The two women, who could hardly be called that since their development had been stunted and twisted from a young age, resided inside a dark container that fed and bathed them automatically, and provided a constant suffusion of drugs that kept part of their brains active and stimulated and other parts suppressed and asleep. Their names were Daya and Hanan and they were employed as judges on the ninety-seventh circuit of the Vela Molecular Ridge*.
The independent survey ship Thermopylae rested in a long orbit around an unnamed blue star. It's captain, Kaudra Fox, a woman of slightly less than three centuries in age, stood on the observation deck looking at the star and the dispute it represented. In her younger years she would have been nervous, but now she knew that the days events would proceed almost ritualistically. She was not alone in the room--the court was nearly assembled, and chatter flowed freely in subdued anticipation.
The doors swung open as a phalanx of attendants, sterilized women who were dressed in functional black clothes with white gloves and close cropped hair walked in with the container. Captain Fox turned towards them bearing a practiced polite smile. The container rocked gently as it was wheeled out onto the observation deck. The lights on the deck were dimmed in respect. The attendants prepared the audience by clearing the room of all non-essential personnel and asking for quiet and minimal movement from the plaintiffs, legal counsel, and official witnesses. Finally when all that could be heard was the distant whirr of the air vent, the attendants unlocked the container.
The container door opened slowly downward and revealed two seated figures. They were naked except for blindfolds. The were entirely hairless, diminutive. Their skin was transparent with the near-perpetual lack of light, and glistened from the humidity of the container environment. Their skulls bulged grotesquely above the eyes, jutting six inches further out than the brow of a median human. When the door reached the floor the seats rolled quietly out. The attendants helped the judges to stand, then in an odd shaky lockstep they walked towards the window of the observation deck.
One of the attendants clapped her hands twice above her head, then announced to the general audience, pointing to the leftmost figure, "Judge Daya," then she pointed to the rightmost figure, "Judge Hanan."
Captain Fox bowed her head, and the rest of the court followed.
"We begin now," said Daya. She turned to captain Fox. "This is a territorial dispute."
"Yes it is, your honor," said captain Fox.
"You feel this will be easily resolved," said Hanan. She continued to face the star, even with her blindfold.
"As is usual in these matters," said captain Fox.
"You are the facilitator," said Daya.
"Who are the plaintiffs?" asked Daya. "Present yourselves."
A group of five women, a neuter-gender android, and an M-chromosomed male approached and bowed reverently.
"We represent the Dyson guild for this region and we have claim to this star and five others," said the android.
"An android," said Daya flatly.
"They bring us an android," said Hanan.
"I'm sorry?" asked the android. "I have every right to plead our case based on the--"
Captain Fox raised her hand and smiled.
"Please don't be offended," she said. "The judges are merely making a note."
The android glared at captain Fox and raised a suspicious eyebrow.
"Of course," it finally said.
"The other plaintiff?" asked Daya.
A second group of people stepped forward, three women and two Y-chromosomed men. They bowed, and one of the women cleared her throat nervously, then spoke.
"We are colonists. We inherited this system for settlement from our ancestors. This region is our birthright. We claim this star system."
The room became silent again. All eyes were on Daya and Hanan. Hanan faced the star, unmoving. Daya moved her head from left to right, then right to left, as if slowly scanning the room. She stopped. Someone at the back of the room coughed.
"We will pronounce our judgement," said Hanan.
"Wait, when do we present our case?" asked the android.
"You already have," said Daya.
"What...we did?" The android looked bewildered.
"Best not to interrupt the judges," whispered captain Fox to the android.
"The star is young," said Hanan. "It burns fast and bright. If left unadulterated it will live for another hundred million years or so. Not anywhere near the lifespan of our ancestors' dear Sol. If this system is colonized it will be fertile for perhaps fifty or sixty million years," she paused, "you know this already."
"We do," said the representative of the colonists. Captain Fox shot her an admonishing look and raised her finger to her lips to communicate the need for silence.
"You intend this to be a waypoint," continued Hanan. The colonists nodded. "You will consume the resources of the system, wasting a great deal of the energy of the star, simply to set off again for further systems. It is something our species has been doing for thousands of years. Our species has long ago taken control of our evolution. We all have our places and our roles to play in the expansion."
"We are to bring life to the universe," said Daya, "to cleanse it of inferior species, and to spread our words to the far outer edges. We echo, forever and always."
"Amen," said captain Fox and several other people in the room out of habit.
"And then," said Hanan after the room quieted again, "the star could be consumed by the Dyson guild, over a hundred decades to provide fuel for our ever-hungry outward expansion."
"So the matter is," said Daya, "between allowing a colony to form for a few million years, hardly enough time to evolve naturally, but enough to evolve artificially," at this she faced the android and smiled ever so slightly, "and allowing the star to be eaten so that many more of our species may expand to more fruitful systems."
"Do we sacrifice the many for the good of the few, or do we sacrifice the good of the few and fragile for the good of the many?" asked Hanan.
The plaintiff groups looked nervous, each fearing that the court would rule in the other's favor.
"What is your verdict?" asked captain Fox.
"There will be no colony," said Hanan. "Your ancestral claim is now rendered null and void."
The group of colonists gasped, while the guild group sighed and smiled.
"The star will not be consumed," said Daya. "Your claim is invalidated."
Now everyone in the room gasped, including captain Fox and the attendants.
"What?" asked captain Fox.
"The star will not be consumed," repeated Daya.
"No, I meant 'why'. Could your honors please clarify your judgement? We are all at a loss."
"Why should we have to choose one or the other?" asked Daya.
"Well..." started captain Fox, "the star should be made use of. Even if the uses are equal, why not decide in favor of one or the other plaintiffs?"
"We have," said Daya.
"The star itself," said Hanan.
The room developed a low level of chatter, then the lead attendant clapped her hands above her head again and the room became silent.
"The star is not us," said captain Fox, her forehead wrinkled.
"That is true," said Daya.
"To be blunt, your honor, it does not care," said Fox.
"That is also true," said Daya.
"So what does it matter?"
"This is not a judgement on the star," said Hanan. She finally turned to face captain Fox.
"No, it is not," said Daya. "You presume that what we do as a species is entirely right. You do not question it at all, and no one ever does, but we have plenty of time to sit and think about the universe and our place in it, in the dark."
"We were bred for empathy," said Hanan. She raised a shaking thin hand and pointed at her forehead. "We feel many things."
"We're supposed to feel for the plaintiffs, to be in their shoes, to feel what they are going through, in order to make just decisions," said Daya. "And we do."
"But we were bred too well," said Hanan. "Too efficiently."
"We feel all things," said Daya.
"Emotions beyond median comprehension," said Hanan.
"And we choose to preserve the star in its natural state," said Daya.
"Are you saying you are unfit to serve as judges?" asked captain Fox. The room murmured.
"You cannot make such an accusation!" shouted the lead attendant. "You risk contempt of court."
"It is a question, not an accusation," said captain Fox carefully. The attendant nodded once, very slowly.
"We are fit," said Daya. "We are more than fit, and our decision is binding."
"This is unsatisfactory to the plaintiffs," said captain Fox.
Daya and Hanan looked at her without expression. Then they turned to their attendants who led them back to the container. They sat down and were slowly re-enveloped by it. Shortly, the container was rolled out of the observation deck and the other people filed out behind it. Only the captain and the android from the guild lingered. They both looked out at the star.
"I understand the decision," said the android.
"You do?" asked captain Fox. "I question whether we should put so much of our destinies in the hands of people we keep perpetually drugged up. They live in a world of abstract thoughts. They're too unconnected with the lives of the rest of us. You can't repeat any of that, you know."
The android chuckled.
"I think that's a general concern, but in this case...I mean look." The android swept its hand across the window. "Beauty. Even if it only lasts for a few dozen million years...there it is. How many eyes will see it? How many will feel it's warmth as they pass by?"
Captain Fox grinned and put her arm around the android.
"And I just see a ball of hydrogen and helium, spinning madly, burning furiously...maybe I've lived too long that I don't see the poetry in even that."
She turned and walked out of the room and back towards the navigation deck. The android remained, its face bathed in soft blue light.
* Yeah, this exists [the VMR, not the 97th circuit of it...or maybe it does...].