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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The hearing reaches its conclusion, and Mal pays the penalty.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1750 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
THE TRIAL (06)
Follows BREAK OUT (05). Precedes SHADOW (07).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
The hearing reaches its conclusion, and Mal pays the penalty.
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* * *
On Tuesday morning, the arraignment hearing re-convened. It was not the perfunctory laundry list of charges that had occurred on the previous Friday, but was more like a wrestling match, with two contenders and multiple rounds. Each side had certain advantages and weaknesses, and they began each round eyeing and circling each other, looking for the right moment to shoot for a take-down. All of it was done in a collegial way, as if they were all members of the same club: they’d battle it out in the courtroom, then laugh about it over drinks afterwards.
“Melissa,” Harrow began, after informally greeting both lawyers, and formally acknowledging Mal, “it’s unusual to see you defending an accused slave trader. I’m wondering if you have anything to say.”
“Only that my client, Captain Reynolds, is not a slave trader. He is opposed to slavery in all its forms. He finds it very painful to be accused of practicing what he abhors. He would like to read a statement.”
Harrow indicated his assent, and Mal stood to read his prepared statement. “I was hired to transport a cargo of gravitational modifiers to 泥球 Ní Qiú. After delivering the cargo, I saw people shackled in leg irons. They were getting off the shuttles that take laborers to the terraforming site. Overseers herded them through the streets, and locked them in a pen. They were not allowed showers nor clean clothing, and their beds were nothin’ but bare shelves stacked upon one another. Their food was the most basic prison mush, despite being on a world capable of producing garden fresh vegetables. The townspeople of 泥球 Ní Qiú openly acknowledged that these people were being kept as slaves, that they were made to labor at the most difficult and dangerous terraforming jobs. Later on, when I had a chance to talk with these forced laborers, I asked them three very specific questions. I asked them if they were being held against their will. I asked if they were being made to work without pay. And I asked them if they had been enslaved. The people who decided to fly with me all answered those three questions in the affirmative, and they came along with me of their own free will.” Melissa Draper had stressed this point. It turned out that the questions he’d asked during the slave breakout were key. Because he’d asked—and they had volunteered—there was no question of coercion. And although there was only his word on it, it could be corroborated by the statements of the people themselves. He knew the lawyer had been trying to get access to the ex-slaves, with success or not he did not know. “At no time did I hold them against their will, and while they were aboard my vessel, I considered them my guests, and offered ’em the best I had, which truth to tell ain’t much. When we landed at Eavesdown Docks, I was biddin’ them farewell when the officers arrived to take us all into custody.” He looked up from his prepared text and looked Harrow in the eye. “Slave trafficking is a felony, and it is my firm belief that those who put these people into bondage should be held accountable to the law, and it is also my adamant assertion that that ain’t me.”
Harrow gave no sign that he was sympathetic or otherwise. Prosecutor Ficker’s sarcastic aside to his assistant was, “So he’s not a slaver, he’s a philanthropist.”
Harrow talked right over Ficker’s remarks. “What did you offer your ‘guests,’ Captain Reynolds?” Mal could hear the quotation marks around the word, dripping with skepticism.
“I offered them free passage, food and water. ’S the only thing I got to offer.”
Ficker couldn’t contain himself, and asked out loud, “Are you a philanthropist, then, Mr Reynolds?”
“A what?” Mal was unfamiliar with the term.
“A philanthropist,” Harrow defined, “is a person concerned with advancing human welfare, who donates money, property, or work to needy persons.”
“Usually a wealthy person,” Ficker inserted.
That explained it, Mal thought. He just never met up with a person like that. No wonder he hadn’t recognized the word. He didn’t figure he was a philanthropist. More like to need one himself.
“Sir,” Mal stated, “it’s my observation that it’s the poor folk who are more willing to share what little they got with those even less fortunate than what they are themselves.”
Harrow eyed the notoriously tight-fisted Mr Ficker with opprobrium, and had the grace to look somewhat abashed himself.
Round one, thought Melissa Draper.
Prosecutor Ficker was in fine flow. He fully enjoyed reiterating the charges, elaborating with the kind of detail that made the scenario all the more convincing. “…and that Malcolm Reynolds did lure thirty-two indentured workers into breaking their contracts of indenture with New Worlds Terraforming Corporation, by promising them freedom from their contractual obligations. He lured them aboard his ship and transported them to Persephone, where he intended to sell them into slavery through black market channels. During transport he kept them on short rations and limited water, and forced them to sleep in abandoned cargo crates instead of proper bedding.”
“Regarding the charges of aiding and abetting breach of indentures,” Melissa Draper responded, “the charge presupposes that the persons aboard Captain Reynolds’s vessel were, in fact, under contract of indenture.”
“The indenture papers were forwarded from 泥球 Ní Qiú. The names and identities match the thirty-two persons aboard the vessel,” Ficker replied. “The Immigration Authority checked retinal scans on all the detainees to verify that they were really who they claimed they were.” He smirked a bit as he added, “They all gave false names, in a blatant attempt to avoid the consequences of breaching their contracts. I have no doubt that Malcolm Reynolds coached them to give false information.”
Dr Neumann’s research team was worth its weight in platinum, Melissa Draper thought to herself. She suspected that the strange girl who had accompanied them to the jail entrance was part of the team, but she knew Neumann also had an off-world contact who must have been highly placed in government, because of the kind of information the team had retrieved. Careful to avoid expressing her glee, she outlined the facts to the court. “Our researcher has found evidence that the indenture papers were fabricated. The retinal scans on the indenture contracts match those of the persons aboard the vessel, but the names given on the contracts are incorrect. The names on the contracts are all of people who previously signed indenture contracts with New Worlds Corporation and are now are deceased. Our research team has been able to form a positive association for twenty-one of the names with different retinal scans—revealing the true owners of the names to be quite different people from the ones being detained. We have obtained death certificates for eighteen of the true owners of the names.” She submitted a file to the court. “Their identities were stolen in order to fabricate false indenture papers for the detainees.”
Ficker looked like he’d just sucked on a lemon and tried to swallow it whole. He turned and glared at his assistant, clearly giving an order for the assistant to come up with evidence to refute the claim that the indentures were falsified. The assistant was busy searching the prosecutor’s files, but her look became more and more harried. Obviously, refuting evidence was not so easy to come by.
“In addition,” Melissa Draper continued, “our research team has found evidence that several of these individuals were illegally abducted from their homes.” Ip Neumann had uncovered a news story from Paquin about a series of disappearances several years before. The newswave mentioned four of the 泥球 Ní Qiú detainees by name, and included an interview with the local sheriff, who stated that local law enforcement suspected that the abductions were carried out by a criminal gang with interplanetary ties. Neumann had also given her a copy of the missing persons reports from Paquin, in which police had stated that they were looking for a Gadfly-06 spaceship which several witnesses had said they’d seen lifting off shortly after the people had gone missing. Draper gave a brief summary of the evidence and presented the file to Harrow as well.
Mal didn’t know how his lawyer had come up with the hard evidence so quickly, but he was glad that the tell-all session with the surveillance glasses had borne fruit. He supposed he had River to thank for it.
Melissa Draper had more to say. Ip Neumann hadn’t told her exactly how he had acquired such a report, but he must have contacted a Parliamentary insider—perhaps a staffer to a Member who sat on the investigating committee. “A recent Parliamentary investigation of police corruption in Silverhold Colonies revealed that a human trafficking ring was operating there with the connivance of local law enforcement. Although most of the evidence uncovered there had to do with the removal and trafficking of human organs—” Mal and most of the others in the courtroom were unable to suppress a shudder of revulsion upon hearing these words. Mal immediately thought of Tracey and wondered if Womack (a bad cop if he ever met one, and a right cold-blooded 王八蛋 wángbādàn) had finally met with the justice he deserved.
“—it seems that some individuals were also captured and sold into forced labor or prostitution,” Draper continued. “The investigation lists the names of two persons who are among the 泥球 Ní Qiú detainees.” She presented another file to Harrow. “Our research team, and that of the Society to Abolish Human Trafficking, are currently investigating missing persons reports on several other worlds, and we are waiting for a reply from Whitefall law enforcement regarding an abduction that occurred there six years ago involving two of the detainees.”
Good luck gettin’ that, Mal thought. These days Patience controlled more than half that damned moon, and like as not she’d refuse to cooperate with any investigation. She was a suspicious old 蝙蝠 biānfú, and wouldn’t welcome anyone as came askin’ about such things occurring on her turf. Local lawman owed her everything from his livelihood to his life, and would just sit on the request unless Patience told him to jump. If anyone told her the request for info had aught to do with him and gettin’ his sorry ass outta jail, she’d never cooperate. She’d rather let him rot in jail. Just like, if he ever showed his face on Whitefall, she’d like as not shoot him. Again.
Harrow had put on his reading glasses and was deep into the stack of death certificates in the file Melissa Draper had submitted. He read and compared the data with the indentures submitted by Prosecutor Ficker. Meanwhile, Ficker and his assistant carried on a back-and-forth discussion under their breaths, and at last the assistant handed Ficker a piece of electronic paper, which he accepted with a disgruntled look. Harrow finished his examination of Draper’s files, removed and folded his glasses, and spoke to Ficker. “If the indentures were falsified, this puts quite a hole in your contention that Captain Reynolds lured indentured servants into breaking their contracts with the terraforming company by promising them ‘freedom’.”
“And yet these contracts were supplied us by New Worlds Terraforming Corporation, 泥球 Ní Qiú branch,” Ficker responded. He held up the paper his assistant had handed him. “I have a letter from the corporate lawyer that attests to the fact that these are the indenture contracts these people signed with New Worlds Corporation.” Ficker handed the sheet to Harrow, but it was clear to Melissa Draper that his assertion was mostly bluster. Harrow read the corporate lawyer’s letter.
“She does not ‘attest to the fact,’ Mr Ficker,” Harrow stated. “She simply asserts that these are the indenture documents. This is merely a cover letter, not a sworn statement. Have you a sworn statement from the corporate lawyer or from other responsible parties within the corporation?”
“No, your Honor,” Ficker allowed.
Harrow turned his attention back to Draper and indicated that she had the floor.
“Captain Reynolds has already explained his views on slavery in general to this court. In this case specifically, all who boarded his vessel did so voluntarily.” Melissa Draper now revealed her next ace. “I have taken an affidavit from the thirty-two detainees now held at Immigration to that effect.” She knew she had Inara to thank for the access. Her petition to interview the detainees, at first bogged down in the usual bureaucracy, had suddenly borne fruit when the Chief Inspector of Immigration himself had waved her to inform her that she would be granted one fifteen-minute meeting with all the detainees. She had gone to that meeting fully prepared, and came out of it with the sworn affidavit.
“Two weeks ago,” Draper continued, “shortly before leaving 泥球 Ní Qiú, Captain Reynolds waved the Society to Abolish Human Trafficking on Persephone. His ship’s communication log verifies this. He waved again en route. That is hardly the move of a slave trader. Mr Houghton of the SAHT confirms that Captain Reynolds waved him and has prepared a sworn statement as to the nature of the discussion, namely, that Captain Reynolds was concerned about the welfare of these persons after leaving his vessel, and asked specifically about what the SAHT would do to provide these persons with food, shelter, and opportunities to make a living. These are hardly the kind of inquiries a slave trader makes about cargo he is intending to sell.”
Ficker was ready with his response. “Yet we have evidence that Malcolm Reynolds contacted a known underworld operator, Mark Fleecer—”
Badger, Mal thought, recognizing the name.
“—with a proposal to sell the slaves on the black market here on Persephone.”
Mal leaned over and conferred with his lawyer in a whisper.
“Your Honor,” she addressed Harrow, “Captain Reynolds has heard of Mr Fleecer. He is a crime boss who operates in the Eavesdown Docks area. He is known under the moniker of ‘Badger’ and Captain Reynolds has heard him spoken of as ‘a psychotic lowlife.’ Does the testimony of a ‘psychotic lowlife’ then carry as much weight as the sworn statement of Mr Houghton of the SAHT?”
His principal charge against Reynolds was skewered, but Ficker was still trying to substantiate it with circumstantial evidence. “Other corroborating evidence is that Reynolds carried no cargo on his ship other than the slaves.”
“Persons. Not slaves,” Draper corrected.
“No cargo other than the persons he intended to sell into slavery,” Ficker responded.
It was Mal who replied. “That is not so. My cargo manifest lists the cargo I was carrying.”
“‘Thirty-six cargo crates—empty’,” Ficker quoted. “What kind of cargo is that? Who shuttles empty containers around the ’Verse?” he asked rhetorically.
The question may have been rhetorical, but Mal’s answer was practical. “Fetch a good price at the salvage yard. Covers the cost of the journey. There’s no other cargo to be had at 泥球 Ní Qiú, and I plan to get a good cargo here in Persephone. Are you tryin’ to tell me how to be a ship’s captain? That’s my job.” He reined in his anger at being told by a lawyer how to run his ship, then added, “’Sides, I believe in recycling.”
Ficker continued as if Mal had not spoken. “Since no reasonable cargo was listed, it stands to reason his real cargo was either the slaves or a smuggled cargo.”
“Was there evidence of smuggled cargo aboard Captain Reynolds’s ship?” Harrow inquired.
“No cargo was evident aboard the ship,” Ficker replied confidently. “But the shuttle belonging to his ship separated before the ship’s arrival at Eavesdown Docks and landed separately. He easily could have arranged for the shuttle pilot to drop the smuggled goods.”
Draper took up the thread. “That shuttle is rented by a Registered Companion, Inara Serra. She has been doing business here on Persephone since her arrival on the date you mentioned. I am certain that she can provide a record of her whereabouts since landing, if requested, but I don’t believe that will be necessary. Her presence has been noted in the society column of the planetary newswaves in the last few days. She has appeared in company with Colonel Cyrus Momsen at the Advocates Society Dinner and with Judge Harrington at the Judicial Follies. She also dined with Chief Immigration Inspector Lee on Sunday at the Ritz.”
“I saw her at the Follies,” Harrow mused, referring to the long-standing tradition of the bench in which the normally staid members of the court let their hair down and sang opera for each other’s amusement. “She played a lovely Mimi to Judge Harrington’s Rodolfo.”
Both the lawyers and Harrow were focused on their own interaction. None of them noticed the stricken look on Mal’s face as he heard that Inara was seeing clients on Persephone.
“Surely you’re not suggesting that a Registered Companion is acting as a smuggler’s agent?” Harrow asked Ficker.
“Perhaps not,” Ficker replied. “But given Malcolm Reynolds’s record as a smuggler—”
Harrow interrupted. “Please explain your meaning.”
“Reynolds has been bound by law five times, for smuggling, tariff evasion, and transportation of illegal cargo.”
“I fail to see any relevance to this case,” Harrow stated sharply.
“He has smuggled before and he would do it again,” Ficker replied.
“Do I need to instruct you, Mr Prosecutor, of all people, in the difference between being bound by law, and a conviction? Captain Reynolds has been accused of smuggling. It is an occupational hazard for a captain of a transport vessel, just as being accused of medical malpractice is something that happens only to physicians. In the absence of any conviction, we presume innocence. Since you have not come up with any evidence of what was supposed to have been smuggled or how, I rule that the smuggling charges are hereby dropped.”
Round three. Melissa Draper smiled.
He never would have thought it possible, the original list of charges was so long. But with so many of the charges shot down, Mr Ficker felt the need to reach into his back pocket and lay out a few that he had held in reserve. They were petty charges, true, but he had to lay something on Reynolds. He was sure the man deserved jail time. If only he had enough time to gather his resources and look thoroughly into the man’s background, he was certain he could convict Reynolds of something that would keep him locked away for a good long while. He needed to fix him with a charge that Harrow would not throw out, something that would keep him locked up while Ficker investigated further into the man’s past. So he made a motion to add a further charge “that Captain Reynolds operated an unlicensed interplanetary passenger shuttle, and furthermore the facilities he provided were not up to code for passenger services.”
“Does the prosecution have records of the passengers’ fares being paid?” Harrow asked.
“No, your Honor—”
“No fares were paid,” Draper stated, “because these people were not passengers. Captain Reynolds fed and lodged them at his own expense. They were his guests.”
“There is no law stating that ship captains may not entertain guests aboard their own vessels,” Harrow agreed. “Guests take their chances as to what entertainment or facilities their host may provide. I’ve experienced that myself at house parties here on Persephone, at your Aunt Mildred’s, for example, Mr Ficker,” he added wryly.
“…posession of an unregistered firearm.” It was Ficker’s last stand.
Harrow took over the questioning. “This weapon was removed from your person when you were bound by law, is that so, Captain Reynolds?”
“Yes, sir,” Mal affirmed.
“Does this weapon belong to you?”
“How and when did you acquire this weapon?”
“I purchased it at a gun shop, here on Persephone, about eight or ten weeks ago. To replace a firearm that was lost.” The one that fell into Mr Universe’s generator on Ferdinand Moon when he was struggling for his life with the Operative.
“Did you register this firearm?”
“Uh, no, sir,” Mal replied. “It was an oversight. I was attending to many things at the time—refitting the ship and renewing ship’s registration papers and my pilot’s license. I musta lost sight of it.”
“Your penalty for this infraction is to pay a fine in the amount of the registration fee, and to fill out registration paperwork for this firearm, which is to be duly filed in the appropriate office without delay. Late registration is not a criminal offense, and does not go on your record. You may reclaim this firearm at the entrance checkpoint to the court. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Mal replied, hardly able to believe his good fortune. His only penalty for this whole escapade was to register his damned gun?
“The remaining charges are dropped. This case is dismissed,” Harrow pronounced, rapping his gavel on the bench.
Round five and match.
* * *
泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]
王八蛋 wángbādàn [son of a bitch]
蝙蝠 biānfú [bat]
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