Defendant Pleads Not Guilty By Reason Of Stupidity
“I have no idea why you’re here, crazy blonde woman!
” Jen Sin said in a stream of indignant Liaden. He sighed, and tried to pull together his fragmentary knowledge of Mercan. “Not known happen,” he said in that peculiarly choppy language. “Innocent. Where you start?”
“Scotland!” the blonde woman snarled “I was in Scotland signing that peace treaty, with the Kolak, and then I turn up here and by the way Willow is so dead when I get back, because impenetrable ward my sweet butt. Now send me back!”
“Not bring you,” Jen Sin repeatedly patiently, aware of the surprising strength of the woman’s hand at his throat. He considered the gun in his sleeve, then thought better of it.
“There must be a reason why I’m here,” the woman growled. “The Kolak wouldn’t just dump me at random!” Jen Sin couldn’t stop himself from glancing over the woman’s shoulder at the stone orb. Following his glance, she dropped him to the ground and turned to stare at the orb. “That’s the thing they gave me!” she said indignantly. “You!” she said, turning back to Jen Sin. “Did you touch it, or do anything to it?” Jen Sin glanced away.
“Well…okay,” the woman said, hands on her hips. “I guess they had me trapped in there, so…thanks. Where am I? How come Willow hasn’t tracked me down?”
“Planet Lakfort,” Jen Sin said. “Few hours from Port.”
“Planet?” the woman said blankly. Jen Sin frowned.
“Yes. Planet Lakfort. Not heard of?”
“I’m on a different planet?” the woman said breathily, then frowned. “Wait. What year is this?” Jen Sin told her the Standard date, and saw it meant nothing to her.
“What planet you start?” he said, cursing his miniscule Mercan vocabulary.
“Earth, of course,” the woman said.
“Long way to Terra,” he said cautiously. “Weeks of flight.”
“Not Terra, Earth
,” she insisted. Jen Sin scratched at his earlobe, thoughts whirling. She said she was from Earth, not Terra. She spoke an obscure Old Terran dialect that Jen Sin, linguist that he was, had only heard from one person before her. She appeared to have been trapped in a stone orb, possibly for some time. Ah.
“Heard of,” he began delicately, “star named Sol?”
“Yes. Earth is the third planet in the solar system.”
“Hah!” Jen Sin grinned. What an opportunity, what a find…well, she would not see it that way. He smoothed away his excitement. “I sorry. You come far in time. Earth lost many, many year past. Used up. New worlds, many new worlds.”
“How long?” she asked, voice shaking. For only the second time in his life, Jen Sin felt a suddden surge of pity.
“Many thousand,” he said gently. The woman was very still for a moment, then sighed. She did not cry.
“I need to get back,” she said calmly. “This must be a different dimension, where time moves differently. They shoved me in a different dimension, that was why Willow couldn’t find me,” she concluded, voice still low and rough.
“Possible,” said Jen Sin. If it was true, it would be an interesting way to prove the multidimensional theorists right. He glanced at the stone orb. “How you bound?”
“They said it was a gift to seal the peace treaty; I guess it was some kind of revenge, for us forcing them out of our dimension. When I touched it, it was…like falling into a well. And then I woke up here.”
“An object. A prison outside time,” Jen Sin murmured. “Thing of the dramliz.”
“The what?” she asked, and Jen Sin groped for a translation in his limited Mercan.
“You have witches here? Great, they can send me back.”
“Not here,” Jen Sin said with a grimace. “Rare people. Some on Liad, some at home. Take you to home? Many dramliz there. Send you home, if can.”
“All out of the goodness of your heart? Yeah, right. What’s your interest in sending me home? You’re not running some interdimensional slave camp that you’re afraid I’ll destroy, are you?”
“No,” Jen Sin said slowly, wondering if the imprisonment had left the woman’s wits entirely intact. “My…aunt…be dramliz. This dramliz problem. She angry if I not give her problem.”
“I get it,” the woman said with a small smile. “I’m an interesting puzzle, and she’d be pissed if you didn’t show me to her first. Where does your aunt live, and how long would it take to get there?” Jen Sin considered. If he took the shortest route…
“My home Surebleak. Twelve, fourteen days. I have own ship, or longer.”
“Space travel, right,” the woman said under her breath. She tapped her chest, then extended her hand in a familiar gesture. “Buffy Summers.” Jen Sin tapped his own chest.
“Jen Sin yos’Phelium,” he said clearly, and smiled as she mouthed the convoluted name after him. “Jason,” he amended, and shook Buffy’s hand. That had been his name, around Surebleak Port. Jason the interpreter, and if anyone had connected him with Head Boss Conrad’s son, then they had kept it to themselves. “Groundcar,” he said, pointing in the general direction of the road. “Walk little, then drive. Then fly.”
He walked up the stairs and out of the eerie tower, Buffy following after one last glance at the stone orb.
"Take rock?" he asked her, carefully not looking at her.
"Probably better not to. The Kolak might have a trace on it, to put me back if I get let out. Or maybe the spell just dissolved and the thing's harmless, I don't know. But I'm not taking a chance."
"Understand," said Jen Sin, and started off through the lapea
trees. "Groundcar this way." He noticed as they walked that Buffy's eyes were never still; they darted around the forest, taking it all in. Not the quiet observation of a Scout, but something alert and watchful. Predatory. She moved the same way, Scout-silent but tense in a way Jen Sin had never seen his aunt or uncle. "Why you locked?" he asked, inflecting it as a question to pass the time.
"I was a Slayer," said Buffy, frowning at the trees as she passed them. "These trees are all the same distance apart."
"Yes. To hide...ah..." Jen Sin gestured behind them. "What be Slayer?"
"A soldier. Or a hunter, maybe. I fought demons - evil creatures, like the Kolak."
"Move like hunter," Jen Sin said with a smile, to let her know she hadn't made him nervous.
"So do you. What do you do?"
"I was...spoke many tongues, for wage." He frowned, uncertain of the right word.
"An interpreter?" Buffy said, one eyebrow raised.
"Yes. Was that, at home. Left. Now...travel. Sometimes find work." He shrugged, not wanting to get into the details of his exile from Surebleak. "Tell me about Old Earth."
"Not much known. Please tell." Jen Sin winced inwardly; he hated it when he didn't speak enough of a language to use coherent sentences.
"Well...if this is a different dimension, then my Earth is probably different to yours--" Buffy froze, and Jen Sin imitated her. "I hear voices ahead," she said softly. "Did you bring friends?"
"No." He scratched his earlobe in thought. "Also no enemies. You wait, I talk. If violence, you move. Plan?"
"Sounds like a great plan. If anything happens, start with the people on the left. I'll work around from the right."
"Better plan." He gave her a brief smile. "Lucky I let you out, or not have backup." He walked through the last dozen rows of trees, no longer moving silently.
Jen Sin strolled out of the plantation, hands by his sides. There was a second groundcar parked next to his own; three Liaden men stood in front of the cars, watching Jen Sin approach. One of them was Mur Ton al'Tikrit.
"The trees are beautiful, are they not?" Jen Sin said in Trade.
"A matter of Balance stands between us," Mur Ton said in the Liaden mode of Nonkin, iced over with High House hauteur.
"Really?" Jen Sin said, still using Trade. "Well, it's very kind of you to bring it to my attention. I don't suppose you might elaborate a tad? Only, I find myself unable to remember anything that might give you cause to cry Balance. A failing of my memory, to be sure."
"You gave false service as an interpreter!" Mur Ton snapped, not shifting from Nonkin. "You have cost our ship more than a dozen cantra, and I will have recompense."
"I gave honest service," said Jen Sin, in the mode of Employee to Employer; avoiding Liaden wasn't going to work. "The information I gave you is all true, and confirmable from independent sources. I do not control the regulations of Lakfort Port."
"You said something to the portmaster, something to turn him against us!" Mur Ton said.
"No," Jen Sin said in Nonkin. "I did nothing save speak your words to the portmaster, and his to you. There is no Balance between us." He moved his arm slightly, feeling the weight of the gun up his sleeve.
"I say there is," Mur Ton snarled. He spoke in the rarely-used mode of Judgement, and Jen Sin knew that there was nothing more to be said. Mur Ton reached behind his belt and drew out a knife, presumably from a sheath in the small of his back. The two other Liadens, presumbly crew from Mur Ton's ship, moved to either side to give him room. Jen Sin fixed the two of them with a stare, as Mur Ton stepped forward.
"I am Jen Sin yos'Phelium Clan Korval," he said in the mode of Honourable Acquaintance. "There is nothing to be Balanced here. Speak to your crewmate." The two hesitated, but didn't move as Mur Ton took another step forward. Gathering his courage, most likely. As Mur Ton went to take another step, someone sprinted past Jen Sin and smashed into the crewmember on the right with a flying kick. As Mur Ton whirled to see what had happened, Buffy grabbed the wrist of the second crewman and yanked him up, and down. Before Mur Ton could do anything more, Jen Sin flicked his arm to drop the gun into his hand, and shot Mur Ton in the shoulder. He let out a short gasp, and dropped the knife, clutching at his shoulder with his other hand.
"Liadens," Jen Sin said with disgust.