An experimental science fiction short story

Dale E. Lehman
Sep 24, 2018 · 10 min read
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“man in formal suit standing while holding white balloon” by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

Attunga thanks her Excellency Planetary Governor Pangari for granting a stay of execution and consenting to hear his appeal. She is most benevolent and generous, a star shining in the firmament of the just government of the Koor Protectorate.

As her Excellency has certainly reviewed the results of the medical examination she ordered, Attunga hopes she understands the motivation for the unorthodox form of this statement. For Attunga stands convicted of crimes in which he took no part. Another actor appropriated his body, leaving him no memory of the events in question, nor did he initiate them. Can his conviction be considered just under such circumstances? Surely the other must be held accountable.

For this reason, Attunga’s argument shall be written as though the other were speaking. Yet the other has fallen silent and can no longer be awakened. Its memory remains concealed. Attunga must rely upon court records to reconstruct events, and in so doing has noted areas where supposition, not fact, colored the court’s verdict. Her Excellency will surely agree upon review of these facts that even the other cannot be justly condemned, and will no doubt overturn the conviction.

Attunga, a citizen of the province of Nungri, possessing a valid passport and having obtained the necessary visas, embarked upon the starliner Brilliance for a two month voyage. He never arrived at his destination.

Rather, I — the other alluded to above — awoke and assumed control of his body. I entered the Koor Protectorate early on the Feast of Masá’il. Three hours later, I debarked via shuttle, making planetfall in the city of Wodonga on the planet Yarra. I cleared customs without incident one hour after local noon. An automated inspection revealed nothing suspect, and manual inspection was not performed.

I proceeded from port to the Hotel Keira on the outskirts of Wodonga, where I booked a room for nineteen days. For the following six days, no significant information exists as to my activities. I did not speak to hotel staff except with regard to their services. I performed no financial transactions outside of the hotel. In general, my movements went unremarked.

This is unfortunate on more than one count. Attunga could wish for some memory of this time. Yarra is famous throughout the provinces and protectorates for its natural beauty, and the Koor Protectorate is known for its integration of cities into natural settings. In preparing this statement, Attunga spent hours distracted by holovids of residential towers seemingly entwined among forests of two hundred meter trees, and of waterfalls cascading down the facades of corporate offices. Such imagery cannot do justice to actual places. Even full immersion VR falls short of real travel. Alas, I cannot share any memory of these wonders, while Attunga never stood in awe before them!

This is no digression. This must be clearly understood: I am the implant the medical examination ordered by her Excellency discovered deep within Attunga’s brain. When I sleep, it is as though I do not exist. When I wake, it is as though he does not exist. Not being technically trained, Attunga can offer no details, merely that he and I are functionally separate people.

After six days of apparent inactivity, I received a visitor at the hotel. Court documents name her Meredith Stone, a government architect, age 31 Terran, born in Wodonga to immigrant parents. She has no criminal record. She did not testify at trial, but stated in deposition that she met me at a local bar one evening, whereupon I invited her to my hotel room. She declined at the time, but changed her mind and came to see me the following evening. I admitted her and, in her words, “We enjoyed each other’s company for many hours.”

Although Stone did not say so, the prosecution insinuated we had intimate relations, suggesting that I seduced Stone to gain access to the Governor’s Palace, where she worked. Attunga wishes to call her Excellency’s attention to the baseless nature of these suppositions. Granted that morals have declined throughout many of the provinces and protectorates, if not on Earth itself, the people of Koor are as noted for their rectitude of conduct as their cities are for their beauty. Attunga himself, risking self-incrimination, admits to a certain curiosity about my relationship with Stone, yet notes that she would have been unlikely to accept such an advance from someone she had only just met. Thus, her statement is not an admission of unseemly behavior. She may simply have found conversation with me pleasant.

Curiously, the prosecution did not produce Meredith Stone as a witness at the trial. Even more so, the defense attorney failed to subpoena her. Attunga wishes to draw her Excellency’s attention to this matter, for Stone plays a central role.

To begin with, she returned to the hotel two days later to offer me a tour of the Governor’s Palace. This was the second of her three rest days, giving her time for such excursion. We took aerial transport into the heart of the city and registered for the first afternoon tour. The palace is an enormous complex, built like a mountain, with greenery clinging to its exterior and rivulets trickling down its sides, as shown by holovids entered into evidence. The tour guide, a young man named Miro, testified to remembering us. His memory, he claims, is clear: there were only five in our group, and Stone was happy, talkative, and most beautiful. He recalls that Stone and I spoke frequently to each other. Once, he noted us holding hands.

Miro further testified that as we passed the closed doors of the Office of the Planetary Governor, I appeared unduly interested, although he didn’t explain how. He gave his regular talk, indicating that behind those doors lie a complex of offices in which work approximately one hundred fifty people, from her Excellency to junior pages. He recalls Meredith Stone whispering to me at this point. Although he couldn’t hear all that she said, he understood she had offered to show me those offices, and I replied that I would very much like that.

Upon this point hinges the prosecution’s claim that my intent from the start was to infiltrate the Office of the Planetary Governor to steal classified information and assassinate her Excellency. Attunga objects that Miro’s recollection of a half-heard conversation cannot be trusted. Indeed, given the prosecution’s insistence on our low moral standards, Meredith Stone may have been offering something quite different!

The following day, the ninth of Masá’il, I was seen leaving the Hotel Keira about noon, again in Meredith Stone’s company. Another man now enters the story, referred to in court documents only as “Gray Suit” because every time he appears, he is wearing the same gray suit. Hotel employees noticed him sitting in the hotel lobby, intent upon a holovid, as early as sunrise that morning. Given the season, he must have sat there for nearly five hours. When Stone and I left, he immediately pocketed the device and followed. We returned late that evening. We had barely crossed the lobby to the lifters when Gray Suit returned. He watched us until we boarded, then took a seat, holovid once more in hand. Nobody remembers Stone leaving that night. Gray Suit must have, because sometime after midnight a clerk noted his absence.

Matters become confused starting the tenth day of my stay. Hotel staff do not recall me leaving that day, but the owner of an electronics store, a man named Jarrah, testified that I visited his shop, spoke with him at length about the specifications of various components, and made purchases. An itemized list of purchased components appears in evidence.

Several other shop owners at widely scattered locations about the city also testified to encountering me and selling me merchandise, all roughly at the same time. While I admit to being a sophisticated device implanted in Attunga’s brain, I do not have the power to teleport or alter time! At least some of these witnesses must be mistaken, and given that hotel staff did not see me leave or return, Attunga contends that all these alleged encounters must be considered suspect.

This is important, for the prosecution contends that my alleged purchases are sufficient to construct a small-yield energy weapon and a thumbnail network explorer. If even one of these shop owners was mistaken, constructing such devices would have been impossible.

Later that evening, Gray Suit reappeared in the hotel lobby. Meredith Stone also returned, two hours before him. Or just before him. Or on his heels. Or an hour after him. Testimony is severely conflicted. Regardless, I returned half an hour after Gray Suit, and Stone presumably joined me in my room either at that time or somewhat later. The prosecution’s point in entering such confused allegations into evidence was to show I was being followed, which they suggest indicates the government suspected Attunga of being a Nungrian agent. But Attunga points out that Gray Suit equally could have been following Stone. Again, why did neither prosecution nor defense wish her to testify in person?

At about dawn the next morning, two disturbing discoveries were made. Housekeeping staff found Gray Suit dead in a linen closet on the same floor as my room, his heart seared from his chest by an energy blast. Less than fifteen minutes later, Meredith Stone was found in shock in a nearby service corridor. She had been grazed by an energy weapon, but not seriously. In her deposition, she stated she had no memory of being attacked. She only remembered leaving my room the previous evening and waking up in the hospital. Analysis suggests the weapon used in both attacks could have been built from my alleged purchases.

Suspicion first fell on me at this time. Hotel rooms were searched without result. Stone admitted to an “association” with me, and hotel staff reported that Gray Suit appeared to have been following us. Although no charges were filed, the prosecution contends I am the prime suspect in the murder of Gray Suit and the attempted murder of Meredith Stone.

Attunga points out that subsequent events cast doubt on this contention. Following two days in the hospital, Stone renewed her association with me. Hotel staff recall her returning and asking if I was still in residence. On the fourteenth of Masá’il, she was seen entering the lifter on her way to my room, and the following morning we were seen together at breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Later that day, according to testimony from staff at the Office of the Planetary Governor, Stone escorted me in and toured me around. Had I attacked her, why would she return to me? More seriously, had I intended to use her to gain access to the Office of the Planetary Governor, why would I have attacked her before achieving that goal? Is it not far more reasonable that Stone and Gray Suit themselves had an altercation, he injuring her and she killing him? And if so, the question must be raised: who, precisely, is Meredith Stone?

To continue the narrative, neither Stone nor I were seen by hotel staff on the sixteenth or the seventeenth. An isolated witness, a security guard at the Governor’s Palace, testified to finding me loitering in a hall not far from the Office of the Planetary Governor. He claims to have approached me, but states I left, possibly after realizing he had taken note of me. However, the guard neither spoke with me nor came closer than five meters. Hotel staff generally noted my comings and goings, but not on that day. Attunga suggests the guard was likely mistaken.

Clearly, the accumulation of evidence used by the prosecution to link me with events on the eighteenth of Masá’il is fraught with question marks. What happened on that day raises greater questions still. Someone clearly subverted the electronic locks on the outer doors to the Office of the Planetary Governor. Computer logs show several attempts to access data systems three and a half hours prior to local midnight. Three of these failed, while the fourth succeeded. For the next hour, data was rapidly accessed and likely downloaded to a removable device, the full catalogue of which is provided in the original court documents. Yet the breadth and depth of the accessed data makes it impossible to determine the real target of the breach, or even if there was one.

Twelve minutes after the breach ended, a high-level meeting taking place in an adjoining conference room was interrupted by an electronically masked intruder. The nature of the meeting and the list of attendees is classified, although it was noted that your Excellency was present. Depositions from several unnamed attendees state that the intruder brandished a small energy weapon. Shots were discharged, damaging the walls and ceiling. The damage likely occurred during the ensuing scuffle as two of those present attempted to subdue the intruder, who ultimately escaped.

Attunga calls attention to the fact that nobody was actually injured in this incident. Likely the intruder stumbled upon the meeting while searching the offices. Who would have expected a meeting to be in progress at such a late hour? Conversely, if the attack was intentional, what assassin would have completely missed his target? Finally, as one of the meeting participants, your Excellency knows what transpired and whether it had the character of an assassination attempt.

I was arrested the following day while preparing to leave the hotel for the spaceport. The prosecution contends that an energy weapon found in my possession was consistent with the damage to the conference room, and that the remains of a thumbnail network explorer recovered in trash collected from my floor of the hotel could have been used to accomplish the data breach. However, no recording device was found. Nor is it known how the stolen data might have been recorded, as my alleged purchases would not have been sufficient to build a storage device.

Your Excellency will surely agree that the many unanswered questions — the nature of my relationship with Meredith Stone, why she was not required to testify in person, why Gray Suit was following us, whether the various shop owners and Governor’s Palace staff remembered events clearly and correctly, and the apparently accidental nature of the intrusion into your Excellency’s meeting — cast grave doubt upon the verdict returned by the court. Attunga asks that you consider these facts carefully and reverse his conviction.

As for the device herein referenced as “I,” it has gone dormant and can neither offer testimony nor undertake further action.

Attunga alone, therefore, awaits your just decision.

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