After three days of waiting inside a windowless underground cell, Kit and Tara were finally escorted to the audience chambers of the magistrate with jurisdiction over their fate. The room felt cold and formal. Magistrate Hanson Norwood, as indicated by the marble name plaque in front of him, sat behind a tall bench requiring anyone under nine feet in height to look up at him. Only the top of the bench appeared to be constructed of wood, the rest was made from a jigsaw puzzle collection of natural stones, cut and smoothed into seemingly random sized pieces.
On the left and right sides of the chamber, stepped pews permitted the attendance of witnesses and invited guests. In the center of the room, a small pedestal in the shape of semi-circle rose up about a foot and half off the floor. The front three quarters of the pedestal were encased with iron railing topped by a wood handrail. White marble with gray veins made up the floor and steps of the pedestal, contrasting from the black marble floor of the remainder of the chamber.
Kit and Tara were led to the steps of the pedestal and prodded up them. The chamber doors closed with a solid clunk that sounded a bit like finality.
The magistrate looked down on them. He said, “State your names for the record.”
Magistrate Norwood nodded approval. “Upon your arrival on Rasa you were accused and convicted of theft by Count Wudwerth. This hearing shall determine if that charge and conviction was righteous and if there is cause to bring any other charges against your persons. Do you understand?”
Kit and Tara nodded up at the magistrate.
He exhaled impatience. “The record requires verbal responses.”
Kit glanced at Tara and said, “Yes, we understand.”
“Tara Finch,” Magistrate Norwood said, “I have documentation here that indicates you were caught and convicted of theft from LX Pharmaceuticals while living in Centora City on Lavox. Do you dispute this?”
Tara swallowed and looked up at the magistrate. “No, sir.”
Magistrate Norwood nodded. “Count Wudwerth charged you with theft of LX Pharmaceutical supplies your ship’s Captain had pledged to deliver to his province. The record shows you acknowledged personal responsibility in preventing that pledge from being fulfilled. Do you dispute this?”
Tara continued looking up. “No, sir.”
“On the surface,” Magistrate Norwood said, “it would appear the charge of theft and conviction of that charge is a righteous one. However, the circumstances would seem to require more careful examination. Wouldn’t you agree, Ms. Finch?”
Tara nodded. “Yes, sir. Those supplies were illegal narcotics which could have caused significant harm to the people here on Rasa.”
Magistrate Norwood nodded. “This court would agree that you and your Captain had a moral obligation, having learned of the illegal and dangerous nature of your cargo, not to deliver that cargo to Count Wudwerth.”
Tara said, “As a doctor I swore an oath to do no harm.”
Magistrate Norwood flipped a page on his desk. “Yes, you were a practicing physician on Lavox prior to your conviction there and subsequent revocation of your medical credentials.”
Tara nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I understand,” Magistrate Norwood said, “that you were instrumental in the identifying the cause of sickness in Wudwerth’s citizens and helped devise a treatment for those capable of recovery. Is that correct?”
“Yes, sir,” Tara said.
He nodded. “Back to the undelivered supplies, Wudwerth’s records show, and this is confirmed by RCG Air Control records, that those supplies were dumped into the ocean here on Rasa. Wudwerth’s record further shows you, Tara Finch, claimed full responsibility for that act. Is this correct?”
Tara nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” Magistrate Norwood said. “Unfortunately, this action of yours invites a new charge of illegal dumping of hazardous waste into the ocean.”
Tara said, “Zumena, the illegal narcotic we’re speaking of, is rendered inert by salt water. Its impact on the ocean ecology should be minimal.”
“Fortunately,” Magistrate Norwood said, “our experts agree. However, the dumping is still an illegal act. You would have been better served to have reported your cargo to RCG Air Control and followed their instructions for the proper containment of the cargo.”
Tara nodded. “In retrospect, it does seem my decision was rather rash, but given that Count Wudwerth was a representative of the local government I would think you could understand my concern in contacting the local government for assistance.”
Magistrate Norwood said, “Indeed. However, as this is your first trip to Rasa you also had no way of knowing whether or not this government had legalized the use and distribution of Zumena. Under the circumstances, contacting the government authorities and following their instructions, regardless of your personal beliefs, was the only acceptable course of action.”
“I stand by my actions,” Tara said.
Magistrate Norwood nodded. “Kit Wilde, you were charged by Count Wudwerth with two counts of theft and convicted of both. The first, the theft of pledged supplies has been covered in discussions with your companion, Tara Finch. The second,” he held up the necklace Jade had given Kit, “is in regards to this necklace.”
Kit said, “It was given to my sister by our father and she gave it to me.”
“Count Wudwerth had the necklace and stones examined,” Magistrate Norwood said, “as did I. The cut and age of the stones is consistent with artifacts found here and on other planets dating back to the days of the Jade Empire. However, Count Wudwerth’s assumption that these were part of the last Queen’s jewels has been disproved by both his own expert and the experts I have employed. If it was stolen from an archaeological site, this court has found no record of the theft and therefore no reason to uphold the charge of theft.”
Kit allowed herself a smile. “Thank you.”
He nodded. “Records indicate at the time Tara Finch dumped the Griffinscape’s cargo of illegal narcotics into Rasa’s ocean, you were the owner and captain of the vessel. Is this correct?”
Kit inhaled sharply. The phrasing of the statement sounded too much like trouble. “Yes, sir.”
“Under interstellar and Rasa law,” Magistrate Norwood said, “a vessel’s captain is responsible for the actions of the vessel’s crew, known or unknown. According to Count Wudwerth’s records you have previously acknowledged this fact. Is this correct?”
“Yes, sir,” Kit said.
Magistrate Norwood nodded. “Very well. In the matter of theft of pledged goods, I find the circumstances to exonerate your, Kit Wilde and Tara Finch, actions. The convictions and sentences declared by Count Wudwerth are therefore overturned and all properties confiscated from you and still in existence shall be returned into your possession.”
Kit and Tara smiled at each other. The nightmare was finally coming to a close. Soon they would be dressed again and back aboard the Griffinscape leaving Rasa and all their recent troubles behind. Neither of them expected an honest review of the facts would keep them in custody, but equally neither of them had felt certain they would receive an honest review.
“However,” Magistrate Norwood said, “there is now a new charge of illegal dumping of hazardous waste into the ocean which must be considered.”
The smiles faded from their faces.
Magistrate Norwood said, “Given the records at hand and neither of you disputes the act of dumping occurred, nor your responsibilities in committing the act, I have no recourse but to find you both guilty of the illegal dumping of hazardous waste.”
Kit bit on her lip. Jade’s voice echoed in her head. Consequences aren’t just for other people.
“Ordinarily,” Magistrate Norwood said, “such an action would require no less than a twenty year sentence of servitude to the people of Rasa.”
Tara inhaled sharply. Kit blinked. The room felt smaller, constricting to the point of making the air hard to breathe.
Magistrate Norwood said, “There are extenuating circumstances in this case. Tara Finch’s medical training permitted her advanced knowledge that the specific hazardous waste, narcotic pharmaceutical Zumena, would pose a minimum risk to ecology of the ocean. Kit Wilde was aware that the cargo she was carrying was illegal and posed a health risk to the citizens of Rasa. Further, both Tara Finch and Kit Wilde assisted in the investigation which led to arrest of Count Wudwerth in the illegal smuggling and distribution of Zumena.”
Kit and Tara held their breath, waiting for the magistrate’s final judgment.
He said, “While illegal dumping is not something this court will ever view favorably, I am encouraged toward leniency in knowing that Tara Finch pursued this act having considered the consequences and knowing that the Zumena posed less danger to the ocean of Rasa than the people of Rasa. In this light, I am exercising my authority as magistrate to reduce the customary sentence by half to ten years.”
Tears welled in Tara’s eyes. Kit stared up at the magistrate as though caught in a dream.
“Additionally,” Magistrate Norwood said, “the people of Rasa are appreciative of Kit Wilde and Tara Finch’s assistance in bringing about justice in the illegal actions surrounding Count Wudwerth. I am therefore further reducing the sentence by half again to five years.”
Kit’s grip tightened on the railing. Thoughts spun in her head making the room spin as well. Fair or unfair? Justice or injustice? Five years of servitude felt like life being stolen from her veins, but even she could not confidently say it was wrong. She had been reckless and Jade had warned her against it. If only she had listened.
Tears spilled from Tara’s eyes onto her cheeks.
Magistrate Norwood said, “Tara Finch, due to your training and skills as a physician and Rasa’s limited supply of medical doctors, I am able to offer you an alternative sentence to the typical menial labor assigned to convicted criminals. If you agree to work your time as a physician in the service of the Rasa Central Government, this court is authorized to temporarily reinstate your medical credentials and will make that reinstatement permanent upon the completion of your five year sentence provided there are no mitigating circumstances which call into further question your abilities as a medical practitioner.”
Tara wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked up at the magistrate with hope.
“Is this arrangement acceptable to you, Tara Finch?”
Tara nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He turned his gaze to Kit. “Kit Wilde, I am unable to offer you a similar deal as you have no skills or training of which Rasa is in special need. You will serve your time as a waitress in the laborer’s commissary of a nearby province.”
Kit nodded. There was no point in arguing.
Magistrate Norwood said, “Neither of you will be entitled to any personal possessions for the duration of your sentence however your possessions will be returned to you when you are released. Additionally, your servitude will include a public spanking with the results publicly displayed for no less than four hours and no more than 12 hours on the tenth day of each month of your sentence.”
Kit and Tara looked at each other. It was going to be a very long five years. No clothing, no freedom, publicly spanked on a monthly basis and no escape. And Magistrate Norwood was being lenient.
He looked to the guards. “Take them to the central court yard for their first spankings and leave them on display for the next twelve hours.”
The guards grabbed them each by an arm and led them from the room. They walked down a short hallway and through a door into an outdoor courtyard. A crowd surrounded the courtyard, clearly anticipating their arrival. There was applause as the guards fastened them to a pair of spanking benches set up in the center of the courtyard. Each guard retrieved a paddle and took a moment to place it in front of their eyes so that they knew exactly what would be spanking their bottoms. The paddle’s were of Zeller’s special design with a constantly wet surface.
A moment later, the guards began swinging the paddles in a perfect one, two offset. Kit and Tara were soon struggling against their restraints to no avail and only a few swats later, they began to cry and vocalize their discomfort through yelps and groans. The crowd enjoyed the show, cheering and applauding as the guards efforts extracted louder and louder reactions from the two. It was only when Kit and Tara were too busy sobbing to yelp anymore that the spankings ended.
Given no respite, they were quickly raised from the benches and taken a few feet away where their wrists were shackled high above their heads, forcing them to stand on tiptoes. Nothing blocked the crowds view of any aspect of their naked bodies or their sorrowful, tear soaked faces. The guards kept the crowds from touching them but did nothing to prevent leering, laughing, or taunting.
Kit closed her eyes and searched for inner strength. Five years, sixty months, sixty spankings just like this one, she thought. I’ll survive. I’ll be alright. I have a future waiting for me. Who knows, maybe I am Wudwerth’s Jade Runner and if that’s the case, maybe this is happening for a reason. Maybe I have something to learn here.
She opened her eyes and found Tara looking at her.
“I’m sorry,” Tara said.
Kit said, “It’s not your fault.”
Tara lips turned up in a weak smile. “The good news is by the time they let us down from here, that irresistible desire to rub our butts should have faded along with the fire blazing back there.”
Kit laughed as best she could. “Now that is good news.”