Brief Real Life update: I got Chrome! After months of ‘your browser is not supported’, I finally have my WordPress reader back! (I have to reeducate the spell-checker.) Also, I am now employed, so War Stories might end up slamming the brakes on fairly soon. But we are not stopping. Promise.
Oh – and to whoever’s responsible for racking up 117 views to this site in one day, Friday January 15th: your enthusiasm is appreciated. A little unusual, but appreciated.
One beautiful comeback’s worth of gratitude to Lord Jeffrey Archer, taken from his magnificent opus A Prisoner of Birth and given to Gree. One philosophical observation’s worth of gratitude to sarahtps, taken from a comment and given to Nasriel.
And Qui-Gon just a tiny step out of character for just a few lines… but I doubt those who notice will mind under the circumstances. Read on.
When they get to the courthouse in the morning, a bailiff tells Nasriel she may wait wherever she likes until the court calls Nasriel Threeb. She decides that she likes to sit with Qui-Gon in the gallery, leaning forward against the railing to study the courtroom below. Gree and Foz’s Padawans, respectively a sullen Barabel boy named Halwaro Calaver, and the H’Vong girl who Qui-Gon met in the Sentinel quarters when looking for Nasriel, join them in the gallery a few minutes later. The girl is called Corri; as he thought, and as Halwaro puts it, she is not quite right in the head after all she has seen during the breaking up of the slaving ring. Corri is nine.
As usual in chambers of the Galactic Central Courts, the judges’ bench stands, high and imposing in dark wood, with the jury box in front of it, to ensure that the jurors are not distracted from the case unfolding before them. Across a narrow area of polished duracrete floor, which serves as the lawyers’ grandstand and podium, the prosecution and defense each have their own little corral, separated by a walkway. The witness box is between the judges’ bench and the prosecution territory, and the dock between the bench and the defense: witnesses testify face-to-face with the accused, though at a few meters’ distance.
Quiet and attentive during both sides’ opening statements, Nasriel becomes visibly anxious when Gree is called as the first witness. The prosecuting attorney, with the air of a showman exhibiting freaks, has Gree explain how she and Foz first realized what was going on in the cantina backrooms of Karazak and other worlds: a local licensed bordello, specializing in ‘barely legal’, and under discreet Sentinel investigation in an unrelated matter, complained to the authorities that ‘the cantina crowd’ was undercutting them with younger girls and lower prices. Sidetracking their investigation, the Sentinels found half a dozen unfortunates confined in the cellar of the cantina, and, when confronted with an active lightsaber and a hostile Jedi Knight, the owner of the cantina confessed all he knew about the other perpetrators. Gree found Nasriel, and ten others of various ages, in the fourth dungeon that she personally searched.
The attorney also leads Gree through a nauseatingly detailed description of the extent of the criminal operation (far greater than Nasriel had supposed from inside it), the condition of the rescued captives, and the responses of the defendants arrested at the scene. Prosecution, satisfied that the horror of Gree’s account is indelibly imprinted on the collective imagination of the jury, steps back and bows slightly to the assembled personification of justice on the bench.
“I tender the witness.”
Defense is quieter, lacking his counterpart’s ostentation, but making up for it in cross-examination with an unsettling habit of making a few innocent inquiries and one very pointed one, all in the same gentle tone. It is disarming, and that is its point, but Gree, despite her relative youth, is at least as experienced in veiled speech and telling the exact truth as the lawyer is at asking probing questions. Cross-examination becomes a battle of urbanity between the Bothan lawyer and the Rattatakian Sentinel.
“Jedi Yarzakawula,” one volley begins, nearly four hours – and a recess – after Gree first took the witness stand, “do you mean to tell us that you and your colleague acted on the word of an organization that you were investigating – for a misdemeanor, I think you said?”
“We acted according to the prompting of the Force… though in most cases I would trust a courtesan over a lawyer for accuracy of information.” Gree’s blue eyes widen in an appearance of innocence.
“This is neither the time nor place to air your personal prejudices,” Defense objects.
“If I cannot express my honestly held views in the Galactic Central Courts, perhaps you can advise me where else I am free to state that which I believe to be the truth?”
“No more questions,” sighs the defeated Defense, returning to his corral. Leaving the stand, Gree slips up to the gallery, and narrowly escapes Halwaro’s bone-crushing hug.
Prosecution leaps to his feet the moment Defense is off the floor. “The next in the trial order is Foreyata Ferens –” in the gallery, Foz flashes Gree a too-bright grin “…but we’d like to save his testimony for later and go on to the next witness.” After a brief silence for effect, “Prosecution calls Nasriel Threeb,” the lawyer booms.
As the words echo around the courtroom, Nasriel slips her hand into Qui-Gon’s, and squeezes, the wordless gesture begging for reassurance.
“You’re safe now, remember?” complies he, drily.
“Mm.” She hesitates. “I’m going to be right opposite those –”
“Don’t look at them. Look at the lawyers, look at the judges – or look at me. I’ll still be up here.” Nasriel nods, and goes down the gallery steps into the courtroom. Qui-Gon is briefly amused to see Prosecution conduct a double-take when she comes up behind him: most Jedi can and do move almost silently, which tends to disturb the equilibrium of non-Jedi who can neither sense nor hear them coming. When Nasriel is on the witness stand, sworn in, and Prosecution gears up to ask his first question, the situation is suddenly less amusing.
“So, Padawan Threeb – it is Padawan, isn’t it? I thought so – could you please explain… what happened? Begin at the beginning. Take your time.”
Nasriel starts in a whisper, head bowed, eyes closed. It takes a moment for Qui-Gon to notice, but she is clutching at the stone charm that once belonged to her mother. That won’t help anything, Padawan, he wants to say. Trust in the Force.
“Speak up,” growls the chief justice. “We can’t hear you.”
“I –” Nasriel swallows hard, and starts over a little louder, explaining about why she had been at Laerdocia in the first place, and how she had been kidnapped and auctioned off.
“And do you recognize any of those kidnappers in this courtroom?” Prosecution asks, a little nastily, considering that he must have realized by now that Nasriel does not want to look up.
“Yeah.” She doesn’t raise her head or open her eyes, but counts carefully across the dim shadows Qui-Gon knows she can ‘see’ in the Force, in the large pen of the dock. Probably she finds it easier to recognize auras than faces – but either way, in a court of law, identification is identification.
“Fourth row. Fourth, fifth, and sixth from left. Them.”
Prosecution is puzzled. “Are you sure? I don’t know about all your Jedi stuff, darlin’; just look, can’t you?”
“I’m sure it was them. Actually… I recognize all these people.” To the unprofessional astonishment of Prosecution, and the perceptible discomfort of Defense and his colleagues, Nasriel proceeds to explain her way across the front row of the dock – some ten people of assorted species – giving a brief account of each one’s predilections and peccadilloes. She is amazingly calm and collected, betrayed only by the occasional stutter, but does not once look up, or alter her tone from a flat murmur just audible by the witness stand microphone.
“Those two in the middle are the Thrifty Twins – all the girls who were imprisoned with me called them that – they used to save themselves some credits by… by renting one girl between them. At the same time. I don’t know what the slavers charged; just that it wasn’t enough to warrant that kind of thing.” Partway through the tally of the third row, Prosecution, who has been quietly squirming for the past hour or so, calls a halt. Court has been in session for eight hours, two of them fully occupied with Nasriel’s testimony.
“Your honors, can we adjourn until tomorrow? I have many more questions for this witness even before cross-examination.” Prosecution does not mention that the jury are exhausted, the judges are fed up, he is tired enough for it to be obvious from the gallery, and the witness is perfectly capable of shocking the court for at least another four hours on his questions alone. He also does not mention – because he does not know – that the witness in question has been staving off a mild mental breakdown for some time now. Qui-Gon knows.
“Court adjourned,” the chief justice agrees. “Reconvene at ninth hour tomorrow, to continue with Padawan Threeb’s testimony.”
During the slow process of clearing the dock and the jury box, while nobody inside the main body of the courtroom can go anywhere, but the comlink-jamming signal covering the court is switched off, Obi-Wan calls, and Qui-Gon retreats to the hallway to talk in peace.
“Where are you?” the Councilor asks. “I’ve been looking all over the Temple.”
“Why don’t you ask Kijé in the Archives?” There is a faint click, as of teeth colliding, jaws snapped irritably together; then a silence.
It is in a milder tone that Obi-Wan eventually replies. “Yes, I’m sorry about that, Master.”
“Are you sorry you abused your privilege as a member of the Council and ordered Kijé to keep information from someone who had a right to that information, or are you sorry I found out?”
“I didn’t abuse anything,” retorts Obi-Wan. “I acted in Nasriel’s best interest as I perceived it at the time, which you may recall is my prerogative as a member of the High Council.” He adds a moment later, “I admit that I now realize my perception was flawed.”
“You were wrong,” Qui-Gon translates the comment from Council-ese to Basic.
“I was. I apologize.”
“And I accept your apology. What did you really call about, Obi-Wan?”
“Fett’s found Komari. Although he called to tell me so, that isn’t very helpful, as he insists that Master Jinn contracted the search, and that he has to talk to you. So… where are you?”
“I’m at the Central Courts to provide moral support for my Padawan, who is acting as a witness in one of the most scandalous trials of the century.” Obi-Wan’s only reply is a peculiar sputtering sound, indicative of extreme surprise unwisely combined with tea. “The Council needs to work on communication,” Qui-Gon observes. “Yoda has already sanctioned my being here.”
“Right. Yes. Can you go to the cantina next to the downtown spaceport? Now? Nasriel may as well come along too.” At this point, Qui-Gon cuts off the call: the Sentinels have suddenly materialized on the stairway down from the gallery, and Nasriel is at the courtroom door, glancing around for an exit that doesn’t involve passing through the crowds of HoloNet reporters, droidcams, and curious bystanders who couldn’t get a place in the courtroom but are still madly interested. There isn’t one.
And then Gree is beside him, arms folded, scowling; or perhaps that’s just her default expression. “Was that important?”
“Yes. Something’s happened; Nasriel and I have to go downtown. Shall we –”
“No, you don’t have to drop us at the Temple. I’ll call ‘Roni to pick us up – might even dodge the crowds. Nice going, Blue,” she adds as Nasriel joins them.
“So, that was amusing,” says Nasriel, trying very hard to sound as if she means it. “It’s nineteenth hour, Master, can we go home?”
“We are going downtown to meet… someone I had hoped you wouldn’t have to meet.” Outside, it is dark and raining, but it takes a lot to deter reporters, and the sidewalk in front of the court complex is crowded with them. “Back door, I think.”
Nasriel doesn’t reply at once, because law-enforcement officers are escorting a few of the higher-profile accused in the case out of the court, and she is watching curiously. Having easily obtained bail, these defendants are not held in the general cells of the prison; the officers are not there to guard them, but to keep the reporters away from them.
“Almost makes you want to be a perp, doesn’t it?” Foz observes bitterly. Corri stands huddled close to him, tugging at his sleeve, and he leans down so she can whisper. “Yeah, I don’t like those guys either, kid. The law screwed up here.”
In the car, on the way downtown to meet Fett, Nasriel studies the sky, and finally grins, pointing to a bright speck of light overhead. “There it is. The star.” She notices Qui-Gon’s skepticism, and says quietly, “Let it be a star, Master, whatever it really is. There are days when you need one. And anyway… I know there are real stars somewhere. And if there are, that means there’s hope somewhere too – real hope – even if we can’t see it just now.”
“A symbolic star,” muses Qui-Gon. “Well, if that helps you, I suppose it’s all right. Just remember that there is always hope, stars or no stars.”
“I still don’t know who Komari Vosa is,” Nasriel reminds him. “Except that Obi-Wan said the Council thought I was like her.”
“Komari Vosa – it doesn’t make much difference now. She was Dooku’s apprentice; he took her on because she was good, but moody, and he wanted to change her. He likes changing people, not often for better. But even at the end, Komari was very much herself – aggressive and brilliant. The Council eventually realized they couldn’t change her, even Dooku couldn’t change her… anger ran in her very blood. There was also the issue of her being… not openly – but obviously – infatuated with Dooku. It made things awkward, to put it mildly. They told her – Dooku told her – she couldn’t be Knighted, not then, not ever, and she left. Taken by the Bando Gora within the month. It was just over a year ago that anyone in the Temple found out what happened to her – Dooku told me about it, that first time you met him.”
“Did you know her?” asks the Padawan. “Why’s she like me?”
“Obi-Wan was referring to the question of infatuation. I think he’s wrong.”
“Yeah,” Nasriel assures him.
“Oh, thank you.” Despite the serious nature of this conversation, Qui-Gon is cautiously enjoying it. It has been a long, long time since he felt it safe to joke around with Nasriel. Even irony is a great leap forward, under their new standards of normality.
“No… you know what I mean. I love you, but I don’t need you. If something happened to you, or if we were separated again, I’d cope. I’d get by.”
“A Master’s goal is expendability: if you needed me, I would not be doing my duty by you.”
“I still like you very much,” the girl says, comfortingly. “Even though you‘re driving like Anakin. And even though I had a total chizzk-storm of a day and I’m pretty sure you don’t care.”
“I’m sorry, Nasriel. I tell you what: we’ll be driving for nearly an hour, so you can tell me at least some of what’s on your mind. Or have I already used up all my bad-Master strikes this week?” The system of ‘strikes’ has never, does not, and will never exist. Xanatos tried it with Bruck and ran into so much grief on the very first day that the whole family abandoned the idea at once.
Nasriel laughs, but she sounds tired. “Never.”