BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

EBFIDDLER

THE TRIAL (06) Part (02)
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mal stands alone before the judge, while the others are planning and plotting and possibly scheming.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2019    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

THE TRIAL (06) Part (02)

Follows BREAK OUT (05). Precedes SHADOW (07).

The series so far: A LION’S MOUTH (01) ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02) SPARKS FLY (03) EXPECTATIONS (04) BREAK OUT (05)

Mal stands alone before the judge, while the others are planning and plotting and possibly scheming.

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* * *

Inara’s shuttle had become the war room for the remnants of Serenity’s crew, as they planned a strategy to secure the release of Mal and the others. Inara sat propped up on her bed, still looking tired, but more energetic than before. Simon sat on the stool with ready access to the cortex screen, while River and Ip Neumann occupied the sofa.

“He could hardly have chosen a worse world to land escaped slaves on,” Ip told them. “Even though there’s a very active Abolitionist Society here, Persephone is one of the few worlds where certain forms of slavery are still officially tolerated.”

“I thought slavery was abolished throughout the Alliance,” Simon said. “I mean, I understand that it might exist on fringe places like 泥球 Ní Qiú and 尘球 Chén Qíu —the Alliance has hardly any presence there at all, and those places are clearly under the control of the terraforming companies, whose financial interest inclines them to make use of slave labor. But here on Persephone?

“Here on Persephone, domestic slavery is entrenched,” Inara replied. “For generations, wealthy families have passed along generations of domestic servants—slaves, not indentured. The law only makes human trafficking illegal.”

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, or abuse of power, or by means of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, for the purpose of exploitation, shall constitute human trafficking,” River recited. “Exploitation shall include the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.”

Ip Neumann shuddered at the mention of the removal of organs.

“Well, that’s the legal definition of trafficking and exploitation,” Inara replied. “But here on Persephone, the exact wording of the law has been adapted to local customs—that is, to suit the purposes of the traditional slave-owning families.”

Simon was the first to catch her meaning. “So as long as they aren’t sold—”

“That’s right,” she answered. “They are traded, bartered, gifted and bequeathed, but not technically ‘sold’—so the slave-holding families of Persephone hold their heads up high in the firm belief that they are not breaking the human trafficking laws. Most of the people in power—the chief of police, judges, prosecutors, legislative councilors—either own slaves themselves or are from slave-holding families. What are they going to do, lock up Mother for slave trading? So the chief of police agrees not to arrest the prosecutor’s Aunt Mildred, and the prosecutor agrees not to charge the police chief’s brother, and they all go about their business in the usual way. That is why Mal is in such danger. He is from off-world, and has no local connections to shield him. They’ll be eager to show Parliament that they do enforce the anti-trafficking laws, so they’ll throw the book at him.”

“So what he needs is a hearing in front of a judge who is sympathetic to the anti-slavery movement—” Ip offered.

“And a top-notch lawyer,” Inara finished. “Preferably one who is well-connected. I’ll see to that.”

“I’ll contact the Abolitionists and see who they recommend,” Ip said. “Perhaps we can find a way to have his case come before the right magistrate.”

“What are you doing, Inara?” Simon asked, as she rose from her bed and made her way to where he was seated at the cortex screen.

“Getting on the cortex. I wasn’t planning on this, but I’m going to have to schedule some clients here on Persephone. I’ll need to work my contacts and call in some favors.”

* * *

Prosecutor Ficker sighed. Interviews with Reynolds’s crew had not been very fruitful, and Reynolds himself had declined to talk at all without a lawyer present. The usual tough talk, belligerence, and threats of consequences if he didn’t talk, had all seemed to faze him not a bit. In fact, the man had even seemed amused at the threat of violent consequences if he didn’t spill. The man hadn’t retained a lawyer—couldn’t afford a lawyer—and a court-appointed lawyer couldn’t be expected until after Reynolds was arraigned on charges. There seemed no chance of getting him to incriminate himself.

Reynolds’s first officer, Zoe Washburne, had been tight-lipped. She had verified that she was Reynolds’s second-in-command, and that there had been thirty-two persons aboard the ship besides crew, but gave very little information otherwise. The only other facts gleaned from the interview with her were that Serenity had landed at Eavesdown Docks with water tanks, food stores, and fuel nearly depleted.

The crewman, Jayne Cobb, had been even less helpful. The man was clearly the dumb muscle of the crew, and at first the prosecutor had hoped he was dumb enough to spill everything. But the man acted as if his job description were physical intimidation, rather than hauling crates. He’d sat in the interview room with muscle-bound arms crossed, drumming his fingers and maintaining a stony silence and belligerent stare.

The mechanic, on the other hand, had been quite loquacious. The thing was, not a bit of it was useful as incriminating evidence. By her account, the captain was a knight in shining armor, rescuing defenseless unfortunates, giving them charity out of the goodness of his heart, sacrificing his own few small comforts for the sake of the so-called passengers. He’d spent the voyage mixing with the slaves (the prosecutor had to remind himself to refer to them as “slaves”, even though the little mechanic had referred to them throughout her encomium as “passengers”) dispensing good cheer and soup—soup! for 耶稣 Yēsū [Yesu] sake—while efficiently and responsibly captaining his ship. As evidence it was brilliant—if the captain had been a candidate for beatification. As evidence of wrong-doing—not so much. The prosecutor had suspected that the mechanic must be romantically involved with the captain, but when the interviewer had suggested exactly that, she’d immediately responded, “What, me and the Cap’n? Oh, hell no!” accompanied by a snort of laughter so natural that the prosecutor found himself unable to maintain that theory. She truly believed her captain to be a good man. The prosecutor, of course, intended to prove otherwise.

* * *

Kaylee had never spent a night in prison before, and although she knew the Captain would fix things and they’d all be released, she didn’t want to spend another day in lock-up. She didn’t really have any friends on Persephone, other than the folks she met when she went with the Captain to that fancy shindig some time ago—the shindig with the strawberries and the hot cheese and the floaty chandelier, and the punching. Oh yeah—the punching, she recalled, crestfallen. So she was very surprised when she was pulled from her cell and told she had a visitor.

It was Ip Neumann on the other side of the glass barrier, and she was never so glad to see a friendly face in her life.

“Ip!”

“Kaylee, I’m glad to see you,” he replied. “I’m here as an emissary from your doctor.

Kaylee gasped and her eyes went round. Ip proceeded to make inquiries as to her health and treatment in prison, but she knew these were just preliminaries. She answered his questions and waited for him to bring up the real business.

“How about your crewmates?” he asked.

“Ain’t seen a one of them since they brought us here. I’m so worried about the Captain. They accused him of bein’ a slave-trader!” she exclaimed, outraged. “Can you believe it? They don’t got a clue. And I suppose they’re accusin’ us all of helpin’ the Cap’n run slaves.”

“Kaylee, you can help. Some time ago, I understand, you and the Captain attended a ball here on Persephone. Can you tell me the names of any society people either of you met and conversed with at that ball?”

* * *

Neumann conferred with the others back at Inara’s war room. “She mentioned Hector Murphy, Banning Miller and her friends Destra, Cabot, and Zelle, George Blumenthal and his son Myron Blumenthal, John Hoepner, Warwick Harrow. Harrow was the Captain’s business contact.”

Simon searched with a portable sourcebox, while River checked the cortex. Simon’s search turned up results first. “Murphy is a gentleman farmer…holdings in Elk Harvester Tractor Company…” Simon read. “Banning Miller’s just a society girl, but her mother is Lady Eugenia Miller, a philanthropist.”

“What are Eugenia’s causes?” Neumann asked.

Simon checked. “She supports the Daughters of the Alliance, Purple Seal Alliance Veterans’ Association, Patriots’ Fund. Oh, that won’t help at all.”

“Found him!” River exclaimed brightly.

“Found who, River?”

She turned the cortex screen toward them, and they read, “Sir Warwick Harrow, magistrate of the 29th Circuit Court…”

* * *

Inara greeted the slender red-haired woman fondly. “Melissa, I would take it as a particular favor if you would take up the case of Captain Reynolds. There’s no one on Persephone more respected than you in the area of human rights law, and that’s exactly what this case is about.”

“Inara, for you I’d do just about anything. Where would I be without your introductions, your referrals? You launched my career, and I appreciate it.” She smiled fondly at her friend and benefactor, and the two settled down at her desk. “Let me look it up… Persephone vs. Malcolm Reynolds…” She studied the case listing closely for a few minutes, and then turned to Inara with a set expression. “Inara, I’m sorry, I can’t do this. The man is accused of human trafficking. I’ve built my career taking a principled stand against human rights abuses, and slavery is one of the leading forms of abuse, right along with political persecution and torture. I can’t defend a slaver.”

“You can take this case, Melissa, because he’s not a slave trader. He released these people from illegal slavery on 泥球 Ní Qiú, and was injured in the process. He transported them at his own expense to Persephone, even though he can ill afford it. He and the crew put themselves on short rations and restricted water use just to accommodate the needs of these people. And despite his injury, he went among the people throughout the journey, heartening them and keeping up their spirits. He contacted the SAHT here to receive the people and help them on their way. And as a reward for this labor of love, when he landed, he and his crew were seized and accused of slave trafficking. If I know him, he is now immersed in bitter reflections. He tried to do something right and his reward is what? Being thrown in jail and accused of practicing what he abhors.”

“Now he sounds like an ideal client for me. So, Inara—what’s the catch?”

Inara evaded the question. “I’ll cover expenses. I’m certain he can’t afford your rates.”

“Inara, that’s not the issue. I always do some pro bono work, and this sounds like the kind of case the SAHT would want to support. What’s the real catch?”

“Captain Reynolds has a checkered past, one that does not bear close scrutiny. He’s an ex-Independent, a sergeant, and the ‘ex-’ part of that is simply because the war is over. His life since the end of the war, I gather, has been a personal expression of independence from the Alliance—independence of its rules, restrictions—I think you take my meaning.”

“Oh my.”

“The longer he stays in custody, the more time the prosecution has to come up with a list of charges as long as my leg.”

“Right. I think I know just what to do.” Melissa Draper consulted her cortex screen. “The arraignment hearing is today. I will go over to court and introduce myself to my new client, and ask the magistrate for a delay.”

“A delay?!” Inara was astonished. Knowing that Mal’s best chance was to get released from jail and off the planet before the prosecution figured out just what a marked man he was, she didn’t see what good could possibly come from any delay. “How will that help?”

“The best chance for Captain Reynolds is to avoid a trial. We had better try to get the charges dismissed at the arraignment hearing, and send the Captain on his way before his past catches up to him. And I can’t accomplish that without more information. I’ll need at least a few days to interview the Captain and his crew. I’ll petition to be allowed access to the detained passengers, but Immigration is very controlling, and they rely on their slow response time to discourage investigators.” Melissa Draper was already closing her briefcase and standing up. “An army of researchers wouldn’t hurt either,” she added.

* * *

Mal recognized the magistrate immediately, and felt a flicker of hope. It was Sir Warwick Harrow, the same man who had hired him (through Badger) to smuggle cattle off-planet, and who had volunteered to be his second in that bizarre duel with swords that he’d fought with Atherton Wing. Harrow gave no sign of recognizing Mal. It was as if he had no memory at all of their last meeting. Harrow opened the proceedings with bureaucratic regularity, and Mal’s flicker of hope died out. He stood alone before the bench.

“Are you Malcolm Reynolds?” Sir Warwick Harrow inquired, in official tones.

“I am.”

“And do you understand the charges against you?”

“No, sir. I don’t understand it at all,” Mal answered. “Seems to me I’ve been arrested for something I didn’t do.”

“You will have an opportunity to enter a plea at your trial,” Harrow replied unsympathetically. “The purpose of this hearing is to apprise you of the charges and to advise you of your rights.” Mal was ready to reply, but Harrow powered on, “You stand accused of thirty-two counts of illegal trafficking of human beings across interplanetary borders, pursuant to Title Eight, Article Four, Section Twenty-Six of the criminal code, each count of which carries a maximum sentence of twenty-five years in prison. You stand accused of unlawful enslavement, again thirty-two counts, pursuant to Title Eight, Article Three, Section Eighteen, each of which carries a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison. You are also charged with kidnapping, thirty-two counts…”

“This is unbelievable,” Mal said inaudibly.

Harrow continued with a regular litany of charges. Besides trafficking, enslavement, and kidnapping, he was accused of violating terms of indenture and aiding and abetting breach of indentures. Indentures! he objected, mentally. The gall they had, pretending that they’d extended to those slaves even the minimal benefits provided by a contract of indenture. He realized that someone must have prepared all manner of false documentation, and that it had preceded him to Persephone. Meanwhile, Harrow was droning on, naming the violations of law Mal had supposedly committed, along with the penalties—prison terms, and now, as they moved on to lesser charges, fines.

“…each count of which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and maximum fine of 10,000 platinum. You stand accused of smuggling uncustomed goods across interplanetary borders—”

Mal snorted at the mention of smuggling. Not a gorram thing on 泥球 Ní Qiú worth smuggling. That was his professional assessment.

Harrow ignored his snort. “—pursuant to Title Eleven, Article Forty-Two, Section Eighty-Seven, maximum penalty, fine equal to assessed value of said goods plus additional fine not to exceed fifty percent penalty, and prison time not exceeding two years. You stand accused of tariff evasion, pursuant to Title Fourteen, Article Seventeen, Section Thirty-Four…”

这是一场噩梦 Zhè shì yī cháng èmèng.”

“…penalty of thirty days imprisonment and fine not to exceed five hundred percent of said tariff,” Harrow continued. “Also, you are charged with illegal possession of firearms…”

非法的枪支吗 Fēifǎ de qīangzhī ma? Guilty as charged, he thought, but kept a poker face.

“Do you understand the charges?” Harrow finished, and drew breath.

Mal tallied it up mentally. Near about two thousand years in prison and a fine of one million platinum. I understand, but I do not comprehend. Aloud he said, “Yes, sir.”

“You have the right to counsel,” Harrow proceeded, automatically. “In the event you are unable to afford it, the court will appoint counsel for you. Have you retained counsel?”

Mal was about to answer no when a voice from behind answered for him. “He has.”

He has?” Mal repeated.

The lawyer who had spoken handed him her business card. He read her name, and on the back, a handwritten scrawl, “Trust me” in Inara’s hand, with the characters 射线光 shèxiàn guǎng, 宁静 Níngjìng and 提取 的计划 tíqǔ de jìhuà.

“Ah, Melissa!” Harrow exclaimed. “I see Captain Reynolds is in good hands.” To the court recorder, he added, “Enter Ms Draper’s credentials in the record.” He then turned to the prosecutor.

“Your Honor,” Melissa Draper spoke up, “I humbly submit a motion that this arraignment be postponed.”

“Please state your grounds.”

“Given the quantity and nature of the charges, inadequate time has been allowed to verify either their accuracy or applicability.”

Harrow looked to the prosecutor for his reply.

“The arresting officers verified the presence of thirty-two persons besides crew on Captain Reynolds’ ship,” Prosecutor Ficker stated.

“And they further averred that these persons were enslaved by Captain Reynolds?” Harrow asked pointedly.

“No, your Honor, they stated that the—”

Harrow interrupted. “Could not these persons have been passengers?”

“There was no record of payment of passage—”

“There is ambiguity here. I uphold the motion of the defense,” Harrow pronounced. “I grant a stay of four days to allow defense and prosecution adequate time to verify the accuracy and applicability of the charges. This arraignment will reconvene on Tuesday.”

So far, his lawyer had won him four more days in jail, Mal thought, as the bailiff took him down to his cell. Still, he was somehow cheered by the sight of Harrow springing into action and laying into that weasel-faced prosecutor. Mal did not see him, but Ip Neumann left the courtroom’s observer gallery, and headed back to Inara’s shuttle.

* * *

“An army of researchers wouldn’t hurt.” Inara mulled over Melissa Draper’s words as she scrolled through the client registry, searching through Companion requests on Persephone, screening the requests and assessing which ones were most likely to be fruitful. An army of researchers….Which of these clients, and which of their requests, might allow Inara to bring the most influence to bear on Mal’s case? Could she deliver the equivalent of an army of researchers? She sorted the requests and investigated the backgrounds of some of the most likely candidates—house party at Judge Johannsen’s country estate with Sir Mervyn Tang; evening at the Savoy Theatricals Company and overnight with Elliott Douglass, the State’s Attorney; the Advocates’ Society Dinner Dance with Judge Advocate Momsen, as dance partner and beta tester. Beta tester? Whatever did that mean? As she considered the requests, she balanced Mal’s need for all the help he could get with how far she was willing to go to save him.

* * *

The next morning, Mal’s new lawyer met with him in a room at the prison. “Ms Draper,” Mal said, after the introductions were properly made, “that business card of yours is a high recommendation in and of itself. I don’t know as how I can even afford a lawyer at all, but I figure maybe you can—” he broke off and waved vaguely in the air. Pull money out of a hat? Find a magic pot of platinum? He really had no idea how he could pay.

“Your friends on Persephone are concerned that you be represented in the best possible light,” she answered.

“That’s very generous of them. Don’t know as how I deserve such generosity,” Mal said, wondering exactly which friends were footing the bill, as he couldn’t think of any as were friendly enough and had the money for it.

“Everyone deserves to have an advocate on his behalf in court. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Do you know if my crew is safe?” Mal asked. “Are they being charged as well?”

“Your crew is being held at this prison. None of them has been mistreated. Their jeopardy is entirely dependent on your case, Captain Reynolds. They are accused of aiding and abetting in the charges made against you. If we can get your case dismissed, the charges against your crew will likewise be dropped.” She opened her briefcase and picked up her stylus to take notes. “Now, it would help if you told me how it was that you knew the people who arrived at Persephone aboard your ship were being held as slaves on 泥球 Ní Qiú.”

Mal met her look full on. “I saw those people in shackles,” he began, his indignation rising as he recalled what he had seen. “I saw them being taken to the slave pen and locked in. I saw them being served their mush without even the opportunity to wash the mud from their hands and faces. I saw them being loaded off the shuttles from the terraforming work site. Everybody on 泥球 Ní Qiú openly acknowledged that they were slaves, sayin’ that it was just the way things were, that they couldn’t do nothin’ about it. Well I couldn’t not do nothin’ about it. And that’s why I—”

“—and that’s why you invited them aboard your ship,” Melissa Draper interjected, cutting him off. She suspected that the release of the slaves might have involved illegal acts, and she did not want to know.

“Yeah, that’s why I invited them aboard,” Mal finished, carefully.

* * *

Inara and Ip Neumann met with Melissa Draper at her office.

“I’m quite taken with your Captain Reynolds, Inara,” she said, smiling.

“He’s not my—” Inara began, reflexively.

“He stood there and took it while they threw the proverbial book at him. Thirty-two counts each of illegal trafficking of human beings and unlawful enslavement as their first line offensive, with back-up charges of kidnapping, should they fail to prove enslavement. And then a fall-back of aiding and abetting breach of indentures. The prosecution will have to submit indenture contracts, and investigating the validity of those documents will be our first research project.”

“How could they possibly come up with indenture contracts?” Ip asked.

“Someone on 泥球 Ní Qiú knew where the ship was headed and planned this reception for Captain Reynolds very carefully. The prosecution already has the indenture contracts in hand.”

“I saw those people in the slave pen when Captain Reynolds and I delivered the cargo to the agent,” Ip said. “They couldn’t possibly have valid indentures.”

“Then proving the documents to be invalid will be our first order of business.”

“We can help with the research,” Ip offered.

“That I like to hear—because researching the contractual status of thirty-two individuals is going to be a difficult task. The more we know about these people’s individual cases, the stronger our case becomes.”

Inara spoke up. “Captain Reynolds made a point of talking to each and every one of the people—he probably learned all their names, and a good deal more besides. Actually, it was amazing to see—they could have been left tired, filthy, miserable, and unsure of their future. He filled them with hope and confidence. They knew he cared.”

Ip agreed. “I honestly don’t know how he did it, since he was still recovering from his injury, and he was on short commons like the rest of us.”

“Shorter commons,” Inara inserted. “Did you see how he waited until every one else had their servings before eating? I know for a fact that one day he had nothing but half a mug of soup.”

“The testimonials are all very fine,” Melissa Draper said, “but it’s time to get down to business. You’re saying that the Captain himself would know the most information about the people?”

“Definitely,” Inara replied.

“Then I’ll ask him to provide all the details he can at the next interview.”

“What’s going to happen to those people?” Ip Neumann asked the lawyer.

“Well, they’re all being held at the Immigration Services detention facility. They’ll be given a limited time to make their case to stay on Persephone, and if they should fail in that, they’ll be deported to their place of origin.”

“But we don’t know where most of them were caught…oh, you mean they’ll be sent back to 泥球 Ní Qiú? But that just puts them back into slavery! That’s outrageous.”

“They have only two ways to avoid deportation to 泥球 Ní Qiú. If they can come up with Ident Cards or papers to prove who they are, they could return to their home worlds or apply for legal entry. If they can prove that a return to 泥球 Ní Qiú would result in their enslavement, they could make a case for asylum on Persephone.”

“None of them has an Ident Card,” Ip exclaimed, outraged. “Slaves don’t have Ident Cards. How can they possibly prove…?”

“Dr Neumann, now you know what I’m up against every day,” Melissa Draper replied.

* * *

glossary

泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]

尘球 Chén Qiú [name of a world]

耶稣 Yēsū [Jesus]

这是一场噩梦 Zhè shì yī cháng èmèng. [This is a nightmare.]”

非法的枪支吗 Fēifǎ de qīangzhī ma? [Illegal firearms?]

射线光 shèxiàn guǎng [ray of light],

宁静 Níngjìng [Serenity] and

提取 的计划 tíqǔ de jìhuà [extraction plan].

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COMMENTS

Thursday, August 11, 2011 5:45 AM

NUTLUCK


Very good chapter and getting really interesting, looking forward to the next part.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 6:58 AM

BYTEMITE


I've always liked stories exploring the seedy side of what is allowed to go on in the verse.

I can't think of any case studies where an abolitionist helping free slaves was caught and charged for it. I know the South had some laws about it, I imagine it must have happened.

In any case, what I think is the most interesting is the look at the loopholes, and the way evidence (manufactured and circumstantial) and the odds are stacking against Mal.

Friday, August 12, 2011 12:24 PM

PLATONIST


Love that Harrow pretended not to know Mal, I'm not sure if it’s a lucky break or a bad omen, as Harrow knows Mal is a smuggler, who’s worked for the likes of Badger, and himself.

Good to see Mal and Inara are still in denial about how much the need each other, what they really need is their heads knocked together. Inara’s description of Mal’s selflessness and good deeds is heartwarming.

Post more:)

Saturday, August 13, 2011 4:26 AM

AMDOBELL


I feel a mite relieved that Sir Warrick Harrow will be trying Mal's case but disturbed by how much the other side have arranged to make their lies stick. As for the notion of sending the poor people back to the planet they were enslaved on if Mal can't win his case that is terrible. I really hope Melissa and the others can pull more than a rabbit out of their collective hats! And what about the SAHT who were supposed to meet Mal when Serenity landed? Where in *diyu* did they disappear to or are they secretly in league with the very slavers they are supposed to oppose? Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011 5:31 PM

NUTLUCK


It's been like 3 days where's the next one? :)

Monday, August 15, 2011 4:15 PM

EBFIDDLER


Thank you very much for the comments.

Bytemite: This story had its origins in the following thought: What if, when Mal rescues the slaves, instead of getting a job-well-done pat on the back, what if he gets nailed for it? It struck me that the scenario was rather Jossian, so I constructed the stories to lead up to this outcome.

Platonist: Harrow recognized Mal immediately, but he has decided not to acknowledge that he knows him. I think

Ali D: The Society to Abolish Human Trafficking has not disappeared, but their activities are occurring off-screen, so. They are, in fact, footing the bill for Mal's defense. Melissa Draper is donating her time, and the SAHT is covering all costs. I didn't write this into the story, but, as the author, I know that this is what happened. ;-)

Nutluck: Working on getting the next part up. Back to regular internet access again!

Monday, August 15, 2011 5:00 PM

NUTLUCK


oh god it's been 4 days.... my hands are starting to shake, I need the next chapter....


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