Starship Train: To Protect the Innocent

Boobyprize Event Log, Stardate 3G222.2. An away team, sent to a remote sector of planet Stepbridge 3 to prospect for minerals of interest to the Federation, has beamed back to the Boobyprize in a state of blind panic. Kirkland, Srock, and Bonehead meet Ensigns Maria and Luigi at the transporter station.

“Sir?” Maria, distressed, addressed the Captain. “We … we lost Red.”

When are we going to eliminate that color from the uniform options?” Bonehead blurted out.

Kirkland impatiently waved his physician to silence. More calmly, he asked Maria the obvious question. “What happened?”

“Luigi and I were scanning a promising outcrop with our tricorders, while Red stood guard, when a young woman, I suppose a local resident, stepped into the clearing. She was somewhat physically attractive …”

Luigi coughed, loudly.

“… and scantily clad.”

“To start with”, Luigi added.

“She beckoned to Red to join her …”, Maria continued.

“He was closer”, Luigi admitted. Maria shot him a dark look.

“Which he did”, she continued, with a dark tone that matched her facial expression, “with a stupefied look on his face. And then … they both vanished! We looked, and called, and got no response, from Red or from anyone or anything else. So we beamed back aboard.”

Kirkland beckoned to Srock and Bonehead, took a step towards the transporter. “OK, let’s go.”

Bonehead lunged ahead of Kirkland, planted himself firmly between his Captain and the entrance to the transporter platform. “Richard”, he barked, “as your physician, I give you an order. You stay here!

“Captain Kirkland to the bridge”, Solu’s voice boomed out over the intercom. Kirkland took off running, followed by Srock, Bonehead, Maria, and Luigi.

When they arrived, Solu reported. “Communication request from the Director of Stepbridge 3.”

“Granted”, Kirkland replied. “Onscreen.”

What appeared on that screen was a stunningly handsome face perched on a chiseled physique that was more accentuated than concealed by his quasi-military garb, an unadorned khaki tunic and trousers. It was Maria’s turn to cough.

“Captain Kirkland?” the apparition asked.

“I am he”, Kirkland responded.

“I am Alpha Se, by the grace of its citizens Director of Stepbridge 3. I am here to apologize for the loss of your crewmember. The woman you encountered was not authorized to be in your sector while your were conducting your prospecting. We have taken steps to ensure that the intrusion is not repeated. The woman has received summary judgement, in accordance with our codes and practices. As an accomplice to her behavior, your crewmember has received the same punishment.”

The Boobyprize bridge crew was too disciplined, and too experienced, to respond with words or actions to this news. The facial expressions, however, were eloquent – except for Srock’s, which remained Vulcanian impassive.

“This action”, Kirkland ground out, “is not in accordance with the codes and practices of the Federation of Planets, of which you are – presently – a member.”

“We are aware of this”, Alpha Se responded, with just a hint of heat, “as we are aware of the overarching principle guiding those codes and practices, your Prime Directive. To which your own courts will grant precedence over any unfortunate incidents. I would like to ask your Science Officer a question.”

“You may”, Kirkland assented, with less than good will.

“Very well”, Alpha Se acknowledged. “In your Earth of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, how were criminal and other inappropriate activities generally handled?”

“It varied greatly with time and place”, Srock responded in a neutral, scholarly tone. “But in the places that have most informed current Federation practices, the guiding principle was ‘innocent until proven guilty’.”

“Which sounds noble in principle”, Alpha Se prodded. “In practice?”

“It led”, Srock acknowledged, “to increasingly protracted and expensive procedures through which many who committed crimes, especially those who could afford such procedures, escaped punishment for, or even the need to acknowledge, the crimes. This became increasingly inequitable. It also led to a proliferation of laws and practices designed to prevent crimes from taking place. Computer users, for example, were faced with increasingly complex procedures that they had to master in order for the owners of computer networks to thwart crimes, and with increasingly frequent updates to computer systems that rendered just-adopted new procedures obsolete and unworkable, increasing the costs to end users in money and time.”

“In other words”, Alpha Se pronounced, “you consistently and progressively punished the innocent for the sins of the guilty.”

“If one allows that any are innocent, since, at essence, all are selfish and seek personal advantage above all else, up to and including criminal activity, then, sir, you are correct”, Srock stated.

“And how did Earth society address these ills?” Alpha Se looked like a fox pouncing on a mouse.

“You, sir, I suspect,” Srock remained impassive, “know the answer to this as well as I do.”

“I suspect I do”, Alpha Se triumphed. “You are a streaming hologram. We are a real planetary population seeking real answers. And our population resolved to find and punish wrongdoers, rather than continue to punish those innocent of that particular wrongdoing, and to adopt summary judgement and punishment as the only way, as shown by innumerable studies on the behavior of sentient and non-sentient beings alike, to make teachings about correct behaviors stick. A citizen knows that dey will be caught, exposed, and whacked, and that will stop dem from committing the crime. Anything less, and the ‘advantage’ of which you correctly speak will win out, and we are back to square one.

“Alas”, Alpha Se reflected, “another thing that we on Stepbridge 3 share with Earth is the history of industrial revolution and the climate disaster that our greed wreaked upon the planet. Like you, we dreamed that the technology that created the mess would allow us to resolve the mess while remaining greedy. We learned differently. And our learning caused us to realize, that assuredly finding, and punishing, quickly and firmly, those guilty of crimes not only lessened the population pressure on our groaning climate but, properly managed, also massively improved the health of those who remained. The health”, the Director’s face and tone became sardonic, “and, the appearance, which several of you have noticed – and one of you, noticed to his permanent cost.”

Captain Kirkland spoke up. “I don’t see how this circumstance will allow us to continue with our prospecting arrangement.”

The Director of Stepbridge 3 responded in kind. “don’t see how a contract with a streaming hologram will put credits in our banks. The citizens of Stepbridge 3 wish you well.” The stunning creature winked out; the screen showed only the stars surrounding the spacecraft.

“Leave orbit”, Kirkland ordered, his voice husky. “Mr Solu, set course for the next destination on our mission schedule. I will be in my quarters.” He stormed off the bridge.

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