Chapter One: Anna

“Every person in this room is part of a new colonization effort on Mars. The people in this room come from different states, different countries, and different cultures. There is no uniform law established for your colony, for your ship, or for your government. In fact, you have no government.”

Anna sits straight, her gaze directed toward the slight, bespectackled man standing at the front of the large lecture hall. Her pen is poised over her notebook, the picture of a diligent student. Most of the others in the room are the same as she – some with laptops open and fingers furiously flying over the keys as they apparently try to transcribe the professor’s words, others similarly accustomed to pen and paper. One curly-haired boy with an unfortunate nose is taking notes on his ipad, with a small recording device placed beside him on the table. The pretty blond to Anna’s left is idly drawing cartoon fishes in the margins of her paper. But by and large everyone is focused.

“We will be splitting you now into groups of fifteen,” the professor continues. “This group of fifteen will simulate a law firm, for your first two years of school. You will have classes together, and will handle simulated client cases together. They will be your best resource during school. Today, you will be responsible for forming a government and a set of laws for your new colony. You will have fifty minutes to complete the exercise, and then we will regroup in this room to debrief. Best of luck.”

The blond scoffs a little, and turns to grin conspiratorially at Anna. “Really?” she asks under her breath. “They’re giving us some kind of deranged team-building exercise? I thought law school would be a little more intellectually demanding than elementary school.”

Anna smiles uncertainly back. She doesn’t know how to respond to the other girls’ obvious prettiness and clear confidence. Instead of dealing with it, she just ducks her head and gathers her materials, glancing quickly at her program to see her room assignment.

She can make out the 1 and the 3 from where they are peeking out the edge of her folder, but can’t quite see the first number. She’s still trying to read it (and conveniently also avoiding eye contact with everyone else) as she hurries out of the lecture hall.

Of course, with her luck, she promptly bumps into someone, her papers scattering to the ground. She drops immediately to pick them up, muttering apologies all the while.

“Don’t worry about it,” a smooth voice says, and hten a thick, callused hand appears in front of her face, helping her to her feet and then handing her another paper. Anna takes a deep, fortifying breath, and glances up at him.

Of course he’s just her type – big, puppydog hazel eyes and curling hair. He could be her college boyfriend, just zapped forward three years. He’s smiling at her charmingly, eyes crinkled at the corners. His front teeth overlap just the tiniest bit, and she can see a scattering of freckles across his nose and, interestingly, across the top of her ears.

No boys for the first year, she reminds herself harshly of the pledge she and her best friend, Hannah, had made before leaving for their respective graduate programs (Hannah, being slightly more pragmatic and less inclined to romanticism, is going to pharmaceutical school). It sounds like a silly, childish promise now, standing in a top law school, with other students streaming around her, chatting brightly, and this confident guy in a corduroy jacket standing in front of her. Still.

“Thanks,” she says softly. “I’m Anna.”

“Henry,” he says cordially. “Old-fashioned name, I know. Anyway, I’m a 3L here. . .you must be new.”

“Was it my 1L folder or utter lack of common sense that gave that away?”

He laughs, the sound a little too loud and a little too carefree, bouncing off the hard granite floor and the overly polished wood moldings of the aisle. “Fair enough,” he says. “Anyway, where are you going? I can give you directions at least – try and make up for barreling you over.”

She neglects to point out that she’d been the one to run into him, and instead simply hands over her schedule. He glances over it, thick eyebrows raising briefly in surprise, and a small quirk rising to his lips. “Firm 15, huh?” he asks. “Amazingly enough, that’s where I’m heading, too.”

“Why? Did you fail your 1L year?”

The flush that rises to her cheeks is automatically, and she can’t help but berate herself a little. She always says the dumbest things, and now that she thinks about it, she knows exactly what a 3L would be doing heading to her introductory practice class. Sure enough, he just grins again, and shrugs.

“Actually, I’m your teaching assistant,” he says. “The adjunct professor won’t be in until tomorrow, so I guess your stuck with me today. Sorry if it’s a disappointment.”

“Well,” she says, “I think the biggest disappointment is that I just got her, and Professor Wallington is already trying to ship us all off to Mars.”

Her comment doesn’t get the laughter that she wants, but he bumps her a little with his shoulder as he leads her down the hallway.

The room is about half-filled when they enter. Henry doesn’t say anything else to her, just moves to the front of the room and begins puttering around with a computer. Anna uncertainly takes a seat next to a broad-faced young man who she’d seen in the leture hall taking notes with a pen and pad of paper.

“Hey!” he says brightly when she sits down. “My name’s Gus. I mean, it’s Augustus, but everyone just calls me Gus.”

“Nice to meet you,” she says. “I’m Anna.”

“Great!” Gus says. This seems to exhaust his repetoire of pleasantries, and he returns to enthusiastically perusing his welcome packet – he seems, Anna, thinks, like the kind of guy who does everything enthusiastically.

She takes the relative silence to scope out the rest of the room. The classroom itself falls far short of impressive – certainly, it’s not one of the locations every chosen to be included in an admissions brochure. The windows are situated to show the pleasantly grassy lawn, edged by a thick, historic Virginia woods, but the actual room is square and simple – faded grey carpeting, typical cement blocks, painted over in the familiar eggshell white of elementary schools across the country. There’s a screen at the front of the room, where Henry appears to be setting up some kind of word document to be shown to the whole class.

Her classmates prove to be far more interesting. She notes the curly-headed boy from the lecture hall, sitting beside another young man, tall and broad-shouldered with the coloring of an Italian sea prince. There’s a pair of black girls who already seem thick as thieves, and a short boy with a shocking head of red hair. A petite brunette is pulling out a computer across the way. Involved in people-watching, Anna almost doesn’t notice when the chair next to her is pulled out, and the pretty blond who she’d been sitting next to in the lecture hall plops down.

“Hey!” she says. “Looks like we’re heading to Mars together.”

“Looks like,” Anna agrees. Gus leans forward, reaching out a hand to introduce himself. Before he has the chance to do more than introduce himself, however, Henry is shutting the classroom door and everyone quickly hushes.

“Hi!” Henry says, his eyes crinkling up again in what appears to be a genuine happiness at meeting all of them. “My name’s Henry, and I’m a 3L here at Marshall Law. I’ll be your TA for this year of Legal Practice – next year you’ll get someone new to finish out the program with. Our adjunct, Matt Smith, won’t be here today – he’s in a personal injury trial, but he thinks it should wrap up and he’ll be in tomorrow.”

He has them go through a quick round of introductions. Anna, trying not to be obvious, writes down everyone’s name in order in her notebook, though she recognizes the futility of the effort, since they’ll surely switch seats the following day. Still, she feels a little more confident with the day’s discussion, having figured out at least the first names of all of her classmates in the room.

“All right then,” Henry says when they finish, clapping his hands together in a business-like manner. “Let’s get down to business. We’ve just landed on Mars –“ here he has to pause for a moment as the blonde girl – Reilly – bursts out with a half-snort, half-laugh, though at least she has the graciousness to apologize for her outburst. “and we have to put together a civilization. What do you guys say! What do we put in our charter?”

Gus’s hand is up immediately, seeming to shock even Henry, who does, eventually, smile and point to him. “As much as true democracy doesn’t usually seem to work,” he says, “I think that it’s feasible with a small group of highly intellectual people. I move that”

“Okay,” Henry says, holding up a hand to halt him. “I guess Professor Wallington wasn’t entirely clear. All that we have to set up today is a basic criminal code – you guys don’t have to rewrite the Magna Carta. We can assume that the basic precepts inherent in most democratic governments exist.”

Anna presses her pen gently to the paper, prepared to begin taking notes, but as everyone around her begins arguing on the proper standards to apply in their new, imaginary world, she can’t help but drift off a little. This exercise, after all, can’t possibly be tested, can’t actually mean anything, and it’s tempting to imagine this odd little group as Martian colonists. . .

Henry is their dashing leader, of course, dressed in the appropriately form-fitting silver uniform of the Marshall Space Colonists. His face is hardened slightly, weather-beaten lines only serving to make him more handsome. His hair is a bit longer, his jaw stubbled. He tells them to begin writing the criminal code, while he attempts to repair their spaceships.

            Adam, with his big nose and unruly hair instantly tries to take charge. As out of place as he looked in the law school setting, he looks even more misplaced out here, his silver jumpsit fitting him strangely, and his indecipherable eye color looking almost malevolent in the red-tinged air of Mars. He’s quickly ignored, and his face twists briefly at this.

            “We should just rewrite the overlapping criminal codes of our separate states – er – countries,” Reilly suggests. “There’s no point in reinventing the wheel.”

            Like Gus, she fits in perfectly in this new world. Her jumpsuit clings to her athletic body – she was probably a cheerleader, Anna realizes, or volleyball, or whatever woman’s sport was popular where she came from. She was the type of girl who wouldn’t bother to wear make-up and would still look carelessly pretty, who could come to school in running shorts and a tank top and look put together. She wasn’t beautiful by any mean, but in the hazy atmosphere of Mars, she was a crusading Joan of Ark, an Amazon beauty.

            “But some of our codes are outdated,” Gus argues. “Look, for instance, at the penalties for child pornography. Five years automatic for someone possessing two images, and the same punishment for someone possessing 500. And it doesn’t even matter if they know whether the subject was a minor or not!”

            Gus has clearly done his work ahead of time. Normally, Anna thinks, he would take charge. He seems like the kind of regularly political, hyper-involved kid who runs for student council president and gets the job because nobody else wants it. In the real world, she realizes, he would be gently tolerated – but not in space.

            As with everyone else on the colonizing trip, the acrid smoke only highlights his strongest attributes – in this case, the pallor of his skin, and the nervous line of sweat along his brow. He’s fronting, Anna realizes, faking his confidence and outrage.

            “Then we’ll deal with those disagreements as we reach them,” Reilly says decisively. “But let’s get started. I think we can all agree that murder should be a crime. . .”

            “Pause,” Henry says abruptly, cutting short both the discussion and Anna’s day-dream. Dramatically, he pulls out an envelope from the thick binder he’d been given by Professor Wallingham. He reads it quickly, a smile lighting up his face, before pressing a button on the computer to move the Powerpoint presentation forward a slight. “Change in facts. . .”

Travis tries to break away, but Henry is faster, diving at the larger man’s feet and tangling up his ankles. Travis hits the ground with a heavy thud, iron-red dust flying up all around the two of them. He begins scrambling, heels digging in as he tries to scurry away, but Henry holds fast to the top of his boots, gritting his teeth and yelling for assistance.

            Adam and Gus hurry to help him, but it’s Zachary who gets there first. He’s the tallest, and most athletic looking, and when he grabs ahold of Travis’s right arm it’s easy enough to get the other man standing. Zach continues to grib his left bicep, while Henry relinguishes his leg to grab the left.

            “What now?” Henry pants out.

            Reilly and Gus share an uncertain glance, not having gotten to the point of deciding how to determine the crime of thievery.

            “He should get a trial, right?”

Anna doesn’t mean to speak, but the words come out anyway. Everyone turns to look at her, Reilly and Gus with long, considering glances, Zach’s gaze impassive, and Travis pleading.

            “I suppose,” Reilly says dubiously. “I don’t know. We haven’t made stealing a crime. Can we really charge him with something we haven’t even decided yet is criminal?”

            “Please,” Adam scoffs. “It’s a crime in every country. He knew it was wrong.”

            “I didn’t have a choice!” Travis protests. It’s the first thing he’s said all day. His eyes, slightly opaque behind the mask that they all must wear while outside of the communal shelter, are limpid and wet. “My wife and children were starving. I had to do something!”

            “Just make him pay back for the bread,” Adam says, sounding almost disgusted by the triviality of it all. Gus seems inclined to agree, but Reilly still looks uncertain. She tosses her head. By now, even the golden sheen has turned a dull, dirty red.

            “What kind of precedent is that setting?” she asks. “Will that be the punishment for stealing here? Just pay it back.”

            “Well,” Zach points out, just the slightest twist to his lips indicating the joke, “that would essentially mean that stealing doesn’t exist here. Just. . .extended borrowing.”

            “Imagine that as a defense in court,” Adam snorts. “Your honor, I was only borrowing the car. . .I was going to give it back eventually.”

            Henry interjects again. “They already ate the bread.”

“I’ll work,” Travis pleads. He’s sagging now. With Zach and Henry still holding him up, it’s impossible to tell whether he’s trying to throw himself on his knees to plead, or if he’s just lost all energy. Anna’s heart goes out to him, but she’s terrified to say anything on his behalf. The last thing she needs is Adam’s scorn directed toward her.

            “Well, this is stupid,” Adam points out. “I mean, we just landed. . .we’re setting up a communistic society, I assume. . .and it’s not like anything can grow on Mars, so we must just have reserves. Why didn’t we let him have any?”

            Henry smiles, a little nervous, but it’s Reilly who shuts him up. “Just do the activity, Adam. It doesn’t kill you to play along, does it?”

            “I’m just saying,” Adam insists, leaning forward, a strange glint in his eyes. “Law is built on precedent, right? But common law requires real facts. We don’t have any facts to build upon here.”

Henry’s clap interrupts the stand-off that’s somehow erupted between Reilly and Adam. All eyes turn to him. His smile is broad, confident, and Anna’s belly twists a little at it. “Well done,” he says. “Lesson number one. . .bad facts make bad law!”

“And bad lesson plan makes for a bad lesson,” Adam mutters under his breath. Henry glances at him, and his seemingly indefatigable grin drops for just half a second.

“Okay, guys, I know that a lot of the lessons during law camp week seem kind of silly and trivial, but they are broad themes that you’re going to revisit over your 1L year. So. . .back to the exercise!”

“Let’s just let him off with a slap on the wrist,” Reilly suggests. “He’ll have to repay the full value of the bread and then some. Does that sound fair to everyone?”

            Travis grins at this, and begins bobbing his head enthusiastically. “Yes!” he says. “Absolutely! I’m wiling to work! I want to work, even.”

            “Sounds good to me,” Gus agrees. “Seems equitable enough, and easily applied to the future. Repay damages and some other interest. Maybe 10%?”

            “This is setting some horrible precedent,” Adam mutters under his breath, but when everyone turns to glare at him he just shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “Fine, he can just repay the bread.”

            “And is this how you will be deciding issues in the future?” Henry asks. “By unanimous decree? What if it’s a real crime, and someone doesn’t want to confess?”

The scene shifts. It’s weeks later, and the difficulties of living on the foreign planet have begun to wear on them. All of the men have scruff shading their jaws, the beginnings of beards that range from looking downright sexy on Zach to patchy and ridiculous on Adam. Meanwhile all of the girls are looking slightly more ragged. Anna is secretly glad to see that Reilly looks slightly less than polished and perfect without a blowdryer or make-up, and the tiny brunette – Kate – looks downright exhausted. While walking out the door to head to her assignment for the day (she’s drawn terranium duty, which means a day of digging through simulated earth dirt. It’s not the best job, but it’s far from the worst, too) she takes a moment to glance in the mirror, gratified to see that she looks pretty much the same as the first day they’d arrived – low-maintenance and fresh-faced.

            The moment she steps out the front door, however, she’s met by pure chaos. Travis and Zach, apparently elected as the most-athletic of the colonists, are chasing down Gus, who is clearly already sagging. Adam is pointing and yelling, Reilly is screaming right back at Adam, and poor Jeremiah, the red-haired boy that she’d noticed earlier, is lying on the ground.

            “What’s going on?” she asks.

            It’s Zach who eventually grabs Gus, throwing himself forward to execute a rugby tackle, pulling the other man to the ground. Travis lands heavily atop both of them, scrambling to grab Gus’s hands and force them into a pair of make-shift manacles. Never having seen actual handcuffs, Anna’s imagination can only force a rough approximation.

            “What’s happening?” she asks again. This time someone notices her, as Adam gestures angrily at the body lying at his feet.

            “What do you think?” he demands. “Jer’s dead, and Gus was killer.”

            “And how do you know that?” Reilly asks. “Innocent until proven guilty, isn’t it?”

            “New colony, new law, remember?” Adam snarks back. “You were telling me earlier to do the exercise. Well here we go. There’s a dead body, and no law in place, and I saw him kill Jer, so we might as well just throw him in a lock-up.”

            “Unless there’s capital punishment here,” Zach says mildly. Anna turns to look at him, surprised to hear such cruelty expressed so casually. Zach, however, looks anything but bloodthirsty. His brown eyes are as mild as ever, and there’s only the tiniest of smirks on his mouth.

            “I think I should get a trial,” Gus says. He’s still squirming in Travis’s grip, but the cuffs seem to have taken most of the fight out of him. “I think that’s only fair.”

            “And who’s the judge? Or the jury?” Reilly asks.

            “We could all be the jury,” Anna suggests. “Well, except for Adam, obviously, since he seems a bit biased.”

            “I don’t know. . .” Gus says slowly. “Do I get a lawyer? No offense, but I don’t think any of you really qualified as a lawyer. Or a prosecutor. And I don’t want a prosecutor being my lawyer.”

            “Do we need a judge?” Anna asks, more for herself than anyone else. Despite poor Gus’s destroyed expression and the swirling red dust around them, she can’t help but enjoy the academic nature of the discussion.

“What would we need a judge for?” Adam asks, throwing his arms up. “You’re all just trying to reinstitute the process in America. We don’t have any rules of evidence for a judge to apply – there is no law, remember? – and even if there were, it doesn’t matter here. All we’re dealing with is fact. Did Gus kill him, or didn’t he?”

            “Can I get up yet?” Jeremiah asks plaintively.

            Henry’s clapping interrupts the discussion. “Great job, guys,” he says. “Adam, great job laying out the adversarial process. And what you said is exactly true – you were trying to impute American common law practices into your new colony. . .which is exactly what American colonists did following their independence from Britain.”

“So. . .are we done for the day?”

“Sure thing,” Henry says, enthusiasm still palpable. He reaches into his bag and pulls out a thick pad of papers, rubber-banded together, edges ruffled and slightly ripped from being jostled around. He pulls off the rubber band, licks the side of his thumb, and begins handing out the papers. “Here’s the fact pattern for your first memo. Don’t worry about form, don’t worry about doing anything right, just read through the fact pattern and the brief attached explanation of tort law, and then tomorrow bring in a paper detailing what you think the resolution of the issue should be.”

Anna’s stomach drops. She’s spent the entire day pretending to be a Martian colonist, chasing around bread thieves and murderers in a world without any law. She hasn’t the slightest idea of how to write an actual legal memo. She doesn’t even know what a tort is. Looking to her left, she notices that Kate seems similarly distressed, frantically copying down what Henry says nearly verbatim onto the side of their memo assignment. Zach and Travis glance at it seriously, while Adam rolls his eyes and puts it into a binder.

“I really liked meeting all of you today,” Henry says. Anna literally can’t look at him, his smile is so bright and optimistic. “I know that law camp can get. . .kind of. . .weird. . .but it all gets better, I promise. There’s a party at the Larrimore tonight. . .spend one or two hours on your memo, and then head out there. One of the most important things about law school is maintaining a life and work balance.”

“What’s the Larrimore?” Anna whispers to Reilly. The blond girl smiles at her.

“It’s just a house,” she says. “Not much more than a frathouse, honestly, but all law students live in it.”

“There are law school frats?”

“No, just. . .it’s a shitty house, and five or six guys from the 3L class live there every year, and they host a bunch of parties.”

“Oh,” Anna says. “Um. . .are you going?”

Reilly shrugs. “I’ll probably check it out. Need to somehow meet all of the other people in the class, right?”

“Right. . .” Anna says, her eyes following Henry as he makes his way out of the room, banging fists and smiling over at Zach. “I guess that would be a good thing. But I guess I’ll have to see how the memo goes.”

“Don’t worry about the memo,” Jeremiah says, as he finishes packing up his own stuff. “I know some of the guys in the 2L and 3L classes. They say it isn’t graded and doesn’t count for anything. It’s probably just a scare tactic by the administration to see how serious we take school.”

“I hear that five to ten people drop out during law week every year,” Kate adds. “Sounds terrifying.”

“Come to the Larrimore,” Jeremiah says, his tone encouraging and hopeful. “It’ll be fun. I promise.”

Anna smiles non-commitally and heads out. She should probably go – her parents have always sencouraged her to be less shy. But at the same time, the very idea of going to a run-down house, filled with people she doesn’t know, just doesn’t sound like her cup of tea. She’ll still make friends later on, after all, when they’re settled in and studying.

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About splashfromabove

I believe firmly that through reflection, we gain in appreciation. My blog is all about taking a step back from what I read, view, or discover, and looking at it slightly askance.
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