The Gallery of Judge Akil
The Gallery of Judge Akil
The soldiers entered first, in pairs, leaving ghost-trails of street dust in the striped sunlight as they moved. Two of them trained their guns on Maymunah while the others darted expertly and neatly around her small shop, calling to each other in clipped, martial tones as they did so. Smoke-grey visors hid their eyes.
Maymunah knew the drill, and put her hands on the glass display counter and tried to breathe deeply. What was it this time, she wondered? There had been no disturbances in this street for a couple of weeks.
Two of the soldiers went up the tiny staircase to her apartment above, and two more went into the workshop off to the side. Another soldier came in, without a helmet, but still wearing sun-visors and a yellow dust mask.
Maymunah frowned. It couldn’t have been that miserable, old cow Deepa, could it? She wouldn’t do something like that, would she? Call in an anonymous tip-off, just because Maymunah hadn’t paid her last shipping invoice yet? The bloody, old cow, she knew Maymunah was struggling with –
The four soldiers re-appeared. “Clear.” A nod from the one without a helmet. “Clear.” Another nod. Was he in charge? Maymunah palms were sweating against the polished glass of the counter, and her mouth was dry.
And then the Judge came in.
Maymunah recognised him, although it took her a moment. Not that she didn’t know his face – Supreme Court judges were high-profile figures – but that she just didn’t expect someone like him to be here. It took her only a few more seconds to work out why he was here, and then her heart really started racing.
He was not particularly tall, not particularly handsome and not particularly young, but it was impossible to imagine him not being the focus of everyone’s attention. He seemed to drag the light with him from the sun-baked street outside, his mature and confident face dancing with a vigour that belied his years, his pale, blue eyes smooth, unlined and taking in the contents of Maymunah’s shop as if he visited places like this every day. Some tiny part of Maymunah had to remind her not to bow.
His Gallery followed him in, three silent figures in long, red robes turned brown with dust.
The judge nodded to the soldier without a helmet, who barked an incomprehensible command and led the soldiers out of the shop. The door tinkled shut behind them, leaving Maymunah alone with the judge and his Gallery, standing in the settling dust and the golden, shuttered sunlight.
The judge took his white gloves off and laid them gently on the counter, then offered his manicured hand to Maymunah.
“Judge Akil, Madame. Peace be upon you and this house.” His voice was low and soft, like river water over a gravel of deep bass notes.
She shook his hand. “Mde. Maymunah, Judge. And upon you peace. How is your health?” She hadn’t voted for him, not that it would have made any difference.
“Praise be, may the setting sun leave me as the rising sun found me.” The formalities over, she watched him look her up and down.
“Praise be. How may I be of service to the Judge?” As if she didn’t already know. Her business had already increased in just the two weeks since the riots and the fire at the Civic Centre, but it had never occurred to her that her competitor there had had such illustrious customers. Well, it was the Civic Centre, after all. Where else were the elite to go shopping without worrying about being kidnapped, or worse?
Judge Akil coughed genteelly, some dust from outside obviously sticking in his throat. “Good, good. Straight to business, Mde. I like that. These too-ings and fro-ings can get rather tedious.”
With the likes of me, thought Maymunah, although her polite smile never slipped.
“It is my Gallery, or rather my link with my Gallery. I need it fixed. The quicker the better.”
“Of course. May I take a look?” Maymunah gestured at the purple velvet mat on the counter-top, but the Judge didn’t move.
“My detail had this place vetted, naturally,” he said. “Had you vetted. It seems you do decent work. Educated in the Sorbonne – on a scholarship, of course. Husband and son both deceased in the last two years. A hazard of living in this city, no doubt. No-one else living here,” – the tone of his voice made it clear how distasteful the judge would have found it had that not been the case for a woman in Maymunah’s position – “so no man who can take over your business. I don’t often do business with women.” He smiled, but none of the warmth of the day shone from it. “You are behind in your rent and your suppliers get paid late. But – you do decent work. And you are the only foreign educated psychanic in the city after that unfortunate fire.”
Judeg Akil took his collar off, wincing slightly as the link broke. Behind him his Gallery shifted uneasily. He put the collar down on the counter, but didn’t take his hand off it. “I don’t expect to pay the full rate.” He took his hand away.
Maymunah nodded politely. It was hardly unexpected. No-one paid women full rate for anything, which was one of the many reasons her business was slowly slipping down the drain.
She took a professional look at the collar. A Makrhati as-Dorian, grey in colour, but with some custom additions and plenty of expensive gilt work. Worth a small fortune, but also worthless without the Gallery.
“And what seems to be the problem, your honour?”
“The link, didn’t you listen? It cuts in and out. It’s the dust, or the heat.”
It almost certainly wasn’t, but Maymunah nodded anyway. Men so liked to be right about things.
“Any problems with the Gallery? Are they new?” She walked around the counter to take a look at the silent trio.
“They’ve all been with me about two years. Some noises and jitter.”
Maymunah took the red hoods off the three, to get a look at the link mechanism implanted in the back of their skulls. Two women and a man, their faces vacant like mannequins. The eyes of the man were sewn shut, the mouth of one woman stitched shut and the ears of the other woman missing. The usual medieval symbolism the judiciary insisted upon for their Galleries. See no evil, hear no – she paused, her hand freezing mid-touch.
“These aren’t vat-born.”
Judge Akil coughed again. “No. There have been some problems with the vats for a while, now. It’s not exactly a secret, although it’s not common knowledge.” Meaning – don’t go mentioning it to anyone, woman, unless you want another armed visit in the middle of the night. “These are mind-wipes. Criminals who get deletion instead of execution.” He shrugged. “And the odd intact body from the morgues. It’s the same thing, really. Vat-born or mind-wipe, they store up the emotions just as readily.”
Maymunah already knew what was wrong with the link to the Gallery. It was a simple fix, but then the judge didn’t know that. She walked around the trio for a few moments, checking here and there, wondering who they had been and what crimes they had committed. Then she saw something she had not expected to and she shuddered, despite the heat of the day, and turned back to the judge.
If the judge noticed the change in her demeanour, he did not comment on it. Most likely his gaze had been straying below neck-line, anyway.
“You – you are right, your honour. The – the heat and the dust have corroded the rhodium contacts in the receptors and in your collar. I – I will need to repair them all, and order replacement parts.”
The judge frowned, anger massing his brow for an instant, and then a look of surprise crossed his face. He clearly wasn’t used to being angry, but then that was the point of the Gallery and he wasn’t wearing his collar. He took a moment to compose himself. “How long, pray, will that take?”
Maymunah smiled inwardly, but it was a dark and bitter smile. The judge had just had a taster of what it would be like to go without his Gallery. Let’s see how long she could drag this out, she decided. She had no intention now of completing the repair, and desperately needed time to think, but tormenting the judge was all of a sudden a very appealing prospect.
“The repairs I will start immediately. This very minute, judge. But I cannot complete them without the replacement parts, and they come from abroad, and must be custom assembled for a model of this rarity and value. I will order them right now, but they will take a week to arrive.”
“A week! Are you a fool, woman? I cannot go a week without my Gallery! This is madness!” The judge’s face was flushed red and his hands were white-knuckled fists. He clearly hadn’t experienced his own frustration in many a year, and it was quite a sight to behold. “How can I perform my duties on the bench when I cannot rid myself of – of these negative feelings towards the accused? How will justice be done?”
Maymunah knew the perfect reply. Every woman did. “Matters of justice are quite beyond me, your honour. I could not presume to offer you advice. I will complete the repairs as fast as these unworthy fingers will allow.” Her head bowed, her stance submissive, the judge was assured that all was right with the world and that he should not trouble a woman with his concerns. It worked every time.
The judge seethed and hissed, but eventually managed to calm himself. “Very well. Very well. It seems I have no choice. I will return in four days, Mde. No more. My Gallery will be ready then.”
The door tinkled as the judge departed, and Maymunah picked up the phone to place the order. She didn’t need the parts, but she had a good idea she would be being watched very closely from now on. No matter. Four days would be enough.
Four days would be enough to drive him mad, Judge Akil thought on his way back to the courthouse, and he was not far wrong. He hadn’t even got to the bench for the morning’s first hearing before his anger had exploded on his clerk, and he had nearly hit the cowering imbecile for forgetting to stamp the necessary motions.
Once on the bench matters got worse. Without his Gallery to receive his unwanted emotions, he began to tremble as the case progressed, and one lying witness after another was produced from the police cells. How dare they stand before him and accuse the security services out of their own, worthless mouths of such atrocities. He had some of them sent for flogging, but when he did he felt an unusual wrenching in his gut as they departed his courtroom. What on earth did that signify?
Frequent breaks and an early lunch did little to calm Judge Akil, and he began dreading the afternoon session. Another insurrectionist and rioter, with more charges against his name that Akil cared to read. What was this city coming to when a decent man had to walk the same streets as vermin like that? He took enormous pleasure in cutting the man’s defence counsel off at every opportunity, denying him his time-wasting and lying witnesses (and thus, in a sense, sparing them from condemning themselves to a flogging) and ultimately sentenced the man to death. After that it was the usual slew of petty criminals and peons rounded up by the police in random sweeps, and the usual slew of punishments meted out.
A good day’s work, all in all, so why did he feel so exhausted, so clouded, so agitated and so tightly wound? When he went home, he took it out on his wives, and then lay awake for hours, wondering why he couldn’t get to sleep.
“Are the repairs complete?”
“Judge Akil?” asked Maymunah, surprised at the lack of formal greeting.
“You know fine who I am. Are they complete?” The judge’s voice coming from the phone was knotted, like a bole in some sun-blasted yew tree, and trembling, ever so slightly. The soft water had dried up, and the bass notes had turned to saw-blades.
“It has only been two days, your honour. The parts have been ordered, and I managed to persuade the supplier to deliver them tomorrow. The mention of your name was what –“
“Then they will be complete tomorrow?” Desperation now, with a hint of panic.
Maymunah smiled, but tried to keep the enjoyment from her voice. “Sadly, no. The cultured cells take at least twenty four hours to bond to the rhodium alloy. Without proper bonding the psy-link between you and the Gallery will be –“
“I am a leper, woman. Are you aware of that? To be without a Gallery is – do you have any idea who I socialise with? I cannot show my face in the Houses of Democracy, and after leaving the bench I must hide from my fellow judges. I must have my Gallery back. Must, must, must. It is like being naked in the house of a stranger.”
You should have obtained a spare then, you penny-pinching old fool, thought Maymunah. But then you wouldn’t have come to me, would you? God does work in mysterious ways.
“It is exhausting,” Akil ranted on. “Do you have any idea? An accused yesterday – the crimes he had – I felt hatred for him. Hatred! Do you have any idea how exhausting hatred is? Fix it. Make the repairs.”
“Of course, your honour. Of course. All other work has been put aside.” If there had been any, that was.
“Do you know how dangerous this city is, woman? The riots, the bombings, the kidnappings? Of course you don’t, you have so little to lose. They must be as the sound of wind to the likes of you, but how can decent men live like this? Walled up like this? I can’t go out, it’s too dangerous. I stay in and my wives drive me to distraction. Fix it. Fix my Gallery.”
The line cut off abruptly, and Maymunah put the phone down. Then she went upstairs to finish bathing her son.
The four days were finally up. The soldiers came, Mde. Maymunah put her hands on the counter-top, the soldiers searched and the soldiers left. Maymunah gently ushered the Gallery out of the workshop, the actuators on the implants doing the actual walking for them, and presented them to the judge, along with the beautiful gold and grey collar.
“All repairs are complete, your honour.”
“About damned time.” Judge Akil was no longer the man he had been. His pale, blue eyes were red-rimmed and puffy and in them anger danced alone, the easy vigour long gone. His face was now more aged than mature, now more vicious than confident, and no more did he seem like the natural centre of attention.
“Your collar will take a few moments to re-connect, your honour. You may want some privacy while this takes place. May I suggest my workshop?” Maymunah gestured through the open door.
“I’ll be wanting something extra off the bill, woman, for all the inconvenience you’ve caused me.” Judge Akil snatched the collar and strode into the workshop. Maymunah bridled, but said nothing and followed him, not that she expected to be paid at all, but the businesswoman in her still couldn’t help objecting.
The judge stopped as he fumbled with the collar lock. “Damned thing’s jammed – that’s better. Good.” He paused, looking at the contents of the workshop, and at an unrolled leather kit-bag of gleaming metal tools. “What in the seven hells is all that?”
“Something my late husband collected, your honour. Ancient medical instruments.”
The collar momentarily forgotten, Judge Akil picked up one of the pieces. “Sheffield steel. Quite rare. Have you had these valued? Do they still have a keen –“ The judge swore and sucked his thumb. The edges of the pieces were still razor-sharp. Maymunah had made sure of that.
The judge picked the instruments up one by one, appraising them. “Yes, quite valuable. I could offer you a decent price for these. Very decent. You’d be a fool to refuse. Hard to believe surgeons used these once, actually cut into people’s flesh to cure them. I can’t abide the thought of that. Most macabre. Can’t stand the idea of anything getting under my skin. I must make you an offer.”
“First, your honour, the collar. You will want to connect to your Gallery again.”
“Yes, yes, I was getting to that. Leave me now, I will call you when the link has established itself.”
Mde. Maymunah dipped her head and left, closing the door behind her. As quietly as she could, she turned the lock.
The silent trio of the judge’s Gallery stood impassive as statues. She activated the linking mechanism at the back of the man’s head, and then waited for the screaming to start. She didn’t have to wait long.
She put her hand to the face of the sightless man who, if he noticed her touch, gave no more sign than he had over the last four days. At the back of his head, the link hummed softly, no longer receiving now, its function reversed by Maymunah’s expert work over the last four days. She caressed her son’s face, almost unrecognisable from the impassioned and energetic student he had once been. As a frantic hammering came from the door to the workshop, she ran her fingers down and over the puckered bullet hole in his neck. It had been in the city morgue, two years and a lifetime ago, when she had seen that wound for the first time through a veil of tears, and four days ago when she had seen it a second time.
“All those unwanted feelings, my darling Farid. You’ve kept them for that worthless bastard for long enough. Time to give him them back. Give him back all his anger and hatred and guilt and fear. Show him what he’s been missing. It’s time for him to live as one of us.”
The screaming grew hoarser and more intense. The battering at the door turned into a scratching, clawing sound, fingernails tearing on splintered wood. She reached around and activated the links on the backs of the heads of the other two members of the Gallery.
For an instant the screaming stopped, and then it started again an octave higher. She wondered if the soldiers outside would hear, but the shop’s walls were thick and the street outside was noisy. They would be smoking, scratching themselves and making inappropriate comments to passing women.
A muted crashing sound came from through the workshop door, the sound of tables and chairs being overturned and equipment smashed in a mindless frenzy. A Gallery would only last about two years before it had to be replaced, before the once-empty minds of its members were full to the brim, like rubbish bins overflowing, and in those two years the Gallery would soak up a lot of dark and twisted emotion. More than any man could take in one go.
Metallic sounds signalled the medical instruments crashing to the floor.
The elite enjoyed a privileged existence, safe from the harsh lessons of guilt and fear, safe from the empathy with the teeming commoners that anger and frustration could provoke. Judge Akil was learning just how privileged it was.
Maymunah made herself a cup of lemon tea, and swept up some of the dust the soldiers had left.
When the noises finally stopped, Maymunah sat the women down and turned off their actuators and links. They slumped dead in the wicker chairs, like puppets with the strings cut. Then she took her son in her arms and, with a silent prayer to his soul in heaven, turned his off also. His sudden weight nearly twisted her back, but she held him tightly as she lowered him gently to the carpet. She gave him a kiss on each blind eye before unlocking the workshop door.
Anger and fear were powerful emotions, but guilt was the strongest. The accumulated remorse and guilt of a man who had lived the life of a devil while believing himself an angel would have been like a black tidal wave in the night. All those feelings under his skin, with nowhere for them to go. He was so used to getting rid of them. And so, in his madness, he had tried.
What was left of Judge Akil lay trembling and curled on the floor, his limbs twitching spastically, the pool of blood under him soaking into the hessian. Next to him lay the medical instruments. He had used them, almost all of them by the look of it. He had said, had he not, that he could not abide the thought of anything getting under his skin? The twitching and trembling were slowing as Maymunah stood over his body.
"Matters of justice are quite beyond me, your honour," she whispered.
Maymunah took a small pistol from a locker under one of the wall-benches and sat with it in her lap. Her husband had given it to her, for safety, he had said, when the troubles began. There was no need to load it, even if she could remember how. Soon the soldiers would come, and soon she would be with her son and her husband again. She smiled, and sighed, and sat back to watch the judge die.