The old judge peered over his half-moon spectacles at the defendant in the dock. The child was fidgeting nervously; he had turned himself in and was now awaiting sentence. As always in such cases, the judge was predisposed to be lenient.
“You admit you trod on the snails, albeit accidentally, as you were passing through the alleyway that links your street to the public park.”
“Yes, your honour.”
“It was dark and the alley is poorly lit – if at all. The deaths of the snails were accidental. You are free to go, but rest assured I shall be having strong words with the Council about the installation of street lamps in that alley.”
The usher steered the somewhat stunned but exhilarated youth from the court. The next case came in to be heard.
The defendant had caught a fly in her kitchen. Instead of letting it out through a window or door she had crushed it. Her pleas of accidental slaughter were unconvincing. Oh, thought the old judge, you have blood on your hands all right. The sentence was three months of community service in an animal sanctuary.
Since the world turned Vegan, violent crime had all but disappeared. Every life has value was the widespread belief and the law protecting every creature had to be seen to be upheld. It was found that those who revere even the tiniest creeping thing were unable to inflict pain on their fellow man.
The old judge could remember the time before, when life was cheap and the planet was ailing because of industrial farming. Half the world starving to death and the other half obscenely obese and dropping like flies – fat, bloated bluebottles engorged on crap. Things were much better now. Everyone was well fed and healthier for it at both ends of the scale. Peace had come to the planet at last.
Then came the third case of the day.
The accused had caught, skinned, cooked and eaten a rabbit, and seemed altogether unrepentant about this foul and calculated murder. He stood, unfazed by the old judge’s withering stare, sneering as the list of charges was read out and smirking at the gasps that went around the appalled courtroom.
When all the evidence had been heard, the old judge retired to his chamber. He consulted some leatherette-bound law books for guidance. This was one of the most sickening cases he had encountered in decades. If he had his way, a life for a life would be the sentence.
But on a Vegan planet there is no capital punishment. That barbarity went the way of abattoirs and factory farming.
So what was to be done about the rabbit-killer?
Life imprisonment was such a burden on the state. Community service did not seem stringent enough. A fine, perhaps…
The old judge lowered himself into his chair, weary of his work. He reached into a desk drawer for his stash of wheatgrass wafers.
They tasted like ashes in his mouth.