A Confession, to His Antlered Face.
The half-deer Emperor possessed a ring that he would press his tongue onto, during breaks in the Court’s proceedings. Liyane was being spoken to, her crimes explained, her bruised hand placed upon, then let drop from the imperial codex. But all she really knew was that this man, with antlers enjoyed tasting his jewelry. Liyane’s pupils dilated in the citrus light as she scrutinized the gold band, which was slick. Fine hairs on Emperor Crush’s married finger lifted up, only now drying that the pace was returning to the trial. A finger next to. Next to his married finger. Alongside the drooled upon ring.
Up from a web of red shadows the antlers stained over his eyes and face, it was Tim staring at her. A cornered, thorned animal, peering through a thicket.
“What truth will you tell? The judge just asked you for it.” Tim, or Emperor San’ur Crush said. He raised a hand, to stop the proceedings. Unhappy whispering, ridicule softened in the room. This all became quiet as an orange leaf drifting through the rich mist, beyond the air-locked windows. “Won’t you answer me, at least? You look as if we know or care about each other.”
“This is Wyle.” Liyane inhaled.
“Yes, you are here with me. On my planet. It is the capitol of the whole galactic empire. Do you understand?”
No, Tim, you’re from Earth. “…Yes.” I’ve met your parents, the bedroom with the vintage 90s posters and old water stains at the top of the walls. You hated that the roof would leak, and plaster would fall. You swore, cussed, that you would get out, by any means.
He walked over. No hooves, no tail. A man with antlers, in a white robe. There weren’t sleeves, but large cut outs along the sides. He leaned forward a certain way, as he did now, and the cloth opened to hips flushed, painted, tattooed? He was gold. Was it fur? What was it? But real human fingers splayed and pressed onto the wooden rail now between them. The ring again. The wet finger, not the married one. Stupid for noticing it. What in hell is wrong with you! One fracture in the ring’s sandy jewel. “It’s salt.”
“And, the court will observe, also, that Ms. Harcourt is coherent enough to comment on fashion… so yes, she should be able to answer the question. Judge Kaeril, ask it again.”
The judge must have spoken another time. He had large, black eyes set in a wide face. Liyane grimaced, felt how the muscles tugged at her throat, her chest and shoulders, made an ache in her back too and in her thighs the way she had been sitting. The way she had been crouching for months. A deer man, with a salt-lick ring? He couldn’t keep himself from it. Was this good? Was this unhandsome? It needed to be disgusting. But it wasn’t. It was Tim.
Now, red-scarred Liyane in gray rags gripped the railing. Judge Kaeril had a black robe and tufted ears also. Then, all the other faces in the room that were marked with fur, or round ears, trotters where fingers should be. A woman in silken purple gown, sitting in the back, flitted split in her skirt away from two crossed, bowed hindlegs.
“Will we have to transfer you again, madam? To someplace else where they beat dissidents harder!”
Tim smiled. There were other hard-looking people waiting in the room with their barristers. Nobody dared challenge the emperor suddenly disrupting things.
Liyane did not know why seeing Tim like this, made her release, “Years ago… I was arrested, at a protest. There were a lot of us in the University square, but it didn’t go the way we thought. We weren’t released right away. Because, these were deer police. They found out I was close to… the leader Jeremie Dutch, and our strategist.”
“Go on. Say his name, please.” Emperor Crush, as he looked from this angle, glaring out at window, antlers pointed in profile.
“Timothy Erols. Timothy Erols, Junior.” Liyane scraped, under one thumbnail. “I was studying biotech. They were going to put me in prison, but if I helped to catch them…”
“Your friends, do you mean?” His antlers did not move, when he spoke, however the human features of his face contorted.
“… But that wasn’t enough. I mean…” she focused on another rigid, cracked fingernail, “I couldn’t just sell them out, like that.”
“But the record states that you did, in fact, sell out your friends. What motivated you in the end, Liyane? Golga, I should say. What was your answer again? Say it louder.”
“A Nude Form. I didn’t want to look… the way that I felt, had been born. Anymore. And a better life, a chance to start over. My heart wasn’t really ever in the movement—”
“Am I supposed to be happy to hear it?”
“They released me, but I was wearing a wire. When they figured our location, I guess… the deer followed. Tim and Jeremie ran, and I wanted to go with them, I should have, maybe I should have!”
“Too late for that.” Tim passed his hand through the air again, when Judge Kaeril would have followed up with his own questions. “What’s the last of it?”
“I tasered one of my friends… Timothy. I didn’t want to, that is what the police gave me, for protection. My finger slipped.”
“Your finger did not slip. Was it that one, right there? Let me see it. Give it to me and see what I do to it now—”
“My Emperor,” the judge at last intervened, “How shall she be sentenced, for conspiring with the hunter rebels? The court is eager to satisfy your wish. With so many other cases today.”
Crush answered, “Tim was so fried he ended up in treatment while he was in custody, because he wasn’t any use quieted. Jeremie was tortured and then killed on television. Correct? We’ll know whether you’re lying.”
“I… yes. For a long time, Jeremie was, but…” then, Liyane wondered whose side she was still on. Why should she confess Jeremie’s existence to the deer? Or did he deserve it, for selling her out, nude form and all for more WhiteBlank? “Well, everyone saw him go. Timothy later escaped, and for years, he stalked me. The Witness Protection Protocol didn’t help. Not at all.”
“Until Timothy Errils was murdered.”
“I… I don’t know?”
“Yes you do, Ms. Harcourt. I’m telling you. Timothy, your old friend, lover—you left out that part—stalker, whatever, was killed years ago. By the ones who loved him most. Alright then, High Judge, her story corroborates the record of his. So this is finally shut. Liyane, you’re free to go.”
Liyane shook, while they removed her handcuffs. “I don’t even… why is this happening to me? I was passed from prison to prison… just to check my story?!”
The judge banged his gavel for order.
“Yes, we needed your story, but you also just received my pardon. The hunters are beat, I said, or weren’t you listening? We cleaned out their chief bunker on Earth. Other loose ends now need to be tied up, and I’m seeing to the more interesting stories, personally. Are you confessing to some other guilt now, Liyane Harcourt? Have you committed more crimes against my empire that earn you going back to any number of dungeons you were passed through?”
Crush’s councilors, all half or quarter deer began to assemble around him, to process out. The judge crumpled then began to eat the court record, at the Emperor’s gesture, and shuffled the next set of papers.
Liyane got down from the witness stand. Limped up the aisle, by leaning on one row of chairs cast in orange day-light and then another. People watched her. Liyane kept turning her back, to watch Tim, who wanted to be called Crush. She knew that the door was open, but she also knew how Tim was. She would never be, really this close. Right at the threshold, Liyane took the gilded doorknob in hand and held on, squeezed sweating palm over it.
“WhiteBlank. I think I smell it. Doesn’t anyone else? Someone, go search her.”
Liyane shuddered and cried. She knelt, then screamed, while the deer police went into her drab prisoner’s garb, restrained her, and pulled free a packet of pearlescent crumbles that oozed green when one squeezed. They pronounced her criminal again, in possession.
Red antler shadows crossed over Liyane again. Liyane lashed out of tantrum to cower, folded arms across the back of her neck, so she couldn’t look at him.
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry. It almost looked as if, you’d been completely forgiven.” To the judge, “What’s the sentence, usually, for someone in possession of this much WhiteBlank?”
“Years, maybe. Well, not human years. Ungulate years, going round a red star. So that’s effectively a life sentence for an Earthling.” The pop of a pen cap, and Judge Kaeril began to write it down.
“But it’s always less, for a noble, as we have important imperial business to get back to, make such great contributions to the galaxy. It’s too bad that you aren’t one of those, or at least a friend, sponsored by some powerful ungulate.”
Liyane showed teeth.
Her old friend, the antlered Timothy knelt down. “You will beg me.”
Liyane rubbed her eyes of tears, and these were tugged into cuffs next. She began to approach the witness stand ushered by deer guard, and then the wrought-iron doors back down into the dungeon again… wild! No. Convulsions. “Crush! Emperor Crush, please!”
Crush crunched down into the salt stone of his ring, sucked on the piece between his back teeth and cheek like passing ice cubes from refreshment through one’s mouth on a hot day. “Sorry for the break in proceedings, High Judge. It seems this woman was always mine to play with afterall… Bring my newest ward, then! Set a place by my seat, something amusing another infamous pet of Emperor San’ur Crush would like.”
People in the courtroom chorused laughter. Crush said that he wanted more salt. And good drink.
But first, more salt.