When Polly decided she would sue humanity, it was an ordinary Tuesday in September.
She was on the train, riding home from work, and had her eyes closed - just for a moment - to block out the heat, and noise, and babble of too many people.
Her eyes, however, quickly snapped open as, at the moment the train pulled into the platform, she heard a scream, and then a cry.
'My bag - he's taken my bag!'
She looked around, and saw a woman lying on the ground, blood streaming from her head, and her dress torn. Further up the platform, a slim figure in black was rapidly disappearing into the distance, handbag held aloft in triumph.
Polly jumped off the train, ran over to the woman, and helped her up. Nobody paid them the slightest attention. In fact, Polly noticed, nobody had paid any attention at all from the moment the woman screamed. It was as if it hadn't even happened.
She started to get truly, deeply angry, but tried to concentrate on the woman, who was looking fairly green around the gills.
'I'm so sorry' she said. 'I'm not a doctor, but I do have my first aid certificate - will you let me help you?'
The woman nodded, and said 'thank you... that's very kind. I didn't think anyone was going to stop.'
Polly said grimly, 'I thought much the same, but I'll do what I can, and at least get you either to a doctor, or a hospital, if you like, or the police if you prefer. I'm a lawyer, so I can at least help you with reporting the theft of your bag'.
The woman smiled, and said, 'I should have known the right person would come along. Thank you again Polly. A hospital and the police won't be necessary, but if you could help me get to a taxi, I will go straight to my physician. You will be far too busy to waste any more time on me. Just remember, accept help when it is offered to you in turn, and don't back down. A lesson is needed here. Today has made that very clear to me.'
Polly looked hard at the woman, who seemed to be getting better by the minute. The woman smiled back, and Polly shook her head, feeling suddenly a little dizzy and confused.
'I - sorry, but I swear I didn't tell you my name!'
'Oh, my dear girl, you told me a long time ago. Thank goodness it was you, dear Polly. I had forgotten how much you like gardening!'
By this stage, they had reached the taxi rank, and with another sparkly smile, a press of Polly's hand, and a kiss on her cheek, the woman was in a cab - and gone, leaving Polly even more bewildered as to what had just happened, but still angry; and the further the cab drew away down the street, the angrier she grew.
How could nobody have helped that poor lady? She had been robbed, bashed, and left to fend for herself, while all around her people just went rushing on, texting, talking, pushing each other around... oblivious and uncaring. She saw it every day in her work - well, no surprises there, it was part and parcel of being in one of the world's most hated professions. But she also saw it every day in the supermarket, at the pub, in restaurants, at the beach, you name it; there was just no regard for her fellow man (or woman). Nobody wanted to stop, help, or support anyone else. It was just too hard.
'I HAVE TOTALLY HAD THE BISCUIT!!' she said out loud, scaring several taxi drivers, assorted pigeons, a stray dog and a man who had just come rushing out of the station, looking worried.
'PEOPLE SUCK, AND THEY NEED TO BE TAUGHT A LESSON IN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PEOPLE!'
'I quite agree, but would you mind not yelling it quite so loudly? This suit doesn't do well with pigeon poop on it, and there are some mighty nervous flying rats around here with you doing a Boadicea, Warrior Queen effort', a mild voice said behind her.
She spun around, and saw a strange (but, she admitted grudgingly through the red mist of righteous anger propelling her forward, really good looking) man standing behind her.
'Who are you, what are you doing here, and I apologise if you get pooped on, but honestly? First world problems' she said in a fairly snippy tone.
'I'm Jeremy, I'm here because I heard someone needed a doctor, and you're right, but I don't have many suits, so I am a bit protective of the ones I do have' he said.
Polly thought about this statement, and conceded that these were all logical, rational points, well made. She introduced herself, explained what had happened, and soon found herself waving her arms around, and having dinner in a very nice restaurant, whilst telling him just how horrible people were.
(NB: The restaurant/dinner part isn't germane to the story, by the way. I just thought you would like to know they were getting along well, and the thing that looks likely to happen, is. Suspense is a very dangerous tool when used irresponsibly. I wish some fantasy writers would remember this).
Jeremy couldn't disagree with Polly's summing up of people; to wit, she felt they were, in the main, selfish, narcissistic twits, who cared more about their sofas, smartphones, and new release sauv blancs (she was quite proud of that alliteration) than they did each other and the Earth. He was less convinced about the 'weirdness' of the woman whom she had helped, but already the incident was fading somewhat, and she was finding it difficult to remember her face correctly.
What she could remember though, was the way in which she had been ignored.
'It's typical' she muttered. 'We just suck as a species. We treat each other, and the world, with total contempt! Believe me, I am so not perfect, but at least I care enough to do some time with the RSPCA, and LegalAid. I mean, when was the last time your average Joe volunteered at a shelter, or gave free professional advice, or even just... oh, I don't know, planted a tree, to stop some of the rot we have caused to the planet over the last few hundred years?'
Jeremy looked slightly embarrassed, but inside felt pretty chuffed, and incidentally thought he might just have a chance with our Non-Caped Crusader, as he had done all of these things just the week before.
'Ahem...so', asked Jeremy, watching her carefully, 'what are you going to do about it?'
Polly opened her mouth to tell him she had no idea - maybe petition the local member? - when she realised she absolutely, most definitely did know what she was going to do.
She smiled. It was the smile of a crocodile as it sights lunch on the banks of the river in the shape of a plump, juicy antelope with a broken leg.
'I'm going to sue the human race for negligence against each other and the earth'.
Jeremy, to his credit, didn't laugh. In fact, he looked rather impressed.
'How?' he asked, calmly.
'The way I normally would... except this time I'm representing the Planet, with a capital P, not a person. Prepare the case, submit it to be heard, listen to the defendants, namely the muppets that populate the globe, attempt to state that they didn't mean to be twerps, it's just our funny little way, hahaha, then beat them down by proving that they breached their duty of care for each other, and thus were negligent, and hope and pray that the judge sees things my way because they're running late for drinks with the Governor and the Commissioner for Police, and can't be bothered stretching things out for another session'.
She noticed him looking at her with raised eyebrows, and shrugged.
'I may be fighting for good, but that doesn't make me perfect. I'm a lawyer, remember?'
TWO MONTHS LATER
Jeremy couldn't quite believe it, and deep down, he suspected Polly couldn't either, but somehow, the time was here. The case had been prepared. The Planet v The People was actually happening.
Polly had worked like a woman possessed for two months; flying around the globe finding examples of negligent behaviour by humans towards their fellow kind, and thus towards the planet. She watched husbands looking the other way as their wives were stoned to death for non-existent adultery, parents not vaccinating their children and causing outbreaks of diseases not seen for the better part of a century and workplaces refusing to recognise the equal ability of women. She saw people in need being turned away from countries who prided themselves on an attitude of freedom and liberty. She stood, stony-faced, as governments refused to allow people to marry due to their sexual orientation, and deliberately removed funding from alternative energy resources that would make the planet a cleaner, healthier, more cost effective and far nicer place to live. She saw wars break out over religion, and politics, and backyard fences. She watched, and listened, as people ignored those who had less than themselves, or scorned those who had made mistakes. She saw very little love, and a lot of hate.
She found them all. Duty of care? She was lucky to find someone who cared enough to make her a sandwich in between whinging about how much they hated their neighbour because they were 'from some funny country where they think you go to heaven with animals, or something', as they wrote badly-spelled (and erroneous) insults on social media about them.
She saw a lack of what she thought of as humanity.
It horrified and exhausted her.
It also drove her onwards to make them understand their mistakes.
The morning of the case, she was called into the head of her chambers' office. She had fudged the reason for her trips, saying that an international conglomerate was looking into purchasing shares in each country and turning the world into a giant theme park called Earthride. The fact that this hadn't been questioned made her even more convinced that she was pursuing the right course of action.
The head of chambers looked at her over his glasses.
'Prat' she thought, irrelevantly (and irreverently).
'Ah, Polly' he said. 'I see that you have a negligence case before a new judge today. Try to settle it quickly, won't you? You need to get on with Earthride.'
'Ah... sure.' Polly smiled sweetly, and walked out, wondering if she and Jeremy were the only sane people on the planet.
He was in her office, and as she picked up her bag, clasped her hand (see, told you), and said 'ready?'
She nodded, and smiled, albeit a bit shakily.
'Yep. Bring on the ship of fools, and quite possibly the planeload of morons and the Earthride of imbeciles. Humanity, you are going down.'
They entered the court room, and with a final squeeze of her hand, Jeremy left Polly and sat just behind her. She looked around. Nobody there, except the Clerk and Court Reporter. Big shock. They hadn't even sent a barrister! Then the judge was announced.
They all rose - well, all four of them.
'The Honourable Justice Gaea presiding'.
They sat. And Polly saw who the judge was.
You, of course, will already know.
The woman she had helped from the train station, entered, restored to full health, looking stern, commanding, beautiful, and - yes, just a little bit frightening, with a whisper of ancient menace giving frost to the courtroom's surfaces. Then she smiled at Polly and Jeremy, and her entire face changed to sunshine.
'Dear ones' she said. 'Such a pleasure to see you again. And Polly... so much hard work you have done! Please, understand how grateful I am... but also how much it has saddened me to see what utter - utter...'
'Pillocks?' said Jeremy helpfully.
'Numpties?' chimed in Polly.
'I was going to say what disappointments people are, but yes, either of those words will do', said Justice Gaea, frowning, and again there was the hint of chill and ice in the air. Polly and Jeremy looked at each other, and shivered.
Gaea looked around.
'And I see they have not bothered to defend themselves', she remarked.
'No, your Honour' said Polly, politely. 'But then again, I didn't really think they would, as that was the basis of my case - that they were negligent in not looking after each other, and were thus in breach of their duty of care towards the planet... which, forgive my impertinence' she said shrewdly, 'I am guessing, is, in fact - well, you?'
Gaea looked at her narrowly, and then laughed.
'I did do well, didn't I? And it really was an accident. That boy truly hurt me. He is currently a lovely young pine tree in the local park, which, may I add, is his natural form. Quite a few dogs have enjoyed the use of his trunk already'.
Polly reached back and grabbed hold of Jeremy's hand. Hard.
'So, Polly, what damages have you asked for, when it comes to making humanity pay? Shall I wipe the slate clean and start again? I can do that, you know', Gaea said casually, looking at a chipped nail, and frowning.
Polly gulped. For a wild moment, she contemplated it. No more revolting sweaty horrible men on the ride home; no more reality TV (oh, the finger was on the button!!!); no more horror, no more war, no more waste, no more nastiness.
But she knew that she didn't have the right to make that decision.
'If you please, your Honour, I would like to ask you that you make damages payable in the amount of this' - and she beckoned the Clerk of the Court over to take a slip of paper forward to Gaea.
Gaea read it, narrowed her eyes, and looked at Polly thoughtfully.
'This is what you ask for?'
'Yes, your Honour.'
'Hmmmm. It is a great deal. I shall think about it. Court is adjourned for Summer, while I go to Bali. I like Bali, apart from the Australians.'
With that, she was gone, and Polly and Jeremy were left to wait through the summer for the verdict.
Finally, they were notified that Gaea had returned, and was ready to award damages.
They were waiting, correctly, as she was announced. She was very brown, and had an inordinate amount of silver jewellery on with her robes.
She looked relaxed, and happy.
'Hello, you two' she said. 'Right. Polly, dear child. I have thought long and hard about your request, and tempted as I was to turn the whole damn race into daffodils' (Polly felt nauseous)... 'Im not going to. Damages are awarded as per the plaintiff's request. The Planet v The People is now concluded. There will be no appeals - '
...and here she leant forward, and whispered to the four winds -
'Do I make myself very, very clear? No. Appeals. No. Second. Chances. One more strike, and you are all... out.' The clouds gathered, and the sun went in, as on the other side of the planet, the moon went into eclipse.
Around the world, people looked up from their iThings, from hurting each other, from working out ways to ruin lives, from selfishness and self-obsession, from plots and machinations, from deepest sleep, and shivered.
Then, with a blown kiss to Polly and Jeremy, and a final 'you two... be good to each other, and live happy lives' - she was gone.
Jeremy turned to Polly, and after kissing her rather hard, for a rather long time, queried:
'You never would tell me - what did you actually ask for?'
Polly smiled, and said;
'I asked that she award me the right to decide that we may be who we are - humans - rather than who she wants us to be - a part of her. I figured out, when she made that comment about the pine tree, that it was actually the part of us that holds the most earthiness in it which causes all the issues.
Make us totally human, and you give us back our humanity. When we say "oh, it's in our nature to behave like this" we really are telling the truth.
After all, old Gaia - she's red in tooth and claw. Or, in other words,
Mother Nature? Is a real bitch.'