BEN ARCHER AND THE TOREQ SON
“So,” Ben said finally. “Will you tell me what I’m accused of?”
“Unlawful possession of a Toreq skill,” Lord Crawford said, reading from one of the documents.
“Naturally…” Ben muttered, shoulders slumping. The Toreq would never allow a human to possess a Toreq skill. They’d accuse him of having stolen it from Kaia…
Lord Crawford sat opposite him with his back straight. “…and the second charge,” the alien attorney began, lifting a stack of papers and reading another document through tiny spectacles dangling at the edge of his nose.
Ben tensed. A second charge?
“Misuse of the translation skill to the first degree,” Lord Crawford read, then glanced at Ben over the edge of the spectacles.
Ben gasped, his arms and legs losing their strength. “What did you say?”
Lord Crawford repeated the words. “Misuse of the translation skill to the first degree.” He dropped the paper and straightened his spectacles. “It means you used the skill to submit a creature to your will. An offense of the highest order under Toreq law.”
Ben’s mouth dropped. “You… you mean Sadalbari?” His mind reeled. How did the Toreq know about his encounter with the Arabian stallion? How did they know he had controlled the horse’s mind before it could commit a fatal deed? “But… that’s not possible! How would you know about that?”
“So you do not deny the charges?” Lord Crawford said, picking up the ink pen and getting ready to write on his blank paper. His face had become hard.
“No! Wait a minute, that’s not what I said… I… I…” Words wouldn’t come. Alternating cold and hot flashes rose to Ben’s face. What was he supposed to say? Wasn’t this all a setup anyway? Wasn’t the end aim to get rid of A’hmun men, women, and children alike—him included? So why waste time with this charade?
Lord Crawford placed his spectacles on the table, still waiting for Ben to answer.
Ben was on the verge of tears. “What’s the point? What does it matter what I did or didn’t do? The Toreq are out to get rid of us anyway, aren’t they?”
To his surprise, Lord Crawford leaned back into his chair. He munched on the tip of his spectacles. “You are right,” he said after a while. “This is a political move. I am afraid, Benarcher, that you have become the symbol of all that is hated in your species. None of us, here, on these warships, have ever laid eyes on the A’hmun. We have come to fight an enemy from the depths of our past. All we know about you is what our ancestors have transmitted to us over thousands of generations. Our soldiers need an A’hmun symbol to represent their hated enemy. Showing them an A’hmun face that they can learn to hate, and linking that face to unacceptable wrongdoings will help them focus on their task. By putting you on display and exposing your unpardonable deeds in a neutral court, our soldiers will be confident they are on the right side of the law—your actions are proof that the A’hmun must be eliminated. It is a wise move by our General, but an unfortunate plight for you.” He crossed his legs, his eyes drifting into the distance. “A historic moment, without a doubt.”
Ben slumped with his forehead in hands. “It’s no use, then. I’ve lost already.”
“Tsk, tsk. You forget your good old Lord Crawford. I am quite a successful lawyer, if I may say so myself. We will fight this political move and treat it as such. We will find a flaw in the proceedings, it’s all a matter of perspective. Keep in mind that the Toreq court is impartial and upholds the law, no matter the circumstances.”
Ben shut his eyes for a moment. Impartial? Come off it!
Ben heard Lord Crawford untie the pile of documents. “So, we will start at the beginning. There is much to do and little time! But I am relieved that, in the meantime, I was able to provide you with a decent A’hmun room, copied to the slightest detail from our records about your jails. I trust you feel at home here?”
Ben gritted his teeth. “You could have added a window, at least,” he muttered.
Ben opened his eyes a crack and peeked at Lord Crawford.
“A window?” the lawyer said, frowning. “But of course! A window…” He grabbed the ink pen and scribbled something that looked like the word ‘window’ on it. “Anything else?” he asked.
Ben rolled his eyes. “A key would be good.”
“A k-e-y,” his alien lawyer repeated slowly, writing down the word with difficulty, then stopping. “A key… Is that not one of those things…? Oh, but, ah. You do understand that that is not possible? What a strange request. Ha, ha, ha. Fascinating!”