Adjudicator Sard had an expression on her lined, wise face that conveyed, “This had better be good.” “All right, child,” she said to Jasmel, who was still standing next to Adikor in the Council chamber. “What other explanation, besides violent action, is there for your father’s disappearance?”
Jasmel was quiet for a moment. “I would gladly tell you, Adjudicator, but …”
Sard was growing more impatient than usual. “Yes?”
“But, well, Scholar Huld could explain it much better than I.”
“Scholar Huld!” exclaimed the adjudicator. “You propose the accused should speak on his own behalf?” Sard shook her head in astonishment.
“No,” said Jasmel quickly, clearly realizing Sard was about to prohibit this outlandish notion. “No, nothing like that. He would simply address some points of technical information: information about quantum physics, and—”
“Quantum physics!” said Sard. “What bearing could quantum physics possibly have on this case?”
“It may in fact be the key,” said Jasmel. “And Scholar Huld can present the information much more eloquently …” she saw Sard frowning “… and succinctly than could I.”
“Is there no one else who could provide the same information?” asked the adjudicator.
“No, Adjudicator,” said Jasmel. “Well, there is a group of females in Evsoy engaged in similar research, but—”
“Evsoy!” exclaimed Sard, as if Jasmel had named the far side of the moon. She shook her head again. “Oh, all right.” She fixed a predator’s gaze on Adikor. “Do be brief, Scholar Huld.”
Adikor wasn’t sure if he should rise, but he was getting tired of sitting on the stool, and so he did. “Thank you, Adjudicator,” he said. “I, ah, I appreciate you allowing me to speak other than simply in response to questions posed.”
“Don’t make me regret my indulgence,” said Sard. “Get on with it.”
“Yes, of course,” said Adikor. “The work Ponter Boddit and I were doing involved quantum computing. Now, what quantum computing does—at least in one interpretation—is reach into countless parallel universes in which identical quantum computers also exist. And all these quantum computers simultaneously tackle different portions of a complex mathematical problem. By pooling their capabilities, they get the work done much more quickly.”
“Fascinating, I’m sure,” said Sard. “But what has this to do with Ponter’s alleged death?”
“It is, ah, my belief, Worthy Adjudicator, that when we were last running our quantum-computing experiment, a … a macroscopic passage of some sort … might have opened up into another one of these universes, and Ponter fell through that, so—
Daklar Bolbay snorted derisively; others in the audience followed her lead. Sard was once again shaking her head in disbelief. “You expect me to believe that Scholar Boddit vanished into another universe?”
Now that the crowd knew which way the adjudicator’s sentiments were leaning, they felt no need to hold back. There was out-and-out laughter emanating from many seats.
Adikor felt his pulse quickening, and his fists clenching—which was the last thing he should be doing, he knew. He couldn’t do anything about the tachycardia, but he slowly managed to force his hands to open. “Adjudicator,” he said, managing as deferential a tone as he could, “the existence of parallel universes underlines much theoretical thought in quantum physics these days, and—”
“Silence!” shouted Sard, her deep voice thundering in the hall. Some audience members gasped at her volume. “Scholar Huld, in all my hundreds of months as an adjudicator, I have never heard such a flimsy excuse. You think those of us who didn’t go to your vaunted Science Academy are ignoramuses who can be fooled by outlandish talk?”
“Worthy Adjudicator, I—”
“Shut up,” said Sard. “Just shut up and sit back down.”
Adikor took a deep breath, and held it—just as they’d taught him to those 250-odd months ago when he’d been treated for having punched Ponter. He let the breath out slowly, imagining his fury escaping with it.
“I said sit down!” snapped Sard.
Adikor did so.
“Jasmel Ket!” said the adjudicator, turning her fiery stare now on Ponter’s daughter.
“Yes, Adjudicator?” said Jasmel, her voice quavering.
The adjudicator took a deep breath of her own, composing herself. “Child,” she said, more calmly, “child, I know you lost your mother recently to leukemia. I can only imagine how unfair that must have seemed to you, and little Megameg.” She smiled at Jasmel’s sister, new wrinkles piling atop the old ones on her face. “And now, it seems perhaps your father is dead, too—and, again, not the inevitable death that comes eventually to us all, but unexpectedly, without warning, and at a young age. I can understand why you are so reluctant to give up on him, why you might accept an outrageous explanation …”
“It’s not like that, Adjudicator,” said Jasmel.
“Isn’t it? You’re desperate for something to hold on to, some hope to cling to. Isn’t that so?”
“I—I don’t think so.”
Sard nodded. “It will take time to accept what has happened to your father. I know that.” She looked around the chambers, then finally her gaze landed on Adikor. “All right,” Sard said. She was quiet for a moment, apparently considering. “All right,” she said again. “I’m prepared to rule. I do believe it is just and appropriate to find that a good circumstantial case for the crime of murder has been made, and I therefore order this matter be tried by a trio of adjudicators, assuming anyone still wishes to pursue the issue.” She looked now at Bolbay. “Do you wish to press the charge further, on behalf of your minor ward, Megameg Bek?”
Bolbay nodded. “I do.”
Adikor felt his heart sink.
“Very well,” said Sard. She consulted a datapad. “A full tribunal will be convened in this Council hall five days from now, on 148/119/03. Until such time, you, Scholar Huld, will continue to be under judicial scrutiny. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Adjudicator. But if I could only go down to—”
“No buts,” snapped Sard. “And one more thing, Scholar Huld. I will be leading the tribunal, and I will be briefing the other two adjudicators. I grant there was a certain drama in having Ponter Boddit’s daughter speak for you, but the effect won’t last for a second try. I strongly suggest you find someone more appropriate to speak for you next time.”