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»Is the autopilot defective? The security service is stopping us…«, Nevon asked, looking back at Dowagen and Nuna.

   Two cars with blue lights lined up on the motorway before and after the vehicle, which had slowed on it’s own. After the first exit into the glade there was a roadhouse. So far they had already driven through hundreds of kilometers of forest, having seen only that on both the left and the right of the motorway. At regular intervals along the motorway there were automatic resting places, which were usually empty and were built in the same way down to the last detail. The particular rest stop they were now at was situated a little higher on a hill far above the forest. You could now see on the horizon that there were only trees in every direction. Nevon, Nuna, and Dowagen got out of the car, lining up with their backs to their vehicle.

   »Passengers, do you know why you were stopped?«, one of the four officers asked the frightened passengers.

   »No, we do not. The car has been driving autonomously at the same speed for three days now, and we haven’t changed the vehicle’s default settings«, Nevon replied.

   »That’s not the reason. Where are you travelling to?«, asked another of the officers, seriously. The uniforms were dark blue, like those of a policeman, but they wore no hats and were unarmed. This did not make the atmosphere any less threatening, however.

   Dowagen tried to explain in a weak voice: »My friend Nevon was in the hospital for a long time and now we want to visit his relatives in the North. He lay in bed for months and now a little distraction would do him good.«

   »That’s right. I see here that Steel Nevon was in the hospital for three months«, one of the officer’s said, looking at information on a tablet-like device. »It also says here that he suffers from amnesia. Our next instruction now is to explain to you your rights and obligations, so please just tell us the truth or keep quiet. The trial can begin now.« With this the officer dictated the date and time into the device, during which the other officers were silent. Once this was complete he continued.

   »As I can read here, because Nevon is ill, you get an eighty percent penalty reduction. The cameras we wear on our bodies record everything and what you say is automatically analyzed. The verdict will be given at the end of the hearing. Do you have any more questions?«

   »Verdict? What did we even do?«, Nevon asked, a look of confusion on his face.

   »Please, Nevon. Just answer the questions«, Dowagen said, taking him by the hand.

   »You are driving a vehicle that has been reported as stolen. You are also four thousand kilometers away from the last place where the owner parked his car.«

   »How is it stolen? This is a car from my garage«, Nevon replied, outraged.

   »Hence the eighty percent reduction in sentence, as you obviously don’t remember your former life. But, why was the car in your garage? The car belongs to a homeless man named Bratan. He’s been living in the car for a long time because he has an identity penalty. It also does not make sense to drive by car to the North Pole, much less in a stolen vehicle. It is a hundred-thousand kilometers away. You said a small change would do him good. You mean driving in a car for a month? Why not use public transport like everyone else? Please answer truthfully; otherwise the penalty will be automatically extended.«

»The car was in my garage. I didn’t remember that it belonged to my friend, Bratan. You know that I suffer from amnesia«, Nevon answered, cautiously.

   »Mr. Bratan. What was his family name again? He doesn’t remember you, either, and yet you call him a friend. He just wants the car back and compensation from you.«

   Nevon wanted to say something about it, but Nuna, who had been edging closer during the conversation, gave him a slight push letting him know to keep quiet.

   »Would you like to add something to your own defense?«, another of the security guards asked.

   »It seems that we are in a serious situation, and no matter what we say now from your point of view we are guilty«, Nevon said, trying to defuse the situation.

   »Our point of view is completely irrelevant, and the decision is not ours to make. The fact is that you are four thousand kilometers away from your own home in a stolen car. Yet you can say nothing to your own defense. Typically this is six months of identity loss for that, yet because you suffer from amnesia, the sentence has been reduced to one month for everyone.«

   »What? Are we already convicted?«

   »You were just convicted. I recommend that you not say anything else unless it contributes to your own discharge. We are now confiscating the car and you have no identification for one month.«

   »Are you going to be driving us home? Please.«

   »Your friends will explain this to you. For the next month you all have no identity. This means, among other things, that you can no longer use a network or a bank. Since there are hundreds of kilometers of forest here you are entitled to survival equipment. If you do not appeal the sentence will be enforced immediately. If you file a complaint, but do not add anything new, we will reject the application immediately. Otherwise we will give you the survival kits right away, which would be the more pragmatic solution for you«, the same, short officer responded.

   »Can we call someone in order to be picked up? Or would you kindly take us to the nearest village?«, Dowagen asked, wide-eyed.

»You can do whatever you want. But, the system can only work if the penalties are severe. We cannot take you anywhere.«

   Nevon wanted to say something, but Nuna whispered to him to remain calm and silent.

   The two officers took three large backpacks from a patrol car.

   »Inside you will find sleeping bags, clothes, tools, and dehydrated food enough to last one week.«

   The officers were something like the ones Nevon knew from Earth, they were friendly yet aloof. Everyone was quiet and calm, yet Nevon had to be reminded again not to ask any more questions and to keep his temper. Dowagen and Nuna stayed at his sides and as soon as his eyes flicked with impatience they gave him a sign to do what was expected of him. That was without any defense to endure. Nevon thought only a person with a broken will could bear this without saying a word.

   »I understand the seriousness of the situation now, but you can’t just leave us here in no man’s land. I don’t remember my former life and the women are innocent because of the car. They only accompany me…«, Nevon said when he was no longer able to hold his tongue.

   »All of this has already been taken into account. Grand theft auto requires a penalty. The penalty is loss of identity. There is also that you are here, four thousand kilometers from home. Where are you going? At the North Pole so that the sick Nevon can relax and recover? Driving for weeks in a car is anything but relaxing. If you can explain something more to us we will pass it on and it will be taken into account«, one of the officers remarked seriously.

   »Where will you pass this information and who will decide?«, Nevon asked again, impatient.

   »I told you from the beginning that we wear cameras on our bodies. They record everything and what is said, facial expressions, and thermo sensors check if we have been told the truth. In the end a verdict is passed. It is not we, but software that decides the result. We humans are only the interface between machine and you so that the law is implemented humanely. Before we go would you like to ask us a last question?«

   »I once read that artificial intelligence will eventually replace judges. Are we experiencing that right now?«

»What kind of intelligence should a computer have? The software only evaluates the voice. The lie detector is also considered and the law determines the sentence. This is something like a calculation. 6-5=1. The facts are that six months of identity loss is the penalty for theft. Minus the generous five months of sentence reduction due to Nevon’s illness, as he cannot be made responsible today for his earlier actions.

   Nevertheless he is not ill in bed, he travels with two healthy female friends to the North Pole, in a stolen car. Accordingly, the result was one month identity deprivation calculated by the software. Now, I can read on my computer: Steel Nevon didn’t know that the car did not belong to him, but everyone seems to be hiding something. The software assumes it is about the car. If there is something you want to clarify, please do it now.

   But be careful, Nuna’s brother and two other people are reported missing. The last time they were seen they were with you; but we assume you didn’t kill those three people. The sensors and the software recognize killers, so we didn’t ask you about this. You’ll already have a hard enough time finding your way out of this hole«, the officer paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts.

   »Nuna is also together with you and she is also going nowhere. Young and unreasonable we assume, but the car is stolen. That’s why we are here now. The car’s owner, your friend Bratan as you say, is serving a lengthy identity penalty. But, he owns the car and the expenses for the car are covered. He may have a connection to Nevon… Hm, everything is inscrutable… Make a clarifying statement or leave it as it is. If you choose the later then the verdict is final. One month of identity deprivation starting now.

   You are not here against your will. It is not necessary or even allowed to take you anywhere. Nobody is entitled to a telephone call, so that is a needless worry and best to be forgotten. Only in this way can our security system work so that the honest citizens can live in safety. Now, please remove your belongings from the stolen car.«

Preview End. "Red Giant Star 2" can be read on here:


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