The holding cell was a glorified aluminum box. It was machine-brushed metal on all sides, with heavy sealed doors on either end, and it screamed “transitory”: There were no chairs, no beds, desks, water sources, heat sources – nothing. Brains hummed to herself as she studied her pen – the lights were recessed into the floor, ceiling and walls – behind reinforced glass, and most likely paired with some discrete cameras. She was mindful to remain presentable the entire time: back curved right, hood splayed out and down, eyes downcast slightly in a demure way…
She was good, and a small smile escaped her iron-tight penitent expression.
Brains looked up as her warden called her, a small portal on the door to the front of the holding pen sliding open. A human head peered in, studying her behind a formal but anonymous helmet, gilded with symbols that made no sense to her but were obviously of some import to her warm-cuddle hosts.
“<Yes.>” she responded, flatly and soft.
“[The court will see you now. No sudden movements. Stay where you are and wait for your escort.]”
“<Yes.>” Brains closed her eyes and lowered her head – partially as theater to show herself as less threatening, as meek, and partially… well, because she was going to court, and that was no laughing matter. She did her best to tug her bright orange shirt down – it still smelled freshly fabricated, and itched in uncomfortable ways – but the shackles around her wrists and the cages that covered her hands made it incredibly difficult to do so. Before she could really fuss with her prison uniform the door mechanism activated, tumbling locks disconnecting as the entire front of her holding pen swung slowly open. Brains looked up and composed herself as two of her kinsmen slithered into the cage with her. Watching intently behind them were two fully suited combat suits that obviously held warm-cuddles, but they were… very different from the ones that had stormed her base; whereas those looked like brutish automatons, these were gilded with various shiny metals, braided cords, draped with fabrics and chained with bells and symbols. They were beautiful things, painted in white, blue, red, green and black, in a way that drew the eye towards the flourish of their adornments. The spectacle gave her pause, and her guard – who had now moved behind her – paused as she collected herself.
She almost missed the nasty looking saws and pneumatic hammers that replaced the hands on those machines. Almost.
“[Prisoner 732. Present yourself to the court for judgment.]”
Brains inhaled deeply, and slithered forward as she was instructed – no sudden movements, no outbursts. Slow, steady, telegraphed actions. The warm-cuddle guard that spoke to her stood just a few meters outside of the entrance, holding an ostentatious tablet in his arm that invoked feelings of something ancient, as if it was hewn from rock and chiseled from hand. He tapped a few things on it, before turning around smartly and marching forward in measured steps. Brains followed him out of her pen, and the magnificence of the court bore down on her in a display of…. Wealth wasn’t the word.
Power. That was the word.
Brains slithered out of her pen, and her tail touched soft, red carpet. She let her gaze wander and realized she was in a pit; the stand in the center of the depressed circle before her was made out of lacquered wood, carved and inlaid with silver and gold, with small steps leading down to where her judgment would be meted out. The walls were high on all sides, with two doors on either side of her pen leading to parts unknown. Tapestries spilled over the edge of the wall, and she followed them up with her eyes only to be dazzled by the light of an actual crystal chandelier, small LEDs implanted around each gem to cast shimmering light across the entire room. There was apparently a gallery, or an observatory there, as her country-bumpkin gawking started to generate soft murmurs that bounced off of the walls, the acoustics making any soft sound totally indistinct. Eventually her eyes settled on four ivory-white plinths, upon which one of every species sat in some traditional judgmental vestments of their kind: An old Male Jornissian symbolically strapped to the earth – not good, that probably meant he was a real traditionalist. There was a relatively middle-aged female Karnakian with braided red-and-black feathers draped over her face and chest – probably… mingling, so a bit more merciful hopefully. The third was another old Dorarizin female wrapped in a rough-braided shawl… which could mean either traditionalist or absolutionist – Brains couldn’t remember at the time – and finally a warm-cuddle in a black robe.
Well. That told her nothing.
“[Prisoner 732, to the stand. Please.]” The warm-cuddle said, gripping a relatively high bar and swinging it out, the wooden gate door beckoning her forward to her future. For the first time since this whole ordeal started, Brains felt a cold pit of finality settle in her stomach. With the gentle prodding in her back from the muzzle of a gun, she stepped forward.
= = =
The warm-cuddle stood up, tablet held out at full arm’s length, and began to read.
“[Sr’srenz’pssri of the unnamed Pirate Group, known as “Brains” among the crew. Charged with no less than 400 counts of the following: Grand Theft-by-taking, Grand Money Laundering, Grand Movement of illicit goods, Grand Movement of stolen goods. Charged with 27 counts of assault and battery. Charged with 7 counts of Grand Theft Stellar.]”
Brains smiled internally. Those were some good memories, but the court didn’t know the half of it.
“[… Additionally charged with one count of Kidnapping. One count of false imprisonment. One count of bodily endangerment of an endangered species. These are all the charges arrayed before the court.]”
Ah. Those are some of the… not as good memories.
“[The defendant has entered in a plea of Guilty on all counts, as coordinated by the prosecution. Does the defendant affirm that this plea was made under no duress and of their complete and total volition?]”
“<Yes.>” Brains said, standing tall. The cages around her hands stopped her from fidgeting, but the desire was there – the anxiousness settling over her as the weight of her crimes were now up for debate. She was able to secure a sentence under 500 years, but to someone of her age… she could still die behind bars.
“[Bailiff presents the guilty to the court for deliberation.]” The human said, tucking his formal tablet under his arm and stepping away from Brains’ stand. The murmuring that had welcomed her into the literal pit of judgment now picked back up as her crimes were made known, and Brains attempted to shut out the white noise.
“[You have done our people a great shame.]” The Jornissian judge said, staring unblinking with a hard expression. “[You would have been found guilty had you not plead out based on the evidence gathered – but I have no desire to cut your sentence.]”
“[Sir.]” The Dorarizin judge said, her voice cutting through like glass ripping silk. “[She is guilty, but in a position of power she attempted to coordinate the rescue of warm-cuddle wiggle-nap; from testimony given by the host crew, she was always de-escalating confrontation and attempting to provide solutions that would not lead to further bloodshed.]”
“[Is it a kind heart, or self serving?]” The Karnakian judge murmured between the other two, tilting her head as she stared at Brains with an inscrutable expression. “[Is she playing sides for survival, or because it’s the right thing to do?]”
Brains, wisely, kept her mouth shut and her eyes down as the three turned her fate over in their hands like an idle plaything. Hisses of judgement and growls of mercy mingled and echoed, bounced between the three as they debated for a few moments. One voice was silent; the Human Judge with ebony skin stared at her under his black cloak, his hand running through short curly white hair every few minutes as he read evidence and listened to his colleagues. After a few more minutes, the tribunal had come to a conclusion – but all eyes were on the warm-cuddle.
“[We learned scholars of justice submit a sentence of 300 years, with lifetime parole.]” The Traditionalist said, bowing his head slightly towards the warm-cuddle. “[For your consideration, sir.]”
“[Yeah, I. Hm.]” The warm-cuddle judge said, furrowing his brow and placing the tablet down on his judgment seat. “[I appreciate you attempting to de-escalate things, and I appreciate and take into consideration the counsel of the justices at my side. Brains, is it?]”
The human judge leaned forward. “[Did you ever attack, accost, harm with weapons or your own natural talents, anyone under your … let’s say dubious care?]”
“[That matches records. So, that means you’re non-violent, if not still a criminal.]” The warm-cuddle justice said, writing something down on his screen. “[What got you into this life of piracy?]”
“<A bad planet, a bad divorce, and a desire to never starve in a gutter again. Sir.>” Brains said, raising her head just high enough to see the justices out of her peripheral vision.
“[But you never had the stomach for the worse stuff.]” The warm-cuddle judge said, and Brains didn’t know if he was addressing her or himself. “[Well. Taking into consideration the counsel of the justices at my side, the reviewed evidence of your crimes as well as your willingness to work with the authorities both in a position of power and out of it, for de-escalating situations that would have increased both human and non-human bloodshed, as well as your continued co-operation in gathering evidence for your former colleagues, I can’t in good faith throw the book at you.]”
The Jornissian on his ivory tower sagged. “[With all due respect, justice warm-cuddle twelve-honey-buns, at some point you must start being hard on these lifetime criminals.]”
“[And I appreciate that, but 300 years is damn near 4 generations, and that is an unacceptable, undue, cruel and unusual punishment.]” The human justice said, shaking his head. “[100 years… no. 10 years of confinement in a minimal-security facility, with 50 years parole. She will have to divest herself of all possessions before reporting to prison, and allow an audit of her electronically held funds for the duration of her parole. Damn if that still doesn’t sound ridiculous, but…]” He reached forward and grabbed a tiny hammer, and smacked it against his desk – the sound, although light and sharp, carried a deep sense of finality to it.
Brains bowed her head. Yet another wiping of the slate, and another new beginning. This… this was something she was used to now, and she smiled.
She’d be back among the stars soon enough.
= = = = = =
“[… Attendant One.]”
“|That’s me!|” Toko said, rolling his shoulders as he attempted to get his ceremonial garb settled on his back. He too stood in the holding cell, but with no guards and no chains. In the grand theater of this trial – the first one where a human’s life was put in real jeopardy due to illegal activity – everyone was judged for what they did and didn’t do. For some, this meant getting medals pinned on their chests, for others commendations and a glowing review on their resume.
For him, however…
The door swung open, the little-needs-protecting standing tall at the exit. He was looking down at a marble-encased tablet, and Toko idly mused if it was real marble from Dirt or that synthetic stuff that was just made in-system. As if sensing his musing the human looked up, and waved him out. Toko moved forward fluidly, standing at attention at the exit to his cell. He was no stranger to military tribunals, and although this was a bit more lavish than those other courts, there was no less power or scrutiny here. His little-needs-protecting guard guided him to the penitents stand, and he kneeled with submissive flourish.
“[Toko of approved little-needs-protecting intern ship #44-921-68B. Served with distinction in the Ou’thi rebellion. Served with distinction in three other theaters, Redacted. Received four medals for valor; wounded in the line of service eighteen times. Passed Senate scrutiny and UTF scrutiny, currently serving with Nathaniel Callaway-]”
The bailiff, Toko, and pretty much everyone turned to look at the second stand in the pit; reserved usually for the defense, today it was taken up by the human in question, who was not paying attention and thought it was roll call. Nate looked around, before sheepishly waving at everyone giving him attention.
The Bailiff sighed, and continued. “[Arraigned here for one count of general blasphemy, one count of impersonating a priest or monk of a holy order, one count of indoctrination – forced, one count of indoctrination – unforced, and building a manipulative cult detrimental to the development of the soul.]” The little-needs-protecting tucked the tablet under his arm, and turned to face the judges. “[We present him to the court for disciplinary action.]”
“[You must understand, first, that you will serve no time.]” The Karnakian Judge said, a soft song in her voice as she leapt at the opportunity to speak first. “[However, we can’t turn a blind eye to someone using such degenerate methods, even in the defense of our allies.]”
“[It does present a moral hazard.]” The Jornissian traditionalist said, a slight smile on his features. “[And we do not want to be responsible for the degradation of our allies’ moral fiber.]”
“[I thought it was funny as shit.]” Nate said, unprompted, which caused the human judge to burst out laughing. As the black-clad little-needs-protecting tried to compose himself, the Karnakian Judge simply made eye contact with Toko and tilted her head towards the laughing Justice. Toko wiggled his crest in a so-so gesture, doing his best to hide his smile and look properly contrite.
“|I am properly ashamed, High Mother.|” Toko said, years of covering for his friend’s bullshit keeping his voice level. “|I view any reprimand from your seat of Righteousness to be righteous itself.|”
“[Very well. As you are so penitent, The court woul-]”
Nate raised his hand. “[Um. Wait a minute – can I ask a question?]”
The Dorarizin Judge inhaled deeply, before looking down at the key witness. “[Yes, little-needs-protecting wiggle-nap?]”
“[Uh, is everything said here a matter of record?]”
“[Yes…]” The Human Judge said, leaning forward with a smile. “[What’s on your mind, son?]”
“[Well… I’ve had the pleasure of counting Toko as a friend for many years, and I was wondering if we could add something to the record? For posterity and all that.]”
“[Sure.]” The Jornissian Judge said, leaning forward. “[What would you like to add?]”
Nate smiled wide. “[I’d just like to state, that for the record, Toko has admitted to me personally that his older and better sister, Tiki, is his inspiration and guiding moral light, and if it wasn’t for her constant help and affirmations, that he’d be a homeless vagabond.]”
Nate leaned forward, staring intently at his Karnakian friend who now had an incredibly sour expression. “[Isn’t that right? You can’t lie under oath, you know – moral hazard and all that.]”
Toko worked his jaw as he pondered his options. Glancing up, he caught the intense gaze of the judges: The Jornissian was bemused, the Karnkian was confused, the Dorarizin was doing her best to keep a straight face, but the Human judge started to laugh again. Banging his gavel, he pointed down at Toko with a wide smile.
“[Now that’s a sibling rivalry if I’ve ever seen one! If it pleases the court, an admission of the stated, ahem, “facts”, as truth in lieu of any formal punishment!]”
Toko pursed his lips, his feathers drawn tight against his body. He looked down, then back at Nate – and had to turn away as the smugness radiating off of the little bastard hit him with an almost physical force.
“[Honored Judges, could you please just kill me?]” Toko asked, to the mirthful laughter of those above. With a sigh, Toko stood and affirmed his “truth”.
And somewhere in the gallery high above his head, his sister, feathers puffed out in a wave of emotions to give her the roundness of an orb, let out a very inappropriate sing-song trill of victory.
= = = = = =
“|O-oh, yes, I’m sorry!|” P“pacheep said, stumbling to his feet in the cool, nondescript cell. A few minutes ago he was dragged in here – not unkindly, just, his feet didn’t seem to work right anymore – and dropped off without an explanation or a word. His wrists were shackled together, the orange clothing he was forced to change into chafed, and the bar they placed between his feet only let him shuffle in a half-walk, half-step. Everything was uncomfortable, and part of P“pacheep just wanted it to all be over – they couldn’t do anything to him that his mind hadn’t tormented him with already.
The other part of him desperately wanted to be anywhere else but here.
“[…The court will see you now. No sudden movements. Stay where you are and wait for your escort.]”
“|O-okay!|” P“pacheep said, hoping his eagerness to cooperate would translate into … something. The door swung open, and two Karnakian guards – very large ones, he noted as they stepped into the cell with him – made their way to his sides. He looked between them with confusion and desperate hope, his expression reflected off of the polished visors that obscured every tell of his species’ physiology. In one fluid movement the two of them hooked their arms under his, and began to march him out into the great unknown.
The blinding light hit his eyes unexpectedly, and he screwed them shut as the sensory overload washed over him. He was from a poor farming family; he had never seen such wealth and opulence before, and as he cracked his eyes open he was flooded with new sensations, new sights, new smells and sounds. He looked around, unblinking, jaw slightly open as his escort dragged him forward, opening gates made of material he had no words for, under banners made of exotic fabrics whose trim alone would have been enough to pay for a laborer’s wages for a year. He looked around now, unashamed as he came to terms with being a small part stuck in the gears of a great machine. He didn’t know if those gears would spit him out or crush him, and at the moment he didn’t have the wherewithal to care.
“[Prisoner 848. Present yourself to the court for judgment.]”
The support under his arms vanished, and P“pacheep – not paying attention – crumpled to the floor unceremoniously. The murmurs swelled and abated, and P“pacheep sat up.
“|I’m here, everyone!|” P“pacheep said, as cheerfully as he could muster, an awed but terrified smile spreading across his features. “|Um. How are you?|”
The human bailiff sighed, and presented his tablet to the Judges. “[P“pacheep of the unnamed Pirate Group. Charged with 20 counts of the following: Knowingly accepting illegal goods, knowingly accepting stolen goods, knowingly laundering stolen funds. 15 counts of knowingly destroying private property in excess of $50,000GRC. Knowingly joining a… cult… of degradable moral effect. The Defendant has entered no plea, has not indicated if they want a defense appointed for them, has not indicated … anything, your Honors. He is presented to the court.]”
P“pacheep looked up, and turned his attention between the faces of the Justices, who looked down upon him with mixed expressions. He settled on the little-needs-protecting as a matter of curiosity, looking at him with the intense stare of the youthful innocent.
“[T’sk. You can’t have molted more than twice.]”
P“pacheep turned to look at the Karnakian judge, and puffed out his feathers slightly. “[F-four times, your… honor?]”
An awkward silence settled on the court, and the Karnakian Judge simply leaned back in her seat, staring into the middle distance. The Jornissian traditionalist – for the first time in anyone’s memory – was chuckling, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture.
“[I can’t. This is just…]” He started, before there was a loud clap. The Dorarizin Judge sighed as she looked down once more, the perennial witness taking the defenses’ stand.
“[Little-needs-protecting wiggle-nap. May I inquire as to what you’re doing?]” The Dorarizin Judge said, as Nate stood tall and proud at the side of P“pacheep – a Karnakian he did not know.
“[Yes, your honors! As P“pacheep here has no defense, I would like to be his defense and vouch for his character, actions and all that other good stuff.]” Nate said, the earlier awkwardness of Toko’s “trial” being replaced with a creeping boldness.
The Human Judge leveled his gavel at Nate, shaking it slightly. “[Nate, I’m going to allow this, but only because I’m certain we here are of the same mind. Why are you interjecting yourself in this criminals’ trial? It’s a tight case, son.]”
“[Your honor, I’ve squeezed through tighter thighs-]”
“[-spots before, and I have material evidence for the accused that will actually affect the trial.]” Nate recovered, hooking his thumbs in his front pants pockets. P“pacheep stared dumbfounded as this little-needs-protecting, which he had never seen before, went to his passionate defense, every so often looking down and pricking his feet with one of his toe-claws to see if he was dreaming.
“[Now, assembled Justices, witnesses, and people of the court. It came to my attention that this man here,]” Nate waved in P“pacheep’s direction, as he slowly began to turn around, addressing the gallery. “[helped save my life. He was misled by my friend, Toko, into a cult, and because he’s so pure of heart he followed it without question. He carried another friend of mine, Tiki, when she was wounded, and together the three of them helped uncover my location and direct my rescue. His criminal record is that of a petty thief, managing boxes and handling goods – he’s never raised his fist in anger, nor has he attempted to force my imprisoned colleagues and friends into compromising or degrading conditions. Just look at him, for God’s sake!]” Nate thundered, raising his hands to the ceiling slowly as he spoke.
“[Who here hasn’t fallen in with the wrong crowd, made the wrong choice? Who here was lucky enough that the police didn’t check you, that you made it home safe, that the theft wasn’t caught, or whatever illegal thing you were doing turned out okay? He – this man, is the other side of that coin, the one who chose poorly and is now paying for it – but he is not evil.]” Nate thundered, his voice echoing throughout the courtroom, it’s dominance forcing everyone else’s silence. He rested his hands on the banister, and looked at the stranger just outside of arm’s reach.
“[But moreso, and under the threat of perjury, I attest to this: P“pacheep is madly in love with Tiki, and that love is returned.]” Nate stared directly at the moisture farmer as an awkward squak came from somewhere in the gallery.
Nate smiled, widely, hungrily, as he leaned forward. The expression was lost on the assembled xenos, and especially on P“pacheep, but the Human judge caught it.
Leaning back, twirling the gavel between his hands, the human justice spoke. “[Well, lad? Speak up – tell us about this woman.]”
“|O-oh?|” P“pacheep cooed, looking around in confusion. He spun slowly in place, his shackles clinking as he awkwardly moved, attempting to look up – to find the face of the woman that he had fallen for. All he could see was banners, light, and four judgmental faces.
“|Ah. I. Oh.|” P“pacheep raised his arms slightly, his unbound arm-feathers splaying out in defeat. “|Oh. Has Tr’iliu been kind to me?! I have held the whole of all things in my arms, and she thanked me. I have stared into her eyes and seen the sights that comfort me in my prison and chains. Neither Ro’ilki’s velvet darkness, nor the blinding light of the One, has been close to the darkness I feel when she’s gone, nor the brightness of all things when she is near. I am but a poor man, I am young, and I am stupid, but I know what I know; I know what love is, and I have tasted it and found it intoxicating, and I wish to drown in it. I know what love is, because I am going to lose it – because I am never going to see her again, and that – that cuts me deeper than any thing I have ever known.|”
P“pacheep looked up at the Justices, and raised his arms, silently pleading. “|I know nothing else. I have no more words.|”
“|Love turns us all to poets.|” The Karnakian Justice murmured, resting her jaw in her hand as her braids parted to the side. “|Other than a wonderful declaration… what was the point of this, little-needs-protecting wiggle-nap?|”
“[I would like to put the fate of this man in the hands of the woman he loves!]” Nate said, crossing his arms over his chest in triumph. “[What better way to rehabilitate someone than with love? And what better parole officer than the woman who loves him?! Prison will only damage his character further, but with a strong role model and following love – that is how he becomes a positive member of society!]”
The Judges mused. The Gallery murmured in hushed whispers. The Bailiff attempted to hold his head in his hands, and P“pacheep – for his part – paid them no mind, trying to search the sky for the face of the one he loved.
There was another inappropriate trill somewhere above their heads – not of victory this time, no, but one of pure exasperation.
= = = = = =
“[The court will see you now. No sudden movements. Stay where you are and wait for your escort.]”
Bleppy sighed and sagged. He was told not to worry, that this was all a show trial, that nothing would go wrong, that everyone was going to give a shining testimony to his character and his actions… but at the end of the day, even he knew: He was part of a landmark trial. He – and his crimes – were being broadcasted to all parts of known space. He was guilty, and that would never go away…
The door swung open, and he reached up – the shackles around his wrists loose enough to stop him from freely moving, but still bound him close together – and adjusted his prosthetic.
“[Prisoner 914. Come out and present yourself to the court for judgment.]”
And so he did.