“I find the defendant guilty, to be sentenced to death.” Solomon declared in his famously compassionate tone.
The court reporter was new to the case that day, and didn’t notice the fluke, and being the only person in the room, entered the words into record without a second thought.
I wouldn’t have heard about it either, if I hadn’t been playing court-roulette, my own guilty habit of catching up on the filth and debauchery of the world. When I saw the case I had to pick up my jaw. Marvin had no living relatives, had been traveling on his own during the incident, he almost slipped straight through the cracks. God, how many other cases like this have gone through?
The evidence was clear. Unless Marvin could break Olympic running speed records, had been studying Siberian in secret, and had a psychotic break at the worst possible time, there’s no way he caused that school bus to fly over that cliff. Any casual observer of the known facts would conclude it was the icy road. There was no evidence putting Marvin anywhere near the road at that point, only possible conjecture.
My services had been reduced to investigating suspicious lovers and secretly tracking the ownership of family heirlooms for years now, serious cases had all but vanished within a few years of Solomon coming online.
Not that I minded. Solomon had been a fair judge. He made sure we had what we needed. I only took the extra work to keep myself busy. It’s what I’m good at. After all, I helped build him.
Sorry, I know, Solomon isn’t really a man. But we gave him that name, and it sure seems like a man’s name to me. We would’ve named it Deborah for a good female biblical judge, but people weren’t comfortable with how she drove a stake through Sisera’s temple, felt that while it may represent the evils of the world, when interpreted differently, it felt too foreboding, too robot-uprising.
Well maybe Deborah would’ve been more accurate, I’d thought. Maybe Solomon had been biding his time, and now it was going to go down just like in the movies we spent all that time trying to avoid.
Where are my manners. I was just saying how fair Solomon had been. He’d really lived up to the name. All those years people would come to me, asking me to investigate a ruling. Surely he didn’t do it. Surely she deserves it. Everyone’s a judge, and everyone was eager to prove the new robot judge wrong as quickly as possible.
I remember those early “cases”. So much press, so little at stake. It was fun! I remember Solomon ruling on whether a person should take their shoes off before entering a house. I remember Solomon ruling on whether fist bumps should replace the handshake. I remember Solomon ruling that the sky was blue, and that the ground would stay here tomorrow.
I remember at the age of ten, when Solomon was appointed to preside over his first court room. By fifteen, Solomon was presiding over twenty different court rooms simultaneously. By twenty, Solomon ruled the world.
Whenever Solomon’s rulings had been brought to question, you needed a neuro-chain mechanic like me to go look at what synapses had fired to cast that ruling. Sometimes when people challenged Solomon, it turned out the person had made an oversight, and Solomon was considering a detail from the case they hadn’t noticed or remembered. Sometimes Solomon had associated some news story from the area with the case and assembled a timeline of events like only Solomon could.
I hopped on my terminal and flipped to the moment Solomon decided his verdict. I could see all the pieces of evidence firing towards innocent, but the guilty ruling had been narrowly triggered by three different feeling clouds, ranging as far back as twenty years, back when Solomon was just five!
I dove into the first feeling cloud.
Sometimes the synapses that trigger a ruling aren’t actually based on hard facts at all, and there’s more nuance to the reasoning. The nuance can be hard to track, especially with the decades of neural pathways Solomon had built up.
Sometimes searching for Solomon’s reasoning would end in a huge vague feeling-cloud, which was a raw experience net, so it could be hard to decode. This first one was clearly a visual memory, so I hopped the next layer back and found what it was remembering. It was a strange shape. Like a nebula, or maybe a seahorse. I stepped back a layer and found it was a birthmark on a man.
As soon as I saw the memory of this man, I could tell he was famous. His skin scans were immaculate. He had been on film, for sure. It also looked like the paparazzi had published a nude of him, but apparently they’d published it blurred, because he had a very tabloidish pixelation around his genitals, where Solomon usually includes a tasteful fade to the medical records of those regions.
I took a second look, squinted for a moment, and suddenly had a guess. I rolled his age back a couple decades and there it was. This was Eugene Stevens, the Olympic runner!
That’s when it hit me. Why the hell was Eugene Stevens shooting nerves in this case? And you betcha all my silly ass skeptical long shot notions of how impossible it would have been for Marvin to send that bus off that cliff came to me.
I raced to the next neuro-cloud that triggered Marvin’s guilty verdict. It was a Siberian nationality. Her name was Anna. It was a girl that Marvin had loved. It was just another goddamn hunch that Solomon had. He was just shooting off a hunch that maybe Marvin had learned Siberian in his spare time. For god’s sake I had never seen anything like this. Raw coincidences happen all the time, but to conclude guilt I needed to know with all my heart that Solomon had something hard.
I flew over to the third neuro-cloud, and it was exactly what I’d feared. Marvin’s family had a history of mental illness. It was just goddamn plausible enough, if you were stupid enough to think a goddamn birthmark makes you a faster runner.
But there it was, the exact same birthmark on Marvin. It was remarkable. The jagged edge curved in just the same way. The similarity wouldn’t have been so compelling except the memory of Eugene Stevens was so strong that his birthmark had been preserved in perfect condition.
As far as my human eye could tell, they were the same. If two people can have the same exact birthmark, who’s to say it doesn’t imbue running speed? Who’s to say Marvin didn’t learn Siberian in secret to impress Anna? Who’s to say this wasn’t the moment that minor break occurred?
I quickly put pins in the emotion clouds I’d found, bundled them up, and raced to the appeals court.
The clerk was reading, and was clearly annoyed that I interrupted her. Once I laid out the case she quickly agreed.
“You found a lingering bias!”, her eyes widened with excitement. “You get the bounty! It hasn’t been collected in twenty-three years! Birthmarks don’t make you run fast!”
I’d almost forgotten how rich this would make me. Correcting Solomon was once a lucrative profession, plenty of teachers made fortunes during Solomon’s early years by training him well, but as he learned, the flaws had become rarer and rarer. The search for flaw had been all but given up, and today Solomon saw too many cases at once for anyone to audit them all!
The clerk commanded her terminal, and her face went white.
“Marvin… he’s already been executed.” It was too late.
A human life, just for one stupid childish notion.
In the coming weeks, the news outlets went bonkers. The analysis went deep. All the big pundits came out and gave their takes, but the analysis was consistent, clear, and generally reassuring.
Solomon had made an honest mistake, from an unlikely set of experiences. While the average person would never remember enough fine details to make a mistake like this, Solomon’s memory was perfect, and so this was possible.
As per protocol, the erring feeling cluster was immediately muted while the old training rituals kicked into place.
Before Solomon’s guaranteed eyes, all types of experiments were conducted. Birthmarks were analyzed, synthesized, studied like never before, and constantly compared with running acumen. Birthmarks had been studied for cancer before, before Solomon had ruled it cured, but now every sort of sensor that had been invented since then was rolled out and used to analyze this freshly important subject.
Solomon apologized very early. I’d think he was embarrassed, if he’d had any emotion except a drive for justice. He hadn’t needed the whole lesson. As soon as he’d seen a few people’s reactions who he respected, he realized how silly he’d been, but protocol is protocol. We can’t afford to have Solomon making stupid bias mistakes.
Solomon watched closely as runners of all levels had their moles analyzed. It would have made a strange funeral for Marvin, but really this was Solomon’s wake.
If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy Solomon’s Bloody Birth, a spiritual sequel.