7 Unexpected Solution

Zeke was uncomfortable lounging around his room and the living area that joined it. On the third day, he told Elenne.

"You're fine, but any activity or stress would be a problem. You're here for a reason. Use the console and study if you want, but you're here for a few days," she told him firmly. "You can wear your uniform now, and wander around the area, but that's it."

The following day Zeke was informed he'd be visited by Yipt and an officer concerning Rilt's sentence. Before they came, he received a message on the console and a video of the hearing.

Rilt's face had none of the haughtiness or arrogance from before. He was dressed in his uniform and spoke little during the hearing.

It opened with explanations by each of the three officers conducting the hearing. They repeated the charges, then explained their severity and the maximum sentence he could receive. The possibilities included incarceration for up to ten years, or labor in one of a number of camps for seven years. Public service for up to twenty years was an option that surprised Zeke. Rilt would have the choice of any of these if the victim, Zeke, decided on the maximum sentence.

Rilt simply nodded his head quietly when asked if he understood. An officer insisted he answer and Rilt said quietly, "Yes."

They showed a video of the attack. Zeke saw what he couldn't remember. Both he and Rilt looked a little like spacemen in their suits and helmets. Zeke stood over Rilt in his muddy suit. As Rilt rose from the ground, he brought the butt of his weapon around, connecting solidly, sickeningly, with the side of Zeke's head.

From the way he fell, limp as a rag doll, he was clearly unconscious before he hit the ground. Rilt stood over him for a minute, and when he saw Zeke wasn't moving, he knelt to see how he was. Flen ran up, roughly taking the weapon from Rilt's hands.

After Flen pushed him away, he stood motionless--his helmet hiding any emotion.

A shuttle arrived within another minute and the video ended with Zeke on a stretcher, being loaded into the shuttle.

"Do you have any statement to make in your defense? Do you request any assistance in this case?" the head judge asked him.

"No," Rilt said clearly. "I accept whatever your judgment may be."

The video was blank for a moment and resumed with the judges rendering their verdict which Zeke assumed had never been in doubt.

The next day should have been focused on his studies, but the weight of the decision he faced dominated his thoughts.

He decided to face this challenge directly. He spoke into his comm asking for directions to where Rilt was held. As he suspected, Anyari were not a secretive people. It replied with the location of the barracks for visitors located on the other side of the center. He gave instructions that his whereabouts for the following hour be kept private. He received a confirmation and an offer to explain in detail what the limits of the comm's compliance could be, which he declined.

Though he knew this was beyond the limits Elenne had set, he would rather ask forgiveness than permission.

The room Rilt was confined to was no different than any of the others. An enlisted man was seated in the hallway, outside the door.

"I'm going in to speak with him," Zeke told the guard.

To Zeke's surprise, he simply nodded.

A knock on the door was answered by a simple, "Come."

Rilt was seated at the console, the chair turned toward the door. His eyes reflected surprise as he saw who his visitor was. Zeke had expected to see Rilt's haughty air, or for him to be tired, worried, and perhaps resentful. His attitude was neither. He was, or appeared, peaceful. His expression was calm, with neither a smile nor frown on his face.

Rilt did not voice the question that was apparent in his eyes, and Zeke, not quite sure himself, did not volunteer an answer.

The room was simple but not starkly furnished. He had a console, two chairs, and a bed. There was even a window. Rather than take the other chair, Zeke looked at the bed, indicating he'd like to sit. Rilt nodded.

"How are you?" Rilt asked, after a silence that was growing uncomfortable.

"Fine," Zeke answered. "They haven't let me resume training yet, but I think it will be..." He stopped, realizing that the subject was not something that Rilt would be interested in now.

"I am sorry," Rilt said. "I don't have any excuses. It was bound to happen; you were just there when it did."

"Bound to happen?"

"The last few days have given me time to think, and a whole new perspective," he smiled ruefully.

"I expected to see you downcast, or your same arrogant self. You don't seem to be either."

"A weight has been taken from my shoulders," was his surprising response. "For as long as I can remember, I've been the person my family expected. Arrogant attitude and all. It never occurred to me that I might not really be that person. Now, the worst that can happen to me is preferable to continuing the life I had.

"I think I can ask," he continued, "why you're here?"

"I'm not really angry at you for what happened on the field, though that may be partly because of not remembering anything that happened," Zeke began. "However, the responsibility that your system of justice has placed upon me is something that I am having a problem with.

"In the past, I would have hesitated--no I would have completely avoided anything that threatened a confrontation. Since I've been here, though, my perspective has also changed. I'm doing things--I've done things, I would never have had the nerve to do before."

"What is it you expect me to do?" Rilt said, resentment creeping into his voice. "Ask for mercy? I can accept whatever you decide."

"I don't want the responsibility of this decision, but there doesn't seem to be a way I can avoid it. Everything up to now has been clear, the choices always seemed obvious."

"The maximum sentence would not be unreasonable," Rilt's voice was even. "I don't know what you think, but even the labor camps are not terrible places. The work is strenuous, but they are not harsh or cruel. That isn't the Anyari way.

"It does often change people's lives for the better. It could even rehabilitate me," his smile was forced, but his tone was sincere.

"What would you do if you were me?" Zeke asked the obvious question.

"I can't answer objectively. Accepting it doesn't mean I look forward to it, although, in a strange way, I almost do."

"I'm not looking for an unbiased answer, I'm looking for a good answer, or maybe even a reasonable answer," Zeke said, determination in his voice.

"Your decisions up to now haven't been so bad. Even I have to admit it. I'm not afraid of what you decide."

"Are you a bad person, who deserves to be punished? Have you ever done anything else like this?" Zeke asked.

"Nobody would say I was the nicest person they know, I'm sure," and he paused. "No, I'm not a bad person. Hot-headed, self-centered, yes. But I don't think I was, or am bad."

"OK, I'm sorry I can't tell you, yet, what I'm going to do," Zeke told him. "I don't know myself."

"I understand," Rilt answered. "I am sorry, Zeke. For what I did... I have not done anything like that before. I will not again."

Zeke got up, "I don't doubt it. Whatever happens, Rilt, I wish you well. I can't pretend to understand the path that brought you here. I want something good to come out of this."

"Thank you. It will. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything."

Zeke extended his hand--it was an Anyari custom, too. Rilt's grasp was firm, but not overpowering.

On the way back to his room, an idea started to take shape. One that might work out well for everyone, he thought. When he returned to his room, Elenne was there, with crossed arms and tapping her foot in a familiar gesture.

"Where have you been?"

"I had something important to do."

To his surprise, she didn't pry. His explanation was accepted.

"You should have let me know." Her tone was petulant, but she let the matter drop with, "Please don't leave again without letting me know. Your comm can keep track of you if you have trouble, but I would still prefer if I weren't surprised."

Zeke kept his reply contrite. "OK, I don't plan any more surprise trips. I accomplished what I intended."