“Trent Johnston, stand.”
The community judge’s voice filled the sweat box of a room, chilling Trent to the bones. He’d heard the tone before — the arrogant voice of someone trying to squeeze their viciousness and bullying into overly kind words. Appearance always mattered more than truth in the what once were called halls of justice.
The sweat-covered and all-too-eager bailiff started to wave the five community officers standing behind Trent to get him to his feet. Before they could move, Trent stood. Back straight despite the recent pummeling from the five behind him. His eyes stared like lasers, but were unable too meet the shifting eyes of the man before him.
“Trent, you stand before us today accused once again of Mongering. I can’t let this slide this time.”
After spending 10 of his last 18 years on unforgiving city streets, Trent placed a mask of contempt over his face. Scrapping and scraping as an urban wild child, the child of a convicted Monger parents, Trent knew what was about to happen.
“You would think your parents’ exile to UrbanPrison should have taught you a lesson, but no.”
The judge, a fat man in skinny community, looked at the FedState’s record of Trent’s LifeNotes and shook his head.
“Perhaps your parents’ Mongering tainted you. It says here you were an accessory in their first offense for conspiring to start unsanctioned, untaxed, and unsupervised community gardens on the rooftops.” The man’s jowls jiggled as he shook his head and muttered a tsk, tsk noise.
“You know that Mongering — or anything related to buying and selling apart from the FedState’s benevolent care — is what caused the horrors of American arrogance and oppressiveness that left this world nearly dead from the greediness that is capitalism and the unchecked marketplace.”
The FedState propaganda rolled off the judge’s tongue like a wannabe’s badge of honor.
“Equally heinous, is that your parents sought to withhold their hybrid plants from discovery by the FedState so they could sell them for profit. These super-producing plants would have disrupted farming throughout the nation, causing farm-camps to no longer need half their workforce.”
Trent felt the revulsion for his parents roll around the room like a sickly smell. None of these community organizers, as they liked to call themselves, gave a damn for the families that relied on his parents’ work to avoid starving through the Dark Days after the Collapse. All they cared about was feeding their power through intimidation and lies.
“Young man, now we turn to your crimes. First there was the incident with the Oldsters on Jackson Street when you were 12. You willingly and knowingly deprived Community Workers — our own hard-working C-Dubyas — from helping those seniors by undercutting their services with black market goods and services…”
Trent could barely restrain himself from blurting out, “Your C-Dumbies were selling them dumpster-food from restaurants and calling it recycled foodstuffs!” He remembered the beatdown he’d received trying to argue that point so many years ago and remained silent.
“…and then at age 15, you sought to teach classes of first aid to your peers, thus undermining the credibility of our C-Dubyas on the Med-Force…”
The list of offenses, once honorable acts of citizenship, went on and on.
“At least I did my parents proud,” Trent told himself as he heard his supposed crimes against the FedState and Community. Finally the judge reached the most recent event.
“And now to yesterday’s incident. You have been accused and now stand convicted by my authority for once again undermining the credibility of our Community by using your Monger-learned first aid skills on a little girl struck by traffic. Bystanders all agree in these signed reports that you did not wait for the Community Ambulance Service and Med-Force to attend to her, but instead interfered, and by doing so, delayed proper treatment.”
Trent spoke for the first time. “She would have bled to death if I’d done nothing. But doing nothing is just what you leeches want, isn’t it? Make us afraid to act and you suck all our personal decision making out of us.”
The punch to his kidney from behind him dropped him to his knees. Most community officers preferred shooting, stabbing, or punching in the back because of a general adherence to cowardice. Trent recalled his parent’s words, “It used to be ‘To Protect and Serve.’ Now it’s ‘To Force and Convert’.”
In his agony, Trent couldn’t see, but he could feel the dog pack and mob mentality surge. He knew the five were practically salivating to be given the go ahead. He pictured the judge’s small smile of satisfaction race across his face and the bailiff’s fingers twitch with anticipation of forming a fist.
Trent knew even if he did make it through the next few minutes, he’d end up in UrbanPrison with too many injuries to survive the brutal welcome such a place was famous for. Fortunately for him, his parents had secretly taught him how to fight, both striking and grappling styles. He’d rarely used his skills, but now someone was going to pay.
Just as Trent steeled himself to launch into attack mode, the door burst open in the back of the room. All eyes turned to see who would dare interrupt a powerful community court session.
“Stop this immediately!” A familiar voice of authority brought everyone but Trent to attention. The figure crossing the floor toward them came surrounded by armed soldiers. Trent knew only two groups in the nation carried weapons — FedState Blackcoats or underground rebels in the Liberty League.
None wore black coats.
“Help him up,” the leader said, pointing to Trent. The armed men rushed to comply while the five bullies melted aside.
As strong arms gently lifted him up, Trent suddenly knew that voice. It was the voice behind the Liberty League’s Speak Free media broadcasts. The man, known only as Rafael, had an unmistakable Hispanic accent.
Walking up to the judge, Rafael growled his words. Trent could barely hear them. “You worthless wannabe bureaucrat. You would beat and imprison the man who saved my daughter’s life just to make yourself feel big and important?”
Drawing a menacing breath, Rafael added quietly, “What are you trying to compensate for little man?”
Trent noticed with satisfaction that the judge’s power was running down his pant leg. It made the judge speechless for the first time in a long time.
Now that he had the man’s full attention, Rafael made his words slice like a knife. “You will quit your job today. You will make all the reparations you can to the lives you’ve ruined. Do this and you will live.”
Turning away in disgust, Rafael made a quick hand gesture and his team quickly moved to tie and gag everyone but Trent. As they did, Trent found Rafael’s hand shaking his. “I owe you one, young man. Thanks to you my daughter is alive.”
Trent, unused to unabashed appreciation, simply nodded.
“Trent, the Liberty League needs men like you. Will you join us?”
“Yes,” came the immediate reply.
For the first time in 10 years, Trent felt like he was going home to a place where things were right instead of upside down, a place where honor, character, and merit were valued. Without a look back, he followed the Liberty League into a future he would help shape.