“It's Lyn and Brule,” said Celeste as the vid showed two people approaching the ship. “Something must be going on with Brule and Shella's joining. I'll lower the ramp if you greet them, Ben.”
“I take it this isn't a social occasion Lyn, how can we help you both?” asked Celeste. “Lycia has demanded a public trial to overturn the council's decision voiding her choice of Brule. It's occurring tomorrow morning,” said Lyn. “What can we do about this?” said Celeste
“We were hoping that Ben could be a witness. I'm Shella's advocate. Nona, unfortunately, is Lycia's advocate, and she wants to make a point.” “Why did Lycia do this to Shella? There has to be some real animosity driving her actions,” asked Ben. Burle jumped in, “Lycia was upset that she didn't get the assistant seed crop specialist job. Her mother is on the council, and she felt entitled to the position. Shella studied hard for that job and earned it fairly. Lycia is a spoiled and spiteful person.”
“Lyn, how do your trials work?” asked Celeste. “The Keeper of the Lots draws the names of seven women to judge. Each side has an advocate, and the trial is held in the square for all to see. You may call as many witnesses as you wish and the judges may ask questions too.” “Any witnesses?” asked Celeste. “Yes,” said Lyn, “Any witnesses, as many as you need. Since Lycia demanded the trial, she is the first witness and has to win at least four of the seven votes to prevail. The trial is judged after the last witness has spoken.”
Celeste eyed Lyn. “You are the Chronicler. When did the Gaian women decide men were property?” Lyn looked startled, “They aren't property. They are just men.” “Do they have a say in who they mate with? Can they own property? Choose what work they do? It sounds to me more like they are slaves. Or at best they are well-fed and not often beaten pets,” said Celeste.
Lyn sighed, “It was after the food raids and the peace treaty with Eauland. We had depended on our men to help protect us during this time, and we accepted many from Eauland who fled during the rise of the Oneness. More than a few of the new Eaulander men didn't like the fact that women were in charge and some of our own men joined them. The Council became concerned. They disarmed everyone in Gaia after the treaty was signed, and then set up the Gatherings. The rest of the changes slowly occurred over time.”
“Is it possible I could be Shella's advocate Lyn?” asked Celeste. “Yes. The only requirement is the advocate must be a woman, and Shella has to agree. But if you can't leave the ship, how is this even possible?” said Lyn. Celeste stood as a small bot rolled in and set a gray disk on the floor near Lyn. An identical Celeste appeared above the disk. “I don't have to leave the ship to be in two places at once. The only limitation is I can't move too far from the disk,” said the second Celeste as she walked a dozen steps away from the disk and faded away. Looking at Ben Celeste asked, “Do you want to take another walk and see if we can help Shella? I have some good of ideas how we could do that.” Ben jumped up, snatched the gray disk, and grinned. “Give me a couple of minutes, and I'll pack an overnight bag.”
As they approached the village, Celeste whispered in Ben ear, “I think you should stay with the men tonight. Ask Brule if there is a dormitory you could sleep at. Here is what I would like Brule to tell the other men and what Shella should do.” Ben smiled as Celeste finished up. “I can do that Celeste,” he murmured back.
As morning light filtered into his small room, Ben's eyes opened. “Good morning Ben,” said Celeste. “It's time to get cleaned up, it will be an eclectic day. Burle and Shella will be showing up soon.” Ben shook his head, rolled out of bed and headed for the jakes. Cleaned up and wearing his formal blue ship's suit he met Burle and Shella outside. “Lyn is waiting for us. We have time for a quick breakfast, and we can talk about the trial,” said Burl as he turned and started towards the square.
Lyn was waiting for them at an outside table. Ben cocked his head slightly, and took away one of the chairs and placed it at another table. He pulled the gray disk out of his backpack, set it on the floor, and sat down. Celeste appeared to the surprise of several other diners sitting on an identical chair and wearing her silver Captains uniform. Looking puzzled Lyn leaned in close to Ben and Celeste. “Can it be the two of you can hear and talk to each other even when you are apart?” “Yes, Ben has implants that let us talk to each other. I can also see what he sees because he has cameras in his contact lenses.” Lyn blushed a deep red color, “I'm so sorry. I didn't realize. I may have possibly suggested something somewhat inappropriate.” “Please don't worry Lyn, no offense was taken. You couldn't have known. We both have some remarkable skills,” said Celeste.
“How did you make out Brule?” asked Ben. “It was a late night, but nearly 100 percent. It wasn't difficult.” “And you Shella?” “A bit harder, but many ended up like I first did, and still might. They are mostly the younger ones.” Lyn gave the group a crooked grin. “You are all up to something. Do I need to know?” “It's best for you to be surprised. Is it allowed for you to stand with me and give me advice?” said Celeste “It's never been done, but I know of no reason why I can't. Nona will kick up a fuss, but I think she will back down if asked to provide proof it isn't allowed. It's time we should go.” “I'm also going to call you as a witness Lyn. You will know what to do at the time,” said Celeste
The closer they got to the square, the more crowded it was. Lyn inched over closer to Ben, “I don't know what you two have cooked up, but I have never seen so many people attend a trial. It looks like the entire village is here.” The group worked their way forward and broke out into the center of the square. The noise level dropped to a hush. A long table had seven women seated, and in front of them was a witness circle outlined in white on the cobblestones. Lyn led the group to the right side of the circle. Ben pulled the gray disk out of his backpack and set it next to Lyn, and he and Brule moved away. Nona strode out and stood on the other side. Susi, the Keeper of the Lots, walked to the center of the square. Loudly she announced, “The judges were fairly chosen. The Mother's justice will be now be rendered.” As she walked back, Lyn stepped forward.
“Shella, as is her right, has chosen another advocate. It is Celeste of Alexandria. I shall assist her with any issues about the Mother's laws of Gaia.” Celeste appeared in her gleaming silver Captain's uniform and somberly nodded to the judges. Nona turned to the judges, “This can not be. She is not of Gaia. She does not know our laws.” Several judges nodded their heads affirmatively. Lyn faced the judges and said loudly enough for the crowd to hear, “I challenge Nona to find one word in the Chronicles that says this is not possible. Celeste is clearly a woman. Shella chose her as is her right. I will wait here with patience for Nona show me where in the Chronicles it says this is not allowed.” The Judges all turned to Nona with expectant looks. Nona seethed for a couple of minutes and finally looked up with a glare, “I see I'm forced to accept this, but it's on Shella's head if she loses. I call Lycia to the circle.”
Lycia confidently walked out into the circle and faced Nona with hands on her hips. “Why did you demand a trial,” asked Nona. “Because my rights were taken away. It was my number that was called. It was my turn to choose who I wished, as it is for every woman who has drawn a number since the beginning of Gaia. I chose Burle, and the council overturned it.” Nona smirked, “Thank you, Lycia, I have no other questions for you.” Celeste turned to Lycia. “I may choose to question you later, but not now.”
After whispering to Lyn for a few seconds, Celeste looked at the Judges. “I would like to question Crop Master Jonie.” The crowd parted as an older woman with a long gray ponytail walked into the circle and faced Celeste.
“Thank you honored Crop Master. Is the job of an assistant seed crop specialist important?” “Yes very important. The seed is our primary source of income. It takes a lot of studies to become one. It's the first step towards becoming a Crop Master.” “Were you the one that hired Shella?” “Yes.” “Can you tell me why you selected her?” “Shella studied hard, and has an aptitude for it.” “Were there other applicants for the position?” “There were four.” “Was Lycia one of them?” “Yes.” “Why wasn't she selected for the job?” Jonie hesitated, “She had not put in the effort needed for the job.” “Was she angry when she didn't get the job?” “She was furious, and she let me know it by threatening me.” Celeste halted for a second to think. Crop Master, would you please turn to face the judges. “Her mother is on the council. Did she try to pressure you into giving Lycia the job?” Jonie looked at the judges, and then the crowd. “Yes, but I would not do it.”
Several of the Judges looked concerned, A short, stocky judge jumped up. “I wish to ask the Crop Master a question please.” Celeste nodded and stepped back. “Crop Master Jonie, how did Counselor Danie pressure you to hire Lycia over Shella?” “She suggested that if Lycia weren't chosen for the position, I would find myself the Crop Master in the smallest village in the furthest corner of Gaia.” “Thank you, Crop Master. Advocate you may continue.” Celeste stepped forward again, “Thank you for your honesty Crop Master Jonie. I have no more questions for you.”
Celeste looked over at Nona. “You may question this witness now.” “I have no questions for the Crop Master at this time,” snapped Nona. “Then I would like to question Burle,” said Celeste to the Judges.
Nona stepped towards the Judges. “This is highly irregular. It is not customary to have men as witnesses.” Lyn quickly stepped forward, “Nona, if you can show to all present where it is written a man can not testify we would all like to see it. Otherwise, we will continue.” Lyn waited for a few seconds and then nodded to Celeste. Burle stepped into the circle. “Burle, did you know Lycia before she chose you?” “I knew who she was, but I had never spoken to her.” “Do you know why Lycia chose you?” “Yes, she was angry with Shella because she got the job. She used the law to punish Shella and hurt us both.” “What would have happened to you if you refused to be led by Lycia to be marked?” “I would be forcibly marked anyway, then punished.” “Gaian law says because Lycia chose you she then owns you as property.” “Yes.” “How is this different from the way Eaulander's own their women.” “I don't see that there is any real difference,” said Burle looking sadly at the Judges. “Thank you Burle, I have no more questions for you.
You may question the witness, Nona.” “I will not address questions to a mere man,” stated Nona. “As you wish, I would like to now question Lyn the Chronicler.” After Lyn stepped into the circle Celeste asked, “Lycia told us her right to choose any man she wished has existed since the beginning of Gaia. Is this correct.” “No, the Gatherings were the result of accepting refugees from Eauland, and they started after the peace treaty was signed with them.” “Why do you think we are holding this trial today?” Lyn looked down, then faced the Judges. “It has become apparent to me the existing laws have been, and are continuing to be used to hurt people. They have been perverted by many who through their power gain at the expense of others. I am embarrassed that we are here in this square in front of people who travel to other worlds having a trial about the churlish actions of a selfish young woman who deliberately hurt others.” Looking directly at Nona Lyn continued, “I'm ashamed that some here are using our laws and traditions to justify these cruel actions.” “Thank you, Chronicler, I do not have any other questions,” said Celeste as she looked directly at Nona.
Nona charged over to Lyn crossing into the witness circle, stopped just short of her and screamed, “You are the Chronicler, and yet you stand here and mock our laws. How dare you. You are the traitorous one who should be on trial here.” The stocky Judge jumped up again and yelled out a strident voice that belied her small stature, “Nona get out of the witness circle immediately.” “You know the rules. If you don't have questions for the Chronicler, then don't say another word.” Nona glared at Lyn and stepped out of the circle. “I have no questions for this traitorous witness.”
Celeste glanced at Brule, Shella, and Ben and with a small nod stepped forward, “I would like to call all women and men present with an interest in this trial's outcome for questioning.” Burle and Shella moved behind the witness circle and stood to face the Judges. Out of the crowd men and women joined the line until the square sides were reached and a second line started behind them. Within a few minutes, the square was packed with hundreds of men and women all standing in rows. Nona was frantically trying to get the Judge's attention but was waved away as they gawked at the scene.
Celeste faced the group, “Thank you, witnesses. Just a few short questions for you. “Is the Gathering system fair?” “No,” came thundering back. “Should men and women decide together whether they wish to join?” “Yes,” roared the crowd, then stillness. “Should men own women and should women own men?” The square reverberated with a deafening. “No.” Thank you, witnesses, I have no more questions for you,” The square remained silent. Celeste faced the Judges, “I have concluded.” The Judges looked at Nona. “I have no more witnesses,” she choked out.
Susi, the Keeper of the Lots, walked out and stood before the Judges. “The trial is concluded. Have you reached a judgment?” Four hands went up, and then a few seconds later one hand went down followed quickly by another. Then the third hand was dropped leaving only one hand raised by a woman who was nervously looking at the crowd, and the other Judges. It fell back into her lap. Susi turned to the crowd and announced “Lycia has not prevailed. The joining of Shella and Burle is upheld.” As the crowd cheered Lyn cornered Ben and Celeste. “I know a small inn that has excellent wines near here. I don't know about you, but I sure could use a glass or two, or three.” “Lead on Lyn,” said Ben as Celeste vanished, and he picked up the gray disk. Shella and Brule fell in behind as they disappeared into the crowd.
“Celeste, how did you know Lycia's mother had pressured the Crop Master?” asked Lyn as she poured the wine. “I didn't know for sure, but the Crop Master seemed honest, and it seemed to be the right question at the time. What will the council do with her?” “I don't know for sure. If she is smart, she will resign, or if not she will likely be voted off at the next meeting. I will try to have Nona removed. Her performance wasn't up to the caliber we expect of a council head,”
“And the Gatherings Lyn?” said Celeste. “You have convinced me, and many others today the system is flawed and at times very unfair. I think the first step is to give the men the right to say no. This will make the women consult with the man of their choice first, rather than being publicly rejected. This will also make the Gatherings more festive. The rest will take time.” “Don't delay too long Lyn. Your world is going to change for the better shortly, and it will require flexibility to adapt. I'll give you a heads up, so you're not completely surprised. Shella and Burle would you like to escort us back to the ship? You can spend the night, and we can watch some vids? I'm also a decent geneticist so I might be able to help you with the seed crop yields Shella.”