by J. C. Conway
Judge Bell pushed the stack of files to the end of his mahogany desk, buzzed for his clerk and slipped into his black robe. He glanced down through half-open horizontal blinds in his window. The noisy crowd below chanted, "Stop Playing God!" and waved signs displaying slogans like "Quantum State? Police State!"
He refrained from wondering if they were right or wrong. A judge must be impartial. Besides, the Supreme Court had spoken. His duty was defined.
He grabbed his reading glasses and entered the Courtroom as the Bailiff announced: "Remain seated; Court is now in session. The Honorable Thomas Henry Bell, presiding."
He stepped up to his place at the bench. "Good morning."
The room responded reverently: "Good morning, Your Honor."
Judge Bell scanned the packed courtroom. It was separation day. Except for the retrofitted machinery looming above, it was as stately a forum as any over which he had presided. The parties for the first matter were already in place at the table. Judge Bell balanced his spectacles on the end of his nose and pulled the top sheet from his stack. He nodded to the Bailiff, who announced: "Matter number 14641, Petition of Harper and Harper."
Mr. and Mrs. Harper, and their respective attorneys, stood.
"Appearances," said Judge Bell. As the attorneys spoke, Judge Bell studied the Harpers. They did not look at each other. They seemed resolved.
Business separations were one thing, but Judge Bell detested domestic matters. It was hard to remain unbiased. They were too personal and often ill-conceived. But he had already provided this couple every opportunity to take a different path. It was time to fulfill his judicial duty.
"I'm ready to make my ruling. Are there any objections?"
There were none.
He cleared his throat. "The Court, having considered the joint request for separation of Claude Ram Harper and Clarissa Marie Harper, all grounds presented in support thereof, and there being presented no objections thereto, hereby grants the petition for separation."
Mr. Harper's gaze remained fixed on the bench. His lower lip tightened--a slight victory gesture. He exchanged a firm handshake with his attorney.
Mrs. Harper's stoic resolve melted to relief--a transformation Judge Bell found striking. She drew a deep breath and turned to thank her attorney.
Both lawyers directed their clients' attention back to the bench. The proceeding was not over.
Judge Bell reviewed his written ruling and set it down. He removed his glasses, gazed at the Harpers, and tried to connect with them one more time. This never works, he thought. But he felt compelled.
"Mr. and Mrs. Harper," he began, "I would like to impress upon you the finality of the decision you make today. This is not a matter of choosing to lead separate lives. This is a separation from each other's realities entirely. Separation is not just a choice to not see each other again; it is a choice to make seeing each other again impossible...forever. Upon separation, you each leave a hole that cannot be filled. Do you understand what I am saying?"
He wanted to add, "This is no way to resolve personal differences." But that would have exceeded the bounds of his judicial duty.
He detected no change in Mr. Harper's expression. But Mrs. Harper seemed to consider his words.
The protesters' chants echoed in his mind. They hated the intrusion of quantum physics in personal disputes. They thought it was wrong. And who could blame them? These two--Mr. and Mrs. Harper--were among a growing number of couples that elected to annihilate each other from existence. Instead of divorce, they would invoke the mysterious laws of quantum physics to split the universe in two--sending one branch off with one of them, and an identical branch off with the other. It hardly seemed possible. But the Supreme Court accepted the scientific evidence that both universes would exist, and held that such annihilation was neither murder nor a crime.
Judge Bell didn't like it. Not that he shared the protesters' moral objection. The problem was simpler than that. He didn't like the results. As a matter of chance he had ended up, time after time, in the universe with the party he disliked.
Maybe it was his fault. A judge should be impartial. It was not his province to prefer one party over another. Could his personal preference affect the outcome? He considered it unlikely. According to expert testimony, there was no single "outcome." Both results occurred. If the science was right, then it was pure chance; nothing more. In every other universe was a Judge Bell that did not suffer his singular run of bad luck. There would be Judge Bells running 50-50, 60-40, 40-60 ... and there was one Judge Bell in a universe where the best result always occurred.
But not here--he was, so far, the Judge Bell with the worst possible results. And because of that, he tried once more.
"There is no going back," he urged, focusing on Mrs. Harper. "You cannot reconcile. You can't change your mind. Even if both of you change and blossom into the person you once thought each other would become, you will not see that happen. There will be no opportunity to discuss it--no chance to ever know. Is that really what you want? Mrs. Harper?"
She hesitated. She turned toward Mr. Harper, whose expression remained stone and provided no grain of visible hope.
Darn it, he thought, almost had her.
"Yes, sir--Your Honor, sir," she finally said. The hint of indecision vanished.
"Mr. Harper?" he asked, as a formality.
"Yes, Your Honor."
Judge Bell paused to make certain the moment was gone.
Fine. He would stay composed and remain objective. It was still possible to shield his personal feelings from this dispute.
"Very well; as to the post-petition request for expedited execution of the decree of separation, the Court further grants the petitioners' request. The statutory reconciliation period is hereby waived. Counsel, are all affairs in order?"
"Yes, Judge Bell."
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Thank you, counselors. Bailiff ..."
"Step forward," said the Bailiff, directing the Harpers to a tarnished steel circle in the middle of the white marble floor directly between counsel table and the bench. "Stand completely within the circle."
The court clerk manned the control panel. "Ready, Judge."
Judge Bell drew a breath. "It is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed that you, Claude Ram Harper and Clarissa Marie Harper, hereby are and forever shall be irrevocably and permanently separated."
The Clerk touched the panel. The mass of coiled machinery that replaced most of the traditional ceiling, roared to life. Intricate mechanisms shifted. Coolant manifolds hissed. The Event Chamber thrummed and the Quantum Amplifier glowed. The machine bathed the Harpers in bright magenta.
The Harpers glared at each other, less than a half meter apart, as an incorporeal cone surrounded them.
Judge Bell leaned forward. He would see their true colors in a moment. But maybe this time he could remain impartial. If he did not pick, wouldn't that break his streak?
The pitch increased.
Mrs. Harper spoke, stammering. "Claude, I don't--"
Judge Bell winced. She's the nice one.
Mr. Harper's glare hardened. "Go to hell," he snapped.
And he's the jerk.
The cone tightened. The Event Cylinder created its paradox. The Quantum Amplifier extended that paradox to the Harpers.
The light flashed and then faded. Mr. Harper stood alone.
Judge Bell's shoulders sagged. Mrs. Harper was gone, spun off into an irreconcilably separate universe. Some other Judge Bell was there with her, and without Mr. Harper. How did that Judge Bell earn the right?
Not that it mattered. Here, in this reality, Judge Bell found himself, like every other time without fail, stuck in the universe with the jerk.
What were the odds?
He shook his head and sighed. Maybe next time.
He folded his hands and nodded to the Bailiff, who promptly called the next matter.
It could not go on like this forever.