Friday, October 11, 2019

"You're Going to Stand Trial—and These Natives Are Out to Get You"

"Letter of the Law."
By Alan E. Nourse (1928-92).
Illustrations by Rudolph Palais (1912-2004; HERE).

First appearance: IF — Worlds of Science Fiction, January 1954.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; no illos) and (HERE; illos).
"So I pulled an old con game," says Harry. "So what?" So this: If he'd done his homework as any sharpster should, he wouldn't be facing the prospect, as his counsel puts it, of having his "blood splattered liberally all the way from here to the equator" . . .

Major characters:
~ The Judge:

  "This—creature—is hereby accused of the following crimes. Conspiracy to overthrow the government of Altair I. Brutal murder of seventeen law-abiding citizens of the village of Karzan at the third hour before dawn in the second period after his arrival. Desecration of the Temple of our beloved Goddess Zermat, Queen of the Harvest. Conspiracy with the lesser gods to cause the unprecedented drought in the Dermatti section of our fair globe. Obscene exposure of his pouch-marks in a public square. Four separate and distinct charges of jail-break and bribery. Espionage with the accursed scum of Altair II in preparation for inter-planetary invasion."

~ The First Witness:
  "I could see that I was face to face with the most desperate of criminal types, even for Terrans. Note the shape of his head, the flabbiness of his ears. I was petrified with fear. 
And then, helpless as I was, this two-legged abomination began to shower me with 
threats of evil to my blessed home, dark threats of poisoning my land . . ."
~ The Second Witness:
  "This one was testifying regarding the butcherous slaughter of eighteen (or was it twenty-three? Oh, yes, twenty-three) women and children in the suburban village of Karzan. The pogrom, it seemed, had been accomplished by an energy weapon which ate great, gaping holes in the sides of buildings."
~ Harry Zeckler:
  "These charges, all of them—they're perfectly true."
~ The Prosecutor:
  "The defendant is obviously lying."
~ Paul Meyerhoff:
  "A lovely frame. Airtight. A frame from the bottom up, and you're right square in the middle."

- Trained as a physician, Alan Edward Nourse hit the jackpot with his science fiction; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); not known for his movie and TV work, the IMDb (HERE) informs us that he did nevertheless manage to rack up three acting credits.

- Inevitably, Harry Zeckler puts us in mind of another galactic conman named Harry, Harcourt Fenton Mudd; see the Memory Alpha Fandom entry (HERE).
- Zeckler's defense hinges on a paradox contrived by a 6th-century B.C. Cretan philosopher; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our story takes place on a planet orbiting Altair, a star, which, although just over 98 trillion miles away, is easily visible from Earth; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).  Probably the most well known fictional depiction of Altair is the film Forbidden Planet (1956), details about it being in Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE).

Altair (left) compared to the Sun.

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