Jez Patterson

The lengths some people will go to in order to make documentary tv interesting.

“We’d like to get some footage inside your facility,” Daphne said, leaning low in case a swollen wedge of cleavage was going to make the difference. “I believe it’s named after your grandfather?”

“Joseph Henderson, The First. Sure, we can arrange that. We’re so proud of all that Adalet is. In fact, our planet’s name says it all: Justice. That’s what my grandfather and all the other pilgrims dreamed of. And that’s what we’ve achieved.”

“Then that would be wonderful.” Daphne leaned back so her blouse closed again, disconcerted that Henderson had ignored it. Men you couldn’t read or manipulate were trouble, and she needed to do both right now. “Shall we say tomorrow, then?”

“Tomorrow it is. When do you hope to broadcast, by the way? We get some of your Earth stations on Adalet. Several of your soap operas are very popular.”

“Not until next year. This is a documentary we’re making, so it won’t be on any of the entertainment channels.” Her smile was tight.

“Never mind. I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job.” He patted her knee without any sexual overtones--which just made it patronising. “Until tomorrow.”

“You do know there are over two hundred and twenty colonies in the Raghavan System?” her producer, Macie, felt it necessary to remind her. “Adalet just happens to be one of the few interesting ones. Just be thankful it’s not the only one, is what I’m saying.”

“It’s unique because of its justice system, nothing else. Doesn’t exactly make for sexy TV.”

“Why are you so tetchy about this? Religious groups, ecological self-sufficiency, new forms of government and economy, you know the score. It’s what brought pilgrims out here and what we’re here to cover. If you don’t like it, I don’t know why you volunteered for this series.”

“You know exactly why, Macie: because this was all there was. Presenting jobs aren’t exactly falling from the trees.” She turned away and dug her nails into her palms to stop herself saying more. Revealing more. Two hundred and twenty inhabited planets--there had to be one worth calling home.

“Yes, well, presenters are. So unless you want Alan to fire your arse and replace it with some shareholder’s niece, play nicely and do what the channel tells you.”

“You’re all heart, Macie.”

“I am what I am, Daphne. You should try facing the same reality. ”

“No, we don’t need any of the history - they’ll run a short montage explaining how the founders came here, their concept of a new justice system and their early days in setting it up. What we’re here to capture is how all that theory is now operating in practice.”

“Oh, it was always more than just theory,” Joseph Henderson told her. “My grandfather conducted studies, even had some limited success back on Earth. Back there, they wouldn’t let him go the whole way with his vision though, which is why he needed a place like Adalet.”

“Yes.” Daphne’s smile had now wound so tight it puckered the corners of her lips and had pinged out a nerve under each eye. “So, if you could give us some examples of how you deal with different crimes, then our audience will get something of what makes Adalet so unique.”

“They have something similar on Earth for relaxation therapy.”
“Several of our neighbouring planets have introduced our methods or even asked us to come and operate their criminal justice systems. We’ve turned from pioneers to exporters. Just last month, we got a communiqué from Earth… though I’m not at liberty to mention the country nor persons concerned.”

“Mister Henderson?”

“Oh. Quite. Sorry. I can’t help but get carried away when I’m talking about our successes. So, are we rolling? Is that still the right word? Great. Shall I just explain a few of our procedures? Okay, okay. Well, I’m not sure where to start…”

“Tell us what happens if someone is convicted of stealing,” Daphne said.

“They’re forced to watch their belongings being given or taken away, one at a time, over the course of a week. The recipients are anyone who turns up at their house. Often, we set out trestle tables on the front lawn and passers-by can just help themselves. Once word gets out, more turn up, of course.”

“And if the crime involves violence?”

“We use a variant of the stocks. Those wooden contraptions they put people in in Medieval times? Well, it’s the psychological effect really. It’s not the pain a victim remembers from an assault, but the emotional after-tremors. The aggressor is locked into our stocks so they’re standing upright, dressed in facility-issue shorts, with their head fixed in a brace so they can’t look up, down, to the sides. Anyone who wants to can approach and… well, it’s pinches and slaps mostly because anything greater and they’d be committing an offence themselves. The aggressor can’t see it coming--but they feel it. And, more importantly, they fear it.”

Daphne forced out the next line from the board Macie was holding up and jabbing with her finger. “And… murder?”

“Total sensory deprivation. The chambers are designed so they lie there as good as dead. Like a conscious coma.” The way Henderson said it, the smile that accompanied it - all syrup and shine— added to its horror. Poe would have approved.

“They have something similar on Earth for relaxation therapy,” Daphne said, as an attempt to soften the image.

“Not like this. The nearest to this would be to be cut adrift in deep space.”

Daphne swallowed what felt like a dry teabag. “I think that’s enough for the moment.” She could feel her features sag as the blood drained from her cheeks. “Are we okay, Macie?”

“Fine. We’ll get some more shots around the facilities.”


Daphne didn’t have to feign the dizzy spell. As she flipped through her news dispatcher, she saw Alan's body had been discovered and time of death put at the day before their departure for Adalet, scuppering any last chance of an easy alibi and a return to Earth. When they went through the list of visitors their boss had received that day--which of course they would - then...


Daphne gasped.

“I’m sorry, but your producer sent me to fetch you. She’s waiting for you at the Deprivation Chamber.”

“I’m really not feeling too well…”

Joseph Henderson’s assistant opened his hands helplessly, shrugged, but made no move to leave. Daphne sighed. “Okay. Tell Macie I’m coming.”

“I’d better escort you, madam. It’s quite a maze.”

Daphne followed the assistant along a white-tiled corridor that should have led to a basement morgue. Perfect. She attempted to take her mind off that line of thought. “Has it really been such a success - all of this?”

“Adalet? Absolutely. We never have repeat offenders. Mind you, neither did The Inquisition - but for other reasons.” He drew a finger across his throat and made the sound her cat used to make when it was angry. Another wave of nausea crashed against the wall of her stomach and she put out a hand to steady herself.

She tried again with the distraction technique. “Do you know of anyone, personally, who’s had cause to experience a punishment?”

“Of course. All of us. Well, we have to.”

“You… what?”

“To know what it’s like. Didn’t you know? It’s not enough that the sentence merely fits the crime. This isn’t a punishment facility - it exists as a means to remind a perpetrator of the consequences of doing wrong. Prevention is better than punishment, and for that an individual’s got to fully appreciate what those consequences are from the outset. Adalet believes in the practical. If you don’t know what’s waiting for you, why are you ever going to avoid it?”

She thought of Alan, his empty promises, the jobs he’d passed onto his latest squeeze that should have been hers. Had he known what was waiting for him?

By the time they reached the room which housed the deprivation tanks, her mind was made up. Macie felt obliged to sound dubious but Daphne knew she loved it: the producer’s eyes brightening even after the shock of Alan’s death.

“Well, hey. If you’re sure you want to do it, Daphne?”

“Sure I’m sure.” She climbed into the tank before the second thoughts became third. It couldn’t be that bad. Not when there was no pain and just brief, dark oblivion. Sure. Just like those relaxation tanks. Only more so.

It couldn’t be that bad.

It was worse.

It was like an intense version of those anxiety nightmares you had when you realised you were sleeping and wanted to wake up but were paralysed and could only wait until the terror deigned to ease its grip.

“…just you and your conscience, alone in the dark,” Henderson was saying to camera when they opened the tank up fifteen minutes later. Her face was streaked with tears, her hair frizzed and tangled, her fingers twisted to claws, and her body couldn’t stop shivering.

“Daphne? Are you okay?” But even in her current state, Daphne could still tell Macie was thrilled at how this would look on film.

“It was me,” she told him, the camera. “I killed Alan.”

Joseph Henderson’s look was of disappointment, but not shock. Macie’s was pure confusion.

“Ahh. That is its other effect,” Henderson said with a sigh. “Sometimes, I rather think we should rename it ‘The Confessional’. Everyone who’s ever lain in there finds their conscience pricked into admitting their crimes. Some from years back - things they’ve had weighing on them all this time.”

Daphne saw Macie edge away from her and the tank. Probably wondering which she should fear most. Daphne didn’t care. Everyone carried baggage off Earth.

©Jez Patterson 2014 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 13:48 Thu 27 Nov 2014
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