Kit left her winnings in the care of the casino while she stepped outside for some air. Her head was spinning at her incredible good fortune and the infinite possibilities for her future now that she had a ship of her own. It meant she could go anywhere she wanted and truly leave the past behind. A whole galaxy full of adventure awaited and maybe someday she’d even forget the things from which she was running away.
The bell in the square rang, dragging Kit’s attention back to the present. Everyone in the vicinity stopped to watch and people even exited the casino to watch. It was only a moment before the security doors on the right opened. Two guards stepped through the doorway dragging a woman between them. She was naked. Her face colored red with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. She resisted the guards and their forward movement into the square with all her strength.
The overhead speakers surrounding the square crackled to life. A dispassionate male voice spoke to the crowd;
Come gather all and witness the punishment of Tara Finch, accused and convicted of thievery this very afternoon from the honorable LX Pharmaceuticals. Tara Finch is sentenced to 24 hours in the entertainment square’s pillory just outside Gorda’s Casino. She will receive ten swats to her naked buttocks every hour for the duration of her sentence. As with all thieves, Tara Finch’s personal belongings have been turned over to the victim, LX Pharmaceuticals.
Tara’s head whipped from side to side, taking note of the onlookers while she continued to struggle against her guards. “I was framed!” she shouted. “I didn’t do it. I’m innocent.”
Kit swallowed hard watching the scene play out. The words on the speakers and Tara’s insistence of innocence opened a raw nerve in Kit’s gut. She had planned her theft carefully, certain that the blame would fall on the crew of the cargo ship and not an innocent bystander. Guilt panged Kit toward stepping forward and announcing herself as the true thief. It was one thing to be a thief, it was another to allow an innocent to take the fall. She took a deep breath and a half step forward.
Jade’s voice rose up in ears. Don’t be reckless.
Kit exhaled and blinked. Jade was right. There would be no good done from outing herself. Tara would still suffer an unfair fate and she too would suffer the same. The money would be gone. Her hand wrapped around the jade stone on her necklace. It too would be gone. Thieves loose everything, just like gamblers. Kit stood her ground, resolved to watch Tara’s suffering as a warning to herself. She couldn’t change Tara’s sentence, but when it was over, she could help her. Kit made the silent promise to herself, to Jade, and to Tara.
The guards secured Tara in the pillory in the center of the square. Her body was bent ninety degrees at her waist. The dull metal of the pillory kept Tara’s head and hands locked in place while ankle cuffs chained to eye-bolts in the ground kept her legs in the desired position. Her naked buttocks jutted out into the open air of the square awaiting the first ten swats of her sentence. The rest of her body, equally naked, lay exposed to the curious eyes of bystanders and a group of cameras transmitted front, back and side views on Centora City’s Crime & Punishment channel.
Kit wiped a tear drop from her eye. The Punisher stepped out the same doors the guards had came from, carrying a paddle with him. He held the paddle high for all to see as he approached Tara from behind. The crowd cheered and applauded. He tapped the paddle against Tara’s buttocks. Taking a step backward, he raised the paddle high into the air. He swung the paddle down hard, taking a step forward as he did. The jarring impact rippled through Tara’s naked flesh. She cried out loud enough to drown out the reverberating crack of the paddle’s impact.
“I’m not a thief,” Tara said. Tears streamed down her face.
Nine more times the Punisher swung the paddle with full force onto Tara’s quivering buttocks. Each time she cried a little louder and insisted a little more forcefully on her innocence. The crowd did not believe her. They had heard it all before and thought they knew the system to be infallible. Innocent people don’t get accused of crimes. Kit knew better.
The Punisher left after delivering the tenth swat. The guards remained, not that they would protect Tara from the ridicule of the crowd. Kit forced herself to move forward. She had to complete her plan if she was going to help Tara. The glowing red image of Tara’s buttocks burned itself into Kit’s memory.
As she walked past Tara, bound in the pillory, Kit paused and whispered, “Be strong.”