The most recent relevant trial transcripts I could get date back to 1920s New York. A lot of that I’m just not comfortable repeating, so we’re not really focusing on the trial today except as backdrop.
And… Obi-Wan. Thank you, my dear, you were, as ever, wonderful to work with. And thanks to Qui-Gon for finally letting me include that paragraph I’ve been trying to slip in for months. (He was dead against the idea – thought it was silly. He may well be right, but I like it.)
If you’re reading this in Reader, heads up, it’s another journal chapter.
In the morning, a few minutes before ninth hour, I’m waiting in the corridor outside the courtroom for the bailiff to come get me, because, officially, the trial is starting again from the exact point where it left off last night. It’s cold in the hallway, and the court is far enough into the upper levels that all I can see outside the windows is heavy billows of grey clouds. Inside is white marble so shiny I can see my face in the wall opposite. I look scared. I don’t feel scared. I feel safer than ever.
One of the things most people don’t seem to understand about being a survivor is that safety becomes a paramount concern. I never feel totally safe – but some situations are better than others. Right now, I’m sitting on one of the benches that run the length of the corridor, writing in my journal, bookended between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. They’re talking over my head – civilly arguing, if I’m honest – about whether Dex being missing is really an issue. Qui-Gon thinks he probably just got arrested again and will turn up eventually; Obi-Wan’s kidding around, proposing all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. I’m ignoring the conversation and writing in Saalisan – Qui-Gon can speak it fluently, but all the unexpected spelling in the written form still gets to him, so my journal’s secret for now.
Nobody can get to me here.
Later: I stopped for a bit because Obi-Wan nudged me to get my attention. “Nasriel, after last night’s incident… have you thought seriously about why you are doing this?”
“I was subpoenaed,” I said. “I don’t get a choice.”
“You’re a Jedi, and you’re a minor. You could have said something, and the Council, as your legal guardian, could have refused to allow you to testify. Even the courts can’t overrule a guardian’s veto in a criminal case. Why are you doing it? Note, I don’t say you shouldn’t. But… for your own sanity, as much as anything, you need to know why.”
“Closure.” I didn’t really believe that: something that so radically alters a whole life isn’t closable. It’s like a wound that you can keep stitched up, and that might, someday, pale into a scar, but it will never go away. “I don’t know, Bi-An. I just know I can’t not. For justice? To know there are a few creeps off the streets?”
“To let the others who lived through the same hell you did sleep easier knowing they’re off the streets? This is the case of the century, and if nothing else, it sends a message to the entire Republic that you cannot, cannot get away with things like that anymore, and that it is all right to speak up. Again, you’re a Jedi. You’ve dedicated your life to service.” Obi-Wan pauses, looking hard at me. “There is bound to be a conviction. After this trial is over, its immediate result will be that dozens, maybe hundreds of people will not have to suffer as you did. Do it for them. And do it for the other survivors.”
The bailiff came then, and I had to go. Back to the witness stand, back to the same soul-destroying grind of identifying the perps. It’s a big case: there are fifty people in the dock, and I only got about halfway through, yesterday. When I finished explaining who – and what – each one is, the judge called a recess, and Prosecution, looking shell-shocked, was more than happy to go along with it, to give himself time to sort out the notes of questions he meant to ask me.
So I’m sitting in a corner of the room they set aside for witnesses. Today I’m the only one here; it seems the court told the others they won’t have to come in until tomorrow at least. Somewhere internal, with walls that feel thick, it’s a big room. I guess I’m lucky to be the first witness: I don’t have to hang around for days in case of being called on short notice. One of the courthouse messengers came to give me a note, and said she’d been told to wait for a reply. It’s from Obi-Wan.
Sriel: a week after you came home, I told you about something that happened when I was your age. I also told you they never caught the man. Turns out, I was wrong: fourth row, far left. You’re doing well. May the Force be with you.
My stomach lurched when I read that, and I thought for a moment that I might retch. Fourth-row-far-left was fat and sweaty and brutal, and stank of stale bacci smoke and rancid grease. I remember him as the one who liked boys, but would settle for a girl if she was thin enough, undeveloped enough, to suit him.
I saw Obi-Wan up in the spectators’ gallery this morning, watching, with that narrow-eyed, hawk-like air he has when he’s trying to work something out in a hurry. Qui-Gon looked detached, bored, even, but I haven’t known him for thirteen years to not notice when he’s bothered. Pretty much everything I’ve said in the last two hours has cut him like a shiv, reminding him he swore to look after me but didn’t. I’m not going to apologize or act sympathetic later: the retelling has been hard for me as well, and it won’t get easier as the day goes on.
I tore a page out of my journal to reply to Obi-Wan: I guess I’m doing this for you as well, then, survivor. Thanks.
It’s the least I can do. The simple fact that anyone – let alone Obi-Wan Kenobi, the epitome of Jedi – understood even some of how I felt when I came home was enough to pull me back from the edge. I can guess what it must have cost him to tell me.
Later: Well, that was awful. The prosecution lawyer, finally done with listening to the long, revolting list of perverted preferences, switched to asking me about myself. ‘For background’. It started with so, you’re a Jedi, you’re supposed to be celibate; are you in any trouble at home over what’s happened to you? And went downhill from there. For another hour. When the questions were getting really personal, and the chief justice had already had about six of them stricken from the record, and I was almost crying again, the youngest of the lawyers on the prosecution team – the woman who had gone away to be sick during the pre-trial depositions – got up and passed the senior lawyer a note. He looked from her, standing there with pleading eyes, to me, and threw up his hands in exasperation.
“Your honors, may we have a recess? This witness is distraught.”
“It’s noon anyway,” the judge decided. “Reconvene in one hour.” And the moment I was free, I flew up the steps to the gallery to find Qui-Gon.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Not really, no, but I can handle it.”
Here’s a thing: being Saalisan, I get the drawback of being hypersensitive to pretty much anything inhalable, but the benefit of an excellent sense of smell… and on top of that, I played the genetic lottery and drew color-scent synesthesia. Confuses the chizzk out of people when I try to describe it, particularly when something smells of a color that doesn’t exist. Tahl, for instance, has a golden-purple, amber-and-honey scent. Qui-Gon just smells nice; a clean, silvery, green sort of smell, like a rainstorm in a forest, or the water-smoothed grey rocks in a cold, clear stream.
I sat down next to him on the bench, nestled close, gazing out over the empty courtroom. And just closed my eyes and breathed, shutting out all the confusion and heartache for a few minutes by focusing on the simple repetition of air in, air out. Qui-Gon chuckled softly – he’s used to me and my quirks.
But after a while, I had to come back to reality and ask, because I’d told the court I didn’t think so, and I wanted to know for sure: “Am I in trouble? Because… I don’t know why I would be, but I’m learning lately there’s a lot I don’t know.”
“Oh, Force, minx…” Qui-Gon had his arm around me, and he looked away, shaking his head. “No! I lose all faith in the Council if you are.”
“Not that that was much anyway,” Obi-Wan commented lightly. “The Council is fallible, Nasriel, not composed wholly of idiots. Which it would have to be to condemn you for an incident in which you were patently the victim.” He added, under his breath, “The Sith question, on a similar note…”
“I am not a Sith!”
“I didn’t say you were. We’ll want to talk to you at some point, to clarify a few matters – after this is all over. But nobody thinks you’re Sith. And I think you were magnificent this morning.” He adds, after a moment, “Justice is a noble thing.”
“Even twenty years too late,” growled Qui-Gon.
“Even then.” Obi-Wan smiled wryly. “Sriel, you know you’re not supposed to be up here?”
“Yeah.” I should have gone straight back to the witnesses’ room from the stand, but… when you don’t have a lot of time, you spend it on what’s important.
“It’ll be crowded downstairs by now,” the Great Negotiator warned me. “And by crowded, I mean reporters. Shall I escort you back to where you’re meant to be?”
Down in the corridor, I found out the advantage to having Obi-Wan along: he’s high-profile enough that about half the reporters instantly forgot all about me. It didn’t help anything a few meters further on, though, because the law officers were ushering a few of the defendants – the ones who could afford their bail – from the dock to a waiting area nicer than the usual prisoners’ holding cells. One of them was Fourth-row-far-left.
He stopped when he saw me, and ran his tongue slowly around his lips. “Now… you, vetch, I would do again. And if I’d known you were Jedi I would have done you every day. Only met one other Jedi, and he was… mmm.” I could feel Obi-Wan standing just behind me, a single rigid line of perfect control, and a second later, I noticed two things: I had my hand on my lightsaber, and Obi-Wan was gripping my arm, preventing me from doing anything stupid. “Someday I’ll be out again, girl,” Fourth-row-far-left promised. “And you will be first on my list.” He leaned toward me, pulling against the handcuffs and the law deputy holding the chain. “What, you’re not scared of me?”
“I pity you,” I said, or thought I’d said, but my throat was so dry no sound came out. “I pity you,” I repeated. “You are a creature with no hope for the future.” Then the deputy yanked him away, and I dragged in a deep, shuddering breath. “I didn’t lie, Bi-An.”
“Pity?” Obi-Wan repeated incredulously. “Nasriel, the man is evil; please tell me you didn’t not notice that.”
“Of course I did. But it’s true. He – all of them – they’re dead inside. Maybe they don’t know it, but they’re dead. They’ve rotted out whatever souls they had. And you and me… we’re still alive. But…”
Obi-Wan understood. “But surviving isn’t much fun.”
Later: That afternoon, after the recess, Prosecution had five more hours of questions. He spent what felt like a long time asking about the exact details of what was done to me… I answered it all, as calmly and directly as I could. Because justice.
Finally, seventeenth hour, Prosecution bowed to me, which was weird, and said, “Thank you, Padawan Threeb, for your testimony. I don’t doubt this was hard for you, and I applaud your courage,” before turning to the judges’ bench. “I tender the witness.”
Defense opened with a bang: “I put it to you that this was a ‘sting’ operation, and that you intended to lure my clients into kidnapping you.” When I said no, it wasn’t, he tried again: “I put it to you that whether you were aware of its being a ‘sting’ operation or not, your… Master’s lack of concern or reaction to your abduction indicates that he was so aware, and allowed you to be exploited in this manner without your consent.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, as soon as I realized I didn’t know otherwise, “but I’ll ask him.”
“Can you do so now?” Defense asked politely, glancing around the courtroom to see where I would look. So I didn’t look up at all: I just put the question across our Force-bond, and as soon as I had an answer (a very curt and offended no), I repeated that to the court.
“I see,” Defense said brightly, glancing down at his notes. “Do you have a boyfriend, Nasriel? I beg the court’s pardon… do you have a boyfriend, Padawan Threeb?”
“And you were – excuse me, the question must be asked – entirely inexperienced in sexual matters at the time of your abduction?”
“I fail to see where this is going, but yes, since you ask, I was.”
“Allow me to clarify,” offered Defense. “You would have had no way of telling whether you had, strictly speaking, had intercourse with a man or not, is that correct?”
“I got pregnant,” I replied coldly. “To the best of my knowledge, only one woman in the entire Galaxy, from the founding of the Republic until now, has been pregnant without first having intercourse. And while I may have been inexperienced, I am at least familiar with the dictionary. Do I need to recite the legal definition of rape for you?”
I would be willing to swear I saw the court stenographer stifle a grin at that, but he was the only one. Today was brutal. I’m writing this at just under two hours before midnight, in the witnesses’ room, waiting for Qui-Gon to come get me so we can go home, and the defense lawyer has only these ten minutes finished his cross-examination. All I can think is that I’m glad it’s over… but the chief justice told me I’ll have to stay on Coruscant, within call, in case they need me again.
I know how late the Council is usually in session, these war days, and I can only hope they decide they can wait until morning to ask me edged questions about Sith. I’ve had it up to here with questions today.