Only Once Away My Son
rating: +70+x

Year 2,500,000

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and folks identifying otherwise, we are live at the William James Courthouse, where we are bringing you live, that's right, LIVE coverage of the trial of one Researcher █████ Talloran and the charges levied against them. I'm James Talloran, and joining me today, as always, is the lovely Jessie Talloran."

"You know it James! Yes, this is a very special case today, as the charges levied against Talloran are of a very serious nature, and it's been, what, some million years since the last trial held here hasn't it? So the fact that we're having a session today is absolutely astonishing, and frankly after everything that has happened, unprecedented even. We'll be following along closely as developments happen."

"That's right. Throughout the trial, we'll be switching back to Jessie primarily and getting her on-the-ground updates. I'll be joining periodically to give my thoughts. Trial is in pre-session and expected to start in a few minutes. Stay tuned for the latest on JTTV News 45."

Talloran sat at their bench, surrounded by busybodies, staff, and news journalists setting up cameras all over the courtroom. The entire world felt suffocating, moreso than usual. If you give the illusion of a media presence, it'll end up feeling a lot more real.

"H-Hey, excuse me, can I get a lawyer?" No one answered Talloran's question. "I'm uh, I'm pretty sure courts are supposed to provide a lawyer to people who are unable to afford one?" An old janitor cleaning the aisles next to Talloran looked up at them and grimaced.

"Don't you remember the predicament you're in, sonny? You won't get any lawyers here. Hrmmmm…" His voice trailed off as Talloran stumbled for responses.

"Hey, wait, hey hold on! I still deserve some sort of legal presence even in this bullshit nonsense! Can't you like, tell them to give me a lawyer? It'll, i-it'll help at least," Talloran spat out frustrated at the absurdity of the scene around him.

"I guess I can bring it up with the Judge, see if we can find you a quick guy to fill in for your legal defense, but don't expect anything." The janitor grumbled as he continued to clean the aisles, stepping over the spectators rushing to their seats.

The court had started to amass more people, none of whom would even accidentally glance Talloran's way. One by one, the room started to fill in to any open space they could stand or conceivably sit on or in. The claustrophobia Talloran felt was starting to creep up on them. Unfamiliar empty face upon unfamiliar empty face. It felt hopeless to rebel against the situation as it was right now.

"All rise!" a voice yells. All 694 beings stood up as the Judge enters the courtroom, making Its way to the bench. With bated breath, all waited for It to go through the motions. The defendant in particular glared at It, watching, waiting. Soon, they'd be able to make their break. They just knew it.

The Judge sat down. It occurred to them at this moment that they've actually never attended a trial proper, been on jury duty, or actually knew how court proceedings worked outside of fictional media.

"You may be seated." Everyone but the defendant sat.

"Researcher █████ Talloran," the Judge boomed, "as requested, you have been given a lawyer by the court. We will institute a new and unusual two-minute pause as you discuss with your lawyer your current situation and proceedings." Wait, wha —

"Hello there, [insert name here]." The defendant turned to look at their right, and spotted, in a court full of horrendous figures, bizarre anomalies, and hordes of empty canvasses, the most upsetting sight yet; their lawyer. "Name required for continued use. pal."

The lawyer, a robotic husk of parts, wires and AI, was dressed rather sharp and fancy. A tight suit adorned with fancy nonsensical seams and a collar entirely unsuited for non-humans. A red-and-brown hat garnished with gloss. Grey leather gloves. Despite the appearance of a digital smile on its face, it spoke in an utterly monotone voice; as bored as a robot could possibly sound. To say that the defendant was taken aback would have been an understatement.

"U-Uh… um…"

"Name not valid. Name required for continued use, pal."


"Hello there, Tall-lor-ran." Every syllable was mispronounced and dragged out painfully. "I will be providing your legal counsel in court today. I have been informed and up-to-date on the charges against you. If there is a course of action you would like to pursue, please let me know and I will do my best to assist you." What could possibly be a good way to respond to something so utterly useless? What would be the point?

"Uh, I guess, let me just. Handle the stuff I am able to handle on my own, and you can handle the rest?" the defendant hesitantly answered.

"Affirmative, Tall-lor-ran. Plan of action noted. Thank you for choosing Designated Extraordinary Case Interpreter, Version 23." Unbelievable.

"Talloran, you have been initially charged with the following crimes: Working for the Foundation Instead of Pursuing a Better Career, Anhedonia, Mental Illness in General, Inability to Cope, and █████████ ███████. How does the defendant plead?" The Judge's voice boomed throughout the entirety of the world; it was hard not to wonder how it couldn't have reached the outside by this point.

"I don't see how any of these could be considered crimes, Your —"

"Not guilty then. In addition, you have also been charged with the following crimes: Non-Conforming Gender, Non-Conforming Sexuality, Taking Shit Too Seriously, Unable to Care About Others Adequately, and Frustration With Hobbies. How does the defendant plead?"

"Wait, how are any of these crimes? What are you doing with thi —"

"Not guilty then. The trial is now in session." The Judge bangs Its Gavel, and the scene shifts entirely to the same court room. The defendant can feel the atmosphere shifting them onto another plane entirely, finding themself on the stand with a splitting migraine.

"The prosecution may now begin."

For the Charge of "Unable to Care About Others Adequately"

The prosecutor, Talloran, Esq., approached the stand with a manila envelope in hand.

"Now, Mx. Talloran, do you recognize this envelope?" The defendant stared at the envelope, mystified. It wasn't labelled. It didn't have any special marks on it. How were they supposed to know what was in it?


"It is an envelope containing a letter addressed to you a long while ago. It is from…" The prosecutor lifts the paper from the envelope and nods, showing it to the defendant. The words are in writing they are unable to read or comprehend, but it's immediately clear what it is supposed to be. "…Benjamin Kondraki. Do you understand now?" Their eyes go wide. "Excellent. People of the court, this is a letter written to Researcher █████ Talloran in 2016, approximately a few days before the suicide of Benjamin Kondraki. Its significance is lost on you right now, but when I read it, it shall be clear. Ahem." The prosecutor opened his mouth.

The sound of large metal screeching against metal sounded, blasting itself onto the defendant. They were too dumbfounded to move, to cover their ears, as blood started trickling down the side of their head. Yet they knew what was said, what was written. And regret filled their body.

"Now, Talloran, have you gone on to honor this letter since you first read it?"

It was impossible to answer. Maybe? How could they have remembered? It was hard to keep track of the memories from reality and from here. But… they had a nagging feeling in the pit of their stomach that…

"No, I have not." Murmurs in the crowd. The Judge bangs the Gavel. "At least, I don't remember doing so? It's been hard to tell, with the few million years or whatever that I've been in here by this point."

"So you don't even remember its contents?"

"Not really…" The defendant trailed off. "But that means nothing! I could have done something in relation to it!"

"What matters here is whether you did or not. To the best of your recollection, did you honor the letter and its contents, or did you not, Talloran? Please remember that you took an oath under penalty of perjury. I'll repeat the questions. Have you gone on to, or did you in any way, honor this letter written by Benjamin Kondraki and addressed to you and the contents therein?" All eyes on them.

"Not to my recollection." Talloran, Esq. nods, jotting down the statement.

"Thank you."

For the Charge of "Mental Illness in General"

"Now, if the court will look to this table here, we can see the medical records of one Dr. Manwell Cutler of the Ethics Committee, who for the months of March 2017 to July 2017, had biweekly appointments with Talloran for assessing their mental health and ability to work on various Keter-class projects, both standard and those handled under different moral codes." Talloran, Esq. flipped through the pages.

"Here, we can see Talloran's records. These will be important later. However, going back to the page before it, we can see that —" The prosecutor struggled to flip the page back. "Shit, excuse me, sorry, uh, crap. Here we go. This is a record of how often Talloran showed up to appointments. You can see that starting in May, attendance started to slip, with —"

The defendant zoned out, unable to hone in on the proceedings. All this reminded them about was the nightmares, night in, night out. This turned into full-on dissociation. Everyone was mannequins.

For the Charge of █████████ ███████ [REDACTED]


"I rest my case, Your Honor," Talloran, Esq. said with smug satisfaction.

"I've heard enough. I've reached my verdict," the Judge proclaimed, and with a bang of the Gavel, the defendant was back to their bench and they immediately snapped back into their body. It was the same scene as the start, but this time with only cameras, the Judge, the defendant and their lawyer (who had not once helped in any capacity). D.E.C.I. v23 nudged its client for the singular moment it did anything but stand still since the trial's beginning. So much for it coming in handy. The defendant looked over.

"If everything goes according to plan, Tall-lor-ran, you shall be found Not Guilty by the court and free to go. However, if you are found Guilty and you do not believe such a verdict to apply to you," D.E.C.I. v23 droned on (what fucking nerve on this shitty robot, programmed in such a stupid way to talk like this to its clients, even if this is all still somehow just a bad dream it was a joke of a dream), "then please take this Complimentary Apple, pull the stem, throw it on the ground nearby, and run forward." The defendant was then handed a Red Delicious.

"Uh, oh geez, I guess thank y —"

"I find the defendant guilty of all charges. Sentencing shall begin." Bang, and the scene shifted again.

This time, Talloran was alone in the room, surrounded only by cameras.

"I sentence you to more continued self-assessment and prolonged imprisonment. Court is adjourned." Bang, and Talloran was dragged away by sheriffs to leave the court room. The paparazzi swarmed upon them.

"Talloran, is it true that you've committed unthinkable crimes against —"
"Talloran, did you really —"
"What went through your head as you pursued psychotherapy —"
"Are your plans for the future compromised by this ruling in any —"
"Did you really think this was winnable?"
Just trust yourself here.
"Will the next million years be any different for you?"
"What do you think Draven thinks about this?"
How can you ever rebel if you'll believe your own lies?
"Talloran, do you believe you're innocent?"
"Is this going to affect your projects from Site-118 any more than usual?"
"When will we find out about the destructive biases of the court system that handled your case?"
There's still a path to take.
Still a way to escape.
"Do you believe in free will, Talloran?"
There always is.
There's always a way through.

"And there always will be…"

Talloran took the apple, pulled the pin and threw it at the ground. As the crowd backed away, they managed to break free of the sheriffs and run. Someone screamed.

Then Talloran's vision went white, and they could no longer hear.

It took a minute for it to wear off before they realized it was a stun grenade, and they realized where they were now; nowhere, surrounded by nothing.

Talloran ran.

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