Flash Fiction Friday: The Case of the People vs. Pandora

I.

Long, long ago in the first years of the Thirty-First Century, the great, the good, the wicked, and the terrible, all gathered from across the Seven Galaxies for the Trial. They came in their rockets and solar sails, their hyperdrives and trans-dimensional cannons, their teleporters and astral projectors. The Judicial Station show court could comfortably hold almost 2,000 assorted life forms, 2,500 if they squeezed. The tickets were exorbitantly expensive. One Baroness sold three moons and a minor comet to raise the necessary funds. For those without enough celestial bodies to sell, the trial was simulcast across the known universe. This was the trial of the century, perhaps even the millennium—the case of the People vs. Pandora.

Her guilt was undeniable, the evidence overwhelming, but her motives were vague at best, and there were questions whether all the evils in the universe could actually be contained in a small cube twelve centimeters high. Astrophysicists, philosophers, and theologians had all been consulted to no avail. A minor cult had even managed to form over-night preaching that releasing the evils of the universe was a divine act and claiming Pandora as their saint. They had already filed the appropriate paperwork requesting her bones as relics, in case of execution.

 

II.

The press swarmed the station like locusts. The great Media Conglomerates of Ursa Minor, the TransGalactic News Network, even the Daily Mail were all represented. They ambushed the three-headed judge in the restroom, planted listening devices in the jury room, and generally made a nuisance of themselves. Despite their best efforts, Pandora herself remained out of reach. Her lawyer, however, proved only too happy to give an interview.

Mr. Burr was the most famous defense lawyer in the galaxy and he liked it that way. He had worked his way up from the mean streets of Gamma Crucis representing the Gacrux Mob, before successfully defending the infamous Stellar Thief, who was found innocent on twenty-three counts of solar theft, despite being caught red-tentacled with a star in her pocket. Mr. Burr was loud, colorful, and used to winning. This would be his greatest success yet.

He had consulted the Oracle Mainframe and made the appropriate digital sacrifices, but it didn’t take calculative prognostication to realize that this case was important. No one would ever forget the Pandora Trial, not if she was found innocent, and no one would ever forget the man who made it happen.

“The question is not whether Ms. Pandora opened the box,” he told the assembled reporters. “That’s meaningless!” He slammed his hands on the desk. “I propose to make this about the real criminals. The ones who set up my client.” They were eating up his every word.

“I propose to put the so-called ‘gods’ on trial,” he said and grinned a shark-like grin. The reporters murmured approvingly amongst themselves. They could smell blood.

 

III.

The Box was forged from dwarf-star alloy in the fires of Hephaestus Prime by the finest craftsmen in the known universe, and commissioned by the Olympian Sect, a splinter group of transphasic multi-dimensional life forms, who sometimes referred to themselves as gods. Vain, squabbling creatures, they were quite capable of destroying entire planets with a thought. After the Great Dimensional War of ’67, they had more or less kept themselves to themselves. More or less. It, therefore, caused quite a stir when Mr. Burr called their leader, Zeus, to the stand.

Zeus appeared as an elderly, gray-bearded gentleman dressed in the latest galactic fashion, but there was nothing remotely human about him. His shadow twisted behind him in strange and terrible shapes. He entered the witness stand imperiously brushing the oath aside. He was a god, after all. Mr. Burr gathered his notes, nodded reassuringly at his client, and rose to begin his questioning.

Zeus was the first so-called god he had questioned, but Mr. Burr had dealt with more than his share of dangerous egomaniacs. He began slowly, with all due deference. He was flattering and circumspect until he reached the heart of the questioning.

“I understand the Box in question was constructed at your behest,” he said, “as a wedding gift.”

“It was.”

“Dwarf-star alloy is used primarily in intergalactic construction,” said Mr. Burr, “and you wanted it for a 12cm wedding gift?”

“It was the only thing strong enough to contain what was inside.”

” You are referring to the evils of the universe? You maintain that the box did, in fact, contain them?”

“I put them there myself.”

“Why?”

Zeus’ face was the picture of contrition. “To atone for the damage caused in the Wars.”

“A noble effort,” Mr. Burr said solemnly, “but I would remind the jury that none of the astrophysicists, philosophers, and theologians we consulted have been able to verify his claim.”

“The metaphysics is beyond mere mortals,” scoffed Zeus. The bulkheads creaked ominously under the weight of his voice.

“Perhaps,” Mr. Burr said, shifting gears, “but returning to the wedding, it was between the defendant and Epimetheus?”

“Correct.”

“And what is your relationship with Epimetheus?”

“A distant cousin,” Zeus sneered.

“Meaning he is also a multi-dimensional life form from an opposing sect?”

“Yes.”

“And, as I understand it, you personally punished his brother for providing us with the secret of stellar manipulation?”

“It was not his to give!” The whole station shuddered out of orbit. In the control room, alarms blared as the crew tried frantically to realign the station.

The courtroom erupted into worried whispers. Mr. Burr watched the jury.

“Were you aware,” he asked at length, “that Pandora was a clone?”

Zeus blinked. “No.”

“She was engineered for beauty and paid for by the Dyeus Foundation, a subsidiary of your sect. You didn’t hide your tracks very well there.”

“What are you insinuating?”

“Nothing, but it is suggestive that you apparently built both the bride and the box.”

“How dare you!” Zeus rose to his full height towering over the courtroom. This time the crew was ready. He was not the first multi-dimensional life form they had dealt with. Stabilizers were activated, stasis fields calibrated.

“There are no thunderbolts in space,” Mr. Burr said with his sharpest smile. The courtroom erupted.

“No further questions, your honor.”

 

IV.

Pandora was beautiful. It was an empirical fact. She had been designed that way, as a wife for a Titan, as bait. Her purpose had been etched into every cell; her actions wired into her brain chemistry. She had no choice, whether she knew it or not. Cloning was a delicate art and she had been sculpted by the best. But now the certainty was gone. She had lived her life with an infecting, all-consuming purpose but now it was fulfilled, leaving only emptiness. Despite the rumors, she was not stupid. Intelligence had not been a priority for her designers, but she was as smart as the average being. She knew what she’d done. She knew who was to blame. But more than anything, Pandora knew she wanted to live. That awareness kept her sane, made her human in the eyes of the law, but it couldn’t fill the emptiness, not entirely.

 

Mr. Burr had intended to use her testimony as the finishing touch. He had kept her away from prying eyes and ears, a waste of effort in the end. By the time Pandora had taken the witness stand, meek and irrefutably beautiful, the trial was over. Across the known universe, everyone had already decided. It wasn’t her fault. She was the victim. They were right, as far as that went.

 

V.

Pandora was found not guilty by a jury of her peers. She did not live happily ever after.

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