In Transit (interlude)
-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
Things are starting to get back to normal now – or at least as normal as they can be considering all that has transpired in the past couple of weeks. There is cargo, there are paying passengers and we’re in transit to Alagon. Hopefully, there’ll be no problems on that airless rock tucked away in an unfashionable corner of the subsector. Perhaps the thousand residents there won’t be paying too much attention to the TAS News Service reports that have come out of Narmada in recent days.
Rand Tyler survived his encounter with the business end of Dimitri Petrovski’s shotgun, but only just, thanks to the TL 13 medical facilities on Narmada, and Duke Darius’ determination to have his trophy conviction. I don’t feel sorry for Tyler, of course, but the Duke didn’t give any plea bargains to him, forcing him to accept the full weight of the Moot Court’s scrutiny and the evidence compiled from Baron Alton Richards’ files. Petrovski’s testimony was the most damning, fully implicating Tyler in the planning of the assassination of Baron Alton, as well as the subsequent attempt on my own life.
Tyler made no attempt at a defense. He knew if he had tried, the court would have forced him to testify while connected to a verdicator. For that, I have some sympathy, even for him. It is a difficult thing, knowing that the device can unerringly tell if one believes he or she is trying to tell a lie. I had my turn with it when I gave my testimony.
It lays you bare, that device. You cannot wear the mask that you show to the rest of the universe while connected to it. Even the slightest hint of falsehood registers, leaving you terrified of saying anything that you haven’t thought out. Lawyers carefully craft out what questions they ask, making sure to keep their clients’ stories to a very narrow path, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to cross-examine any witness, accuser or defendant.
They say that if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear from the verdicator. But who is innocent, really? I tried to relax, but I sweated out every miserable second of the twenty-five minutes it took to tell the tale and answer the questions put to me by other members of the Narmada Subsector Moot. I was shaking so badly, the bailiff had to steady me on the walk back to the gallery. I looked up and met several pairs of sympathetic eyes around me. They knew how I felt for they had all been there, too.
In the end, Tyler offered up only an apology. How he’d accomplished cold-blooded murder was plain to see to all; the why remained unspoken, though it was certainly for the sort of money that only a megacorporation like SuSAG could offer. The Duke didn’t accept the apology, which meant none of the other members of the Moot could, either. The eighteen nobles present – excluding myself and the Duke – unanimously found Tyler guilty of High Treason, Conspiracy and a host of other related charges, with sentencing to be held the next day. Tyler got twenty years on Golgotha, with no option to be euthanized. Tyler didn’t weep as his sentence was passed, but he fainted as he was being taken away by a pair of Imperial Marines.
Petrovski’s testimony in Tyler’s trial made his own case go very quickly. He willingly submitted to answering all the questions put to him by the nobles. I only had one question for him – why did he go along with Tyler’s plan, knowing fully the risks it held? “The money,” he said, “the only thing that mattered to me at the time.” The Duke gave him five years at the Imperial Autonomy District Correctional Center.
I gave the crew three days off after the trials were over, though it was more for me than for them. On the upside, I finally had an uninterrupted tea with Baroness Selene. She made sure it was just me and her. She got me talking, even though I didn’t want to, and all of it tumbled out; a torrent of words that seemed to wash me clean as I spoke them. She knew I needed that, even when I didn’t.
That night, I finally sat down and talked out the events on Tarn with the rest of the crew. It took a few hours and more than a few drinks, but in the end we all agreed to stay together to keep the Dawn flying. The next morning, it was back to work.
The Duke got what he wanted; an example of what happens to those who conspire against the Moot. I got what I wanted as well – closure. After my tea with the Baroness, I visited Baron Alton’s grave and had a good cry. I had only known him a week, but I still consider him a good friend. When I’m on Narmada again for Marquis Toyama’s wedding later this year, I will take time to honor Alton’s memory.
As for the future, I plan to keep myself, the crew and my ship busy. There’s still a lot of the subsector I haven’t seen yet, and I plan on visiting every Imperial world here before moving on to the next.
Harper just paged me on the intercom that supper is nearly ready, so enough introspection for now. Our doctor-steward’s famous black bean and brown rice casserole is hardcore comfort food – especially with fresh ingredients from the hydroponic farms of Narmada’s arcologies…