The blinding spotlight was the first thing Edminson noticed when he stepped through the steep, towering opening left by the steel doors. On either side of him, other than the concrete walls now separating him from the open air, were dead-faced men, dressed in gray suits, all staring into the vast expanses of darkness stretching into the extremities of what seemed to be a court room, although there were no seats. In front of him was a long table, at the other end of which sat another strange man, looking over a gray folder that held a stack of paper, the contents of which were unknown to Edminson, along with an equally suspicious looking briefcase. Past the table, there stood a giant gray podium. It was upon this podium, which towered 20, maybe 25 feet in the air, that stood what looked to be a judge. It was upon seeing this figure, whose facial features were not distinguishable, probably because of the blinding light, that Edminson felt afraid.
These things were all very strange to Edminson. But the strangest thing that Edminson noticed was a thing that he could not see… And that was the sudden realization that he did not remember how he got there. None of these things, the men around him, the judge or the plaintiff, whoever he was…the room around him, the table, or the gray jumpsuit that he was wearing…were familiar at all to him. But even worse was the fact that the last thing Edminson remembered was getting on a train, and therefore he had no clue as to how or why he was in this place.
“Where have I seen that briefcase?” Edminson thought.
He was to visit his brother in Philadelphia — it would have been the first time he had seen another family member since the war. After the powers-that-be decided the best course of action was surrender, (cowards, he thought,) the planet had formed a new world system of ordered governments, all under one regime. It had been too long, not because he had lost many family members in the war, but because individuals were not allowed to see family except one day out of every 3 months — otherwise they would be distracted from their work.
“Step forward!”, the judge bellowed, his frame seeming not to budge, nor his mouth seeming to move, save what Edminson could construct mentally around the deep abyss where a face should be. Stepping toward the end of the long table in front of him, Edminson continued to compose the expression on the judge’s face from his own imagination. He could not stop himself from constructing one out of the apparent need to elucidate the figure’s brooding qualities. The face he came up with was that of a man who had not gotten any sleep for the last…well, few weeks. Stretch marks and wrinkles pervaded an otherwise pale and doughy face, his gray and balding head resembling a bird’s nest that had collected moss. There was, in addition to the pain-stricken and aged face, a slight smirk.
The plaintiff below him closed the gray folder and handed it to the judge.
“New Delaware? 3-5-7-1-2?”
“Correct”, Edminson responded.
“Mhmm…It seems here that you hold certain…beliefs.” said the judge.
“Beliefs?” Edminson questioned.
“Yes. Certain convictions that you hold…that are…not in the best interest of the state.”
It was then that Edminson looked around him and saw that the dead faces that filled the room and pointed at the walls were now pointed at Edminson. Each of them seeming to compliment the expression on the judge’s face that Edminson had concocted in his own head.
“It says here that you are an agnostic, New Delaware.”
“That is correct. I maintain that God’s existence is inscrutable. May I ask what is wrong with this?”
The faces were now growing more pale and less amused. The judge looked over at them to offer them a gesture of reassurance.
“You see, New Delaware, agnosticism is not recognized by the state. The state holds that religious practice, pertaining appropriately to one’s profession, is acceptable, and even celebrated in the eyes of the state. It promotes multiculturalism. When everyone’s beliefs are celebrated, the many are strengthened by the few. Therefore it is required. But since agnosticism hinges upon a null hypothesis, and therefore, is no religion, it is not recognized by the state, and is therefore strictly prohibited.”
The judge seemed to utter these lines as if reciting from some Judicial manual of proceedings. But despite the judge’s apparent reluctance, The faces were smiling again.
“With all due respect, I don’t see how being an explosives technician for the government merits any particular religion. The way I see it, I make bombs. Bombs that you people then take and deploy throughout the world, in any region you find most…negligent. You tell me — what religious connotation does any of that hold? Well? What!”
The judge refused to respond. The plaintiff now handed the judge the briefcase, which, in the light coming from the single source in the ceiling, could be seen to hold the initials R.E.:
The last few days suddenly flashed through his mind. He knew where he had been. He could remember the train. He could remember his seat number, his ticket, getting up that morning, all the way back to his last string of thoughts that had failed to be cut off by whatever toxin had been fed to him on the way to the court room. He could also distinctly remember being somewhat apprehensive of seeing his brother, for that matter. After learning that his brother had risen to a place of considerable influence in the world of government, and that his request to see him seemed opportune, he began to ponder.
How magnificent it could be, he thought.
“Maybe he can join me! Oh, the glory of it all…This is my chance.”
He remembered the revolutionary discussion with his brother. He remembered the plan that they had laid out. The room he would enter. The questioning to which he would consent. The materials he would secure from the Philadelphia branch of his manufacturer…
The briefcase that would be approved for submission as “exhibit A” in a court hearing…
“Now, New Delaware,”
“It’s Edminson. Daniel Edminson!” he shouted.
“New Delaware,” the judge asserted, “I cannot afford you any leniency for this offense. We have the entire world council here. World leaders, all of which are part of the same regime. Being the first hearing on a religious case to be carried out under the jurisdiction of the Globe of Ordered Governments, Incorporated, it is of utmost importance to them. To all of us. But that is beside the point. Failure to adhere to standard practice is punishable by death….but you knew that all along, didn’t you…”
It was then that the judge leaned forward and revealed his true face. It was a face not far off from what Edminson had surmised. The baldness was there, the aging was plain to see, but the nature of this man’s face was not cold. It had seen many long and hard years of work, definitely, but this face was…there was just something about it…
There was a click. the briefcase the judge was holding flew open. It was at that precise moment, that “Exhibit A” detonated.
“Step forward”, the chairmen proclaimed, his white robe turning into an equally spotless podium, behind a giant round table, at which sat 12 councilmen.
“Correct”, Hernandez responded.
“It says here that you hold a particular…worldview…”
“Yes?” Hernandez inquired.
“You maintain to adhere to…universalist teachings,” said the chairmen.
“That’s quite right.” Answered Hernandez.
“We at the council are, quite frankly, astounded that such an out-dated position could still be held by someone.”
The faces around the table all began to smirk.
“I’m afraid that since religion has been decided to be outmoded since over 20 years ago, it is no longer seen as beneficial for the general public for individuals to hold religious beliefs, such as yours. I’m afraid that such a failure to obey the law is worthy of a very serious charge — death, even.”
Hernandez looked around him, and the faces gathered around the table were all fixed upon his position. They were doing nothing but smiling at him. They just smiled, and smiled, and smiled.