The Judgement of the Victors
Disclaimer: I did not create Star Wars. I don't even wish I'd created Star Wars, because it wouldn't be as good as it is. That said, I don't mind playing in the Star Wars universe. I hope the powers that be at Lucasfilm feel the same way. I don't have anything worth suing for.
I wrote this a while ago, and figured I might as well post it...I may continue it someday, if the mood ever strikes and if I ever finish TIE Fighter.
There was a time to stay and a time to go, he thought, and now was a time to go.
Governor Asran Hijel was ashamed to admit it. When he had been in the army, he would have preferred to die before evacuating. But the commanders assured him that there were only two choices: flee, and possibly rejoin the Imperial forces nearer to the core worlds, or fight and die. Or worse, be captured. The shame would be too much to face.
As if she'd read his mind, Minister of Propaganda Ceris val Tessan came through the door. "I've dumped most of the files. We have to get to the spaceport, now. The city's in shambles, riots in the streets. The Rebels almost have the system bottled up. Getting through now will be shaky. If we wait, we won't make it at all."
It was a sign, he thought. Ceris was nothing if not attuned to the mood of the masses. Never before had he seen her so ready to run. Always before she had spun some tale to the crowds that had satisfied them. She had a knack for that. That was why, even among the chauvinism of the Empire, her talents were too valuable to waste. "What about the rest of the council?"
"They're on their way out," she said. "It's just us left, and Minister Thalquen." Bern Thalquen was the Minsiter of Technology, responsible for running Keverdor's numerous factories. A cool, calculating man, Thalquen kept the manufacturing corporations in line, and kept the workers under control as well. It was a job that required a delicate balancing act, and Thalquen handled his duty magnificently.
"Then we'd best be going," Hijel said briskly, trying not to let the nervousness and the faint trace of regret. Keverdor was not an unpleasant place to live. For the Imperials, it was very easy to enjoy life among the world's elite classes. He picked up the small bag from his desk. "I'm ready whenever-"
The door burst open, and Thalquen came racing in. "The Rebels have taken the spaceport!" he announced breathlessly. "They've entered the city, and the troop commander reports they're heading for the palace!"
"There's a shuttle waiting on the roof," Ceris interrupted, voice like ice. "We have to go, now."
Neither of the men argued. They were in the hall now, running for the lift, when the sound of an explosion on the floor below brought them up short. The sound of boots on the stone floors and shouting echoing in the great hall reached them. "They can't have escaped! Search the palace!"
Ceris swore quietly under her breath, Thalquen twisted his normally calm hands, and Hijel froze where he stood. The footsteps on the stairs were getting closer, more insistent. The Governor started to turn and run, and the others moved to follow him, when a blaster bolt splattered above their heads, sparks raining from the stone ceiling. "Freeze!" They exchanged uneasy glances, then slowly raised their hands above their heads.
"All right," Hijel said quietly to the young rebel soldier who had a blaster rifle trained on them. "We surrender."
Kirran Myiaris shifted restlessly in his seat on the shuttle. Keverdor was not really that far from Couruscant, but when you spent that trip in the cramped passenger area of a Lambda-class shuttle, the legs were only the first thing to start aching. He wished, not for the first time, that the New Republic could have sent a larger ship. Then again this was only a routine mission. As one of the few justices who worked directly for the new government, he often found himself running off to distant worlds. In this case, it was fairly straightforward. Three high-ranking Imperial officials had been captured in the takeover of the world, and they were to stand trial and be sentenced by a war crimes tribunal. Kirran would be the New Republic's outside representative on the tribunal, while Keverdorian judges would fill the other two spots. They were, according to his advance information, appointed by the provisional government the Keverdorian revolutionaries had set up.
He sighed, wearily rubbing his eyes. If this went like the other war crimes trials he'd officiated at, it would be a brief affair, with a token defense, and the Imperials would be sentenced to life on a penal colony world, or, if their crimes were severe enough, death. They didn't often execute anyone of lower rank than a Moff, and even that was unusual. Still, conditions in the factories on these worlds were unpleasant, or so he'd been told. That might be enough to justify execution for-he checked his datapad for the name.-Hijel, that was it, the governor, or Thalquen, the minister of technology. The woman, val Tessan, was an odd case for an Imperial, but from the little he'd read of her propaganda, it was enough to send her away to a penal world for the rest of her life at the least. And if people had died as a direct result of her words. . . .
It was a sad business, he thought, sad but necessary. "I'm getting too old for this," he murmured.
"Sir?" The Sullustan lieutenant who was flying the shuttle said, sounding puzzled.
Kirran started a little. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud. "Nothing, Lieutenant. Just thinking aloud. What's our ETA for Keverdor?"
"We'll be coming out of hyperspace in just a few minutes, Justice," the Sullustan told him. "From what I hear, it's impressive for a Rim world. The capital city's quite a sight to see from orbit, I'm told."
Kirran nodded. The information he'd been given said that Keverdor was largely a manufacturing world. The cities were gigantic megaopolises that covered thousands of square kilometers of the completely terrestrial world. They drew their water from vast underground reservoirs that were reputed to also contain some of the most impressive cave systems in the galaxy. The cities were surrounded by millions of kilometers of farmland that provided food and, for those rich enough, recreation. Supposedly the web of cities created a diamond-like pattern that, when viewed from orbit, made the world glitter like a diadem.
He'd see soon enough. "Coming out of hyperspace in five...four..." The pilot gently drew the levers on the control console towards them, and the mottled blue-white of hyperspace became starlines became the starfield of normal space. The world came up quickly in the viewscreen, and he drew in a breath. He wasn't often impressed, he'd seen so many worlds, but Keverdor's near-geometric network of lights shone from the planet's dark side almost like a star.
"Republic Shuttle, this is Narec City Control," said a voice on the com. The accented Basic had a faint lilt, with the last sounds clipped lightly. "You are cleared for landing on platform 45-C. Follow the homing beacon in. An escort is waiting for you."
"City Control, this is Republic Shuttle ST-432. Instructions acknowledged," the Sullustan pilot said. "We have your signal and are following it in."
Kirran said, "I wonder what escort they have waiting. I hope I have time to rest. The last time I went on one of these missions, they sent me straight to the Justice Center. That was the fastest trial I'd ever seen. On that planet, I think they were disappointed that we didn't have every single Imp they'd caught executed." The lieutenant nodded, murmuring something in his native tongue that Kirran didn't understand, but it sounded uncertain. "I sometimes wonder if they were right," he added softly.
"Justice Myiaris, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to Keverdor." The man waiting at the landing platform was tall, aristocratic, and looked nothing like a rebellious freedom fighter. But if reports were to be believed, Jehial Feram had, until very recently, been one of the leaders of the political end of the internal revolt that had liberated Keverdor. Now he had been appointed the provisional Council President, and had in turn been responsible for appointing the Keverdorian judges to the tribunal. "We are honored and pleased that such a distinguished representative of the New Republic will be assisting us in the trial of our former oppressors."
"Thank you, President Feram," Kirran said. "I'm very pleased to be here. I hope that we can bring this trial to a quick and satisfactory close."
"So do I," Feram said, beginning to walk towards a waiting airspeeder. "We were exceedingly lucky to have captured the Governor and two of the worst of his toadies."
"Yes, a Propaganda Minister and the Technology Minister," Kirran said. "Tell me, why is the technology so important?" He knew, somewhat, from the information he'd been given, but it was always good to hear from the people involved.
"Keverdor manufactures many things, Justice," Feram said, standing aside to allow Kirran into the airspeeder first. "Hyperdrive components, repulsor coils, 'fresher systems. We're a factory world." The speeder lifted off and headed away from the spaceport. "Look down there, for example."
Kirran looked out the window to his right. The complex of gray duracrete buildings several klicks away was alive with activity, airspeeders and cargo freighters lifting off and landing, lights shining from the clear, arched ceilings. Their own speeder turned to fly over, and looking down Kirran could see that the interior was a group of assembly lines, some monitored by droids, others by humans. This particular factory seemed to be working on airspeeder chasses, bolting the frames together and heat-sealing the joints. "It seems to be a very prosperous operation."
"And there are dozens more like it," Feram said proudly. Then his voice took on a slightly raw note. "And when Bern Thalquen was Minister of Technology, they were hellholes, deathtraps. Do you know how many died under those working conditions? They worked fifteen-hour shifts with a single break. The wages never improved, either." He lapsed into silence, his eyes focused on some point on the horizon.
Kirran did not reply for a minute. He had heard about conditions like this on many worlds the Empire had once held. It was an old story. "What about the plant managers? Imp sympathizers?"
"Most," Feram said scornfully. "We took care of them, though. The trials will just be dealing with the Imperials we captured."
That, too, was surprisingly common. Strangely, most natives seemed to take out their frustrations on their own people who had conspired with the Imperials rather than the Imperials themselves. He supposed that there was some deep psychological reason-perhaps it stung more to think of their own people betraying them. He knew it wouldn't matter when it came time to sentence the captured Imperials.
"We're coming up on the Justice Hall," Feram said, pointing ahead and to their right. "The tall building with the single spire."
"Gray stone?" Feram nodded, and Kirran drew in a long breath. The sight was impressive, to say the least. The Justice Hall was a massive construction, seemingly hewn of solid gray rock. There were jagged, spiraling turrets jutting from the end that appeared to be the entrance. The light of the world's sun was playing through arched blue, green and gold crystal windows. "Beautiful," Kirran breathed. "That's where the trial will be?"
Feram laughed. "In the Great Hall itself. Wait until you see the inside." That wouldn't be long. The airspeeder was descending, on approach to the Justice Hall's main entrance. The speeder settled on its repulsors at the foot of a short flight of steps. The pilot opened the hatch and Feram got out, beckoning for Kirran to follow. He did, then tilted his head back and stared up at the immense, awesome facade.
"Incredible," he breathed. "That's a magnificent building. It will be an honor to preside here."
"Come along," Feram said, practically beaming. "You should meet your colleagues."
If it were possible, the interior was even more amazing than the exterior. The huge metal doors at the top of the short steps seemed open of their own accord as the two men approached. The narthex of the Hall was a small square chamber, unadorned by any decoration, with a dark gray marble floor and lighter gray stone walls that arched above them to disapear into the darkness somewhere above them. "This way," Feram said, leading him through another set of doors. Kirran was prepared for the Hall itself to be spectacular, but the sight took his breath away.
The interior of the Justice Hall was laid out in the pattern of an elongated cross. The center aisle seemed to stretch out infinitely far ahead of them, leading to a raised dais at the far end where a high desk was set up, with three throne-like chairs. Behind the chairs an ornate wooden screen carved into swirling, surreal images that were far too detailed to examine from this distance. There were seats to either side of the bench, facing across the aisle. One set of these seats were fenced off by a low railing. The prisoner's dock, obviously. Through the screen, he could see an ornate mural of crystals and gems imbedded in the wall, depicting scenes from Keverdor's history. A chapel of some sort, he presumed, or simply a reflection room where a person could gather his or her thoughts. Reaching off to either side at the junction of the "cross's" arms were long halls, each with the same arched ceilings and high windows as the main chamber. At the far end were more murals, and to either side of each were doors. Feram, noticing his gaze, said, "The one to the right leads to the Records Library. To the left, the doors lead below to the prisoner's chambers."
"They're being housed here?" Kirran asked, surprised.
"This is where their government imprisoned our people," Feram said coldly. "I like to think of it as poetic justice." For an instant, the darkness settled over his face again. Kirran didn't know why, but it expression reminded him that Feram had been a guerilla fighter, and he felt a chill steal over him.
A noise at the front from behind the screen attracted their attention. "Ah," Feram said, as two beings came into view, "your fellow justices."
Kirran studied his colleagues with more than a little curiosity. Both had the same dusky skin tone as Feram, with the same dark eyes and rich brown hair. One, a man, was heavier than the provisional president, but taller, with immense hands and a jutting, powerful jaw. The other was his opposite number in every respect, female, delicate, considerably shorter than all three men, but with the same visible resolve that marked her fellow Keverdorians.
"Justice Kirran Myiaris of the New Republic, may I present Judge Sesilia Rortok," he said, indicating the woman, "and Judge Dahyesh Vahnet, two of our most respected leaders."
Vahnet extended a huge hand, engulfing Kirran's proffered one. "Justice Myiaris, it is a great honor to welcome you to Keverdor," he said, in a deep, resounding basso profundo that matched his features perfectly. "I am honored that we will be sharing a bench."
"As am I," Sesilia Rortok said, her voice a surprisingly rich alto. "I hope the New Republic understands our gratitude for their assistance in our recovery from the late unpleasantness."
"Thank you," Kirran said, somewhat taken aback by this display. "I assure you, we simply helped you in your own fight, which you were handling quite capably, if I recall correctly."
"That doesn't mean we don't appreciate a helping hand now and then," Vahnet laughed. The noise seemed strained, as if he had only recently become accustomed to laughter. "We shouldn't stand her gabbing all day. You should get to your quarters, get rested up. The trials begin tomorrow afternoon, and you wouldn't want to be dozing through the excitement."
"I'm fine, thank you," Kirran assured him. "Excitement? Are you anticipating some kind of problem?"
Rortok smiled, a little bemusedly. "Oh, no, Jusitce Myiaris. It's just that this should be a very good show when the Imps enter their pleas."
"Surely they're not going to enter not guilty?" Kirran said.
"I'm sure they won't," she said, "but what will be more interesting is how they attempt to explain their behavior. I'm sure they'll have some perfectly good reasoning worked out to explain to us simple, backwards natives." The irony positively dripped from her words.
Feram smiled, apparently pleased at how the introductions were going. "I'm sorry to leave you so abruptly, but I'm afraid that there are still many matters which demand my attention. Justice Myiaris, I leave you in their capable hands." Rortok gave him a pointed look, and the President added, "I almost forgot. We have a dinner scheduled tonight in the capital. It's the old governor's mansion, very sophisticated, as nice as anything you'd see on a core world."
"Of course, I'd be honored to join you," Kirran said. "Right now, I'd like to get settled in and begin reviewing the particulars of this case, if you don't mind."
"We understand, certainly! Look what terrible hosts we're being," Vahnet said. "You've just come from a long shuttle flight, too, of course you'll want to freshen up. We'll take you to your guest quarters and on the way, we can give you the lowdown on this case, as you so generously call it."
Kirran nodded, smiling with more eagerness than he was beginning to feel. The way they were talking, it seemed as if this would be an open-and-shut case, and he'd be gone within the week. He didn't remember a war crimes trial viewed in quite such a light before. Then again, if the trial did go quickly, would it really be so bad? With Judge Vahnet to his left and Judge Rortok to his right, they left the Hall, chatting amiably about his accommodations, life on Keverdor, what they'd done in the resistance-but nothing, he noted, about the Imperials who would be going on trial tomorrow, in spite of what they'd claimed they'd discuss. Maybe at dinner...
Kirran studied the brief on the datapad in front of him. Ceris val Tessan's last speech from the balcony of the governor's palace glared back at him, the blocky blue letters casting an icy glow in the darkened room. He felt nauseous, and he was reasonably sure that it wasn't from the broiled Andoahn poolfish they'd eaten for dinner. The speech was not vitriolic, it was not the manic ranting of a psychopath. It was instead a soothing stream of platitudes, reassurances, and exhortations for the people to "trust in the care of the Empire." It all sounded so familiar, so pat, so convincing...val Tessan was not a fanatic, and that made her even more frightening. Either she really believed this space junk she'd espoused, which was possible, or she was simply a highly accomplished liar. That, as he'd seen among Imperials on other worlds, was also very possible. That she honestly didn't know about the sort of care the Empire dished out...he'd heard the claim before, and every time, it was just as unbelievable as the last. She just might be the easiest to send to a disintegration chamber, if it came to that, and from his conversations with the Keverdorians, it was possible that was exactly where all three Imperials were headed.
The sound of a door chime made him leap up in his chair, heart pounding. Laughing at his own old battle nerves, he called, "Come in. It's not locked."
The door slid open. "That isn't a very smart move around here." Kirran turned around; this interloper was a stranger. "Some people around here aren't very pleasant to deal with."
She had shoulder-length dark hair with an odd shank of ash-gold that curled from above her left ear. Her eyes were a medium-gray, smoky and wide. Her clothing was a nondescript jumper dress, black with a green undertunic. In her hands, she held a datapad and a datachip case. "Justice Kirran Myiaris?" she asked, in a smooth, clear, mezzo.
"Um, yes?" he asked, rising uncertainly to take her offered hand.
"I'm Jiral Hawthran, Advocate. I'm representing the interests of Asran Hijel, Ceris val Tassen, and Bern Thalquen." She said it in such a matter-of-fact voice it took a minute for her words to register. She opened the 'chip case and placed three in his hands. "This is my motion to suppress evidence seized from the palace, this is my motion to suppress evidence from their personal logs, and this is my motion to exclude testimony by the insurrectionist leaders and from the former heads of the production companies."
By this time Kirran's head was almost spinning. "Wait a minute," he said, holding up a hand. "You're representing them?"
"Yes," she said, smiling professionally in a way that only hovered near her eyes. "The evidence seized from the palace is inadmissable. They took no care in removing it, and for all we know, it's been altered or contaminated, especially since they had to reconstruct it from erased files in the computer database. The evidence from their personal logs was taken without any sort of warrant."
"When the evidence was seized, there was no provisional government, so there were no laws," he said distractedly, not looking up from the datachip. "They still have not established any sort of rules."
"That makes the search less illegal?" she countered. "As they have so eagerly publicized, this trial is being conducted under the law of the New Republic. Are you saying that my clients have no rights because they are Imperials?"
Kirran couldn't help his next remark, "And you think it matters? They're going to be convicted anyway. Do you really think the evidence will make any difference?"
"That's a nice attitude for a Justice to have," she said, putting a dry twist on the word "justice."
"Advocate Hawthran, I'm sure you realize, they're Imperials. For what they did to this world, they will pay. They have to pay," Kirran said. Then, honesty forced him to amend, "Your fellow Keverdorians will make them pay."
For an instant, Jiral's lip twisted, and a flash of what might have been anger glittered in her smoky eyes. Just as quickly, it was gone. "They were invited here. The worst ideas were our own people's. They need to pay, yes. I won't argue. But look at the charges! War crimes? None of them are in the military! Treason? Against whom? War mongering? How? And crimes against the galactic conscience? What in all the stars is that supposed to mean?"
Kirran shook his head to clear it; she was going too rapidly. "Do you have a hearing arranged?"
She snorted, "That's a laugh. Neither of the Keverdorian judges is willing to listen to me. They're too interested in vengeance to think about justice."
"Did your clients think about justice when they were in power?" Kirran countered.
"There were far worse places to be living," Jiral snapped back. "A few restrictions in exchange for being able to walk the streets after dark without fear isn't such a terrible thing. And did anyone tell you what conditions in the factory were like before the Empire came?" She sighed, lowering her eyes. "I'm sorry. But just because they were Imperials doesn't mean that they don't have any civil rights. I knew that Rortok and Vahnet wouldn't listen to me. I'm considered a bit of an outcast around here."
"Most Imperials are, from what I can tell," Kirran said.
The anger was unmistakable. "I am not an Imperial! I'm Keverdorian. I love my world, Justice, and that is why I have to do this. We must have peace, sir, and recriminations will do nothing to help that. Do you know what happened to the factory owners who collaborated? No trial, no hearing, not even any public accusation. I can show you holos. I will show you. This is what will happen to my clients if you let them get away with it."
"Do you really care?" Kirran demanded. "They're Imperials."
"I thought the Republic wanted equal justice under law. Does that only apply to their friends?" Jiral threw her hands up. "If you start only treating people fairly when they're on your side, how long will it be before you start charging for the privilege? At least the Empire was honest in its corruption!"
Kirran opened his mouth to protest-and then just as abruptly, closed it. Could the new government really hold its head above the Empire if they didn't demonstrate that they could treat their enemies better? He knew the answer to that only too well. There were many people like that in the Alliance itself, those who didn't want to show any form of mercy. Could they really call themselves better than the Empire if that was how they were going to act?
He looked at the advocate, who was watching him with those cloudy eyes. "I promise you," he said, "that while I am on the bench, your clients will recieve a fair trial. You have my word of honor."
For a moment, Jiral didn't look convinced. Her eyes narrowed, lips thinning. Then, she extended a hand. "I'll take that, Justice Myiaris." Her handshake was strong and cool. Their eyes met, and he saw the conviction there. She was not going to let this be a show trial. And now, he would have to help her.