Senaria: Part I, Chapter 13 * Senaria: Contents * Senaria: Part I, Chapter 15

It was shortly before ten in the morning when my mother and I parked near the county courthouse and navigated our way through the maze of metal detectors and armed guards to the designated courtroom. We took our places with our attorney, a well-meaning middle-aged man who admittedly did the best he could with what my mother gave him to work with. I saw my father sitting with his own attorney, one of the less savory local representatives of the breed. Finally the judge arrived, and the formalities began. He explained that today's hearing would give him the information he needed to make his decision, based on the testimony, and that a decision would be forthcoming next week. And then it started.
      I won't go into the things my father said on the stand. He'd obviously been well-coached, and presented himself as the most loving of parents, the most patient of husbands, and a pillar of the community. Our own lawyer did little to demolish this, having warned us previously that a direct attack on his character would only harden the judge's position.
      To my surprise, my father made no effort to slander my mother as I had anticipated. And then his attorney called Brittany Hawser to the stand.
      I blinked a few times. Brittany? Brittany? The ultimate airhead? What on Earth could she testify about? I wondered. As she walked up the aisle to the witness stand, I absently noted that her appearance had been carefully toned down; in fact she could have been a budding legislative aide to a conservative congressman. My father's lawyer asked the usual questions, establishing that she was indeed a classmate of mine, had known who I was for several years, and so forth.
      "Did you encounter Haley Larkin in the Pecos Mall on the morning of June 15, 2001?" My ears pricked up.
      "I did," she said demurely.
      "Was she with anyone at the time?"
      "She was."
      "And who was she with?"
      "She was with a young man named Randy."
      "Did she say who he was?"
      "She said he was a friend staying with her for a few weeks." Aha, I thought. I noticed that the judge looked distinctly displeased at that bit of information, which was no doubt the intention.
      "Staying with her, you say?"
      "Yes, at her mother's house."
      "Did she say anything else about him?"
      "Only that he was from Dashtorus." The lawyer looked suddenly nervous; I suspected this wasn't in the script.
      "Dishtaris," he repeated, stumbling over the unfamiliar name. "Do you know where that is?"
      "Of course. It's the state right next to Rhode Island," she announced proudly. I heard a titter run through the courtroom behind me. Well, so much for her coaching, I thought with grim satisfaction.
      "The State of Dashtorus?" the judge broke in incredulously. "Do you mean Delaware by any chance?"
      "No, she said Dashtorus," Brittany insisted.
      "No further questions," the attorney said, cutting his losses. Our own elected not to pursue the issue, probably a wise decision.
      A moment later I heard myself called to the stand.
      After summarizing the testimony Brittany had just given, my father's attorney asked if her information was correct. I debated telling the truth, but decided I'd be risking a perjury charge if I did.
      "I did have an acquaintance named Randy who stayed at my mother's house for two weeks until his vehicle was repaired," I said carefully.
      "And how did you meet this 'acquaintance?' " I was asked. I didn't miss the veiled emphasis on the last word, either.
      "I was camping out in the desert and his vehicle broke down near me," I said. "I offered to put him up until he could get it repaired."
      "And who else was with you?"
      "Nobody. I was alone at the time."
      "You were camping out in the desert by yourself?" the attorney asked, hardly believing his luck. "And you are how old?"
      "Sixteen," I said.
      "And on what day and time did this occur?"
      "It was June thirteenth. Late afternoon."
      "And where was this?"
      "Out in the Mojave Desert, somewhere north of Baker, California." I didn't want to give away the exact location; after all, it was one of my favorite spots.
      "And you took him to your mother's house," he said. "Did you know anything about him? Where he was from? Do you know his full name?" I suddenly realized I might be blowing his cover if I gave the bogus name I'd seen on his driver's license.
      "No," I said.
      "No, what? You don't know anything about him, you don't know where he was from, or you don't know his full name?" At that our attorney finally broke in, protesting that I was being "badgered." There was a momentary bit of legal mumbo-jumbo, and then the question was asked again, rephrased more politely this time.
      "I don't know his full name," I said. "He said he was from someplace called Deshtiris."
      "Can you spell that?"
      "D-e-s-h-t-i-r-i-s," I said.
      "Do you know where Deshtiris is?" I hesitated.
      "No," I said finally.
      "It's not a state next to Rhode Island?" he pursued.
      "Rann-- Randy said that, not me."
      "Do you normally take strangers home to your mother's house that you know nothing about?" he persisted.
      "Certainly not," I retorted. "But I trusted this guy." He changed directions suddenly.
      "When exactly did you arrive at your mother's house with this person who you didn't know anything about, didn't know where he was from, and whose full name you didn't know?" Another objection from our attorney, to equally little effect.
      "I think it was about eleven the next morning," I said reluctantly, triggering an excited buzz in the room. I winced; I could see this one coming a mile away.
      "So you spent the night in the desert with this Randy," he concluded. "And you're sixteen years old."
      "It wasn't like that at all," I burst out furiously. "That's a slimy way to--"
      "No further questions, Your Honor," he informed the judge and sat down, leaving me spluttering into empty air, only to be instructed by the judge to confine my comments to answering counsel's questions.
      Our own lawyer made a valiant attempt to undo the damage, giving me an opportunity to testify that nothing had happened, and that we'd slept on the ground on separate ground pads, but I could see from the faces in the courtroom that I wasn't making much of a dent in their assumptions. I was finally permitted to return to my seat, my face burning with humiliation and anger.
      My mother didn't help much, either. I'd barely sat down when she wanted to know why I hadn't just told the truth. Didn't I know I could be prosecuted for perjury? she demanded. "Mom," I whispered back, "if I'd told the truth I probably would be." Our exchange was interrupted by my mother being called to the stand.
      My father's attorney had just established her bona fides, and had begun to ask her about my returning home with "Randy," when she announced that she was going to put an end to all this nonsense right now. Red alert, I thought, suddenly feeling sick.
      "For your information," she informed the courtroom, "his name is Rann, and he's from the planet Deshtiris, which is thirty-five light-years from Earth. He stayed at our house with my blessing while his spaceship was being repaired. And of course he's a respectable individual. The Empress of Deshtiris herself flew in to repair the spaceship, which was actually hers anyway; he was just borrowing it."
      The courtroom was now absolutely, utterly dead silent. I snuck a glance at our attorney, who'd turned a distinctly putrescent shade of green, and was probably envisioning prompt and utter disbarment. Even my father's lawyer looked stunned. Obviously this had not been included in anyone's contingency plans.
      "And how do you know this?" he croaked finally.
      "Because he told me so himself," she announced.
      "And you believed him," the attorney said, still in shock.
      "Of course I did. Besides, I saw his spaceship when we took him back to the desert."
      "And can you describe this spaceship?" The attorney had finally regained his footing, and was clearly going to make the most of the windfall that had dropped into his lap. I slid down into my chair, my chin nearly even with the edge of the table.
      "Well," she began, "it looked like a large boulder at first." I heard a titter run through the courtroom. "But then it worfed into a big glass thing that looked sort of like a bullet."
      "It--'worfed'?" the lawyer echoed, clearly unfamiliar with "worfing."
      "You know, it sort of melted from one shape into another."
      I glanced at my father. He had a broad smile on his face. I felt sick again.
      "No further questions, Your Honor," the attorney gloated. The judge looked inquiringly at ours.
      "No questions, Your Honor," he said. I saw beads of sweat standing out on his forehead as my mother returned to her seat. There were a few further formalities but no more testimony.
      "This court will reconvene on Tuesday, August twenty-eighth, at ten a.m.," the judge intoned. "This court will issue its decision at that time." He smashed down his gavel. "Court adjourned." We arranged an appointment with my mother's attorney for Monday afternoon, and despondently headed home.
      Along the way, I made up my mind. "Mom," I said slowly, "I'm going to contact Rann."
      "I understand," she said. "You're going to go, aren't you?"
      "What else can I do?" I burst out in frustration. "If I don't, I either end up back in Dad's clutches or we run away. If we do that, you're liable for kidnapping charges. If I disappear and leave a note or something, they can't hold you responsible if it's obvious that you didn't do it, can they?" She was silent for a long time.
      "Hal," she said very hesitantly, "would you ask Rann if I could go along? Do you think he'd let me? Or would it get him into some kind of trouble?" Her question didn't surprise me; I'd seen it coming for a while now, I realized.
      "I think we could ask," I said. I had no idea myself what the rules were, or if there even were any. From what Rann had said it was more a matter of custom than anything else. "And leaving you here alone is the one reason I'd hesitate to go."
      When we got home, I wasted no time putting together a message. "Well, here goes," I said finally as I entered the 'send' command.

Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001 12:57:35
Subject: Emergency

Dear Rann--

I know I haven't written in a long time. It's been really hard for me to deal with this, and I'm sorry. I've missed you so much, and trying to write back and forth to you has just made it worse.

We're in terrible trouble here. My father is getting custody of me through the courts. We don't know what to do.

You once asked if I'd go with you to Deshtiris. Is it too late for me to say yes? And is there any way my mother could come with us? She could face criminal charges if I disappear, and besides I don't want to leave her alone here.


      A few minutes later my Internet provider sent back a "No DNS entry for host" message. "So far so good," I breathed.
      The following days were the most hellish of my life. I think I must have checked my email every five minutes for the next forty-eight hours. Nothing.
      Finally, Sunday evening, I sent a second message in desperation. I knew that it took about twenty-four hours for him to make the trip, and that he might not get the message right away. I told him that we hadn't gotten an answer from him (in case our first message hadn't gotten through) and that we'd be at the rendezvous point at six Tuesday morning whether we heard from him or not. I didn't tell my mother about the second message, but I'd made up my own mind that one way or another I was going.
      The next time I checked, the usual "No DNS entry for host" message was again in my inbox. "Rann, where are you?" I whispered.

Senaria: Part I, Chapter 13 * Senaria: Contents * Senaria: Part I, Chapter 15

SENARIA. Copyright © 2000, 2003 by Lamont Downs and his licensors. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

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