Time: 9:45 am
Place: Merc HQ
The trip down to the dungeon was uneventful, although I did pause to admire the work my fellow Mercs had done to make the place feel just right. The dripping water, the rats (all de-fanged, but Maureen didn't know that), and, of course, the darkness. I love darkness, it's where I do my best skulking. But I'm getting distracted. I have a sacred duty to perform.
As I reach the cell, I hear a whimper from within. Peering through the bars, I note that not only do the rats have Maureen cornered, they appear to be describing their script for Hamlet to her. Not even Maureen the Traitor deserves that. Besides, the script the monkeys came up with is better.
After rescuing her from the rats (which involved directing them to a certain Broadway producer I know. 'Course, I didn't tell them it was Screed), I dragged Maureen up through the dark catacombs (well, hey! You expect me to say I walked her out of the basement instead? That lacks drama!) to the courtroom. As I settled her in the prisoner's dock, her eyes took in the the prosecutor, the defender, and, most of all, the court full of Mercs. I swear, her scream must have been heard in Miami.
The court room looked familiar to everyone present. And it was very comforting. Especially the view of New York from the half-circle window above the jury box. Maureen's eyes went to that window every few minutes. How did they get me across the border so easily? she wondered nearly aloud.
Her lawyer, Lizbet "If I had gone to USC I would have been the DA" Lewis, saw her client's eyes and the confusion behind them. "Nice touch, eh?" Lizbet smiled slyly. "Abby wanted to pay homage to her favorite sit-com. It took her all day to build the model and secure it to the window."
"I don't think I want to know..." Maureen replied, remembering how strange Abby was in War 4. Visions of a toga crossed her mind. "Shouldn't we talk about the case?"
"Nope. There's no time." Lizbet looked over to the bailiffs flipping a coin to see who got to call court to order. Sara won.
"All rise!" Sara ordered cheerfully. "Merc Court part one is now in session. The Honorable Dianne T. DeSha presiding."
Dianne swept into the court room with style appropriate to a Raven/ette. Sitting down in her comfy judge's chair, Dianne adjusted her white wig (this is in Canada, remember) and gaveled her gavel a number of times to silence her adoring crowd — well, except for Maureen. There was just one thing wrong with this morning... The smell... It was...
Kangaroos were being marched (hopped) into the jury box. Abby! Dianne thought loudly. She did promise a kangaroo court... I just wish they had used deoderant...
"Order, order," Dianne gaveled. "Kira. What's our first case?"
Kira looked up from her desk, her fuzzy sweater vest making her look more trustworthy than a Merc probably should. "The Guild versus Maureen the Mad." Kira went up to the judge's bench and flung the file on Dianne's lap. That's for thinking I'm sweet, she grumbled to herself.
Dianne gave her a dirty look through her sliding wig, but decided it would be safer to ignore her. "Ok, then I guess as District Attorney, Dawn, you go first. Any witnesses?" Dawn nodded as she and Liz the Lucky got ready.
Calliope looked up to Dianne from her stenographer desk, "Was I supposed to type that?"
"Yes, Calliope, you were..." Dianne sighed. She didn't want to have to repeat everything for the record.
"Oh, good!" Calliope replied, grinning.
Dianne was going to reply, but thought the better of it. Anyway, Dawn was ready...
"It all started with the penguin," Liz said.
The witness chose that moment to start examining the ceiling tiles, as if in search of a familiar face. Her eyes went out of focus, and started to cross.
Dawn pulled down the bottom of her Armani jacket, and stepped a foot closer. This was the prime prosecution witness; the one who would seal Maureen's doom tighter than an Egyptian tomb. She didn't let her satisfaction show through the facade of the high-priced-and-thoroughly-efficient district attourney. "And just where were you when you met the penguin?"
Liz's gaze turned to Dianne's face. The Grand High Poobah was sporting a white (Canadian) Judge's wig that didn't quite cover her red hair. "Answer the question."
She nodded in agreement, which made her red twenties bob sway for a few seconds, and then looked towards Maureen — the third redhead in two paragraphs. Coincidence? I think not!
"I was having lunch in Alice's Restaurant when a penguin came up to me and offered me a job. He said he would give me a scallion (most folks call them green onions, but they're really scallions) if I would get him a Menthos(tm) mint. He said they make him tingle in places he didn't even know he had. And what girl could resist an offer like that?"
A murmur of agreement passed though the crowd. (Okay! It passed through the scallion loving part of the crowd — picky, picky, picky!)
Berg and Sara rustled importantly in their bailiff's outfits. Thoughts of Night Court were passing through their minds, and they were determined to live up to its high bailiff standards. They moved closer to Maureen, and then stared the crowd into silence.
Maureen slumped further back into her chair, which made her trenchcoat bunch up unpleasantly. She was starting to fume (again).
Dawn leaned up against the witness stand. "You can continue. What happened after that?"
"So I jumped down the rabbit hole and started chasing a cute little pig in a striped shirt. Only when I finally caught up with him, it turned out he wasn't a piglet after all, he was a Martian in disguise (funny, he didn't look like my grandmother). And that's when things really started getting strange. Because just then five foot tall pepper shakers appeared. I think they were the pest people because they kept shouting something about termites, it was kinda hard to make out because of their British accent. But before anything could happen a shimmering silver cloud surrounded me and I think Hey cool, Zeus's about to seduce me. But when the lights stopped flashing, this guy with a lobster on his head greeted me in the name of his ship. And I think that's not a starship, that's the space shuttle. Just then a kid in a red baseball cap, a giant chicken and a really tall guy with a ponytail and broadsword flew out of a hole in a wall. The kid grabbed my hand and pulled me through a hole in the opposite wall. I suddenly found myself all alone on a golden cobblestone pathway. But that's ok, I'm not a pokey little puppy, so I don't have to worry about not getting strawberry shortcake for dessert."
Liz took a deep breath, clearly winded from her enthusiastic foray into truth, Justice, and the X-Files way. Her next pronouncement was filled with strong conviction, and enthusiasm.
"And that's why Maureen's guilty."
The entire courtroom erupted in clapping, yells of encouragement, and moose cries. Dianne let it continue for a minute before using her judge's hammer. "Quiet!" BANG! "This is my courtroom!" BANG! BANG! BANG! "And I simply won't have moose cries..." BANG! "allowed!" BANG! BANG!
Dawn's high heels clicked her way back to the prosecutions' desk. She sat down, and let a satisfied smile cross her face. "Your Honor, I rest my case!"
Dianne nodded. "Ok, Lizbet. Your turn!"
Lizbet watched as Lane took the stand. She knew she had about as much chance of winning this case as Nick did of getting a klew, but she was going to give it her best shot.
She got up to cross to the witness stand in her best Jill Ekenberry/LA Law imitation, muttering under her breath. Darn, I hate wearing heels. How did I get into this mess? Darn USC people...
"Mr. Lombardia, how well do you know the defendent?"
"Maureen has persistently claimed to be "Mad"; but, I tell you, this has all been a clever ruse! We have no idea how long she stayed in our midst after having been turned against us by the Natpackers. Need I remind anyone that the Natpackers had full and detailed knowledge of a threat to us all, which they withheld during War 5, instead sending us annoying 'Chuck-E-Cheese' tokens? That was their idea of fair warning?!?"
Lizbet winced, remembering the token she had gotten. Cruel and unusual punishment for a person on a diet, to offer them pizza.
"In War 4, we can already see the signs that Maureen, if she was ever truly one of us, had already been turned against us, lured by abundant supplies of 'Performance Enhancing Drugs' (doled out by Natalie on the sly)."
"Come now, Mr. Lombardia, how can you accuse a respected doctor of such a thing?" Lizbet demanded. NatPacker was on her long list of affiliations.
"How else can you explain someone of Maureen's— um, comparatively smaller stature—" with a glance at the barely-five-foot-in-killer-heels defence attorney — "being able to slam as impressive and imposing a figure as our beloved current Grand High Poohbah into a wall? Divine intervention? I don't think so!"
"Maybe Belial?" Lizbet offered, but Lane ignored her.
"Are we to believe that Maureen has secretly been a master of close quarter battle all this time; but, somehow never got around to mentioning it to anyone? Wouldn't you expect that if she had such saleable skills, that she would have offered such services, increasing her revenues that much more? Of course she would!"
Lizbet caught herself nodding, until she remembered that she was supposed to be defending Maureen.
Lane continued. "The fact that she did not, shows that there was no sich skill. It, therefore, had to be artificially augmented strength! Obviously, Maureen's addiction to these 'Performance Enhancing Drugs' has become so acute that she could no longer garner an adequate supply from Natalie without risking exposure. The Natpackers had no choice but to call her in, to keep their augmented muscle for hire under control."
"Was there every any evidence that she was out of control?" Lizbet asked, with a nervous glance back at the red-headed woman sitting at the defence table.
"Maureen has been quick to blame a belligerent temper on the color of her hair! We know it was really 'roid rage' that she was referring to!"
Wound up, Lane finished his speech without any encouagement from Lizbet.
"Not only is Maureen's own duplicitious behavior exposed in these incidents; but, the very dark, twisted, and completely non-profittable heart of the NatPacker soul is also revealed. Not only do we have to find Maureen guilty; but, we must remain ever vigilant to the true heart of villainy which haunts Toronto."
"Belligerent?! I'll give you belligerent!" Maureen said, rising from her chair, pushed past endurance by the rampant madness surrounding her. Lizbet rushed back to the defense table and tried to get her client to sit down.
"The defendant will be seated!" the judge declaimed imperiously, pointing her gavel at the angry redhead with one hand, while her other hand tried unsuccessfully to straighten the wig that insisted on sliding into her eyes.
"The defendant will be violently ill!" Maureen retorted, fending off her erstwhile lawyer. "If we're going to talk about drugs, I'd like to know what interesting ingredients the honorable judge is ingesting these days!" she continued, glaring at her one-time friend and colleague. "This is crazy, even by your standards, Dianne! What are you on?"
"How dare you!" shrieked Dianne, giving up on the wig and tearing it from her head, leaving her strawberry-blond hair disheveled. She shook the wig in Maureen's direction, punctuating her diatribe with tosses of the white curls. "This is my court, and you will behave yourself, or I'll hold you in contempt! We're going to railroad you, and you will sit quietly while we do so!" The judge then jammed the wig back on her head, futilely trying to cram her long blond hair under the short wig, leaving long strands sticking out at random.
"Oh, believe me, I'm in contempt!" Maureen answered. She was getting tired of Lizbet's attempts to push her into her seat, and she gave the smaller woman an impatient push that sent Lizbet sprawling on her ass on the polished floor. Lizbet gaped up at her client in shock. "Hey, I'm trying to defend you!" she whined, trying to get up. The unaccustomed heels slid out from under her, depositing her on her fundament once again. "Ouch!"
"Then try harder!" Maureen snarled, transferring her glare to her "lawyer." "And while you're at it, why don't you try asking the "witness" what proof he has for any of his wild accusations."
"Proof!?" Lane asked incredulously. "Why, my proof is your own behavior!" he added snidely.
"Hearsay, inadmissable. Also, you can't testify as to my state of mind — you're not a qualified expert witness. Therefore your entire testimony is inadmissable. In fact, this... this... kangaroo court proceeding," Maureen said, now transferring her glare to the creatures smelling up the jury box, "is inadmissable, inaccurate, inappropriate, inane, insane, unfair, unforgivable, and downright unbelievable. I'd get a fairer trial from Judge Roy Bean. At least he wouldn't expect me to bring my own noose!"
"Did you bring a noose?" Dianne asked eagerly, peering around the court as if hoping to see a gallows miraculously appear.
"Ohhhhh...!" Maureen groaned, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling again. "What's the use?" She collapsed into her chair, gathering her trenchcoat around her as if it could protect her. Her hand strayed to the string of the necklace that disappeared under her shirt's neckline, seeming to gather some comfort from it.
Sara and Dawn finished helping Lizbet get to her feet. Lizbet brushed them off, trying to reclaim some measure of dignity as she straightened her suit, and faced the witness box again. "Um, I concur, your honor. There is no validity to this witness's testimony."
"Out of order!" Dianne declared, pounding her gavel. "Redirect!" she ordered the prosecution.
Dawn regarded the Merc on the stand. "Do you have anything to add to your testimony, Mr. Lombardia?"
"Yes, I do. That renegade doctor is the real cause of the change in our ex-colleague..." The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the crash of Maureen's chair hitting the floor as she leaped to her feet again.
"You will not slander Natalie's name! Natalie is the only one who knows what she's doing, she's the best coroner in this city, she's smarter than LaCroix, she has a style and class that Janette couldn't possibly aspire to, she's the cutest, the sweetest, the neatest person you could ever want to meet..." Maureen raved, driven past mad by this latest calumny against Natalie. She continued to rant and rave as Sara and her fellow baliff righted the chair and forced her back into it. She continued muttering, oblivious, as the trial went on around her. Her hands found the scatter of papers that Lizbet had spread out on the desk, and started to straighten them into neat piles. When she finished with the papers, she started lining up the pencils across the top of the desk. She looked up when Dianne announced, "I will now render a verdict."
"Why don't you render yourself into a nut-house!" Maureen shouted, standing up again. "You've turned the Mercenaries Guild into your personal little fiefdom, in order to wage your own War against me." She turned to appeal to the Mercs gathered in the courtroom. "Do you really want this fruitcake as your Poobah? Don't you think you deserve better?"
Some of the Mercs started to shout at Maureen, while others started to argue with each other, the cacaphony drowning out Lizbet, who was trying to argue with Dianne. Two Mercs in a heated disagreement came to blows, and the baliffs waded into the crowd to break it up, while the other Mercs started taking bets as to who would win. Maureen smiled, well pleased with the dissention she had sown in the Mercenary ranks...
Merc Court was rapidly turning into a zoo — and it wasn't the kangaroos' fault.
"Silence!" Dianne bellowed, jumping to her feet and raising the Shillelaigh of Deat...uh...Great Pain on high. She turned menacingly towards Maureen, who had dropped back into her chair, and ordered the defendant to rise.
Maureen looked pointedly at what was apparently an astonishingly interesting speck of dust on the desk before her. Then she sighed and began twiddling her thumbs.
"On your feet!" Dianne repeated, her voice dropping to a quietly menacing tone that chilled the blood of every Merc in the room.
Kira, having made the unfortunate mistake of watching the Olympic javelin finals only the day before, eyed the way the GHP was hefting that shillelaigh and motioned urgently to the defense.
Finding herself caught directly between two power-mad, GHP-level, Merc-trained, potentially berserker redheads, Lizbet gulped audibly and forcibly dragged her client to her feet with a sudden strength she hadn't known she possessed.
From the bench, Dianne nodded curtly and proceeded to read from a lengthy scroll.
"Maureen the Mad, Former Grand High Poohbah, Purported NatPacker, and Traitor to Your Affiliation, attend this Verdict!she ignored loud snorting sounds coming from the general direction of the accused
"Whereas it has been Determined that you were neither Brainwashed nor Forced into your Appalling Actions under Duress;
"Whereas it has been Demonstrated to this Court's Satisfaction that your Behavior, Actions, and Demeanor since the Conclusion of the Fifth of the FKFIC-L Wars have been those of a Raving NatPacker;
"Whereas Witnesses of Good Character..."
"...have Attested in Sworn Testimony in Open Court that you have, in the Past been known to Physically and Violently Attack fellow Mercs in general and to actually Strike a Future Grand High Poohbah — in itself a Capital Offense....""Objection!" Lizbet jumped to her feet. "No one testified to that!"
Calliope, the court stenographer, whose fingers were about to fall right off, stared in frank amazement that anyone had managed to follow that sentence at all.
Dianne, recovering from the surprise at being so rudely interrupted for such a minor detail of legal pettiness, frowned mightily. "Well they should have."
Lizbet saw a glimmer of hope and grabbed it tight. "But they didn't."
Dianne looked accusingly over at the Prosecution — who shrugged — and then at Abby, Court Coordinator.
Abby shrugged. "You were the only one there to witness that one," she pointed out. "And it was two wars ago...."
"There's no statute of limitations on attacking the Grand High Poohbah!"
"You weren't GHP at the time, Dianne." Maureen smiled evily. "You were just a flailing little War newbie."
"But I am now." She matched Maureen's evil grin. "You should have thought of that at the time, dear."
Maureen went back to rolling her eyes at the ceiling.
"Now," said Dianne, reassuming her declamatory pose, "Where were we?"
"Um..." Calliope scrolled back through a hideous mess of steno tape. "'Strike a Future Grand High Poohbah — in itself a Capital Offense....'"
"Is not!" Maureen hissed, but Dianne ignored her.
"Good, good." Dianne nodded. "Now on to the charges...."
"But nobody testified to that," Lizbet insisted. The contest might be horribly rigged against her, but she was still going to fight. "I move that that last finding be stricken from the record!"
Calliope winced. Striking stuff from the record was such a pain. Besides, she hadn't figured out how to do that yet.
Dianne sighed. "Fine! I'll testify. Sara? Swear me in."
"Objection!" Lizbet might not be a Real Life lawyer, but it didn't take a law degree to know there was something seriously wrong about having your judge testifying for the prosecution.
"Overruled!" Dianne snapped, moving to the witness stand. "The prosecution may begin."
Dawn looked slightly startled, but quickly regained her composure and rose from her seat. "I have only one question for this witness, Your Hon...um...." She looked through her notes. "Has the defendant in the past been known to physically and violently attack fellow Mercs in general and to actually strike a future Grand High Poohbah — in itself a capital offense?"
"Damn straight!" Dianne answered.
"No further questions." Dawn sat down with a relieved sigh.
Lizbet looked up wearily at Dianne, who was already moving back onto the bench. "I don't suppose I get to cross-examine?"
"I don't really see the point." Dianne responded as she struggled with the wig. "Overruled. The reading of the verdict will continue."
Standing once again with the parchment in hand, wig only slightly askew, the Grand High Poohbah continued:
"Know Therefore that you have been found Guilty by a Jury of your Peers..."repressed snickering in the courtroom was quickly frowned down
"...of the following High Crimes and Misdemeanors:"'A capital offense.'" Maureen yawned openly. "Yeah, yeah. We got it." Dianne frowned and added another scribble to the parchment before continuing.
- Desertion of Duty
- Assault and Battery on a Fellow Guild Member
- Striking a Future Grand High Poohbah — in itself..."
"Does anyone ever commit 'low treason'?" the Mad One asked nonchalantly.
- "Contempt of Court
- High Treason...."
"Red? Yeah, right...."
- "Warring Under the Influence of the Pack
- The Vicious Slander of your Fellow Redheads...."
Lizbet just sighed and gave up any attempts at restraining her client's outbursts.
"Terrorism?" Kira whispered to Abby.
- "Fraternizing with the Enemy
- Indecent Public 'Bouncing'
- Unauthorized Espionage
"Giving the Guild a bad reputation." Abby explained under her breath. Kira still looked puzzled. For that matter, so did Abby.
Even some of the Mercs looked a bit surprised at that one. Who'd have known they had a reputation that could be besmirched?
- "Failure to Pay Guild Dues in a Timely Fashion
- Besmirching the Spotless Reputation of the Mercenary Guild...."
Dianne was obviously winding up to a big finish now.
...she paused slightly for dramatic effect...
- "Mail Fraud
- Spitting on the Sidewalk
- Inappropriate Separation of Recyclables
There was a moment of complete and utter silence in the courtroom, finally broken by the cheers of the onlooking Mercs (who knew enough to appreciate a free show).
- "Failure to Pet a Chinchilla as a Sign of Resignation!"
Maureen and Lizbet looked at each other. Lizbet looked at Dawn. All three of them looked at Dianne.
Calliope wished heartily for a spell-check.
Dianne didn't flinch. "Abby assures me it's in the Charter somewhere."
All eyes turned to Abby, who mumbled something and refused to look up from her computer terminal.
They looked back at the bench as the parchment was unscrolled at least another foot.
"Be It Hereby Known that, having been found Guilty of these various Charges, and under Deep Suspicion of having on more than one Occasion attempted to Flout the Laws of both Gravity and Physics, Maureen the Ma..."Abby grabbed her elbow — in a show of bravery (or lack of self- preservation) few in the room would have attempted at that moment — and was now whispering urgently in her ear.
"That's ridiculous!" Dianne could be heard to hiss. "I will not...." her voice dropped off, as Abby continued. The GHP frowned as Abby stepped away. "It has been brought to my attention," here she glared at Abby's retreating back, "That This Court has been insufficiently 'PC' during the course of this trial."
"Not that that means that this is a bad court, you understand," she hastened to add. "Nor that the people in it are insufficiently niceness-enabled." She winced as though she'd swallowed a porcupine whole... and was feeling it all the way down. "But steps will be taken to remedy this grievous injustice immediately. Thank you."
Holding the parchment out at arm's length again with a flourish, she amended:
"Be It Hereby Known that, having been found Guilty of these various Charges, and under Deep Suspicion of having on more than one Occasion attempted to Flout the Laws of both Gravity and Physics, Maureen the 'Happy-Challenged' is hereby Sentenced to Be Dragged and Quartered at Dawn...."Abby was at the GHP's side again before you could blink. "Damn War rules!" Dianne muttered as they separated again.
"All right, by My Most Merciful Intercession, your petty little life has been spared."
Maureen greeted this news with an out-stretched tongue.
"Be It Hereby Known... yadda yadda yadda... Maureen the Happy-Challenged is sentenced to have her Hair dyed Blonde, Really Really Blonde, Until there's no Color Left at All — I Mean she should Make first-season LaCroix look Brunette." Dianne clarified, looking pointedly at her bailiffs.Maureen almost started to smile.
"She will also be Restrained, in a Position in which no 'Bouncing' is physically Possible, for the next Twenty-Four Hours, and Forced to Watch FK episodes...."
"But Episodes only from amongst the first Nine of the Third Season."The smile wavered.
"And the Episodes she is Shown will have All References to or Appearances of Natalie cut out — to be Replaced every time by That Scene from Amateur Night where she's Gushing over the Ditzy Blond Bimbo Actress."The smile was entirely gone now.
"At the End of which Time, the Unfortunate Sinner is to be thrown out into the Street — to fend for herself in the Cold, Heartless World; a Pariah; Never to be Aided or Abetted by a Guild Member again. Until she dies, a dark, lonely death, of Exposure and Multiple-Bounce Concussion."She looked hard at the woman sitting before her and finished darkly, "Reap What You have Sown! From this day on, I Have no Mad One!"
There was a collective gasp from the crowd. (Although whether that was from the harshness of the sentence or the generally growing awareness that this trial was taking an awfully long time between bathroom breaks was unclear.)
Lizbet rose to valiantly give it one last try. "I suppose it would do no good to object to this verdict?"
"On what grounds?" Dianne asked, with genuine surprise.
"Um, on the grounds that it is highly illegal, immoral, and possibly perverted; the accused was kidnapped and held against her will in a dungeon; the jury and the defendant are not even the same species; the judge is a power-maddened autocrat who reopened the case after the verdict was decided, testified for the prosecution, and then refused to be cross-examined; the charges are without foundation, the procedure highly irregular, and the witnesses insane; the charges do not match the findings, which do not match the verdict, the sentence, or any known version of reality...."
"No," Dianne cut her off, not unkindly. "It really wouldn't."
Lizbet sat down in defeat as the bailiffs advanced to carry out the sentence.
"None of this is in the damn Charter!" Maureen protested, as she was led away. "And your new Poohbah is Stark Raving Mad!" Her voice trailed away as the door closed. For a moment no one moved, they just looked at Dianne in uneasy silence.
Dianne la Mercenaire looked at the assembled Guild, shrugged her shoulders, and responded: "It takes one to know one."
After sticking a tongue out happily in the direction Maureen had been dragged, the GHP gathered up her things and left the court.
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