For things that were not real, the manifestations and their conjured weapons did a lot of damage. Renci had three deep, burnt puncture wounds in her shoulder that Renn had to make sure would not grow infected under their dressing. He himself has a new line of stitches across his already amply scarred torso. After all the patching up, they are both tired and sit for a moment, propped against a wall.
Renn leans his head back, closing his eyes for a bit to snatch just a little rest. When he opens them, he finds himself facing the door, the only point of interest in this drab, gray, featureless room. It swishes open, and a fit woman in her late fifties steps in. She is clad in the black and white uniform of the ISB, but her hand-coverings are non-regulation. Renn scrambles to his feet, his eyes locked on the over-driven shock gloves she wears. He bears their shape burnt into his right shoulder.
“Well, Captain,” Zekra Fol says, “your record has gotten the better of you. I think we have all the evidence we need. Is there anything else you’d like to confess?”
Renn is speechless. She is supposed to be dead. Chando told him she was dead, that Kash killed her on the Vigilant with—rather appropriately—a fire extinguisher.
“No?” she continues. “Well, it’s more fun to find the answers, anyway. And this time, we’ll let you watch, too.” She hits a control on the wall, and a panel slides back to reveal a monitor. It shows Kash, scorched and bleeding, cutting her way through Stormtroopers, but others are shooting into the melee, and she is taking hits. “Your, what? Girlfriend, is it? She’s coming for you, but I don’t think she’ll get much farther. And then—”
Renn is not strapped to a table. He is not manacled to the floor. Fol does not have her usual advantages over him. There is no reason for him to cower back away from her, not when Kash is doing all this for him yet again. They are supposed to be done with this; things are just starting to reach some sort of normal between him and Kash. They are visiting with each other when they are both in New Meen, relaxing together, getting to know each other better with no impending threats hanging over them. Relating to each other as people, not projects. Fol is not going to take that away from them. The door is wide open behind her, and he darts forward, dodging around the interrogator and reaching the exit. He finds himself thinking, That worked better this time than it did with the Trandoshan ghost, and the thought seems strange, out of place, like it belongs somewhere else.
And then he is stepping through the door and into the courtroom. Everyone is looking at him. He gives his tan uniform tunic a tug to straighten it. The judge at the front addresses him, “Lieutenant Renn Béneem Herkin, Imperial Army, to the witness stand in the case of The Most Glorious Empire vs. Kaylu Herkin.” Renn obeys, stepping up and taking his place at attention.
“Was your mother a loving person?” the prosecutor asks.
Renn looks out at the room, sees his mother seated nervously with the public defender, cuffed hands on the table in front of her. He notes a fading bruise on her cheek. His father is in the first row behind her, eyes shooting daggers at him. He recognizes Ralf Rickpri and other classmates from his early childhood, now grown up. They are miners mostly, judging from their clothes and their coughs. This is all familiar, painfully familiar. This has all happened before, and he said nothing last time. He did it wrong then; he does not have to do it wrong now. “Yes, she is.”
The prosecutor narrows his eyes. “And who overlooked the family finances?”
“My mother did,” Renn replies, and before the next question can cut in, he continues, “which is why I sent her money regularly.”
There is a murmur throughout the courtroom, and the prosecutor is momentarily taken aback. The judge calls for order so that the questions can continue. “Do you really think we will believe that a mere lieutenant could send that much? Money must have been tight for your parents. They could not have afforded all the medicine your mother was buying.”
“Money was not as tight as you think,” Renn counters, “considering both their children went off to Imperial schools on full scholarships.”
“But isn’t it more likely that she took the money from the mine?” the prosecutor insists.
There is no jury here to convince, and Renn knows the judge’s mind is already made up. But the audience, they will at least hear the truth. They are his people, and his words are for them. “Do I t’ink they were stealin’? No, that isna the Seregaran way, that’s th’Imperial way. Ya t’ink ya can come ta our planet and take our resources? Take our healt’? Take our children? Do wit’ them all wot ya wont? It doesna have ta be that way.”
The incited crowd explodes in rebellious uproar. Renn hears the phrase “contempt of court” as he is yanked down from the stand. He loses sight of his mother as people close in around him, but at least this time, the final look he gets from her is one of pride, not one of anguish, of disbelief and betrayal.