Ironic how life can change, isn’t it?
One day you are a lowly gas station attendant living a snail-paced life. Your life is nothing but a reel of repetitive routines. You live alone in a ramshackle house left by your parents, the same one that you were born in. You don’t mingle with your neighbours. You keep to yourself, minding your business and ever mindful of your station in society.
But then, unexpectedly, your life shifts gears. You receive a summons, which cannot be denied, to serve on a jury. Suddenly, you are catapulted into the public eye in the most high-profile case ever. What’s more, you are elected foreperson of the jury.
Sounds make-believe, doesn’t it?
It is not.
It is true, as true as the unprecedented verdict given that changed the course of our history…perhaps, for the better.
The day of the judgement
‘Mr Foreperson, has the jury reached a verdict?’
I was seated along with the six other jurors. At the question, I felt all eyes in the hall turn to scrutinize me. The question in everyone’s mind was undoubtedly the same – what would the verdict be? Ordinarily, this attention should have made me break out in a cold sweat. It should have tied my stomach up in knots. But, no more…not today, and maybe never again in the future.
The month-long trial had been heatedly argued by counsel for both parties. The evidence and the witnesses had been scrutinized microscopically. No detail had been left unchecked. The needle of blame needed to point firmly in the right direction because the margin of error was zero. The press reported the proceedings in scandalous delight. Both parties garnered massive public support. Everyone had an opinion on who was guilty and they were not shy about voicing their views. Was that fair? Perhaps not! But, that’s often how the dice rolls, isn’t it?
I ignored the eyes trained on me and focussed mine on the bench. I stood up and answered. ‘Yes.’
‘Is it a majority verdict?’
‘No,’ I replied. I could feel everyone’s eyes boring into me till I said, ‘It is unanimous.’
Unanimous – the best kind of verdict for such a case!
But, what was the case? What was the verdict?
In order to acquaint you with both, you need to first understand who we are. Let me give you some background.
We have been around since after the dawn of mankind.
We are human and yet we are non-human because we are immortal. We have always lived alongside humans, nah…let’s call them ‘the mortals’ for that is what they are. We are their neighbours, their friends, their superiors, their subordinates, their peers and their elected government representatives. But, our true form has escaped their notice. That’s the epitome of cluelessness, isn’t it? Ah well, the humans are pretty clueless creatures. They…well, the lesser said the better. This story is not about them.
Now, whispers of our existence have filtered through the fabric of time as legends and lore. The legends speak of men transforming into beasts on a full moon night. The lore speaks of fanged attacks mounted on hapless humans. Perhaps, sometime in the past, someone witnessed a man transmogrify into a wolf. Or maybe, the wound from a bite ran too deep to have been inflicted by a snake. Whatever the reason may be, over the ages mortals have suspected our existence. How else would you explain – Dracula, Twilight Saga, and others?
Yes, we do exist albeit in secret. Our lives are embedded in the mortal society but they are not governed by the same laws. We are governed by the laws laid down by our ancestors, our elders and our Justice Council. We are a society that exists deep within the human society.
But, what is unclear about our origins, even to us is – which of our kind was first?
The wolves claim that they were created first and bestowed the gift of bulk and brute strength. The vamps, bestowed with stealth and speed, refute the claim. This is an ongoing debate which in the last few centuries has escalated into an all-out blood feud. Hatred has replaced mutual disdain and both factions have clashed in bloodthirsty scrapes and vicious fights. Stealth, speed, strength and an accelerated pace of healing has kept losses to a minimum. But, hiding the collateral damage i.e., the deaths of the mortals has become harder and harder for the Justice Council, our lawmakers – The Witches.
Yeah, you read that right!
We hold the witches in high regard. They are powerful. They can control even the immortal mind and can cast hexes or spells. And, contrary to how mortals portray them, witches are not old hags with crooked teeth who fly on broomsticks. No, no…far from it! The witches are the most beautiful and nubile beings in the immortal world. These enchantresses rule the high echelons of luxe fashion. They are the supermodels that mortal men so covet. Ah, if only they knew the truth!!
When the mortal losses from the feud started to mount up, the Justice Council intervened. Left unchecked the situation would have led to a serious disruption in the supply of food. It demanded immediate remedial action which in turn meant stringent laws, pre-defined territories and a system of mutual and peaceful (relatively speaking!) coexistence.
So, nearly a century ago, the witches divided the world…hypothetically speaking! The wooded and comparatively less inhabited parts were given to the werewolves so that they could transform and run free without fear of mortal interference. The vampires were given the cities where their night-time soirees, orgies and raves could be attributed to wild parties hosted in nightclubs and pubs.
A treaty was signed by both factions to this effect. And, with that, the debate – who was first – died down. Or so it was thought!
California, November 2009
The Sci-Tech convention held once in a decade is a mega event for the immortal world. Immortals attend the event in their non-human forms. Held in an arena double the size of ten rugby fields, the ‘by invitation only’ event sees participation from immortals the world over. The event held in 2009 was the largest gathering, in over four decades, of tech and scientific innovators.
On exhibit were – medical bracelets for high-risk mortal patients that allowed the vamps to move freely in the sunlight, chips that could be implanted into the heart to control arrhythmia but also helped the wolves to control their transformation, banks upon banks of cloned human blood synthesised in labs which were substitute vamp food but could also supplement emergency medical services…the list was endless.
The event received extensive coverage in the media. The Otherworld Chronicle, the immortal’s newspaper ran full-length articles on companies at the forefront of cutting-edge tech. The Legacy, a leading magazine published lengthy features on the CEOs, product designers and lead engineers. In-person interviews and product unveiling sessions were broadcast live globally to immortals on private cable channels. Never, in nearly forty years had so many revolutionary products been showcased together.
But, among all the gadgets on display, there was one that was most anticipated. It was a slim piece of tech like a wristwatch. When worn, it could track a wearer’s movement, sleep and calorie burn. Promoted as a fitness tracker for the mortals, the gadget in reality wasn’t designed for mortal usage. It was a piece of sophisticated tech that had been decades in the making by two rival companies with immortals at their helm. So far, only rumours of its development had circulated in the immortal world. This was the first time that the actual product was to be unveiled to the public. What the gadget could do was to bend light around the wearer. This meant that the wearer cast no shadow and produced no reflection and thus could make themselves – INVISIBLE to the mortal eye!! Furthermore, the wearer could project a cloak of invisibility, covering a vast area, too.
Invisibility was an asset that all factions desperately wanted control over and yet none so far had been able to master, not even the powerful witches.
The first company to introduce the product at the convention was Wolfgang Inc. Their CEO, Markus Gray was a tech mogul and the current alpha of the wolves. Tall and broad of the shoulder, in his silver-gray coat the texture of coarse sand, on stage, he cut a commanding figure.
‘Everyone…,’ Markus began. His gaze was piercing as he took in the wolves seated in the stands and the vamps standing in the balconies above. His eyes were red and smouldering with the intensity of embers that glow after a raging fire has been hastily tamped down. His voice wasn’t a roar. It was an explosive boom that carried both passion and arrogance. It reverberated in the large space. ‘…today we create history. This tech will bring us out of the shadows. It will enable us to be invisible to the mortal eye so that we can live without fear of discovery.’ In a swift move, Markus extended a sharp claw and ripped off the cover of a display case. ‘I give you – The InvisiBand – developed after years of cutting edge research by Wolfgang Inc.’
At Markus’s words, the expectant murmurs that had broken out initially erupted into thunderous applause. The wolves arched their backs, threw back their heads and howled in glee. Their alpha had just delivered the Holy Grail to the immortals. Nothing could beat that feat…nothing! They leapt off their seats and somersaulted midair in a show of solidarity with their leader. Their jubilation- their howls, hoots, celebratory barks and acrobatic antics – escalated. In seconds, such was the deafening clangour that not a single voice could be heard individually, except for one from the balcony which cut across the cacophony like a whiplash.
It was Amelia Knight, the vamp elder and CEO of Fleetfoot Technologies, the rival company purported to have developed a similar tech. She raised an accusatory finger at Markus and bellowed, ‘Markus Gray, you are a thief!’ Amelia’s amber-hued eyes, speckled with gold and boiling with rage, glinted malevolently in her cold-blooded, pale face. ‘This tech belongs to Fleetfoot Technologies. You stole our idea for an invisibility ring, tweaked it and released it as your band.’ Amelia’s fury spurred the vamps to flank her. Fangs bared, they hissed and screeched in aggression, prepared to defend their leader. Even in the dim light of the auditorium, their polished claws glinted wickedly as they splayed their arms.
At the accusation, a roar went up amid the wolves. Their blood boiled in protest. How dare the vamps accuse their alpha of such falsehood? Their hearts answered the primal call of the ancestral oaths of fealty that banded them together. Never ones to back down from a fight, they raised their hackles as they prepared to attack. Snapping their jaws, they pounced. Foul-smelling spittle flew from their fangs.
But, their efforts were in vain. Outnumbered in the auditorium, the vamps fled the scene. The last words that echoed in the auditorium were Amelia’s – ‘You will pay for this’.
In the aftermath, the press swung into frenzied action. Photographers clicked furiously to capture the best angles, reporters strained their ears to record every word and a shiver of glee enveloped the press corp. Such a claim was fantastic news for them. It promised fodder for days. It was the same old controversy wrapped in a new claim – who was first?!
The next day, the vamps filed a patent infringement suit at Justice Hall.
Fleetfoot Technologies Vs Wolfgang Inc.
The case opened to a hall packed to the brim with immortals. The High Priestess of the witch coven presided on the bench. The jury was selected and sworn in. The jurors comprised of all factions – two wolves, two vamps, two representatives of the witches and a seventh juror –me -selected specifically and in secret to vote in order to break a deadlock situation. I took my seat along with the others and tried hard to ignore the envious looks cast our way.
Hilda, the witch, submitted for the plaintiffs. ‘My Grace…,’ she addressed the bench, ‘…the lead product developer for Wolfgang Inc. is an ex-employee of Fleetfoot Technologies. We submit that he was deliberately implanted by Markus Gray with the sole intent of stealing tech. It’s pure corporate espionage.’
‘Objection, My Grace,’ yelled Magnus, the warlock representing the defendants. ‘That’s a lie. My client’s company’s name is being intentionally besmirched.’
‘My Grace, we have proof,’ scoffed Hilda and presented her exhibits. ‘We submit both the employment contract and the NDA* signed between the ex-employee and Fleetfoot Technologies.’
The day progressed slowly and ended amid accusations flying back and forth. The fortnight that followed brought new but complicated claims to light. Innumerable exhibits to substantiate the claims were produced. Witnesses were examined and both counsels argued heatedly for their clients.
By the middle of the second week, it became clear that Justice Hall could not accommodate the large influx of immortals eager to witness the trial in person. So, at the start of the third week, the venue was moved outdoors to an abandoned stadium outside of town where a large sign warned mortals – ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’. In the history of Justice Hall, never before were such high-profile immortals pitted against each other, other than in the battles of yore. The case was certain to create a precedent.
In the end, after a weary month, the trial concluded with both counsel’s address to the jury. Both hoped that their closing arguments would swing the vote in their favour. By the time that the jury retired for deliberations, the public, the press and others who read the news reports had all reached their verdict. But, the actual verdict was down to the jury. And, for someone like me, a lowly omega wolf, who had never ventured an opinion in his life, the jury deliberations were an acid test.
Would I be able to overcome my apprehensions and my self-effacing nature to deliver justice? It was one thing to be appointed foreperson with veto power but, to actually discharge the responsibilities and in the best interest of all parties, was another matter altogether. After much self-thought, I reached my decision. But, the final verdict depended on how all the jurors would vote because only a majority verdict would lead to a judgement.
It was time for me to speak up. I willed confidence into my voice and gripped the edge of the table with my muck-lined claws for strength. Sucking in a deep, fortifying breath, I asked my co-jurors, ‘How do you vote?’
Juror 1 – ‘…for the defendant.’
Juror 2 – ‘…for the defendant.’
Juror 3 – ‘…for the plaintiff.’
Juror 4 – ‘…for the defendant.’
With four votes in, the defendant seemed to be emerging as the clear winner. I looked at the remaining two jurors.
Juror 5 – ‘…for the plaintiff.’
Juror 6 – ‘…for the plaintiff.’
It was a deadlock!! There were three votes for each side.
Is my vote the deciding vote? I desperately tried to appear outwardly calm even as a bubble of panic rose to my throat. I had never, ever been put in such a situation in my life. No one solicits my opinion in real life. But now, the judgement depends on it. Cold sweat trickled down my back, dampening the coarse fur. What should I do? Should I take the easy path and choose a side? Or, should I gather the courage to speak my mind?
Everyone was waiting for the verdict. My decision had to be swift. Uncharacteristically, for once in my life, I knew what my opinion was. I relaxed my hold on the table and mustering every smidgen of confidence that I did not completely feel, I said, ‘We are deadlocked. But, I can vote neither for the plaintiff nor for the defendant.’
The silence in the room started to break into murmurs. ‘Hear me out, please,’ I begged. ‘This gadget in the wrong hands has the potential to be misused. Can we in good conscious give this power to either faction knowing the history between them? How can we be certain that the wolves or the vamps will not use it to wipe out the other kind?’
Uncertainty and the shadow of doubt danced on the six faces. Were they contemplating the enormity of my statements?
Slightly emboldened, I pushed my advantage. ‘I propose that our verdict should be in the greater good of all immortals. The responsibility to use this tech should be given only to the witches so that they may use it to cloak our kinds and keep us hidden from the mortal world. That will ensure our safe and continued existence.’
The erstwhile murmurs developed into hushed chatter as each faction held a hissed discussion. ‘I would prefer not to use my power of veto on this decision. I would like if we all came to a unanimous verdict. Will you support me?’
The day marked a landmark judgement in our history. Never before had a jury played such an important role. Never before had the onus to rectify misdeeds rested so heavily on seven shoulders.
Eventually, all jurors agreed. In time, all immortals accepted the judgement.
If you still suspect our existence in your society, well…now you know how we escape your notice. Now you know how we are able to live among you and yet be invisible to exist as a separate society.
As for the blood feud, the judgement helped to some extent. The factions realized that ‘who was first’ did not matter. What mattered was how they could unify to uphold their honour and leave a lasting legacy. Ironic, how life can change, isn’t it?
NDA – Non-disclosure agreement
Image credit – angel Luciano, unsplash.com