Sorah Malka Rosenberg

Edith’s heavy, black prisoner boots slap the rough marble floor. Looping iron chains clink between her hands. Shiny, rough hands clamp tight over her skinny alabaster arms as they half-drag half-march her down the long hall. She keeps her head up and eyes straight ahead, facing the hallway. No sniveling tears or dripping boogers for her. Instead, her green eyes flash dangerously and a permanent scowl is fixed on her face.

She doesn’t gaze out the reinforced windows as they pass by, where the red sunrise can be caught filtering through the smog clouds hovering over the city. Below on the sidewalks, humans scurry by with air masks attached to their faces. Each constantly checks their air mask still works as the Noccoks stroll by unaffected by the poisonous air. Some people cough even though their air masks work perfectly. Glances are stolen at the tallest tower; the one Edith is in now. The people glance up with fear. They are worried their hero—her—is about to be put to death.

However, Edith doesn’t have to look outside because she knows what she’ll see. Humanity surrounded by Noccoks who force humans to transform into Noccoks increasing their population. Already they outnumber humans seven to one. It had all been so different eight years ago in 4311. If only that nuclear transport hadn’t crashed releasing those harmful toxins in the air. Now humanity’s last hope—her, the only one capable of fighting these creatures—is inside the Noccoks’ center.

A cough erupts from her chest bringing on a whole slew of others. She can’t catch her breath. All she can do is heave in and out between the coughs. The guards’ lips curl in disgust at the Black Lung disease generated by the harmful air toxins, but they don’t wait for her to recover. They keep her moving.

At the end of the long hall are double wooden doors, tall enough for an eight-foot Noccok to samba through. She wishes she could see that Noccok. She imagines what it would be like to rid humanity of another member of the new race.

Her guards stop before the door, but she keeps walking. They yank her back so hard the chains collide into her stomach, her head jerks back, and her straw hair whips into her mouth.

She spits her hair out.

“Let’s go already. Get this thing over with,” she told the left guard.

Breaking her promise to not talk, she looks at her escorts, taking in their ugliness. Her lips curl and her nose wrinkles. You could think of Noccoks as humans, but only if you don’t see them. In the light, their ugly, scaly snout-like faces and over-sized furry ears show. Slithering, forked tongues flicker out tasting the foul air around her. Golden eyes narrow to slits with burning anger. Even worse is their shiny exoskeleton hunched backs, heavy tails, and their obsidian multi-arms and legs. They are the worst mix of a cockroach, snake, and bat.

“It isn’t time yet,” the Noccok explains.

The guard on the right raises his arm to peer at his watch. The moment the second-hand reaches zero he says proudly, “It’s time.”

“I wanted to tell her,” protests the left guard as tones of sibling rivalry color his voice.

You did the last one.”

“But you—”

“Just open the blasted door!” snaps Edith.

Both guards jump to open the doors, giving her a double-door entrance as they march her to the center of the noisy room.

To one side sits twelve Noccoks. The only difference between them is the different colored clothing stretched over their odd frames and the hairstyles. They are talking quietly among themselves.

The noise is coming from the other side of the room from the public seating area. Noncocks are there shouting at her, but they are outnumbered and silenced by the yelling humans. Edith smiles, glad that her people—the humans—are protesting this injustice done to her.

One human stands on his friend’s shoulder and shouts at her, “How could you? You’re a monster!”

Edith internally shrugs. There is always one hater.

“Everybody quiet! Trial is about to start,” yells a short Noccock wearing a suit and an orange fedora from the front of the room. It’s the prosecutor.

Behind him is a desk so tall that she needs stairs to reach it, is her—The judge.

The judge taps her multiple arms against the table as the noise swells from the twelve seated Noccoks. Edith’s knees are kicked from behind her, and she falls forward to kneel before the assembly. As the whispers reach a crescendo of shouts and the shouts break the sound barrier, the judge bangs her gavel. Once. Twice. The room falls silent leaving Edith to glare up at the judge and the judge, in turn, to look down over her papers at Edith.

There is not a single sound besides for the soft shuffle of pages.

“Edith Crow,” the judge calls out in a clear voice, “you have committed a crime. As such you will be judged by your peers—”

The judge can no longer be heard as Edith’s harsh laughter rings from one ceiling beam to the next.

“Peers,” Edith says calmly staring up at the judge as her laughter dies. She points to the twelve. “These are Noccoks. Bring the real humans up here. Let them judge me for saving them.” She starts coughing again. Black powder falls from her mouth.

The judge steeples her fingers as she peers down at Edith waiting for the coughing fit to stop so Edith can clearly hear her words. “But we are human. We are your peers. You knew many of us before our transformation.” She points to a Noccok in a floral dress with large red curls piled on top of her head. “There’s Mrs. Hattie. And you know me of course, I’m—”

“A monster. You changed. Gave every part of yourselves up. You don’t even look human or act human anymore.” Edith looks right at the judge as she says her next words. “You’re dead to me. So, let’s put it plainly, you’re all monsters. And you just keep throwing more humans into your transformation chamber. I’ve seen humanity cringe as they are forced to stand in lines outside the centers, and they are forced to stay in line by you. I’ll free everybody from your tyranny.”

The judge bangs her gavel. “Edith Elizabeth Crow. That is enough. We are still human. We live better, longer lives. Our transformation gives us the survival abilities of snakes and cockroaches and the echolocation of a bat to find our way in the dark. We can breathe without worry of getting Black Lung and dying a slow painful death. And we never force anybody to transform. Most people view it as a second chance at life. I’ve seen the millions of names signed up for transformation. The guards have to patrol the lines so people don’t rush through the doors.” Before Edith can protest how they are forcing people, the judge leans back in her chair and moves on.

“Your crimes are extensive yet you’ve decided to represent yourself. Let’s see…You’ve raided several of the government’s facilities. Battered and assaulted twenty people. Threatened another thirty. Arson…” The judge runs her two foremost arms down the paper. “And the list just keeps going on. But we’re here to focus on the real reason you’re here—besides for the fact that you’ve been caught.” Edith opens her mouth, but the judge rolls over her. “Mr. Trank, if you would.”

Mr. Trank, the Noccock in the orange fedora, waddles up to the front with a slide show remote in his topmost hand. He pulls a holographic screen up on a wall. Its blue screen flickers to life.

He addresses the room in a clear but nasally voice.

“Edith Crow has more crimes listed than high-flyer champion, Michael Deveron, has medals. She has committed crime after crime after crime after crime after—”

“Please, get to the point Mr. Trank,” interrupts the Judge her obsidian legs fold around her body.

“Of course, your honor. As I was saying, Ms. Crow has committed multiple crimes, but none as bad as this!” He whirls to face the powerpoint. His remote stares the screen down.

He flips to the first slide.

It shows a smog-filled street, a picturesque gray house, a wide yard, and a body.

“Ms. Crow’s motive is that she hates us. We don’t know why. Perhaps some tragedy involving a family member’s failed transformation. Perhaps she is built this way. But nothing excuses her actions for this.” He whirls around again.

The next slide rolls forward. It’s a close up of the body. A small body.

“Poor Timothy was shot between the eyes at point-blank range two days ago while playing ball with his friends.

Mr. Trank is interrupted again.

This time by Edith.

“I killed no one but a filthy monster with the blackest soul I ever saw.”

Mr. Trank whirls away from his powerpoint.

The crowd swells in volume.

The judge’s face crashes down. She stands to her full seven-foot height and slaps all her arms down on the desk. Voices get louder, but the judge’s voice is loudest.

She shouts, “It was a six-year-old child!”

Edith matches her volume. “The first one birthed by Noccoks! It means a whole new generation to enslave us!”

The judge deflates into her chair, and says so quietly, “You blame the child for a crime the parents never committed.”

Shouts are tossed. Curses hurtled. Edith stares up at the judge. A smile spreading across her face. A dare.

Mr. Trank approaches the bench. He swipes the fedora off his head and twists it between his multi-arms. The judge looks hollowly at him.

“I’m sorry you have to make this choice, judge, but…but we have laws for a reason. What she did…It can’t go unpunished. I know you didn’t want this case, but at least you can give her a more merciful sentence.”

Mr. Trank steps back while the judge’s eyes turn to Edith, who is still smiling cockily.

The judge’s golden eyes dim.

She bangs her gavel. Once. Twice.

The room falls silent.

The judge’s voice is the only one that shakes the rafters and it’s not even that loud.

“Edith Crow, you’ve confessed to your crimes, as such you’ve abandoned your right for a trial. You’ve taken a life and proved you’re a danger to society—”

Edith starts screaming, “I’m no danger to my kind! I’m helping them be free. They don’t want to be Noccoks. I know! They love me for helping!”

Guards drag her away as the judge continues, “—I have no choice but to—” the judge pauses then forces the words out, “sentence you to the death penalty.”

Still screaming, Edith shouts, “You’re all monsters! You’re all monsters!”

The door bangs behind her. The twelve jurors murmur among themselves as they file out of the room. The people in the public seating area murmur to each other. Some are satisfied with the ruling, some are uneasy, and some are angry. Mr. Trank is putting the slide show away and patting his pockets to check he hasn’t left anything behind.

Nobody hears the judge whisper ever so quietly, “Are we, daughter?”

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