Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum

Here, as promised – at last! – is the gap from Valentine. The title is a Latin phrase explained here. Minor characters with a (very) brief cameo from a (very) familiar one. Please note that Cifonabh is correctly pronounced KEE-foe-nahv. This was written on a road-trip around the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, but I don’t think I’ve lifted any settings. For that you will have to wait. It was a very productive trip!

Senate Messenger Boulding Ruta had begun to be worried when he stepped into the aircar to make the short journey. Delivering official summonses and injunctions, a job he had done for years now, he had seen a good many places: from half-rotten dives in the groundlevels to the penthouse of the Outlander. But always, the Jedi Temple had loomed in the background of both the scenery and his mind, eternally pure white, serene, raised somehow above the humdrum life of the glittering city. From the pearly light of early dawn to the blazing sunset, it gleamed softly, the differing lights playing upon its surface but never making it other than beautiful.

New adjectives sprang to mind as he approached the place in the warm sunset now, however: cold, superior, forbidding, distant. But still. This was his duty, and he karking well meant to do it. Stopping the aircar by the high, smooth outer wall of the Temple, Ruta walked the last few meters to the great gates, took a deep breath, and rapped at the white stone of the gate with all the official authority he could muster.

Almost before his hand touched the surface, the gate cracked open a meter, allowing him to nervously slip through into a tiny courtyard, where a door opened in the far side, and a barred gate to the left. From the door emerged the Temple gatekeeper, who bowed politely to hm.

“I, uh…” Ruta glanced down at the flimsi envelope in his hand. “I have a message for a Telcontir Leannen.”

“I will ensure that it is delivered to him,” murmured the keeper, holding out his hand for the paper.

“My orders are to deliver it into his hand,” protested Ruta, snatching the envelope away.

Sighing, the keeper padded across to the small gate, and beckoned to a Padawan in the great Outer Court. When she came, he whispered something to her before retreating back through the door.

“Good afternoon,” said the Padawan gravely. She was a pretty young Togrut, though her heavy dark cloak and solemn mien gave the illusion of agelessness. “Please come with me.” Leading him out into the wide court and up the steps, flanked by glowering statues of former Jedi, guarding their home in death as in life, the girl was quite unaffected by the austere splendor of the place, and chattered brightly as she walked.

“I’m Cifonabh Diato, call me Vavi, everybody does. I guess this is the first time you’ve been this far in? It’s the first for ages there’s been an official messenger, I mean last time -” Vavi abruptly fell silent, and remained so until a dark-haired Human boy passed them.

Then she called, “Lim! Looking for Telcontir. He -” jerking her head casually in Ruta’s direction, “wants him.”

“Oh, he’s in his room. Tearing his hair out over the papers – the Witch left them in an awful mess. You’d think Kenobi might have knocked some sense into her by now, but noooo…”

Ruta was thoroughly startled. “Kenobi? Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

As the words left his mouth, the two Padawans exchanged glances, and then the one called Lim turned away with a peculiar choking sound.

Vavi burst into a silvery peal of laughter. “Dear Force, you civvies. You all talk like he’s some god or something. I mean, he’s okay, but not a patch on Muln or Vos if you actually want something done. They’re all offworld now,” she finished gloomily. “Kenobi left for Zayam Station only yesterday, but it’s already awful quiet around here.”

After that there were wide white passages and colonnades illumined by the last golden rays of sunlight, at least four flights of steps and a lifttube full of chattering younglings, then narrower passageways, more crowded but more silent. The children here were only a little older, but most already wore the hard eyes and grim expression of those who have seen death, and dealt it, and are not afraid either to suffer it or to deal it again. As Cifonabh and Ruta made their way along the hall, muted conversations died on lips, and wary eyes glanced to the envelope in the messenger’s hand. By the time the pair reached the end of the fourth hall, Ruta had almost forgotten why he was there: he only thought that he rather wanted not to be.

Cifonabh knocked brusquely at a door and shoved it open. “Yo, Leannen. Someone here.”

Kneeling on the floor amidst a chaos of file boxes and loose sheets of paper, a tall dark Karori boy replied in a mincing tone, “She has alphabetized the files perfectly, Vavi, did you know?” The tone vanished abruptly as he thundered, “In Saalisan! Hasn’t she worked out – oh, hello, what’s this?”

“Are you Telcontir Arwa Leannen, native of Karor?” Ruta asked firmly.

“Yeah, that’s me. Stop giggling, Vavi, it’s not my fault it’s a girl’s name in the middle.”

“I am authorized by the Republic Department of Justice,” by now the words were coming back to Ruta, “to deliver this summons into your hand,” suiting the action to the word, “and earnestly request you not to lose it,” he added as an afterthought.

“Okay.” Telcontir glanced about for somewhere safe to put the paper, but ended by crumpling it into his belt pocket. Ruta tried not to wince.

“Er… Miss – is it Miss? Diato, would you be so kind as to show me the way out? I have other calls to make this evening.”

 ***

By the time Cifonabh had escorted the messenger back to the gates, gladly surrendered him to the gatekeeper, and hastened back, a full meeting of The Gang had been convened. Telcontir’s dark eyes glinted mirthfully as he concluded reading the letter. “‘You are required to report for jury service on the date above stated; if you do not you may be held in contempt of court…’ It’s tomorrow, for Force sake! Do I have to go, Droid? As a Jedi?”

“‘Fraid so,” a serious young Human replied from a comfortable perch on half a set of encyclopedias, his feet propped on the other half and a battered legal text spread open across his knees. His long, wavy black hair nearly brushed the page as he bent forward to turn it. “You’re a citizen of the Republic, over 18 Standard, and with no criminal convictions or history of drug use. I’d personally argue severe mental condition, but unfortunately most beings outside this room labor under the delusion that you, unlike the rest of us, are perfectly sane.”

“Charming, our Kijé,” Sima Orezna drawled, draped luxuriously across her friend’s unmade bed. “Oh, Lim, you beast, stop that.” This to Elimyo, sprawled under the bed in company with Sai-Dan Nebesh and a paraphernalia of electronics and discarded scraps of paper, who had been pleasantly engaged in tugging at any strand of Sima’s green hair that happened to come within range.

“What are you going to do, Telc?” whispered Zait Sterolb from the doorway. Zait was a shy blonde Human girl, only recently arrived at the Temple from the Jedi outpost at Melida, and instantly adopted by the Boehme Gang of the Padawan Halls.

Thoughtfully refolding the summons, Telcontir considered the question for a long moment before deciding. “I’m going to ask Master Windu. Master Elis and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms at the moment. Kij, will you come with me? The rest of you, clear out.”

When the question was put to him, however, Master Windu merely suggested asking Yoda. Roundabout paths to truth were familiar ground, and neither Padawan objected. Much to the – private – amusement of the younger generation, the deeply-respected Grand Master smacked his almost-as-deeply-respected former apprentice across the shins with his stick, and replied as impatiently as if they were all three of them younglings, “Perform his duty in all regards Padawan Leannen must. Therefore perform his duty as a citizen of the Republic he also must. Conflict with the Code in no way, jury service does.”

“Thank you, Master,” Telcontir said politely. “But this letter gives particulars as to the process of jury selection, and it says that the… I’ve forgotten the word. Droid, what’s the word I mean?”

“Defendant,” supplied Kijé drily. “The defendant may have any juror removed if he or she feels that that being’s involvement will in any way make the trial unfair, Master Yoda. So Telc’s just asking, since he’s a Jedi and can influence other beings’ ideas, even without meaning to, should he go?”

“That Leannen must still obey the summons, think I,” snapped Yoda. “But ask yet another opinion I shall.” Waving one gnarled hand in the direction of the holoprojector set into the floor, Yoda summoned up a wavering blue holo.

Kijé glanced anxiously at Telcontir and quickly stepped out of range of the message projector’s sensor. Even in insubstantial holo, the presence of the much-vaunted Great Negotiator managed to unnerve him entirely. He seemed… careworn, Kijé noted. Silently, the Padawan promised himself to call the Zayam station that evening to check that everybody was all right.

Master Yoda summarized the situation rapidly, finishing, “Spent more time in the Senate than many of us, you have. What think you of this problem, Obi-Wan?”

“Of course he should go if he’s been sent for. Telcontir, don’t make any secret of being a Jedi, but go along prepared to be sent away again at once. I wish someone had told me this the first time I was in a courtroom: they don’t tell the truth there. Be intelligent, that’s fine, but let’s give sassy a wide berth. And at least try to act respectful.”

“Yes, Master Kenobi,” Telcontir muttered. I have somewhat better manners than your former Padawan, Master Kenobi; you don’t actually need to remind me of this stuff, Master Kenobi, he thought it politic not to add.

Apparently Yoda thought otherwise. “Not Anakin Skywalker, is Padawan Leannen. Been trained as a Jedi and taught correct protocol from infancy, he has.”

“Yes, Master. I had forgotten. I apologize, Telcontir. Of course you knew that.” It was, surprisingly, Master Kenobi who terminated the call.

Kijé asked quietly, “Do you agree with him, Master Yoda?” In the Temple, it was considered the very height of bad manners to refer to a member of the Council merely by a pronoun without antecedent, but Yoda did not appear to notice.

“Agree with Master Kenobi I do. Dismissed, you are.”

“Yes, Master,” both boys murmured, hastily making their departure.

By morning, of course, the entire Gang and a good many other Jedi knew what was going on, why, and – most interesting of all – that Master Yoda had implicitly scolded Master Kenobi for Master Skywalker’s bad manners and rather less implicitly stated his disapproval of Master Jinn’s ever having brought the boy to Coruscant at all. This was all highly entertaining, keeping the chatterboxes of the Padawan community amused for hours.

Telcontir ran into a minor problem on the question of transport: he had never bothered to obtain a driving license, and due to his ongoing disagreement with his Master, said Master refused point-blank to a) take his Padawan to the court himself, b) ask anybody else to do so, or c) refrain from discouraging anybody else to do so. Finally, Telcontir resorted to hunting down a recently-knighted friend, Foxtan Dubh, and begging on his knees for a ride.

The boys had a little trouble on the way, because the Republic Central High Court was not really an office the Jedi had many dealings with, but they eventually found it. Halting the airspeeder outside the main entrance to the court, Foxtan turned to his passenger with considerably more than his usual sobriety.

“Telc, laddie, careful what you say, yeah? Don’t get your sassy butt in trouble. Master Elis isn’t about to come bail you if you end up held in contempt. If Kenobi were around I’d lay good credits on it he’d help out, but… well, the war. May the Force be with you, kid.”

“Same to you. I guess I’ll need it.” Squaring his shoulders, Telcontir strode into the courthouse, showing rather more confidence than he felt.

Nudging his way through the crowd in the lobby, he touched the bell on the reception desk and caused the pert little Sullustan receptionist to raise her head in brisk annoyance that turned rapidly to alarm.

“Master Jedi! Is something wrong? How may I help you?”

Sheepishly, Telcontir laid his jury summons on the desk. “Where do I go for this?”

“Oh, I see. I thought the Temple was exempt…? Apparently not,” she answered herself. “Through that door, third on the left, and show the papers to the official at the desk.”

Telcontir was hustled through a series of waiting rooms and complex forms, and eventually found himself tossed onto a jury that had been one man short ten minutes before the start of the trial. Contrary to Kijé’s expectation, he passed unchallenged except for a puzzled glower from a Gran attorney, resolved without conflict in one weary shrug of the lawyer’s shoulders.

The case was one of “aggravated battery”. Scribbling the words down in a notebook, Telcontir was struck by the apparent pettiness of the crime. In a Galaxy torn by war, to expend the concentration of a learned judge and – he counted – four learned law experts in a simple matter of mugging felt almost obscene. But only for an instant. Almost at once he realized the sense in it: this was what the war was about, after all. Justice. The rights of the people.

Glancing at his fellow jurors, Telcontir knew that to them, the war was confined to the HoloNet. Maybe a few of them had friends in the crew of battle stations. But they weren’t like the Jedi, who lived and breathed and ate and slept in the deep umbra of the shadow of war. The Jedi who every other day saw a friend off to a battle group, and mourned another friend’s body home, and tried not to bother the Council – who were so preoccupied nowadays – with meaningless squabbles. Day after day after day.

But here, outside the stress of the darkening Temple, there had to be the semblance of normality, because, as Master Kenobi had observed, panic is contagious and devastating, and it spreads fast. So Telcontir, who but for this trial would have been on his way to Socorro or Dom-Bradden by now, noted down carefully on his datapad that the accused had several other such charges to his name, which was Olin Varjak.

Varjak blamed his “maladjustment” on his father’s neglect of him as a child. Dutifully, Telcontir noted this also, but not without involuntarily twitching one eyebrow upward in skepticism. Absent parents were a fact of life for… well, the Order currently numbered about ten thousand. Absent Masters were a little less normal, but… well, Master Elis was a case in point. Last time he and Telcontir had spoken, a fortnight ago, the conversation had ended with Elis swearing at his Padawan in a few different Outer Rim languages, and Telcontir storming off, holding his hand out behind him in a singularly vulgar gesture. He had stayed with one or another of The Gang ever since, with or without their Masters’ knowledge and permission. So what was Varjak’s problem?

For several more hours, Telcontir sat, and listened to and took notes on the trial, as solemnly as if he were the one on trial for his liberty. By the end of the defense speeches, he was in no doubt as to Varjak’s guilt. But at the summing-up, when the accused appeared in person upon the stand, something occurred to shake, if not Telcontir’s conviction that the man was guilty, then at least his nerves. Olin Varjak stood for a while after he finished speaking, and stared searchingly into the eyes of each juror. Finally he spoke, in a soft, gently, conversational tone and blood-chilling words.

“You convict me, you die.”

Telcontir could not repress a slight shudder, but the uneasy feeling could easily be buried as Varjak was led away, and the jury dismissed to deliberate. In the jury room, Telcontir held his peace, for he suspected that Kijé, the amateur lawyer, would inform him coldly that in the secular court system, a feeling that the accused was, beyond a doubt, as guilty as the nine-Sith-hells of legend, would prove inadmissible as reason for decision.

Yet, to his astonishment, after they had all given their view by secret ballot, the other eleven deliberately asked his opinion as a Jedi, so of course he had no choice but to give it as plainly as he could. The jury foreman and the woman beside him held a quick, whispered conference, and then checked the ballots. Turning to Telcontir a face in which solemnity struggled with hilarity, the woman explained between bursts of laughter, “That’s what we all said!”

An elderly, worried-looking Arctonan asked simply, “What about Varjak?”

“We think he’s guilty,” Telcontir replied. “It’s our duty to say so, whatever the consequences to ourselves.”

“Let justice be done though the heavens should fall,” quoted the Togruta man in the corner, who was by his own admission a poet. “Although perhaps the Jedi Code puts it in other words.”

The foreman nodded. “Then we’re agreed. Let’s go.” Back in the courtroom, he said formally to the judge, “We have reached a verdict, and it is the verdict of us all. In the charge of aggravated battery of which he stands accused, we the jury find Olin Varjak…” he paused, gulped, and went on bravely, “We find him guilty, Your Honor.”

Nothing happened. The jury members breathed easier.

“And this is the verdict of you all?” the judge checked.

“Yes, Your Honor.” As the foreman stepped back to sit down, something exploded in the very back of the courtroom, but with sufficient force to send the resultant fireball and explosion hurtling all the way to the judge’s bench at the very front. Telcontir heard himself shouting Get down and dived to the floor, hoping the wooden walls of the jury box would muffle a little of the blast. He remembered dragging the Togruta poet down by the sleeve, but that was all.

***

The return of consciousness was even more unpleasant than he had remembered it from last time. Drifting aimlessly in the darkness behind his closed eyelids, he could think of no reason to return from the peaceful anteroom of the lands Beyond Shadows. But returning he was, as sensation dripped back into his unwilling limbs, tiny tendrils of the outside world gripping at him with a surprising tenacity and tugging him back to another reality.

There was a hard, flat surface, faintly cold, under his back and legs, but his head rested on something softer. He could smell smoke and bacta and sweat and ordinary Coruscant traffic smog, but mostly bacta. And then the pain hit. Although he ached dully all over, as if – which was in fact the case – he had recently been blown up, there seemed to be a voracious infant Barabel eating his ribs from inside, and his head ached in screaming high gear, sending the gold and scarlet curlicues that spiraled inside his eyelids into ever wilder gyration.

All around him people were hurrying to and fro, talking rapidly, and sirens wailed and comlinks fizzed importantly in the background. One voice came through louder than the others.

“Leannen. Telcontir Leannen,” it said impatiently. “Tall guy, dark skin, red hair. Is he here?”

Master Elis. Telcontir would have groaned, but for the moment he couldn’t recall how to force sound past his tonsils. His Master was shaking him roughly by the shoulder, and he had to flick his eyes open, if only to glare.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Elis snapped.

Telcontir scowled against the glare from the sun. Right now, his Master’s temper was the last thing he needed to deal with.

“What, get blown up trying to help people?” he fired back angrily.

“Listen, kid.” Putting one hand on each of Telcontir’s shoulders and pulling the boy to a sitting position on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. “Listen, kid. You are a complete and total pain in the butt and I firmly believe you could argue the hind leg off a reek.” Telcontir rolled his eyes. Here we go again. But Elis was still talking. “However, I’d be glad if you hung around, because I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Get on with your life without an overgrown underbrained deadweight to think about,” retorted Telcontir. It was one of the things Elis had often said he would look forward to about his Padawan’s future Knighthood.

“I’m sorry, okay. You didn’t deserve that. C’mon, let’s go home.”

In the airspeeder on the way back to the Temple, Elis did not speak a word, nor in their quarters until he had checked over the cut in his Padawan’s forehead and found it not serious. Then he turned the switch on the electric kettle and quietly found drinking bowls and a teapot.

“Cardamo tea?”

Telcontir smiled. “Yes, please.” He watched, with a peculiar feeling of being detached from ordinary life, as Elis counted out the gray-green cardamo pods into the teapot of boiling water, turning the pot to steep the pods evenly. After a few minutes, he strained them out and pressed each one into a saucer to extract the sharp-scented seeds. Finally he poured out the tea and brought it to Telcontir, who sat on the sofa.

“D’you want the pips?” Cardamo tea was good, but drunk through a mouthful of the orange-and-menthol tasting seeds, it became divine. Telcontir recognized the brusque question for what it was: a peace offering, in Master Elis’ rough but subtle style. The pips were a frequent topic for their arguments.

“Go you halves,” he suggested, drawing a teaspoon across the heap of seeds in the saucer.

“Deal.”

When Telcontir’s talking apparatus was safely engaged by a handful of cardamo seeds and a generous slosh of tea, Elis knelt on the far side of the low table.

“Listen, I’ve had a shock today, lad, and it’s made me think pretty hard. I know I’ve said a lot no Master should, and I daresay you’ve been just wild to give me a piece of your mind a few times. But when young Yenseh turned up to say the courts had been bombed and you were there… well, I realized I’ve been a damn fool for years. You’re a good kid. Despite all I’ve said, I like you. I think you’re swell. Look, I’ll understand if you say over my dead body, but… give a guy one last chance, eh?”

“Yeah, all right,” Telcontir mumbled nonchalantly, transferring seeds into his cheek to facilitate conversation. “I was going to say something along similar lines, Master. Shall we agree to keep going?”

***

In the Archives that evening, Kijé and Cifonabh were re-alphabetizing a box of the Gang’s files. In Basic.

Slotting Kenobi (historical), Erin between Kenobi, Ben and Kenobi, Obi-Wan, Cifonabh said, apropos of nothing, “Look, what were you doing this afternoon? Madame Nu couldn’t find you anywhere, she was practically spitting blaster bolts.”

“I was talking Master Elis into realizing that he actually does like Telcontir.”

“Laudable,” commented Cifonabh. “Yes, I can see why that would take all afternoon. Do you have the Jinn file there? Whatever did you say to him?”

“Which one?” Kijé asked ruefully, surveying the sea of files.

“How many Jinns have there been in the Order?”

“Oh, there it is. I said to Master Elis, and I quote, ‘Telc’s on jury duty at the court, there’s been a bombing there, it’s all over the HoloNet.’ Unquote. And that did it.”

“Oh, yes, I can see that taking all afternoon. No, Jinn, not DuCrion.”

“I also took time to call the Witch at Zayam,” admitted Kijé.

“Well. Whatever you really said to Master Elis, Droid… worked. Nice going. Muln file?”

“It wasn’t me. They liked each other, just needed it proved. Muln? Don’t you mean Tano for that slot?”

The End

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About coruscantbookshelf

"A writer is an introvert: someone who wants to tell you a story but doesn't want to have to make eye contact while doing it." - Adapted from John Green
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10 Responses to Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum

  1. I like the comments on what outsiders think of the Jedi and the filing scene best. ;-P

    Like

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