Chapter Thirty Four
"Look up at the sky now and you will understand how little you
can ever understand."
--Andrew Laurance, The Hiss
"Watch out!" Gerald shouted, "It's coming away!"
It is not quite true that no one can hear you scream in space.
Usually, workers in EVA - Extra-Vehicular Activity - suits are in
constant contact via radio.
Gerald's scream, however, was not heard by the men working at
the cable, since he was standing at the long-axis viewing window
on board the Mayfly, the temporary quarters, and he did not have
a radio link on him. The vacuum between Gerald and the workmen
could not conduct his scream, and so it went unheard beyond the
confines of the Mayfly. By the time he had dashed back to the
radio, it was too late.
The cable had been under too much tension. When it snapped, it
whipped sharply out of place. If there had been air around it,
the resistance of that air would have helped slow the whiplash -
even if only slightly. Unfortunately, this cable snapped in
vacuum. And whipped back and forth in vacuum, flaying mercilessly
at the men in the vicinity.
The whip of a fast-moving metal cable would maim. On Earth. It
would probably kill its victim. On Earth. In orbit, the rules are
different - the rules are more harsh. A gash in a spacesuit can
be repaired. If it is patched quickly enough, the wearer may even
But how do you patch a suit at the same time as you're dodging a
As the cable snapped wildly, lashing out blindly yet hitting
more and more people as it flailed, Gerald and his companions in
the Mayfly struggled into their EVA suits. Even in an emergency,
however, such things cannot be rushed - suit closures have to be
verified and air supplies checked to ensure that the flow of
oxygen is adequate and freely-flowing before the final step into
the airlock can be risked.
Even then, the Mayfly's airlock could only allow fifteen people
to squeeze in at any one time - it had to be cycled twice before
all two dozen rescuers were able to leave the safety of the
craft's confines and brave the vacuum outside.
Gerald was in the second group to leave the Mayfly - those with
more EVA experience went first. When he left the ship, he grabbed
quickly for a dry ice tube. With the same motion, he straddled
the tube and triggered the slow release of carbon dioxide which
would act as his rocket propulsion across to the Phoenix, and the
site of the accident.
One push was enough, but in his haste Gerald kept up an
acceleration until halfway across, then - as he watched an
explosion, eerie in the absence of sound, over by the Phoenix -
quickly switched to the deceleration button. He wondered, almost
idly, what had caused the explosion - there was nothing remotely
explosive on the Phoenix's framework. Then he came to a stop at
the accident scene.
The journey had taken less than three seconds, but it seemed a
lifetime. For some, it was.
When Gerald arrived, the cable's whip had diminished to a minor
swing. One woman, Gerald couldn't remember any names in his panic
but the design of her suit made its wearer's sex instantly
obvious, was just arriving from the other side of the
construction, where she had been working on - irony of ironies -
checking that cables were secured correctly. She was the only
person, other than those in the Mayfly, to escape unhurt from the
However, there were twenty-two other people working on the
Phoenix when the cable snapped. Seventeen were not as far away as
the cable inspector, but far enough away to escape with varying
degrees of haemorrhaging.
The five who had been anchored close to the rogue cable didn't
stand a chance.
Depressurisation wasn't quite instantaneous, but was fast enough
to ensure that there were no bodies to bring back. With a sick
feeling, Gerald realised what had caused the explosion he had
seen on his journey across from the Mayfly: a torn EVA suit. He
had watched a human body explode.
Droplets of fluid and torn gobbets of human flesh could be seen
glinting in the raw sunlight as they found their own orbit about
the planet or about the building's framework. It was almost with
relief that Gerald thought of the Mayfly's rotation - free-
floating droplets of blood and...worse things...were bad enough
in open space. Without her rotation-imparted centrifugal force to
mimic the effect of gravity, however, they would have made the
Mayfly entirely uninhabitable.
Some of the pieces were cleared up over the following days -
cleared up and placed into plastic wrappings to be shipped back
to Earth - but most boiled away in the vacuum. Or were pulled
towards the planet and burned up in the atmosphere - creating
faint shooting stars, to be wished on by small children at
bedtime. There must be worse epitaphs than a small child's wish.
Right at that moment, however, Gerald's fight was more
immediate. More personal. He was fighting to contain his nausea.
Gerald, thankfully, managed to win his fight - though three of
his friends lost their own and had to be escorted back to the
Mayfly. The interior of their helmets, covered in the stomach's
detritus, made it impossible for them to make it back on their
own - and there was no way to clean up their EVA suits until they
returned to the orbiting quarters. The Mayfly stank of stale
vomit for a long time afterwards.
While Gerald escorted some of his vomit-blinded friends back to
the Mayfly, others were slapping patches on the living and
quickly ushering them back to the safety of those quarters, where
they could be attended to by a doctor.
It wasn't until they returned to the confines of the Mayfly that
it was realised that the doctor had been the cause of one of the
explosions they had witnessed.
"Tell me one of the reasons your dad gave for disliking the
Dictator so much, Jamie," asked Mr Harford.
The young student thought hard for a little while. Hesitantly,
he said, "I think the main reason was the massacre, but I'll just
check." Almost automatically, he reached for the Terminal on his
desk and logged into it by pressing his thumb to the thumbplate.
Instantly, he saw his home system's files before him.
His young, but already skilled, fingers moved the mouse to click
on his personal electronic notepad. On the screen, notes
appeared, which he had made after the chat with his father the
Jamie looked up, "Yes, I was right, Mr Harford - the main thing
is the massacre," he said, confidently this time.
Harford nodded, sagely, before replying, "Okay, so what is your
first question then, Jamie?"
The class was silent. Absolutely silent - this was the big
moment, where Jamie's first question would determine what they
would be doing for the rest of the day, at least. Probably for
Their own thoughts didn't couch it in those terms - they just
knew that the question which Jamie came up with was important,
and that they would want everybody else to be listening carefully
when it came to their own question - so they were listening
carefully to Jamie's words.
When the silence was complete, Jamie said, "What I reckon we
ought to do is find out all about the massacre in 1999."
There was an audible sigh as everybody in the room released the
breath they had been holding without knowing they had even been
holding their breath. They had their first question - now it was
just a matter of answering it.
Jamie was kept busy the rest of the week. His first task was to
organise teams to check into different ways of approaching the
question. He'd already given that a lot of thought, though, so
mostly it was a matter of reading from his electronic 'pad to let
everybody else know what they should be doing.
After all, it was Jamie's question; Jamie's presentation. So
Jamie was in charge. For now. Next week - or next month,
depending on how difficult the question turned out to be - it
would be the turn of somebody else to be in charge.
Jim Harford could afford to relax a little now - his role from
this point on was to act as an advisor if anybody had any
difficulties. He was pleased to notice that Jamie chose to
personally assist Sandra, a girl of his own age.
Sandra suffered from dyslexia, and Jamie's decision - while
founded, no doubt, on the idea that she could best work on
Jamie's project if she had patient assistance - would benefit her
as much as it would the young boy's presentation.
Idly, Harford wondered whether Jamie was also motivated by a
wish to help Sandra with her own difficulty.
There was a week's delay between the end of Dot's second case
and the start of the third - due to the complication of a second
accuser stepping into the ring, necessitating the gathering of
During the course of that week, Dot's jury passed the time in
variety of ways. Dot spent many hours conversing with her
husband, who made no mention of the accident on the Phoenix.
Gordon Bowman and David Jubal outlined a television series based
on Wye's space programme. Colin Simoney and the Reverend David
Sessions just talked - mainly about the Dictator. Colin invited
the young priest to a presentation about Wye which his five year
old son, Kevin, was assisting with in a couple of weeks.
One thing which all five were interested in, however, was the
result of their first two trials.
They were gratified to see that the verdicts which they, as
potential jurors, had reached were duplicated in the verdicts of
the two pairs of actual juries for those cases. The only
differences were in the sentences passed down - sentences were
decided during a meeting of all ten jurors in the case.
The Three-R sentencing policy in operation at that time was
straightforward enough. The first R stood for "Restitution," and
was the portion of the sentence which was intended either to
compensate any victims of the crime or the falsely-accused
person, depending on the verdict in the case.
In the Dowes-Basil trial, the Restitution segment of the
sentence took the form of poetic justice. Since John Basil's
primary motivation in taking part in Dowes's experiments, it was
argued, was probably to repay arrears on the mortgage on the
family home, Dowes was to be made to repay that mortgage in its
entirety - financed by the taking out of a second mortgage on
Dowes's own home.
Thus, the Restitution segment of his sentence would cost
Professor Dowes close to forty thousand pounds, and provide some
measure of security to John Basil's family. The remaining one
hundred and ten thousand pounds provided by the second mortgage
was to be split equally between all participants in Dowes's
medical trials, once the cost of the investigation and the trial
had been repaid.
In order to deter future attempts at profiteering, by people in
financial situations such as Basil's deliberately duplicating
Basil's actions in order to have their mortgage repaid, it was
restated quite plainly that Dowes's crime was not concerned with
the experiments themselves, or with the waiving contract per se.
Rather, Dowes's crime was in failing to fully inform her subjects
as to possible and likely results of their participation in those
Despite the 'not guilty' verdict on the accusation against the
Divine water purification company, it was not felt necessary to
award any Restitution to that company.
The second 'R' in the Three-R sentencing system stood for
"Retribution." This was, essentially, the segment of the sentence
which was intended purely as punishment to register society's
disapproval of the crime - or, depending on the verdict, of
levelling a patently false allegation. What might, in earlier
years, have been called the 'deterrent factor.'
In the Dowes-Basil case, the Retribution element was - again -
rather severe. Professor Carla Dowes was to be stripped of her
MoneyCard for a period of two years, and a recommendation was
made that her unethical behaviour made her unsuitable as a
scientific worker or researcher for the foreseeable future - in
effect, stripping her of her job as well.
As in all cases where MoneyCard privileges are removed for a
period in excess of one year, Dowes was to be given an open-ended
alternative to relocate to Portmeirion, a small town in Wales,
for a period twice the length of the retribution segment of her
Portmeirion had been established as a high-security prison
colony for women (a separate location was used for the men's
prison colony - in order to remove, or at least reduce, the
possibility of the colonies becoming viable, growing towns), in
and around which the prisoners supported themselves on their own
Since those two colonies were the only places in the British
Isles which were not linked in to the Network, MoneyCards were
not essential for living there. They were each completely self-
Each colony was also surrounded by three separately-powered
high-voltage electrified fences, spaced ten metres apart and each
a minimum of five metres in height. The stretches of ground
between the fences were mined, and computer-controlled and -
monitored motion sensors and both visible light and infra-red
cameras were used to monitor the entire length of all three
fences and the ground between them.
No trees or buildings were permitted within ten metres of either
side of any of the three fences, while the triply-backed-up
computer system also monitored the surrounding airspace using
both radar and sonar. Approaching aircraft were provided with
three opportunities to veer off after being warned. If they
persisted in their course, they were to be shot down.
When General Absolaam Wye said "Maximum security," he meant
One particularly major disadvantage of prison colony exile was,
of course, that no high technology items were permitted there. No
radio. No television. No video. No cinema. No Network. No
MoneyCards or money (a barter system was generally used). No
pens. No artificial clothing - not even a cigarette lighter or so
much as a tinderbox.
A person wishing to join the Portmeirion colony, or the male
equivalent in the Scottish Highlands, was simply stripped naked,
scanned using X-rays and ultrasound to ensure that they were
carrying no technological devices, then dropped - naked - in the
town centre, to be picked up at the end of their sentence, or -
in the case of self-requested exiles - whenever they wished to
The only item of technology in each colony more sophisticated
than a wheel (hand-made) or a flint knife or flint axe (also
hand-made) was in the town squares - where a retina scan-
activated video-link to the head guard's office could be found. A
penalty of an additional month's confinement was imposed for
unjustifiable use of the video-link.
Despite the emergency medical assistance provided via these
video-links, the death-rate in the prison exile colonies was
The second major disadvantage of Portmeirion as an option was
that it was used to house lifers - those who were assessed to be
sane, but whose crimes were judged to be so severe that permanent
confinement was recommended for them.
In the Divine case, again, no Retribution sentence was thought
The final 'R' of the Three-R trio was variously known as
"Rehabilitation" or "Reformation," depending on who you talked
to. This was the portion of the sentence which was intended to
reform, or rehabilitate, the criminal and its aim was to produce
a useful member of society.
In the case of the insane or mentally unbalanced, this portion
of the sentence tended to consist of psychiatric care - in such
cases, a rehabilitative stay in a hospital was generally
considered more important than any Retribution, and so the second
element of the sentence was usually null.
In the Dowes-Basil case, however, Rehabilitation was considered
necessary. Professor Dowes, it was said, must be retrained and
given a solid grounding in the ethics of her chosen profession.
In order to motivate her during this process, the ten jurors
decided to allow the recommendation that she be considered unfit
to operate as a scientist to stand for only so long as the end of
her course of rehabilitation.
That is, she would be taught and re-taught the ethics of
scientific research for as long as it took for her to satisfy an
independent team of psychologists that the ethical training had
taken firm root.
In brief, then, for her crime of behaving in an unethical manner
in showing a callous disregard for the lives of her volunteers
and risking those lives without their fully informed consent,
Professor Carla Dowes was sentenced to the following:
Dowes was forced to take out a second mortgage on her home in
order to provide compensation for those volunteers and their
families, at a cost to Dowes of roughly one hundred and fifty
thousand pounds. She was also to lose the use of her MoneyCard
(and thus the national Network and its associated computing
systems) for a period of two years - though she could, at her own
option, elect instead to spend four years in the stone-age
society at Portmeirion.
Finally, after the two- or four-year Retribution portion of her
sentence was completed, Professor Dowes was to be retrained in
the ethics of scientific research - and she was to be rated as
unsuitable to be a scientist until a team of independent experts
could be satisfied that Dowes would behave in an ethical manner
in the future.
In the Divine case, on the other hand, the unusual step was
taken of awarding no sentence whatsoever against either party in
the case - it was decided that Ms Wood had been justified in
bringing her accusation, even though the eventual verdict had
been one of not guilty. Ms Harriet Wood was offered, and
accepted, a government loan along the lines of the Sessions-
The Three-R sentencing policy, incidentally, was sometimes
flippantly referred to as the Triple-Pay policy: Pay Back, Pay
For and Pay Off.
The case of Carla Dowes, unfortunately, introduced an added
complication due to her sex: since Ms Dowes was a woman, the
first item which had to be checked before her sentence took
effect was whether or not she was carrying a child. As it
happened, she was discovered to be a little over eight weeks
The problem, of course, was that the retribution segment of
Dowes's sentence is a punishment - but how do you punish the
mother without also punishing the unborn (or newly born) child,
maybe via the indirect route of the mother's malnutrition when
the child was still in her womb?
After all, one of the difficulties for MoneyCard-bereft persons
was that of obtaining food, transport and medical services:
virtually all machines, including protein-wafer manufacturing
plants, were activated by a thumbprint or a retina scan. Even car
doors and ignition systems were unlocked or activated,
respectively, using those methods.
The usual course taken by those deprived of their MoneyCard
privileges as a course of a retribution sentence was to ask
assistance from other people - in effect, to beg for their
transport - though a PW-1 model was usually supplied, and
modified to provide basic foodstuffs on an bare-survival basis.
Such a hit-and-miss approach, however, was obviously not
appropriate in the case of a pregnant woman.
The first suggested solution to this problem was to defer the
retributory sentence until after any and all children of the
mother were weaned. Initially, it appeared that this approach
would work well. Unfortunately, Deborah observed, one consequence
of such a policy could be that a small number of convicted women
might defer retribution indefinitely by becoming pregnant again
some time before their child was weaned. She refused to
countenance her husband's suggestion that contraception be
enforced in such cases.
Instead, they had decided that the usual approach was to refuse
the option of prison colony exile to pregnant women, or those
with new-born children. Rather, their retributory sentence began
immediately, but a full-time assistant was assigned to ensure the
welfare of the child - whether born or unborn - by keeping an eye
on the health of the mother until the child was weaned, and on
the health of the child from birth onwards.
In a very few early cases, this solution proved unsatisfactory
as a small number of mothers came to resent their child simply
for being healthy when they themselves were, if not actually
starving, at least very hungry. For that reason, the child's
assistant came - in time - to be also trained in psychiatric
techniques in order to perform some rehabilitation within the
retribution portion of the mother's sentence.
Thus, the resentment which some mothers - and I should emphasise
that it was always a very small number - harboured was treated as
what it, in effect, was - a mental weakness. And it was not
unusual for psychologically disturbed offenders to have their
rehabilitation sentence run both before, during and after the
retributive sentence, in the rare instances that a retributive
sentence was passed.
This was in contrast, of course, to the sentencing of those who
were judged sane by the pre-sentencing panel of psychologists -
sane offenders's rehabilitation sentences almost exclusively were
executed after the retribution portion. Rehabilitation - of one
form or another - always followed retribution, of course.
In extreme cases, where the only appropriate sentence for a
pregnant woman was decided to be immediate prison colony exile in
Portmeirion, the recommendation was to isolate the mother until
the child was born. At that point, the mother was to be exiled
and the child given up for adoption - the suggestion being that
priority in such a case should be given to mothers who were
capable of breast-feeding the baby, such as those who had
recently given birth themselves.
Thankfully, that particular recommendation had yet to be tested
in practice. Due to the severity of this suggested solution's
nature, it was accompanied by a statement that a search be
undertaken in order to find any other alternatives which might be
Despite there having been, by January 2003, six separate
research teams working on this one problem, no better solution to
the extreme situation had yet been found.
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.