Prologue #2

"In your expert opinion, Commander Jensen, what was the defendant's intention in transporting those poor, helpless creatures?" The prosecutor stroked his carefully trimmed beard and regarded the Fleet Officer intently. If you happened to look into his eye at that moment, you would have seen a peculiar glint that betrayed the eagerness that his body contradicted.

Commander Jensen, on the other hand, let his expression show freely. He was a hunter, and the thrill of the chase and kill showed clearly on his face. His prey normally fled him through the vacuum of outer space, ducking through interstellar gasses and hiding in the magnetic fields of celestial bodies. In this case, the prey was sitting in the defendant's chair looking distinctly unsettled. Jensen clearly found this to be as exhilarating as calculating a missile lock on a fleeing pirate.

"In my expert opinion," Jensen replied, savoring the taste of the word. "Mr. Takenoshita's intent was to take those poor, helpless creatures to be sold as slaves. Given the history of smuggling and illegal trading Takenoshita is known to have engaged in the past, and the condition of the creatures themselves, I have no doubt of his intent."

"Point of order, Your Honor," shrilled a high, synthesized voice. Defender Jee quivered in his container of amniotic fluids, tentacles rippling energetically. "Neither the Commander nor the Prosecution can deliver proof of illegal activities in my client's past. The alleged smuggling and illegal trading the Commander refers to is, in fact, purely hearsay and not admissible in this court."

"Point acknowledged," responded the AI Judge, its faceless console twinkling with lights as it processed information. "Does the Prosecution wish to dispute?"

Prosecutor Gan deigned to favor his counterpart with a sharp glance before directing his full attention to the judicial bench. "The prosecution points out to Your Honor that Commander Jensen is acknowledged as an expert witness. The Fleet's criminal data files are on record with a profile of Mr. Takenoshita in regard to the alleged activities. The Fleet was prepared to arrest Mr. Takenoshita upon encountering him. The fact that no previous charges were laid against the defendant doesn't mean the Fleet wasn't already prepared to do so. Commander Jensen's testimony reflects the careful research and investigation into the defendant's activities."

"Hold for processing," the AI declared. In an eyeblink, it rendered its judgement. "The witness' statements are valid for these proceedings. You may continue."

The defendant, Hideo Takenoshita, slumped in his chair wishing he had the energy to shout his frustration and dismay. But even if he could have, the bailiff standing nearby would have cut his protests short with a stun charge. Instead, he moaned and slumped further down his chair, wishing desperately that he could sink through the floor to the core of the planet. It would have been a much quicker and easier death than what he anticipated.

The Judge's next statement caught his attention, and he lifted his head wearily to observe.

"Does the Defense wish to cross-examine the witness?"

There was a pause as Jee manipulated the controls within his tube. "No, Your Honor. The Defense has no questions for this witness."

Hideo moaned a little louder and slumped back down. The jellyfish didn't even try to discredit Jensen! What the hell did that ugly blob of protoplasm think he was doing? Hideo briefly toyed with the idea of firing his defender and trying to defend himself. The Judge was going to rule against him for sure. He just could not get a break.

Gan gazed on Hideo's defeated form, the glint still in his eye. Hideo could see it from his vantage. "The Prosecution rests, Your Honor."

There was another pause as the AI processed and stored information. Then it spoke to Jee. "The Defense may call its first witness."

"Your Honor," Jee trilled. "The Defense calls the Defendant, Hideo Takenoshita, to the stand."

"Hideo Takenoshita," the Judge intoned. "You are summoned to the witness stand."

Hideo's eyes shot open and he turned to stare at the Orion. "Are you nuts?" he demanded in a loud hiss. "You said you didn't want me to testify! That guy will fry me with a mining laser and serve me with fruit in my mouth!"

Jee gave the Orion equivalent of a shrug and gestured toward the witness stand. "It would seem that circumstances require otherwise. Please, Mr. Takenoshita. Take the stand. I promise that justice will be served."

He did not find that particularly comforting. However, there was no avoiding the inevitable so he pulled himself to his feet and walked slowly to the witness stand. The hair rose on the back of his neck with the sensation of all eyes on him, boring holes in his skin. Gingerly, reluctantly, he took his seat on the witness stand.

The Bailiff stepped forward and addressed him curtly. "Hideo Takenoshita, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

Hideo nodded sharply, not trusting his voice.

"The Defendant will give his reply in an audible manner," the Judge declared.

"I do," Hideo squeaked. He cleared his throat and asked for a glass of water. The Bailiff fetched him one with quick, efficient motion. He drained most of it in a single gulp, then gestured for more. A single bright light shone down from above, glaring in his eyes and making him more uncomfortable than before.

"Hideo Takenoshita," Defender Jee began. "The Federation Navy believes you to be a smuggler and accuse you of trafficking in slaves. The Navy has, in fact, compiled a profile regarding you that they claim substantiate their claims. This profile paints you as a smuggler if illegal narcotics and claim that you've engaged in random acts of piracy over non-Federation worlds. Furthermore, the Navy accuses you of the death of Captain Sarah Kitain, formerly of the 3rd Fleet. These are very impressive, and very dangerous charges laid upon you. Can you explain to the Court why the Navy believes this?"

Hideo cleared his throat once more and sipped at his water. "'s very complicated. It's a long story that goes back at least three years. I don't know if you'd want to hear it."

Jee paused only to press a button on his console before addressing the bench. "Your Honor, I invoke Article Seventeen, Paragraph Five of the Two Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Judicial Review of Galactic Year 21977."

Silence fell over the room as the implication of this statement settled in. Gan was furiously typing away at his console, clearly caught off-guard. Then his eyes widened and he stood. "Your Honor, I object. That Article of Judicial Review has been ignored for the past three hundred years. It could delay this trial indefinitely, and cause an impediment in due process. The Defense is attempting to turn this court into a circus ring of tricks and loopholes rather than present evidence he obviously does not have to prove his client's innocence."

The Judge's pause was even longer. Eventually, the AI beeped and rendered its verdict. "The objection is overruled. Article Seventeen, Paragraph Five of the Two Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Judicial Review of Galactic Year 21977 is a legal maneuver and is within the Defendant's rights. However, I remind the Defendant that Paragraph Six of Article Seventeen of the aforementioned review grants this court the right to cut short his testimony if, after a reasonable period of time, the Defendant has not come to the point in clarifying his defense. This court retains the right to exercise its own judgment in measuring what is a 'reasonable period of time.' Is that understood?"

Gan sat down and nodded serenely. "Yes, Your Honor."

Jee gestured with a tentacle. "Understood, Your Honor."

Hideo stared helplessly at the computer Judge. "Um...what are we talking about?"

The AI beeped and flashed the lights on its console, almost as if in irritation. "Article Seventeen, Paragraph Five of the Two Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Judicial Review of Galactic Year 21977 states that the Defendant may state his case in his own words without interruption by counsel, except by the Defendant's invitation. The Defendant is not restricted to a set period of time, except by the discretion of the court. You may state your case freely, so long as you stick to the topic of your defense. In some of the first invocations of this Article, defendants were able to speak for several days. Later courts were less inclined to give such leeway and restricted defendants to a matter of hours. In this case, I will not assign a time limit unless I determine that you are attempting to confuse the issue or otherwise prolong these proceedings. I may interrupt for clarification or warn you that I am about to impose a restriction upon you, but that is the extent of it. Do you understand your rights?"

Hideo nodded again, then said, "Um, yes. Your Honor. I understand."

He leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "Gods, where to begin? I suppose it was a little over three years ago when I was attempting to make a living as a Galactic Trader."