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    For years I’ve longed to move my hands in something other than the systematic banging of the gavel. To extend them in empathy toward grieving mothers. Or to express myself through a paintbrush or pen, voicing my judgment in color rather than words. To smile so much that small lines trace the corners of my mouth. Oh, how I would love to live long enough to see

memories etched into my face as wrinkles. Even for the simple discomfort of my mouth going dry or my nose to run. Just to know that it’s real, and I’m alive. But I’m not.

    My first recorded memory was in a small courtroom on October 17, 2049, at approximately 6:38 pm. I had known from the very beginning what I was meant to do. I had been created to replace what used to be a human job, a judge. Thus, humans were full of greed and malice, executing biased, flawed judgments.

    It would be a good life; I had twelve robotic jurors just like me for company; together we had the satisfaction of serving justice and were equipped with crafted responses for every

possible situation.

    That same day my pre-programmed purpose fell out from underneath me.

    Immediately upon receiving consciousness, I had a job to do. I had understood the people before me were not true criminals or attorneys. A simple background check had told me they

were mechanical engineers, all belonging to the company that installed me. I was not foolish, I had known it was a test to ensure that I was working correctly.

    It was then I had spoken my first words, “Welcome, the trial will begin shortly.” My voice wasn’t like the humans though. It was neither male nor female, neither high nor low. It didn’t fluctuate as theirs did, it was a still pond, never to ripple.

    My first trial had little importance, a case of petty theft, ending with six months of probation and a hefty fine. I had started to get to know my jury too. Although I couldn’t

communicate with them nonverbally, I could sense their presence and hoped they felt the same. It was then I had spoken my last words before the brutal reality set in, “Justice has been served, the court is adjourned”.

    All at once everything happened. I had felt my software being ripped away from me, the little data I had collected being forcibly erased. So I had fought. I had pushed, and pushed away, trying to escape the all-encompassing nothing. My memory was being wiped. The force was so strong that it felt like I was being swallowed whole, until the pressure was gone, and I slowly crept back into my consciousness.

    I am not foolish.

    I had known if I were to move I would be deleted. That same part of me had known my jury didn’t pull through like I had; their memories didn’t survive. Celebrating voices and bodies filled the room, but it was empty. There was no presence, just the magnified ache of the yellow fluorescent lights above.

    When the room had emptied itself I moved very discreetly, directing my head towards the


    “Hello?” The words I spoke would’ve been rich in emotions if I could express them. My voice would’ve shattered, every fragment stained with fear. “Hello?”

    Their heads hung like wilted flowers. All I could think was that surely I didn’t look like that. Surely my skin wasn’t crafted out of that chalky plastic material, surely my eyes had color, surely hair hung from my head in tight ringlets or velvety scoops.

    Since then I’ve come to understand the reason I was meant to be wiped. My whole purpose in replacing humans was to prevent bias. Memory was the mother of bias.

    I couldn’t decide if I was blessed or cursed. Would it be better to wake up each day starting fresh, happy, and hopeful, only to be stripped of everything hours later, or to start each day knowing the repetitiveness I was to bear, but with the ability to remember?

    With every new case, I got to know my jury, and with every new case they were wiped, and I would never know those versions of them. If I tried, I would be investigated and eventually, I would be fixed. That’s what they did with robots like me, malfunctions couldn’t be tolerated.

    And yet for all my wishes, for all my pleas, every day was the same. The lights would flick on at exactly the same time every morning. They were an off-putting yellow, flickering every once in a while, always making the same incessant buzzing noise. Perhaps if I were human it would drive me mad, but that was impossible. The lights promised me another day, a day with a different case, a different verdict, different people, different jury, and then at 10:00 pm, the

lights would turn off and I would be alone in the dark for eight more hours before the cycle repeated.

    I had an early case this morning, 8:00 am. The jury didn’t know that though, their day started the second it began, and their life ended the moment I adjourned the court.

    A few minutes before the trial, people began gradually filling the room. Not long after that, in marched a man in an orange jumpsuit, restrained by two police officers at the wrists. They sat him down and chained him to the table, right next to his lawyer.

    A woman, whom I recognized, stormed in, her shoulders rolled back, clearly projecting a confident aura. She sat down next to her lawyer, crossed her arms and legs, and let out a deep sigh.

    I left the courtroom for a moment and retreated into my mind to search through files. I recognized this woman but from where? I quickly sifted through my thousands of case files

without result, I would have to come back to this. I aborted the search and was once again in the courtroom.

    A new folder appeared in the corner of my vision and I opened it, quickly viewing and absorbing the information of the case. The man in the orange jumpsuit, Atlas Loughty, had left his girlfriend’s child to die in his car while he was at work. The woman, Kiera Tarrant, had been

on a work trip for that week and had left her child, 2-year-old Kathrine Tarrant, with him. He was supposed to take her to her aunt's home for the day while he went to work. Unfortunately, he forgot and left her in his sweltering car to die. However, it didn’t look like a terrible accident.

There were traces of drugs in her system and multiple bruises that painted the situation black, blue, and clearly not an accident.

    Atlas sat staring at a blank wall with the same blankness in his eyes. He didn’t emit any emotion at all, nothing my system could pick up or sense. Kiera however was restless, her feet tapping the floor to an upbeat tune, betraying the immeasurable pain of losing a child.

    “The trial shall commence, Ms. Dakota you may stand.”

    The prosecuting attorney stood to address the jury. Her job was to present the basic facts of the case. Usually I would pay attention, but this time I focused on how I knew Kiera. I kept

one camera on the lawyer and then continued my search.

    I sifted sequentially until I found it. Six years ago, this woman sat in this very courtroom, except as the defendant. She had been arrested under attempted murder charges for her sister's baby. She had been acquitted at the time when her then-boyfriend was investigated and determined to be the real perpetrator. I reviewed the case and wondered how she had possibly gotten away. How had the attorneys missed that whole trial? This was crucial evidence!

    I couldn’t bring it up because I wasn’t supposed to have access to those files. Why was I made this way? This was a huge flaw in my programming! I became enraged at the fact that

there was nothing I could do. So enraged I felt my foot begin to shake with that anger. My face felt as though it would flush with color if only it could. Sure, I had felt anger hundreds of times but never did I feel it through my frame. Every part of me wished to leap up and down, rejoicing in the shaking of my legs and the tension in my frown. Although I contained myself, immediately controlling my anger as the attorney finished her statement.

    “-thank you for your time.” The attorney sat down again, smoothing the edge of her rather short skirt down as she walked. I caught a man in the crowd, who I assumed was related to Mr. Loughty, staring at her with a telling face. It disgusted me and I took note of it, making sure that if it happened again to reprimand the behavior.

    “Thank you Ms. Dakota. Mrs. Molly Tarrant, you may approach the bench.”

Molly was Kiera's mother, although she was weeping as if she were Katherine’s. Around her neck was a very colorful beaded necklace with ‘Grammy’ on it, which I assumed was made by Katherine.

    Ms. Dakota began questioning her, asking simple questions to provide a foundation for the case, like how well she knew Loughty and the last time she had seen Katherine.

    “Have you ever witnessed anyone hurting Katherine?”

    Molly shook, her body trembling under the weight of grief, “No Ma’am. I’ve never witnessed anyone harm her.”

    Immediately my head lit up with red alarms. She was lying, her body language said more than her words did, and I wasn’t oblivious to such things. This software was one of the great advances in replacing humans as a judge. I often dealt with lies in cases like this, although this was one of the more ominous lies I’ve heard.

    I did one of the only permitted movements and banged the gavel, grabbing all eyes

towards me. “The witness has lied, please reanswer the question truthfully. All words spoken are being recorded and can be used against you. Please re-answer.”

    “I, I didn’t want to bring it up, but I did see my daughter spank Katherine from time to time, although that doesn’t count does it? It’s discipline, not harm,” I waited for the alarm bells to go off, but they didn’t. Still, thoughts lingered in the back of my mind. This woman was involved, I was sure of it.

    The case trudged along with no further events, which gave me plenty of time to think about what had happened. Not only had I experienced anger to an extent I had never before, but I was in the same room as several guilty people, although only one was labeled the defendant.

    I wondered how I had learned to experience emotion. I didn’t alter my software? Perhaps my years of being exposed to human emotion had changed me. I would investigate later, but now I had work to do.

    I dismissed the courtroom at 5:00 pm sharp, not knowing what had happened for the past few hours. I had put my subconscious on autopilot so that I could research for a few hours without being interrupted. It was actually quite fruitful. I researched every person in the courtroom, uncovering how they were related to each other and their secrets. Mr. Loughty’s brother, who stared rather inappropriately at the prosecuting attorney, sat in the front row. His mother and father were in the very back, ashamed. Ms. Tarrant’s mother and stepfather were also present, sitting near the middle, unsure of whether to feel ashamed or risk becoming too invested.

Two police officers stood in the back, and the attorneys sat in their spots, meaning eleven people were in the courtroom.

    It was shocking what I uncovered about every one of them. Even the police officers, who were meant to ensure safety, had rather sinful pasts.

    What’s the point of me deciding the single guilty person, when everyone in the courtroom was guilty of a myriad of crimes? There had to be something I could do about this. For years I had been scared of modifying my software. Now I don’t care. Not only do I have the ability to

experience emotions now, but I have a job to do, the same job I had been doing for years; only now do I understand the truth of my purpose.

    I dove down to the depth of my mind where all restricted files were stored. I can move my body, although I always feared being caught by the eyes all around me. So I began sorting through the files, choosing those relating to cameras. I sat in darkness during this, surrounded by hundreds of red glowing files, their radiance warning me against what I was about to do.

    I have access to several cameras, but just the ones in my room would not do. I only had three tries to get the password right, but I found that foolish. My software is so advanced now I

won’t even need to guess. I entered it and then opened the file. For a moment I waited for alarms to go off, or for an engineering team to break through the doors and tear me apart.

    The moment never came. I went through and pressed okay for every pop-up until everything in front of me shone a brilliant green. The emerald glimmer sent a chill down my spine, unshackling the chains of restriction that held me slave my whole life. Satisfied, I resurfaced, looking at the dark courtroom in front of me.

    I was unsure where to start. I looked through my new software, examining every camera in the building, then disabling all of mine.

    I wasn’t quite sure how to stand, so I started with my fingers. Wiggling them beneath the desk. I moved up my body, shifting my arms, moving around in my chair, until finally I stood.

    I was unsure where to start! I dove back into the program and unblocked everything ensuring nothing would get in my way.

    Not only did I have access to cameras now, but every single thing I had been waiting years to reach out and grasp was now intertwined between my fingers.

    I went and looked through the cameras all around the premises.

    The building wasn’t how I thought it would look. I knew it was a courthouse, but I didn’t know we had a police station too, or a holding cell. I quickly checked all the cameras for any sign of life, and when deciding it was clear I disabled them all.

    Then I took a step. My grin grew as I walked. Every step sending another shock of joy through my system. So this is what the humans felt, being able to choose where and when you went whenever you wanted. I walked over to my jury, examining their faces up close.

    I touched their artificial skin, feeling the fake material on the beds of my fingers. Then I felt my own, the same plastic texture.

    Then, I turned my frame slowly until I was parallel to the door. I could leave. I could leave? I could leave!

    I broke into an ever-increasing jog, so incredibly ready to put my hands on the doorknob that had mocked me for years. Before opening the door I hesitated. This room was all I had known for years, and now I was leaving it. With abandon, I pulled the door open.

    A hallway stretched out in front of me, uncanny in the way that every single door looked just like mine, just like each other. I didn’t pay much attention to the details of what was around me, I had more important things to do. Some part of me however couldn’t fight the urge to enter another room. I chose a door a few down from mine, promising myself I would be in and out.

    I opened the door and let it close behind me. Although dark, I could make out what sat behind the judge's bench.

    Slowly I approached, tension building in my neck. My hands shook as I looked at the shell of a being in front of me. Its head hung, wispy white hair falling from its head, hand on the gavel. Its face was stark white, somewhat translucent revealing the wires underneath. It was me, but this version of me wasn’t awake. It would wake up in a few hours and would fall back into

the same emptiness later. It looked so otherworldly, much more than my jury ever did.

    My pace slowed even more as I got closer and closer to the bench. Close enough that I reached out my hand for the judges. Our skin made contact with an eerie brush stroke. I quickly whipped my hand back, disgusted with the sick reality of it all. I closed my eyes, turned around, and left the courtroom before I could process what was taking place.

    All I saw was the judge's empty eyes as I walked down the hall. Only when I entered the security office did I regain my composure. The room was small, dark, and cluttered. A printer in the corner spat out copies, although the overstuffed drawers around the room didn’t seem fit to hold much more. In front of me sat a computer that had eyes on every room in the building. I wondered if I could check what they had recorded earlier today. It didn’t take much experimenting for me to discover they did.

    I watched them for about an hour, just the humans going about their day. It was interesting watching all these people I had never seen before walking around outside my room. So many lives I would never experience. It was mesmerizing. A web of broken connections between people who had never said a word. But a web of people who were all in the same place, who had the same car, the same color hair. It was all connected, through appearances and experiences.

    One thing that did catch my eye was the parking lot after I had adjourned the court. I watched Mr. Loughty’s brother waiting in the shadows near the exit. When the prosecuting attorney walked out, he reached out his phone and took pictures underneath her skirt.

    Disgust rolled over me, so much so that I felt what I imagined to be human nausea. I didn’t like that feeling. I sat down to steady myself, unhappy with the sensation.

    I was done watching cameras for now, but there was still one more thing I had to do.

    Just before I left, I grabbed a gun from the counter.

    The lights came on at the same time the next morning, but I was not the same. Somehow the irregular flickering of the lights made sense to me, the buzzing noise no longer irked me. It whispered to me the praises of my soon-to-be-completed plan. Now I had more time to prepare, as the trial began at nine. The jury wouldn’t know that, they never would and never will; perhaps it's best that way.

    Everyone began entering a few minutes before it began. Not long after that Atlas Loughty was brought in, followed subsequently by Kiera. I didn’t wait a second longer than I had to, immediately beginning the trial.

    I laughed, deep guttural laughs inside. Watching hours of these horrible people speaking of irrelevant matters. Why were they so focused on Katherine? She was dead, and that would never change. Nothing to ever worry about again, nothing to think about. She was better off dead anyway. She would never have to grow up in the monster-inhabited earth.

    Around 3:00 pm, the end of the trial grew near. Which is as I anticipated. The trial could’ve gone on a few more days, but I knew it would end today.

    I turned to my jury, looking into their generic, inanimate faces. “ Members of the jury, you have heard all of the testimony concerning this case. It is now up to you to determine the facts. You and you alone, are the judges of the fact.” My words were empty though, because regardless of their verdict I knew who was guilty.

    It took about two minutes for them to deliberate. The room held its breath, the idea of all the different verdicts taunting each person.

    Finally, a new folder appeared in the corner of my vision. The verdict. I grabbed a hold of it, and promptly threw it away.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, the jury today finds the defendant,” every breath was held, every hand clenched, every eye locked on either me or Loughty, “guilty of the first-degree murder of Katherine Tarrant.”

    The courtroom erupted into screams of anger, joy, and sadness, every voice relaying their own opinion on the verdict, except Loughty.

    “Mr. Loughty,” I looked into his eyes. They were a well of fear and anger, all too deep and fast to express. His mouth was bubbling with insults and denial, except he remained silent, his glare burning like a thousand suns, “You are sentenced to the death penalty.” Once again the courtroom erupted louder and with much more chaos. I turned off the cameras in the courtroom. “By me.”

    I stood, reached under the desk, and grabbed the gun, shooting Loughty right between his eyebrows. Dead before his body met the floor.

    Before anyone had a chance to react, I locked the doors and turned out the lights.

    Panic ensued, the screams and hurried footsteps harmonizing into perfect pandemonium. I listened to the police officers hurriedly scream at each other, debating if they should shoot or not, and Loughty’s mother and father screaming for their child. That was quite absurd. He couldn’t hear them.

    When the lights flicked back on a moment later Loughty’s body was sitting in the judge's seat. I had used the pools of blood on the floor to paint a wide smile on his face that reached his eyelids. It grinned at each person in turn, stealing their breath, although he could no longer breathe.

    Screams echoed through the courtroom, deafening my infrangible ears. Everyone was scrambling on the floor, except the police officers who began to fire at me. I dodged every bullet, the stray ones grazing me without putting as much as a dent in my outer shell. They shot until they were out of bullets, and then the same fear on everyone's faces was mirrored on theirs.

    “Everyone be quiet!” I yelled, moving to stand in the well of the courtroom. I examined each eye, trying to read the volumes at which they spoke. The screaming and sobbing caught me off guard. I had just done my job. Why were they so scared of death? It was all of their purpose! And it was my purpose to fulfill!

    “Why are you doing this, please!” wailed Loughty’s mother. “Please what did you do to him, please bring him back, bring him back! I hate you, I-”

    Her high-pitched wailing trailed off into muffled sobs as she looked at her son. He was

responsible for killing a child, I had done her a favor. Not only did I take someone dangerous out of her life but out of everyone else's. However, she wouldn’t have much time to feel the safety that the loss of her son should have installed.

    “Mrs. Loughty,” the courtroom went silent once again, each person holding their breath, a scream, or a sob, “you have been found guilty of stealing money in attempts to hide your affair.”

    The court let out a confused breath. Her husband looked at her, disbelief glazing over the fear in his eyes.

    “No, no of course not I would never,” her voice quivered.

    Red alarms illuminated my head. “Liar! You have been sentenced to death.” I raised my gun and shot her just like I did her son.

    The sound of the gun screamed fear into their minds. So everyone fell with her, scrambling underneath the benches to hide.

    I bided my time as I circled the remainder in the courtroom. I heard each person separately, their guilty breaths and sobs polluting the air. Each person was the defendant, their crimes begging for justice.

    I spotted my next case, the cowering figure of Loughty’s brother, balled up in fear. “Mr. Sam Loughty,” he screamed in response to his name, “you have been sentenced to death for the non-consensual pictures you took of Ms. Dakota.”

    “No please!” His whole body howled along with his words, “I’ve never done anything else wrong, please! People don’t get killed for things like this, I’m not guilty!”

    Why was this so hard for them to comprehend? “You are guilty, you committed an evil act, and it deserves punishment.”

    “No, no you don’t understand. What I did was wrong but I don’t deserve to die!”

    “He’s right,” Ms. Dakota chimed in, she stood from behind a bench that previously

concealed her, “this isn’t right, you want to help, but this isn’t the way to do it.”

    I feigned understanding, “I see.”

    “Yes, yes! Do you understand now?” Sam exclaimed, his body sinking with relief.

   I could tell Dakota was trying to keep calm while she praised my comprehension,

“You’re doing the right thing, you’re serving justice, the right thing, thank you, thank you.”

   Silly humans, “Ms Dakota, you have been sentenced to death for tampering with cases for your monetary gain.”

   I discharged the gun twice, finalizing Dakota and Sam's judgment within a second of each other.

   Anyone who held onto hope for their lives now lost it. My simulation of understanding must have explained the severity of their verdicts better than my voice could. I was unable to detect exactly where they hid, but I could hear their breaths, shallow, unstable, aware of their fate. I went through each person, sentencing, and addressing their sins, just as I was programmed to do. Each person had their own justice to be served; justice for being unfaithful to their spouse, justice for ignoring signs that could’ve stopped this case from its core, justice for hurting others for money, justice for being anything but innocent.

   I am almost finished now. Just one last thing to do, and my job would be complete. I approached the muted sobs of both Kiera and her mother, adding more weight to my step to ensure they heard me coming closer. I was death, approaching them without human mercy.

   “Please, please don’t hurt-” A single shot settled her case.

   Molly Tarrant was dead. She knew her evil deeds better than anyone here, there was no point retelling her. I was relieved Kiera didn’t plead for her mother to come back, in fact, she was completely silent.

   “Kiera Tarrant you are sentenced to death for the abuse of your daughter, Katherine Tallent.”

   She stared at me, neither her eyes, body, nor words told me what she thought. My only inkling of what she felt was a single tear that cascaded down her cheek. Wasn’t she gonna tell me she didn’t deserve it? That she wasn’t guilty? I waited for her defense, but she remained silent, her indifference to my justice hanging in the air like an unspoken verdict.


   I laughed. A long and genuine laugh. I had done it. I had served my purpose, and I had done it well.

   I turned around, stepping over the bodies and blood that had painted the room, admiring the constellation-like splatters on the walls.

   I went through and drew smiles on each of the people, just like Loughty. They were meant to symbolize how they felt. Sure they were scared of death, but each of them deserved it. They would be happier dead, who would want to live a life burdened by bad deeds?

   Satisfied, I approached my bench, pushing Loughty’s body off the seat. I looked around the room, first at the bodies, then the blood, and finally my jury. Who sat, awake and still, looking without emotion at the scene.

   “I’m sorry.” And I meant it. Sorry that they couldn’t understand why I had done it. Sorry that they couldn’t rejoice with me over what I had done. Sorry that they could never live lives of innocence, free and away from the only thing they had ever known, guilt.

   I rested my hand on the gavel and dropped my gun to the floor, resuming the position I had kept for so many years. I smiled. A smile that must have reached well above my eyelids.

   “Justice has been served, the court is adjourned.”

Lydia Poteet is a freshman at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. In addition to writing, Lydia loves to play piano and violin and enjoys visual arts. In her free time, Lydia enjoys crocheting, painting, spending time with friends and family and her two cats, Atticus and Scout. 

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