Ben Thamian hated being caged, hated all the eyes falling upon him. His life had become a problem for some, and here sits shackled in a musky courtroom. Ben had opted out of a society full of hypocrisy, and now, was ensnared by what he tried to escape from. The City had monetised, and then made illegal, those forms of living that existed outside of its norms. The likes of Ben, who scavenged for food, and found value in that cast out in bins and dumpsters, are the focus of City’s new programme to achieve a zero percent rate of pauperism and vagabondage. His human value was based on percentages and numerical capacities to produce, in his cage under the dim courtroom lights.
As papers were shuffled and documents prepared, courtroom staff lazily tended to their duties while members of the jury gazed hypnotically into their phone screens. The eyes that left their screens fell with heavy judgement on Ben, deciding for themselves what he was, and why he was there. A hammer clattered and the room went quiet.
The judge began to speak.
“Quiet, please! The prosecution, on behalf of Galway Prefecture, is charging Benjamin Thamian – Vagabond 1432 – under the Pauper & Vagabond Penal: code 24. The defendant is accused of loitering in a Class 2 Gentrified area, of debased morals and theft from refuse bins. We would call on the ladies and gentlemen of the jury to note Mr. Thamian has shunned the workhouse on two counts previously, refused the charity of the Church and on three occasions removed his identification bracelet. The prosecution today calls for five years unproductive labour within the City’s Panopticon, or if chosen by the defendant, swift termination.”
And so croaked the judge, from behind the desk he could barely see out over.
He continued with a cough,
“Will the defendant offer the good people of this court an explanation of why it is he on so many occasions refused the help of this City’s generous institutions, both private and public?”
Ben’s eyes rose slowly to meet the bald head of the Judge. He felt silence would best serve his dissent from this system that he held no faith in, yet he spoke his mind. “To be fed by our city’s holy charities, I was asked to give up my name and to take their beliefs as my own. If I would only be redeemed by their God, they could in turn redeem my hunger. They would warmly clothe me. But I, sir, am no liar, their beliefs would hold no claim on me. In your Workhouse I was to give up my freedom, I would dedicate my day working over what you constitute fulfilling, but for me was vacuous. What is this I ask, if not slavery? Times were rare when I, without a home, sought refuge from storms only for your institutions to diagnose me as an ill that must be remedied. Yet I refused their medicine and chose to brave the elements. It is no life to abandon my convictions, and take up yours, in the hope one day I may live up to your expectations.”
The voice of the Judge could once again be heard calling out from behind his desk.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury can now note the defendant shows no remorse for his life of sloth. It is now that the court puts the decision to Mr. Thamian: Five years in the Panopticon, or death?”
As stark as this choice was, there wasn’t a heart that fluttered, or a phone-lit face that held any emotion, on the paths that lay in front of Ben Thamian. A fog of apathy permeated all those present in the courtroom..
Ben sprang from his seat and stood upright, startling some members of the Jury. With his fists balled and lowered at his side he spoke, his voice boomed.
“You coerce me with your house of God, offer to enslave me in the Workhouse. You say it will cure me of my ills, so I will be lucky enough to spend forty hours a week of my life, on my knees, to the deity of Capital. You see this from your ivory tower, but is it I, that lack morals? Am I, the Vagabond, such an immoral creature that needs mending? I have divided the last of my food amongst others, shared my blanket on Winters’ nights and kept watch when times were dangerous. Of this you place no value; I am but a number who to you is not producing. But what of you, hypocrite? Continuously engrossed in your smartphone, the batteries of which are dug from the earth by the hands of children. You can live knowing that most of your clothes are produced by some of the most economically enslaved people on earth. Ideas like these lurk at the back of your mind yet you go out, you buy and you buy. You propagate so many systems of oppression with the money you spend, and there you stand with the audacity to tell me that you’re the one to help me become free? Today you will lay no claim on me, no, I will never join the ranks of you.”
The Judge began to speak but fell silent. Something could be heard outside in the hallway, people began to scream while everyone in the courtroom froze. An alarm began to bellow from the ceiling. A few Jurors made a burst for the door but retreated in quicker still.
“There are fuckin’ wolves out there, man.” roared one.
Through all the ruckus Ben Thamian sat stoically. It would only be a few more minutes.
After the room calmed down a soft knock could be heard at the door.
The courtroom guard spoke, “Officer Hegarty here, is it safe to come out?”. His hand was sweaty against the stock of his pistol.
“Officer Hegarty, listen to me very carefully, as I will not repeat myself. If you release Ben Thamian through these doors within one minute, yes, you will all be safe. If you take too long I will break down these doors and come and take him. The keys to his shackles are on you, so I imagine that’s where my boys will start.
The voice was sweet, almost musical, belonging to a girl no older than twenty. It made Hegarty’s mouth drop.
Officer Hegarty was about to speak when a murmur started outside, which quickly grew to a chorus of rumbling growls and the howling of wolves. It sounded like thunder drowned out everything in the room.
Ben, unshackled, walked towards the door. Before leaving he turned to the Judge, gave a little nod, and offered his apologies to everyone else, for the inconvenience.
In the hallway were over two hundred grey wolves, and in the middle stood Eliza Joyce.
“Very theatrical, Ms. Joyce, and punctual, I must say.”
“It was good practice for me. We have horses outside. Let’s move.”
The pair rush down the short corridor to the rear of the building with the wolves at their heels. Out in the fresh air, Ben could see a section of wall that had be knocked which Eliza was gesturing to. Behind which, grazing on the grass, were two stocky riding horses with strong, hairy legs. Ben and Eliza took a horse each and began to gallop with the wolves in toe.
“We have a clear shot of the mountains from here.” said Eliza.
“Won’t they have the drones on us by then?” asked Ben.
“Karina has her own ladies in the sky, so we are safe. We’re going to reach the cave before they have a chance to locate us. And Ben? I found the river, it begins in the final cavern, just like you said.”