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We the Jury; Fiction by Barbara Stanley
Emptying the Trash: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Milepost 44: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Planetary Perpetrator: Fiction by James Flynn
A Thin Thread: Fiction by M. E. Proctor
What Is the Song the Children Sing?: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
A Bottle of Sherry: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Junipers: Fiction by Liberty Price
Institution Inspector No. 23: Fiction by Michael Fowler
Nightmares of Nightmares: Fiction by John J. Dillon
When You're Dead, You're Done!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Family Business: Fiction by Donald Glass
Colors: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
Gladiators: Flash Fiction by John C. Mannone
Pigeons in the Park: Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Kitsy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
the look of legs: Poem by Meg Baird
Mike's 80th Birthday: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Art of Flying: Poem by John C. Mannone
Magazine Sestina: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Been Down So Low, It Now Sounds Great: Poem by Bradford Middleton
the burnt globe and the pregnancy: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Evening Alone: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Larry, Moe, and Me: Poem by Craig Kirchner
I Live the Life I Chose: Poem by Richelle Slota
Death House: Poem by Richelle Slota
he died of cancer: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Night: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
full of thoughts and hopes: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
threading a needle: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Atlas Yearns for Retirement: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Frown: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Why is the Sky Cerulean?: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Awakening: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Swirling in the Chaos: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Moira: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Midnight Molt: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Moments Before Awakening: Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Messenger: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

James Flynn: Planetary Perpetrator

103_ym_planetaryperpetrator_stanton.jpg
Art by Henry Stanton 2024

Planetary Perpetrator

 

James Flynn

 

 

     There was complete and utter silence inside the legal courtroom. CCTV footage was being played for the benefit of everyone present, footage relating to the horrific manslaughter charge against the defendant, Mr. Adam Curshaw. Adam, a distraught-looking young man with a network of deep creases around his eyes, stood near the front of the court, accompanied by his lawyer.

     On the other side of the room, flanked by another lawyer and a handful of relatives, was a bereaved mother who’d lost her young infant to the reckless driving of the defendant. Tears rolled down her cheeks as the video played, and every now and then she wiped them with a shaky hand.

     Judge Sage sat up front, behind a big wooden desk. In contrast to everyone else in the room, he showed no emotion whatsoever. Or, perhaps it would’ve been more accurate to say that it showed no emotion whatsoever. Emotions weren’t part of the judge’s programming, nothing like that had been installed within it, its job was simply to evaluate each case in a logical, straightforward manner. And even if it had been capable of feeling emotion, it would’ve been impossible for it to show it anyway, what with the silver, spherical, reflective dome it had for a head.

     A product of the biggest, most influential tech company in the country, Judge Sage had been given free reign and complete legal authority over its first case. It was judge and jury combined, all in one, with no restraints or restrictions over its decisions. Officials were watching closely from the back of the courtroom, the mayor, a handful of politicians, corporates, etc, hopeful of its success, but there was also anxiety in the air due to its excessive granted powers. Allowing the AI judge complete power and authority had been essential, though, because the top brass had to display complete confidence in their new product.

     Behind their backs, their fingers were crossed.

 

     The footage was horrible to watch, not only due to the graininess of it, but also the content. There was no sound, as was the case with most street CCTV recordings, but it didn’t seem to need it.

     A woman could be seen pushing a pram across Dunhill Road, close to a residential area with a few shops nearby, mindful of the oncoming traffic. She got halfway across and stopped, waiting for a small blue hatchback to go past. The hatchback swerved erratically, however, ramming the pram and folding it in two.

     At this point during the video, the bereaved mother looked up towards the inhuman face of the judge and screamed. ‘You see, Your Honour? He ran my poor baby over! Did you see that?’

     The woman’s lawyer whispered a few words into her ear in an effort to calm her down, and then the rest of the video played out.

     The car screeched to a halt, pieces of pram spread across the road like discarded litter, and then a cyclist appeared on the scene to offer her help. A few more seconds of grainy footage ensued, with the mother bent over the bleeding baby in hysterics, and the cyclist prancing about in a panic, then everything went black.

     With the video over, all eyes in the courtroom rolled over to the mechanoid judge, waiting to see its next move. Its smooth cranium remained motionless for a few seconds, its black robes covering the slopes of its shoulders, then, in a voice that could’ve cut glass, it said, ‘Mr. Adam Curshaw to the stand.’

     The man walked up, head held low. His lawyer followed.

     ‘Mr. Curshaw,’ hissed the judge, ‘could you please explain why you collided with the pram?’

     The lawyer piped up before Curshaw could answer. ‘Your Honour, my defendant swerved off course because the cyclist forced him to. The cyclist swerved into him just before the collision. It really wasn’t his fault.’

     There was a pause as the judge considered this, its intricate circuitry buzzing inside its silver skull. When it was ready, it said, ‘Mrs. Julie Mitchell to the stand.’

     There was a shuffling of bodies at the rear of the courtroom, then a middle-aged woman appeared and made her way up the walkway.

     ‘Mrs. Mitchell,’ rang the ominous voice of Judge Sage, ‘did you swerve your bicycle into the path of Mr. Curshaw’s automobile?’

     The woman, unable to afford a lawyer, cleared her throat, and said, ‘Yes, Your Honour.’

     ‘And why did you swerve into him?’

     ‘Well, Your Honour, there was some oil on the road and...and I had to steer my bike around it to avoid slipping in it.’ She swallowed, brushed some hair away from her face nervously, then continued: ‘If I hadn’t done so, Your Honour, there could’ve been an even worse accident—’

     ‘Worse accident?’ yelled the bereaved mother. ‘My baby’s dead!’

     The woman’s family did their best to calm her down, then the cyclist was eventually dismissed from the stand.

     ‘Detective Saunders to the stand,’ ordered Judge Sage.

     Detective Saunders, the leading police officer in charge of the case, stood before the judge.

     ‘Can you confirm, Detective, that there was a spillage of oil at the site of the accident?’

     ‘Yes I can, Your Honour.’

     ‘And what do you know about the oil?’ asked Sage.

     ‘I know that the spillage was thirty-two inches wide, and twenty-two inches long, Your Honour. And that it was positioned precisely one hundred and eighty inches from the pram as it was struck.’

     ‘And who is responsible for the oil being there at the time of the incident?’ asked the judge, with its flat, digital tones.

     Detective Saunders looked stumped, caught off guard, the confidence suddenly draining from his face. ‘That, Your Honour, I don’t know.’

     Another short silence ensued, with the judge’s head looming over the occupants of the room like an omniscient orb. Finally, the electric voice rose up again, ‘Is it possible to obtain more CCTV footage of the area in which the oil was spilled?’

     A surprised murmur echoed through the court.

     ‘Err, yes, I think so Your Honour,’ said the detective. ‘There is a camera on the other side of the road which probably points towards it, but—’

     ‘Case adjourned until CCTV footage is obtained,’ said Judge Sage, in a lightning pitch that rattled through everyone’s core. ‘And,’ it added, ‘I also want to question the perpetrator behind the oil spill.’

     ‘Your Honour! You can’t be serious! It could take weeks to find out who spilled the oil on the road, and is it really—’

     ‘Case adjourned,’ repeated Sage, amidst a chorus of groans and gasps.

     And with that, every person in the courtroom stood and filed out into the outside corridor, grudgingly accepting that it would still be a long time before this ugly case was settled.

     When everyone had left, Judge Sage remained in its position behind the grand desk, patiently waiting for what it had requested.

*          *          *

      Three guilty faces peered up at Judge Sage from the front of the courtroom. Adam Curshaw, the driver of the car, fidgeted nervously with a trembling lip and an extra network of lines around his tired eyes; Julie Mitchell, the cyclist, held her hands together in front of her, her lips tight and pursed; and then there was Peter Waltham, a sandy haired male mechanic who’d dumped the oil at the side of the road where the accident had taken place, tracked down by Detective Saunders.

     ‘Mr. Peter Waltham to the stand,’ hollered Judge Sage, with its indecipherable, penetrating stare.

     A pristine suit hung from the mechanic’s shoulders, giving him a superficial suave appearance, although to the trained eye it was clearly the first time he’d ever worn one.

     ‘Mr. Peter Waltham, could you please explain why you dumped the oil on Dunhill Road on the 17th January?’

     The mechanic was a bag of nerves. The tense atmosphere in the court, combined with the inhuman stare of the judge, was overwhelming him. And, on top of this, like the cyclist, he was representing himself due to not being able to afford a lawyer. ‘I…well, Your Honour, the thing is…I usually dispose of my waste oil at the designated disposal point which is…err, which is…City Auto Repairs. This is the…err, the main garage in my district, but it was closed for the entire week, Your Honour…and…and I didn’t mean for it to spread across the road like that. I tried to pour it down the drain, which isn’t ideal, I know, but...err, but then I noticed the cameras and panicked. I’m so sorry, Your Honour!’

     Once the mechanic stopped blubbering, the entire room fell silent in anticipation of the judge’s reply.

     And then it came.

     ‘For what reason was City Auto Repairs closed on the particular week in question, Mr. Peter Waltham?’

     ‘What? Err, well, to the best of my knowledge, Your Honour, there was a power cut in the area.’

     Judge Sage processed the input, its head protruding over the wooden desk like a polished bowling ball. ‘What’s the address of City Auto Repairs, Mr. Peter Waltham?’

     ‘I…I can’t remember exactly, Your Honour. But it’s on Station Road.’

     The chrome face pondered this for a moment. ‘That will be all, Mr. Peter Waltham.’

     Baffled noises rang through the room, heads turned this way and that, then Judge Sage spoke again.

     ‘Detective Saunders to the stand.’

     Saunders came up.

     ‘Detective Saunders, could you tell me why there was a power cut on Station Road on the week of the accident?’

     ‘No, Your Honour,’ he said, candidly.

     The chrome dome analyzed, thought and processed, its curves glistening under the courtroom’s lighting. ‘Case adjourned until this information is available to me,’ came the metallic voice.

     ‘What?!’ cried the detective. ‘This is crazy, Your Honour!’

     ‘And,’ it added, ‘if any person, or persons, are responsible, they will need to stand before me.’

     The bereaved mother began to pipe up and yell, appalled at the prospect of waiting even longer for a decision to be made. And at the back of the courtroom, the mayor, the cluster of civil servants, the corporates and the officials exchanged concerned glances. But despite the commotion, there was nothing anybody could do; Judge Sage had carte blanch over the entire case, free to do as it pleased.

     Sage’s word was final.

*          *          *

     Several weeks later Detective Saunders stood before the unrelenting stare of Judge Sage to report his findings. ‘Your Honour, after investigating the power cut on Station Road and interviewing several staff members at the National Electric Grid, I can confirm that no single person, or persons, were responsible for the incident. The company as a whole was negligent in monitoring certain power lines and generator voltages, and so it’s impossible to give blame to anyone.’

     Judge Sage was motionless, statue-like, but nobody doubted the fact that some kind of intense internal processing was taking place within it. When it finally spoke, all ears were listening. ‘That will be all, Detective Saunders. Please return to your seat while I deliver my final verdict.’

     Murmurs echoed through the long room. The lawyers, officials, politicians and family members all held their breaths, clueless as to what was about to come. This was it. After months of messing about and waiting, going back and forth with CCTV footage and gathering irrelevant suspects and leads, the A.I judge was about to deliver its final verdict. Several agonizing moments passed, the air in the courtroom charged with an intensity so immense it was almost visible to the naked eye.

     And then, Judge Sage spoke.

     ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the court. I now give you my final verdict regarding the manslaughter charge against Mr. Adam Curshaw. After much consideration, I, Judge Sage, declare that Planet Earth is the guilty perpetrator of the crime, resulting in the death of one infant. Furthermore, exercising my powers as both judge and jury, I am sentencing Planet Earth to the death penalty.’

     Chaos broke out in the courthouse. Emotions were already running high, and the ludicrous verdict pushed many people over the edge. Security was called upon to calm the most frantic individuals down, and once a decent level of calm had been restored, the judge made an effort to explain its surprising conclusion.

     ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the court,’ began Sage, ‘it appears as though some kind of clarification may be needed. Please let me explain. The young infant was killed due to Mr. Adam Curshaw swerving his car. Mr. Adam Curshaw swerved his car due to Mrs. Julie Mitchell steering into him on her bike. Mrs. Julie Mitchell steered into the path of the car due to an oil spillage on the road. The oil spillage was there due to Mr. Peter Waltham putting it there. Mr. Peter Waltham left the oil there due to the temporary closure of City Auto Repairs. City Auto Repair’s closure was due to a power cut on Station Road. Station Road’s power cut was due to the collective negligence of the National Electric Grid. The National Electric Grid is a product of the United States of America. The United States of America is a product of Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens is a product of evolution. Evolution is a product of nature. Nature is a product of Planet Earth. I therefore conclude that Planet Earth is the ultimate perpetrator responsible for this manslaughter crime, and the appropriate punishment will commence post haste.’

     ‘Switch the bloody thing off!’ cried the mayor. ‘This is insanity!’

     The mayor’s outburst was ignored, however, because all of the top officials knew that switching the judge off wasn’t an option. It had been granted full authority over the case, backed up by state law, and attempting to switch it off would’ve been illegal in every sense of the word.

     Certain other members of the courtroom were less panicked, though. How, they reasoned, could this ridiculous sentence be carried out, anyway? How could this faceless mechanoid condemn an entire planet to death?

     Little did they know, Sage also had access to the nuclear button.

*          *          *

          When mushroom clouds began to erupt and flare over the distant horizon, onlookers from the surrounding areas were confused. Some people assumed that an invading country had declared war, others thought that a colossal industrial disaster had broken out. 

     A multitude of speculations ran through peoples’ minds as the heat and fire advanced, some wild, some bizarre, some ridiculous, but not one of them guessed that the imminent Armageddon was due to a minor traffic misdemeanor caused by a small patch of oil. 

     Of which, Planet Earth was guilty.

James Flynn grew up in England.

His stories cross the boundaries of horror, sci-fi, and sci-fi horror. An absurdist at heart, Flynn’s tales are told through a lens of darkness, highlighting the many paradoxes and predicaments that come attached to human existence.
James Flynn’s stories have been compared to those of the hit TV series, The Twilight Zone, due to their eeriness and atmospheric nature.

Flynn's work has appeared in Black Petals Magazine, Yellow Mama Magazine, The Scare Room Podcast, Weird Mask Magazine, Literary Yard, Sugar Spice Erotica Review, Patty's Short Stax Anthology, Local Haunts Anthology, Lurking in the Dark Anthology, and Alien Buddha Press.

Flynn’s latest release is the Exodus of Evil trilogy.


Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024