I'll Be Home for Christmas--
by Sue Kite
December 18th, 0800 hours, UTC+8
Lee Crane was guardedly optimistic when he was escorted from his cell rather than having his food shoved in to him. He knew the trial was this morning, he was confident that Kovitch would follow through on his promise to try to get his demands granted. Whether or not they were had been something that worried him part of the night. Despite his bravado with the lawyer yesterday morning, he was worried about the whole trial ordeal. If he was lucky they would sentence him to death and heíd be quickly over this misery. If luck wasnít with him, heíd have a life sentence. He shoved that thought far from his mind.
It took him a couple of minutes to get used to the bright light, although it was easier than it had been yesterday. Soon he was ready to see what this day was going to bring him. With a guard in front and one in back, Lee was escorted up the stairs and down long corridors. Finally they halted before a room and the lead guard pushed a button next to an intercom. The door opened and another guard beckoned them in. Crane smelled the lovely moist soapy scent of a shower room and he felt a lurch of excitement. To be clean for a change. It had been way too long. When was his last really good shower? It had been on board Seaview before this misbegotten mission. As though emphasizing the point, something bit him and he scratched under his arm.
"Here and donít take too long," the guard told him, shoving a towel and a bar of soap into his arms.
"Thanks," Lee said, truly grateful. Then he thought of something, "Question."
"Will there be a change of clothes? It really isnít going to make a whole lot of difference if I canít put on something clean." He may be pushing his luck, but it was worth a try.
"Towel around your middle will do until after you shave," the guard growled.
"Shave?" Crane couldnít believe his ears.
"Was told thatís what you wanted," the guard said, frowning.
"Uh, yes, it was. Thanks." He really didnít know what to say. Lee knew what he had asked for, but that he was going to get it all flabbergasted him.
"And donít waste time or youíll not get any breakfast," the guard added, pointing to a nearby shower stall. He then muttered something that Lee could only make out as an indictment against coddling prisoners. The other two guards waited by the outside door.
Crane didnít waste time. Soon he was luxuriating in the lukewarm water, scrubbing himself with the bar of soap from the top of his head, down to his toes. Never again would he take something as simple as a shower for grantedóever! When he figured he had not only gotten as clean as he could but had indulged in a little extra, he turned off the taps and dried. He wrapped the towel around his waist and tucked in the end.
The shower room guard had been waiting near the stall and motioned Lee to a sink with a mirror, where a straight razor and a can of shaving cream awaited. "Now, I have been instructed to let you know that if you want to spare The Peopleís Republic Court the expense of a trial, you can feel free to use the razor, otherwise, donít waste your time getting the beard off," the guard said tersely. "Again, if you do, youíll miss breakfast."
Lee raised an eyebrow at the interesting instructions and proceeded to shave off his beard. He wasnít used to this particular kind of razor, but still it didnít take long. Part of the way through the procedure, he wondered at the opportunity as the guard had presented it, but decided that while he was still alive, there was still hope. Maybe he would regret that decision in the future, but for nowÖ. For now, there was only hope.
When he was finished, he noticed a clean toothbrush and accompanying toothpaste. He pointed to them and the guard nodded sourly. Apparently, thought Crane as he brushed his teeth, this wasnít normal treatment.
Finally, the guard handed him a change of clothes. Not only were the pants and shirt clean, they were a cut above the rough cloth of his previous garb. They appeared as though they would fit without worry of the pants falling down, too, he thought wryly. And the change of clothes included underwear this time. Lee felt as though he had just come out of Macyís or Bon Marchť. Quickly he dressed, throwing the towel into a nearby hamper indicated by the guard, who also pointed to a pair of slip-on sneakers.
"Hurry, they wonít keep your breakfast waiting forever," the guard grumbled, beckoning Lee to follow him to the door.
The previous two guards escorted him to a large room filled with long tables and benches. There were other prisoners eating their breakfast and they looked up briefly before quickly returning to their meals. The food appeared to be the same kind of stuff as what he had been given in his cell, but he had a spoon with which to eat it and warm tea to wash it down. What he wouldnít give for a cup of coffee, but no complaints would be forthcoming from him at this point. He could see his food, could eat it like a civilized human being and do it sitting on a seat at a table. Definitely no complaints for the moment.
Then he wondered why he was spared the ultimate humiliation that had been his lot the past ten days or so. Why the decent behavior? Then it came to him. Today was the trial, therefore today was the eighteenth, only four days before the summit began. This was part of a dog and pony show, Crane thought bitterly. If they took pains to make this all look fair and impartial and that he was being treated humanely, it would put up brownie points for the Republicís president at the summit.
He only had a short time to eat before the guards were pushing him out of the cafeteria and down another corridor. In a room that was empty of any seats, windows or anything but a door on each end, Crane was ordered to hold his hands in front of him. Heavy handcuffs were placed on his wrists and manacles placed around his ankles. Show time, he thought.
December 18th, 0945 hours, UTC+8
Kovitch was nervously waiting in the prisonerís room for Commander Crane to be brought in for trial. He had studied more of the evidence, notes and depositions that had become available to him after his first interview with the prisoner. Of most interest to him was the information that had come to him just this morning from the forensic specialists. They had been hesitant to give it to him, but after threatening to call the Peopleís Legal Committee they had finally relented. It certainly would have no bearing on the espionage charge, but would corroborate the only thing that the American had been willing to tell him.
Still, Kovitch didnít enjoy having been saddled with this case. It certainly wouldnít look good to have oneís first case a loss. What was even worse was the fact that he had been told that President Kocerin was planning on attending. Not known was whether the president was going to be here personally or watch on closed circuit monitor. Either way, Kovitch was not happy. What made it worse was the tiny nagging feeling of actually wanting to root for Crane. At fifteen minutes before ten, the prisoner was escorted into the room where Kovitch was waiting. He motioned for Crane to sit down.
"Let me quickly tell you what to expect and what is expected of you," Kovitch said without preamble. Crane nodded. "You will be escorted in by this guard," he began, pointing to the guard still waiting by the door, "Who will take you to a partitioned cubicle facing the judges. I will follow and be seated next to you. After the court is convened, the chief judge will read the charges and then ask you to tell them your plea for each one. You can answer in one of two waysÖ."
"Guilty or not guilty," Crane interjected.
"Yes. I would suggest that you enter not guilty for the charge of murder, since you claim you didnít kill Shan Wu-jin."
Crane raised an eyebrow. "I was planning on it, despite the fact that itís my word against the systemís."
"I got some more information that will help," Kovitch said tersely. "We donít have much time, Commander."
"Sorry. Go on."
"I am suggesting you just plead guilty on the other counts and hope the judges are feeling merciful this time of year."
"Didnít think Christmas was recognized by the state," Crane replied.
"Not really, but itís not banned either," Kovitch stated. "Just donít get insolent, surly or too emotional. And be polite. Do not interrupt the judges."
Crane smiled slightly. "Donít make a spectacle of myself, is that it?"
"Um, yes. The President is going to be watching."
The American looked a bit startled. "Why? I know about that summit, but why would President Kocerin care to watch my trial?"
Kovitch shrugged. "Perhaps there is enough criticism or scrutiny that he wishes to see what happens for himself. I really donít know, Commander, although, it seems from his notes that he is genuinely interested. Why, I donít know."
"Okay," Crane said with a sigh. "What else should I know?"
"Not much, only that you can give your input if there is something you donít understand or that you donít agree with. Just do it with as much decorum as you can." Kovitch tried to think of anything he might have forgotten. He was amazed at how much information he had been told to give the prisoner and how much leeway the American was being allowed. "I have been speaking to you in English, but I understand that you are pretty fluent in our language, so you will not need me to interpret?"
"I will ask if there is a term or word I donít understand."
"All right." Kovitch took a deep breath when he saw the signal light that told that the court was being convened. "Itís time, Commander Crane." He got up and Crane did the same, frowning at the manacles that impeded his progress.
December 18th, 1000 hours, UTC+8
When they entered the courtroom, Lee gazed around, studying his surroundings, the five judges sitting in a row, the middle one raised a bit higher then his four compatriots. The head judge he surmised. He looked somewhat familiar, but he couldnít figure from where. There was a small gallery for spectators or witnesses, whatever, he guessed the case may be. He saw the prisonerís box that Kovitch had told him about. It was partitioned about waist high with a table next to it for the defense lawyer, presumably. There was a similar table on the other side of the room, but with no cubicle. Lee was led to the prisonerís box and told to enter. Carefully he stepped up into it mindful of the blasted manacles, and then continued to look around the room. He noticed that the judges were studying him. Without appearing to be gawking, Lee noted what else was going on in the room. He saw someone else who looked slightly familiar and realized that it was the U.S. envoy to the Peopleís Republic, only recently appointed and allowed into the country.
The man looked more uncomfortable than Crane felt, but that was his problem. He didnít see Kocerin, but the president might be taking the safer road and watching on closed circuit television. Out of the corner of his eye, Lee saw Kovitch take his place next to him. He wondered about the Republic lawyer. For some reason, Lee got the impression that the man was actually doing more than lip service for him, not that it was going to do any good even if the man was blatantly on his side. And that was something else he wondered aboutóhis own cool detachment from the entirety of these proceedings. It was as though he was watching someone elseís ordeal. It just didnít seem real to him, at least not yet.
"The hearing will commence," intoned a younger man who had been seated near a back door. "The trial of Commander Lee B. Crane, accused by the People, present and able to answer the charges, has begun. The Honorable Zu-shin Li Mosovin, head arbitrator." Then the man sat down. Lee started. He recognized the name as one of the Peopleís staunchest war hawks and foe to anything American. No wonder the man had seemed familiar. The admiral had thwarted not a few of his schemes. Everyone had speculated just what had happened to Zu-shin after the last president had been forced to retire. The judgeís eyes bored into his during the bailiffís short address. Lee gazed right back, determined not to let this setback show in his countenance.
The judge in the raised middle seat, General Zu-shin, began, "We are here to determine the innocence or guilt of Commander Lee Crane for a variety of charges." And he went on in what seemed to Lee to be a memorized formal speech about justice, rights, etcetera, etcetera. While listening and watching the judge, he also listened to any other noises going on around him.
Finally the introductory speech ended and the older man gazed pointedly at Crane. Commander Crane, you are hereby accused of murder against a citizen of the Peopleís Republic. What is your plea?"
Zu-shin hesitated and the dark eyes bored into his. "You are accused of illegal entrance and travel within the Peopleís Republic. What is your plea?"
"Iím here, General." With only a very brief pause, Lee continued. "Guilty by virtue of the physical evidence, not by virtue of any intent of violence upon any citizenÖ."
"Guilty," Zu-shin spat out. "You are accused of espionage with the full knowledge and consent of the United States government. What is your plea?"
Lee almost smiled at the way the words gave him a slight out. "Not guilty."
There was a murmuring among those in the courtroom and surprised looks on all the judgesí faces save Zu-shin. If anything, he looked rather pleased at Craneís answers so far.
"The pleas have been entered. Only the first and third accusations will be addressed by questioning and presentation of evidence," Zu-shin said. Without giving the prosecutors a chance to say anything, the judge began with questions of his own. "Where were you between the dates of December 2nd and December 9th when you were captured by a contingent of the Peopleís Guard?"
"I was trying to make my way to the coast," Lee answered truthfully.
"With information you had collected while in the Vorshorin region."
Crane said nothing. It was true, although he wasnít going to admit to it.
"Who was your contact?" Lee said nothing. "What information were you gathering?" Again, Lee found it better to simply say nothing. "Give me the names of those with whom you communicated. Your contacts, Commander." The badgering questions continued and Crane continued to stand at parade rest. Finally, the general sat back and took a deep breath. "You do realize, Crane, that we will eventually get the information we want. It would be so much easier for you to give the court the answers that we demand."
"Even if I had these earth shattering answers, General Zu-shin, do you think I would tell you? I don't have anything."
"Then why were you in our country illegally?" one of the lesser judges barked.
"I could give you a less than respectful answer, sir, but I have too much respect for the judicial system of any country, so I won't say anything."
"What evidence do you have that you did not kill Citizen Shan Wu-jin?" the judge immediately asked, changing his track.
"None, except my word as an officer and a gentleman," Crane answered evenly. "I never metÖ."
"I think I can shed some light on that, your honor," Kovitch interjected. He drew out a file from his briefcase and pulled out a picture. "This is a picture of the deceased man. If you look closely, you will see the powder burns not only on his head in the area of the bulletís impact, but this picture," he pulled out another picture, this time one that had been taken under special lighting conditions. "Shows powder burns on his hand as well. Only the decedentís fingerprints are on the gun which was found next to his body." Kovitch took a deep breath. "When Shan Wu-jin found himself trapped and slowly freezing to death, he realized that he had been derelict in his duty to those in his careóthose who were still in the mountains." The pause was a bit longer as the bailiff took the pictures to the judges. "Therefore the despairing man ended his own life, as he had been taught was the better way."
Again there was murmuring which ended abruptly at a withering look from the head judge. The judges studied the pictures and skimmed over the forensic report. The minutes ticked by. Lee was fully aware of the heavy manacles pressing on his ankle and the cuffs irritating his wrists. He stood erect and as unflustered looking as he could. After a full fifteen minutes, where no one said anything or moved more than a quarter of an inch, Zu-shin looked up. "The evidence seems to corroborate what you have said, Mr. Kovitch. We will take everything into consideration."
The questions were unrelenting, though. "Where were you during the days in question?"
Crane met the judgeís hard gaze with one of his own. "I was trying to get to the coast. I found an empty cabin to hole up in when the storm hit."
"When you were captured, you were in possession of a rifle belonging to Shan Wu-jin. How did you come by this?"
Lee had wondered if the rifle was going to be traced to Nicoli. It fortuitous for the old man and his grandchild that it was Wu-jin's. "It was in the cabin I was staying in. I was out hunting because there wasnít any more food."
"Commander, there was only one cabin in the area where you were captured and it was indeed occupied."
Crane smiled faintly, even though realizing that he was barking in the wind with this character. "General, if you read your own intelligence, you would know that the area is dotted with old, dilapidated cabins from the pre-purge days."
"You are lying, Commander! The area has been cleared of all such cabins. There was only one cabin in the area," Zu-shin barked and then he looked toward the back of the room, a faint smirk on his face. "With whom were you staying?"
Lee realized that Zu-shin wanted him to implicate Nicoli and wondered why. He shook his head. "The cabin where I was staying was empty."
Zu-shin seemed to turn another shade of red. "There is no need to go further with this. We have what we need to determine the outcome and we need nothing else." He turned his gaze to Kovitch. "You will hand us all notes, evidence and files that have bearing on this case." He turned to the other table, the prosecutorís presumably. They certainly didn't have much to do this morning. "You will do the same. We will deliberate."
Crane stood stoically as the five men got up and then left the room.
From the small room where he was watching the monitor, Nirhan Kocerin sat stunned at the proceedings. General Zu-shin had put two and two together and figured it all out. But Crane was protecting his father and Neera. Why?