybody else to
help when it was their own project. Harford called for a vote in
any case, and the sea of hands and calls of "Yes" that greeted
his request was reminder enough of why he chose to remain a
teacher in Wye's Britain.
"...and I love you too, dear." Dot closed the connection on the
Terminal before leaving the privacy of her room and returning to
the jury room, where she found her four fellow jurors waiting for
"Sorry I kept you waiting, my husband called," she said, sitting
down, "Now, what's the next case then?" she asked.
"We haven't asked yet, Dot," replied Colin Simoney, brushing a
lick of hair away from his eyes. He raised his eyes and his tone
of voice changed slightly, "Eris, next case?"
"Hello again, Colin," replied the VAS, "Your second trial case
involves an allegation of an abuse of a monopoly position:
specifically, the Divine water-purification company is accused of
"Eris," said Dot, "Outline the facts as presented by each side,
"Certainly, Dot. The accuser, Ms Harriet Wood, claims that
Divine's prices for purified water are exorbitant. The company
"Eris, what are the prices?"
"The Divine company's charges are now displayed on your
Terminal, Reverend Sessions, along with the charges levied by
other water companies. Also shown is the cost of water
purification as claimed by each side in the dispute."
The Reverend Sessions whistled, softly, through his teeth. "Are
these figures accurate, Eris?" he asked, incredulously.
"Which ones, Reverend Sessions?"
"Those given by Ms Wood, Eris. Oh, and, Eris," he added, as an
afterthought, "Please call me 'David' from now on." His fellow
jurors looked away from the figures on the screen for a moment in
surprise. Colin Simoney clapped Sessions on the shoulder heartily
as Sessions explained, "I just thought...Well...A more friendly
"Fine, Davey. Fine," smiled Simoney.
"All figures on the screen are completely accurate, David,"
replied the VAS - and did Reverend Sessions detect a touch more
warmth in its voice? Surely not - that must be the product of his
imagination. Too much anthropomorphising, that was all. "The
figures on the cost of water purification are an average of the
costs given by companies across the country, weighted according
to the quality of the water in that area."
"And the water quality figures are supplied by..?" asked
Eris confirmed that the water quality figures used were those
provided by government-supervised tests made by the water
"In that case," the young priest went on, anxious now to change
back to the original subject, "The case seems clear-cut enough to
me. From these figures," he waved in the direction of the
Terminal screen, "The Divine company is making a fifty percent
"Even allowing for maintenance and enhancement of the ancient
network of sewers, the prices they're charging are far too high."
The general consensus of the jury was that Sessions was correct.
The only problem now, as Simoney put it, was "What the fuck do we
do about it?"
"I'm not happy about artificially restricting the legal
activities of a private company," interjected Gordon Bowman,
suddenly. Questioning looks from the other four urged him on, "I
mean, we might well disapprove of this abuse of monopoly, but
it's not actually illegal is it?" For the last two words, he
raised his voice to address the computer.
"No, Gordon," came Eris's response, "Abuse of monopoly in this
fashion is not illegal."
"Then why did it come to trial, Eris?" asked Dot, somewhat
"Simply because Ms Wood claimed that it was illegal, Dot. And
decisions as to the legality or otherwise of actions have to be
decided upon by a jury of humans - not by a computing system."
"Hold on a second," Bowman said, "What Divine's doing is legal.
Fine, but I don't think any of us approves of this kind of abuse
of a monopoly position?" One glance about the table confirmed him
in his supposition.
"So, the question remains," Colin Simoney summed up, "What the
fuck can we do about it?"
"We could always break the monopoly." The speaker, talking
hesitantly and softly, was the Reverend Sessions.
There was a stunned silence for a short while before Simoney
asked, "What did you say, Davey?"
"I said 'we could always break the monopoly' But it's probably a
stupid idea," he added, apologetically.
"Not at all, Davey boy! Not at all!" Simoney was beaming,
"You've come through again, Davey. I don't know what we'd do
without you!" He clapped the priest on the back again, happily,
to the bewilderment of the remainder of the jury. Including
"Eris," Simoney said, his voice inflecting just so, "Is a jury
authorised to provide government loans?"
"Under some circumstances, Colin," came the reply, "A jury can
recommend a payment or the granting of a loan for a specific
purpose. The final decision lies with the Dictator, however," the
"Damned Dictator!" spat Sessions, under his breath.
Simoney stared at Sessions for a moment. The other jurors
wondered why Colin's face was wearing an incredulous expression -
they hadn't heard the priest's comment. Simoney said, quietly, to
David, "I'd like to have a chat with you about that later, David.
If you don't mind."
Sessions, surprised, found himself replying, "Okay, Colin," just
Then Colin Simoney continued, louder, to the VAS, "Eris," he
said, "How much would it cost to set up a water purification
company in competition with Divine?" The computer gave a figure,
then Colin went on, "Okay, now calculate the charges for that
company - allowing for repayment of the loan over, say, a period
of ten years."
The figures flashed on the Terminal. They were only marginally
lower than Divine's charges, so Simoney swore softly, then said,
"Eris, recalculate the charges allowing for repayment over twenty
This time, the figures showed prices which would allow the loan
to be repaid while keeping charges so low that Divine would find
it very difficult to compete. Simoney looked around at his fellow
"Very impressive, Colin," said Dot, after a while, "Are you
suggesting that we set up such a company ourselves?"
Simoney shook his head, causing his mop of brown hair to bounce
slightly, "Not at all, Dot," he explained, "I'm suggesting that
we offer this loan to Ms Wood to allow her to set up in
competition with Divine. Or, if she refuses, to anybody else who
wishes to do so. Since the new company would be starting from
scratch, with a government loan, its initial agreement with its
customers could include an insistence that its profits are
limited to a specific percentage of income - any excess to be
used to reduce charges in the following year."
"Masterly," laughed Sessions, clapping. The others soon joined
in as it sank in.
The Sessions-Simoney idea (Sessions wanted it to be called the
'Simoney idea,' but his objections were overruled by Colin, who
insisted that the idea was as much the priest's as it was the
scientist's) was transmitted, via Eris, to the other juries
dealing with the case, and was adopted. Eris also placed the
strategy into its growing database of ways of handling specific
situations, ready to suggest its application in future cases
dealing with monopoly situations.
"Fuck!" shouted Gerald, as he saw the cable snap.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.