“It’s not me, it’s you. No, it’s not you. It’s me.”
James squeezed his eyes and hoped everything disappeared when they reopened. Wishful thinking.
“I-I-I don’t… I mean…I tried but I can’t…”
The words escaped his mouth in mumbles. James pushed his sandy blond hair to the side of his head.
“It’s the only way I can move on - we - we can move on.”
His tailored suit was suddenly too tight. The turtleneck sweater hugged his torso, especially his neck, too much.
“I can do this.”
Standing at a tinted window he gazed beyond the city skyline, the pedestrians below and FiFo above - the Fifth Form Transport Channel. He stared beyond the soaring vehicles surrounded by fog. Possibly powered by CPS or Interfusion, he’d save the hassle of checking the specifics for another day. For now James would use all willpower to concentrate on his mission: to ensure justice for all. He focused on his reflection through the fortified glass.
“I can do this.” James repeated a little louder and with a little more conviction. “I am a defense attorney and a Lawyer of Tomorrow with elite status. I can do this.”
He smoothed out his favorite gray tailored jacket, which was too stiff for a twenty third century professional. He didn’t care because he bought it as soon as he found out it had anti-microbial properties.
“I have dealt with worse,” he muttered and heaved a heavy sigh. “Get yourself together, for Jupiter’s sake.” James nodded to himself. “If I can get through law school, then I can get through this.” He turned away from his reflection.
“Just do it, James,” he grumbled. “She’ll survive, I’ll survive and life will go on.”
He sank into a chair. The platinum desk decorated with blush-hued accents mirrored the geometric shapes as they framed the walls. He pressed his trembling hand to the bottom left-hand corner of the interactive desk. It emitted a soft glow. The push of a button was all it took to activate the nanotechnology to free his desk of harmful microbes. He swallowed hard as the red laser scanned the surface and unleashed a swarm of particles to neutralize the area. As soon as the laser turned green and disappeared, he sighed. He leaned over the desk.
Ever since James qualified as a Lawyer of Tomorrow he worked at Oberon and Drake LLP, which was the only elite law firm on Earth. Being a leading provider of legal services, the firm installed self-adapting environmental features. Their sophisticated software rivaled that of the Jaro civilization. At Oberon and Drake LLP only cutting edge droids assisted high profile cases, ran investigations and took on workload.
“End it!” James shook his head. He stared at the translucent screen atop the desk. “I can’t let this affect me.”
The door of his office flung open with a bang. A sharp intake of breath. His heart leaped to his throat. A sudden jolt of shock. He hated when she did that.
“Talking to yourself again,” she said, slamming the door behind her. “Isn’t that a sign of madness?” Isla’s platinum ponytail swished as she marched towards him in her blue platform shoes. “You look like a dear in headlights, James.” She rolled her eyes. “What’s the matter?” Her long black lashes fluttered furiously as she waited for an answer.
“N-nothing,” James said.
He tugged at the collar of the suffocating turtleneck sweater. The real words he wanted to say formed in his mind: can’t forget what you did.
Isla’s uniform was sharp like her reputation at Oberon and Drake. The words of the General Counsel rang in his head: she is the best defense attorney in the city.
“There is something I wanted to tell you,” James blurted.
“Great,” Isla said. “Look at this.”
She swiveled the screen with her claw-like fingers, swiped it multiple times and swiveled the screen back again. James slouched as the anti-bacterial system functioned.
“What do you think?”
James gulped at the projected visuals. He squinted at a narrow building squashed between two skyscrapers. The enlarged image emphasized a silver plate which hung above the entrance of the narrow stone building. Upon further inspection he identified the words. They made his skin crawl. Things had gone too far. James gulped as the name on the plate confirmed the narrow stone building was destined to become a private law firm: Kensington and Burke LLP.
An array of emotions erupted. He resonated with the fact most people spent their entire lives searching for their purpose, but James wasn’t most people. His heart skipped a beat at the thought of having originated from another star system, of being a star seed. He crossed his arms in attempt to hide the joy of the achievement and the dread that both their names remained side by side.
“Are you alright James?” Isla said, narrowing her long-lashed eyes. “It’s like we said: Kensington and Burke.” Her eyelashes ruffled like butterflies. “Say something.”
“Um, Kensington and Burke LLP, as in Isla Kensington and James Burke…LLP?” James’ cheeks flushed and burned bright pink. He had to say it. He had to say it now.
“Obviously,” Isla said with an air of confusion. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Y-yes well, actually I-I—”
His heart beat too fast. James couldn’t catch his breath. He forced the words down.
“The design is like you wanted.”
Isla waved her hand and the motion sensors changed the images as she gestured. “The interior is historical: oak furniture with a mahogany palette.” She lifted a manicured finger to the ceiling. “It will work with the technology we use today, of course. Software, transmission methods and security systems will be integrated in the design. It will resemble a nineteenth century law firm but work like a twenty-third century one.” Her red lips curled into a wide toothed smile. “Perfect.”
“But are we…um, both going to—”
“Our first clients are lined up.”
Isla beamed. She paced back and forth and her heels clicked on the pavement.
“G-great, I am um…”
He recognized the fire in her icy-blue eyes - her competitive nature - and wondered whether she even listened to him.
“We’ll run our small law firm on a private basis until we leave Oberon and Drake.”
“W-we?” James swallowed hard. “Our?”
Isla nodded. Her red smile reduced to a pout.
“I know this was your idea but together we’re stronger,” she said and her eyelashes flickered. “With my contacts and reputation paired with your attention to detail and a little help from a droid or two, we’ll make justice accessible to everyone. We are a perfect team.”
James stuttered but half-words trailed away to utterances until they became nothing but noises.
“I don’t understand when you mumble to yourself.”
Isla stared at him. She caught him as he focused his gaze at the anti-microbial unit of the desk.
“And you should see a doctor again,” she added in a soft tone.
Kensington and Burke LLP should have been Burke and Partners. James no longer wanted to be part of a team but, having always worked behind-the-scenes, he had few contacts and low prospects of gaining clientele. After all, as a couple they did most things together and at Oberon and Drake they were part of the same team. If only relationships at work were banned…
Beeps from the computer system interrupted James’ thoughts. The display switched to a transmission. A screening of a red rectangular droid appeared and James recognized him as V3N, the law firm’s official personal assistant.
“All defense attorneys in the Department of Mysterious and Unresolved Cases are required to attend an emergency meeting in boardroom one.”
V3N’s digitized voice caused a violet light at the base of its body to flash with every syllable. The violet light pulsated below an imprint of the firm’s logo on the branded droid. James welcomed V3N’s monotone voice because it meant he no longer had to listen to Isla’s hypnotic one. He leaped from his seat and looked forward to the opportunity to change subject.
“Our work here isn’t done yet,” Isla said. “Come on.”
James remained silent. That ‘our’ again. He followed Isla out of the office and headed to the twentieth floor. He scurried beside her in silence whilst she engaged in a monologue. James shivered. Her words haunted his thoughts in real-time:
“We are going to grow our clientele. We, together, are going to make justice accessible to everyone. We are going to accomplish our destiny. We.”
James didn’t utter a word until they arrived at boardroom one. V3N greeted them with bursts of violet beams as it rolled to the far side of the room. The droid parked beside Preston, who was the General Counsel and head of department. James nodded at him and acknowledged the rest of the attorneys.
Preston activated the monitor behind him. It displayed a droid like nothing James had ever seen. This one neither had the universal features of the common droids nor the sophisticated mechanical properties of sentient ones. This one resembled a human in ways others didn’t.
“You have been called to this emergency meeting because you’re about to get the opportunity of a lifetime,” Preston announced.
James lost the enthusiasm of being on first name basis with him a long time ago. He quickly glanced at him. Preston must have undergone at least ten new enhancement procedures recently. He always looked different, of course - every human who had undergone synthetic enhancement procedures for decades did - but his face looked even more surreal today than it did when the changes began. James couldn’t help but feel a bit of envy. What did she ever see in him?
“Oberon and Drake LLP have been allocated not just any high profile case. They call this the case of the century!” Preston beamed. “And I don’t blame them.”
James clicked his tongue at the theatrical gestures as Preston waved at another motion sensor and the image zoomed in on the droid. James’ jaw dropped at the fine details of the droid’s features. A layer of synthetic navy skin covered the complexities within. The way it stretched and molded to the droids humanoid skeletal structure reminded him of rubber.
“Meet your client, Omicron also known as ‘the darkest star.’ He’s a sentient droid.” Preston paused. His face contorted. “The crime? Murder.” Another pause. “Allegedly.”
“Why call it ‘the darkest star?’” James asked.
“Because that’s what the manufacturer named the project at inception,” Preston said. “Now let’s get back to business.”
James narrowed his eyes. He had heard of the droid before.
“Listen carefully. As Lawyers of Tomorrow I trust that you’ll put in practice what you’ve been taught, and one of those lessons is to keep your personal views to yourself. Your job is to prove the client is innocent.”
“It said he didn’t do it,” James piped up. He pursed his lips as he recalled the news transmission he read. “It must have been a glitch.”
“His innocence is your job to prove. I have assigned this case to your department because that’s what you deal with” he said. “You.” He pointed at James. “You will lead this case.”
“M-m-me?” James mumbled.
He envisioned a time of being on first name terms again, but when he gave Isla a side glance, he decided today wouldn’t be that day.
”And as long as the darkest star is our client, you will refer to the droid as a ‘he,’ which is his preferred gender allocation, not ‘it.’”
James nodded. Being assigned a high profile case was the hard part, and that part was over. He took a deep breath to calm the butterflies at the pit of his stomach, as they unleashed a wave of excitement. Winning the case would give him the credibility he needed. His lips curled into a smile.
“James, I want you to partner with Isla,” he said pointing at them. “I trust you will keep this purely professional.”
Preston winked as though it was any of his business. James’ smile faded. From the corner of his eye, Isla’s red lips curved into a smirk. He blinked incredulously. After everything that happened between them, a continued partnership was bound to be a set up for failure.
“I hope you realize the responsibility you have as Lead Counsel of this high profile case,” Preston added. “Something of this magnitude can make or break your career and let’s not even talk about the reputation of this law firm.” His nose twitched. “Don’t let me down.”