The place is full of birds, chirping. Quiet. Reverential, Preacher might say. Trees rustle along the river below the flat spot where the speakers stand. They’ve brought chairs, for those who are waiting to speak. There’s a whole row of the biker chicks, snapping their gum, cleaning their sunglasses, tapping their nails, and occasionally roaring–as big cats roar–when they agree with a point made by a speaker. Their hair is teased up particularly large, as if they’re feeling the need to be even bigger than usual. They’re sitting where they are because they have a few stories to tell, too, like Emma’s. There are a few guys sitting there, as well, but they’re quieter than the women, a few seem uneasy, almost embarrassed. But they’re there.
The village is pissed off.
The guy who pissed them off is in no shape to argue. Lacey has him gagged because he can’t stop talking. His comments spill out of him helplessly, continuously, with no filter and no hesitation and no pause for thought–and the mind this reveals, pitilessly, is impoverished, sad, a little too dim to grasp some of the things people always expected him to understand. It’s a form of Tourette’s Syndrome that Emma has seen a few times before, but never quite so bad. Lacey says he’s already said enough, he’s not required to implicate himself in everything.
Dance’s venom did it to him.
Nobody knows if it will wear off, or heal, or if he must live like this the rest of his life–if he lives through these proceedings, that is. The stories are grim. Some of the women who were reportedly assaulted have vanished. This, in an area so disrupted, may be what he’ll get by way of a murder trial.
Some of the others implicated in some of his tricks can argue–and do–but they’re not thrashing around very much with some of Fozzie’s biggest code-enforcers standing just behind them. Running away hadn’t done a lot of good for two of them. The guys who stopped them running away are the guys who ride the bounds and fight bugs and drive the outer trucking lines for Fozzie’s company, big leather-clad guys armed to the teeth who’ve come in during the night. They’re ticked off that they had to leave their territories unguarded, even for one night, for this kind of crap, and they’re not shy about saying so. Some of them have brought in whatever evidence there is on what happened to disappeared zoomorph women. Some of them set up a St. Andrew’s Cross, and it isn’t for having fun with, and it isn’t just a reminder.
Efrim probably isn’t the murderer; but somebody in the bunch is. Efrim’s always been too blatant for that, unless something went wrong; he couldn’t have hidden bodies and not yakked about it when he got drunk.
Actually, nobody’s been shy about anything. Even without Efrim’s diarrhea of the mouth, there was enough testimony to make it clear that something has to be done. They can’t afford this sort of threat from their midst, not with the plethora of threats coming in from outside. But there’s really no precedent here, and nobody, not even Lacey and Fozzie, know exactly what the right course of action should be.
“Now folks,” Lacey says, calmly, as they start yelling. Her eyes are gold, her snakes are visibly agitated, and there’s the slim whipcord black tail twining around the legs of her chair. She’s as mad as everyone else, but she’s had years to learn to control her temper to avoid killing people by accident. “Now folks, you’ve heard a lot of upsetting things here. But we aren’t barbarians, we aren’t a lynch mob. We are intent on justice. We are asking the questions here. Right?” She gets a roar. Then she stands up, that slim tail looping and sliding hypnotically along the grass of her stage. “You saw what Dance’s venom did to Efrim. The question can be asked, what might it do to any of the others accused here? Now, in a court of law, that would be a threat.”
“Fuck a court of law,” someone shouts, “we want justice!”
Lacey nods, turning, holding out her arm. “We hear you, Tee-boy. I would say the same–except for one thing. If one of us standing here, with our bully-boy strength, accused you of hideous crimes, Tee-boy, would you want people to have a say in what happens to you? Would you want the rest of your kin here, your people, your best friends, to have the chance to argue on your behalf? Would you want the voice of those who don’t agree with you now to be respected, so later on your voice is respected when you are not agreed with?” Her arm sweeps out. “We have fought too hard, and too long, for our rights as people, to give up on the most basic rights of a trial in this country. That is my belief. Who will speak next?”
“Have Dance bite ’em all!” Tee-boy shouts. There are scattered shouts of “Yeah!” and “Right on!” from the assembly, but people are looking thoughtful, and muttering quietly amongst themselves. Lacey, as usual, makes a lot of sense.
“But Dance’s venom might kill ’em now, there’s no predicting,” Lacey says. She nods at Preacher Slick, who gets silence from the crowd when he stands up.
“Is it fair to ask him to have that on his immortal soul?” says Preacher, in his great, carrying voice. “Is it fair to ask a man who hasn’t taken his place in our community permanently to answer for our crimes, if the authorities ever come knocking on our doors and asked what we did here? Is that fair, to place that burden on one person’s shoulders, even if his conscience was willing to risk such a danger? Is that the justice we ought to seek?”
Another roar from the lionesses, and a lot of cross talk.
Lacey holds up her hand, and soon there is silence. “In a regular court of law–and if questions ever got asked–using that venom of Dance’s would be a threat. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. Let me tell you something you may not know. Dance is a baby. He’s still growing into himself, since he was unpinned. He’s a naga. He’s a fucking Black Ops Naga, one of only two in the goddamn world ever made that we know of. He was warehoused in that sarcobox for months, and he came out of it alive, when a hundred other morphs out there died. He’s already killed bug-bits to defend his people. He is fucking dangerous now if he’s provoked. He’s fine with rehabilitated folks, he’s fine with babies and children, he’s our resource for fixing all kinds of infections and bad diseases, but don’t fool with him, cause he ain’t gonna be fine with that. Has everyone got that? Don’t talk Dance into drinking too much, don’t try to fight with him, and don’t come whining to me if he manages not to kill ya if you do something stupid with him. That is why Efrim got hurt. Efrim was warned, and he didn’t pay attention. Don’t mess with my back-fang boy here, because you are endangering everybody else around you if you do. Clear? Everybody got that?”
There are those, standing along the stage, who nod significantly. Each one of those guys who work the bounds, it seems, already spread some similar announcement of warning to the community. Just before she strolled up to go to her chair, in the center, Lacey told Emma she was going to do this. Dance isn’t looking happy about this at all. He looks tight, blank, which means he’s probably deeply ashamed of becoming a problem of this magnitude.
“I would like to make a suggestion,” Emma says, and realizes she sounds very Aussie, under stress. Lacey nods, and Emma stands up.
Silence, the void of faces staring at her.
“Dance also has a very, very good nose. Let him smell the dress of that woman who disappeared last week. And then let him go and smell the cabin, the bunk, whatever, where these men have been sleeping. I’m sure you can pick out some other folks who also have very good noses, do a blind test, and check if they agree– or, if you have enough great sniffers, then you could leave Dance out of it completely. That would be good, because he’s involved in it personally, because of me.”
“Brilliant,” Lacey says, a moment before the crowd erupts into roars of agreement. Some of the cat women are standing up, fists pumping, roaring. Under that roar, Lacey looks at Emma, and says, “Girl, you are reading my mind so nicely.” Then she turns, and all the snakes rise up high on her head, together, like some sort of amazing headdress. It’s so striking an image that people quiet down. “I want six volunteers chosen for sniffing, and I want ’em picked from a pool of a dozen or eighteen, and I would put in the request that you folks vote on ’em your own selves. Who’ll run the voting? Tee-boy, you think you can be fair about running a vote? Why don’t you come on up and help out. Calm you down, make you feel better, make everybody feel better. Okay, let’s get a move-on, thinking out who’s got a good tracker’s nose who could sort this out. I don’t want to keep our guards here off their beats. The speaker’s stick is yours, Tee-boy.”
“Me, I need couple three vote counters,” Tee-boy says, coming up. He’s tall and thin and nervous, like a black greyhound. His ears flatten on the top of his head and flick forward again as he takes a carved stick from Lacey. The deference is entirely natural and obvious. Lacey nods a little, retires to her chair. Then Tee-boy turns, and looks alertly at the crowd, and the intelligence in him shows. His ears make him look like an Anubis straight off a tomb painting. His tail is whippy too. He starts calling on people, nodding to the vote counters, who brought little notebooks with them already.
Emma can feel the tip of Dance’s tail come up and rub her arm lightly, and she folds her fingers around it gently, letting it slide away when Dance gets embarrassed about being stared at. “Wish you had an instrument under your chin?” she says, picking her words carefully.
“Yeah,” Dance mutters. “Or a banjo, or… anything. Are my pants okay?”
Drin murmurs, from the other side, “They’re staying up okay.”
“It’s turned into a murder trial, and all I can think of is my pants falling off in public, and the kids on the baseball team giving me total grief about it,” Dance mutters.
“I’m sure, in a bunch of folks with tails, you’re not the only one worried about your pants,” Drin says.
Lacey says to Emma, quietly, “Not quite a trial, we ain’t got evidence yet. Think of it as a big ad hoc grand jury, maybe. Ain’t nothing stopping us from collecting evidence on behalf of a citizens’ grand jury. Now, since I called and asked for somebody to come out here for evidence collecting last week, when that last woman disappeared, and I called about the one before that at the time, and so on, and nobody’s got here, what with one thing and another, I figure it’s all been contaminated and messed with, and the scent may be the one thing that rat bastard didn’t figure he’d get caught on. I bet he planted shit so he could roll over on his best buddies if he got caught. Damn, if anybody would loan me a cigarette, I’d be in big trouble, I want a smoke so bad.” She sighs. “Which one is it, Dance?”
Emma glances up, surprised. She meets Drin’s worried gaze over Dance’s head.
Lacey says, “That woman’s dress, I know you walked right past it on the table first thing this morning, and then you walked along down front there, past every one of these guys, like you already knew they hung out together.” She tips her head back, looking under her eyelids.
“You have a good smeller too,” Emma remarks to her.
“Uh huh, sure do, baby, but I’m the judge, or as close as we get. I don’t mess with the evidence, I just mess with the jury’s heads,” Lacey says.
“It’s the second on the left, Remy,” Dance says quietly. “By the smell of it… he’s… a trophy-taker.”
“I see,” Lacey remarks. “Well. Makes it easier, don’t it? Probably isn’t a brand new habit with that one, either, probably been learning his trade for awhile. Living in a bunkhouse where you can’t hide things, now that does wear on a guy like that after awhile. I’ll just make a suggestion they try finding just where he’s stashed his little things.”
Dance grimaces. “The noses might be thrown off by the other guys he hangs with. Toine, to the right end, I smelled lots of stale bug-taint on his clothes. You smelled it too, yes? I could understand, if he handled rescue jobs for Fozzie’s clean-up crew, or maybe his work crew got attacked and he stepped in a mess. But I also hear maybe he’s been running off from his crew when he’s supposed to be helping out.”
“You know damn well he ain’t never been trusted near rescue jobs, he bullies smaller people, as you must know well,” says Lacey. “Running off where he got no business being, with his work crew buddies covering it, I could see that. Be nice to have it pointed out by somebody besides me.”
“Will I have to fight very many guys, since you put a big silly sign on my back?” Dance says to her.
“Ahh, you need to learn to keep your mouth shut while you’re beating the crap out of fools anyway,” Lacey says, with only her eyes smiling. “Funny, how sometimes watching a totally unfair fight just makes a gal feel so much better about things.”
Emma murmurs, “As long as it’s our side winning.”
This sprang off of “Just a Back Fang Viper Man”, which in turn started off from a 50kinkyways prompt and took off plotwards instead of pr0nwise.
As I noted there, googledocs collaboration, for the win!