"It's summer and it's hot in here," says a short human woman robed in gold and silver, sitting in a black chair.

The grand council is being held in the full sunlight of the greenhouse. I think they want to get this over with quick. Or quick as possible, if they actually want to get any information out of more than eleven different people. Not that the Tikolumians now how to say much. Tikreelkara will have to do the talking for them, if they choose to show themselves. They're hidden in the trees at the moment.

"Therefore," says a short human man robed in blue and gold next to her, "statements that go on for more than three minutes are to be punished with the whip."

Maybe they're not trying to get information out of us after all. Which is a pity, because I'm sure the kids of the Resistance would absolutely love to get as much info as they can out of these clowns.

Smith is standing in the shade. Not exactly good body language for an advocate, but maybe she isn't our advocate. She works for the golden-robed folks after all.

"Hekuba Zecharaias Smith," says a short human man robed in gold and green, "Please step forward and answer this question. Did you willingly let the intruders into your station?"


"Did you send a distress signal when you were being attacked?"

"Hang on," I say, "we were never attacking -- "

"That was us," says Bonci. "I think we ruined it for you, Robin. Sorry."

The short human man robed in gold and green glares at us. As does Smith. "I did not send a distress signal," says Smith.

"Did you deliberately allow the mining station to be stolen into some...Betelgeusean contraption...by the very people who intruded upon you?"

"The damn thing was going to fall out of the sky anyway."

"Is that a yes?"


"Then," says the short human man robed in gold and green, "you are hereby relieved of command, and placed under arrest. Your court-martial will begin within a week."

"That's a pretty fast judgment," says Ramon. "Don't you want to hear about, like, all the other stuff that happened?"

"No," says a short human woman robed in gold and pink, "it is too hot and we must keep our business short. Smith has informed us that the mining station is somehow in your posession. You are hereby instructed to give it back."

"I'm still fixing it," says Klunk. "And, uh...we don't actually know how to get it out of the Clown Car. So maybe we just give you the Clown Car?"

"Oh, no we don't," says Sword Lesbian. "I made that thing. It's mine."

"You could just make another one! What difference does it make?"

"What difference is there between a dollar and your First Dollar that you hang on a wall?"

"Guards," says a short human woman robed in gold and mauve, "I believe these two deserve a whipping for wasting the court's time?"

"We'll be good," says Klunk.

The short human man robed in blue and gold gets up from his black chair and says, "esteemed members of the grand council, we have more important work to be doing than squabbling about one mining station. There are plenty to spare on other worlds, after all, though the production of Spelunkium was most efficient on Rigel-9. I motion that we satisfy our efforts today with arresting the people who have been brought before us, and adjourn."

"Wait," says the human man robed in gold and silver. "I don't think it's a good idea to attempt to arrest all of them at once."

The greenhouse trees rustle and creak ominously.

"Whatever do you mean, Forsmythe?" says the human woman robed in gold and mauve. 

The Tikolumians step out from between the trees and surround the gathered little fragile sacks of meat and bone.

"I, uh...I was going to tell you that the people gathered before you are all wanted fugitives of the Student Loan Company, plus associates who are guilty by association -- "

"What!" says the human man robed in gold and blue. "They would make excellent hostages to trade for our captured general. Why did you not inform us of this earlier?"

"You didn't let me get a word in edgewise! You never let me get a word in edgewise and I can never find any of you down in the offices before it's time to meet! I'm the only one who takes care of this greenhouse, I'm the only one who bothers to stick around here. You wanted me to act as the liason to the public -- "

"Careful, Forsmythe, you're going to go over the three-minute mark."

 " -- so I was in a position to intercept our potential hostages, only I didn't know they brought friends made of wood, so now we're also hostages unless we want to let these people go or have a horrible battle full of fire and bullets in MY GARDEN."

"It belongs to the people of Carla Marli," says the human man robed in gold and blue, "and the people of the Free Lands by extension."

"I'm the one who takes care of it," says Forsmythe. "Didn't you ever read the story of the Little Red Hen?"

"The Little Red Hen was a selfish twat," says the human woman robed in gold and mauve. "Didn't even accept currency in place of effort."

"Enough!" says the human man robed in gold and green. "We are wasting time. Very well, Forsmythe, we shall have to let these potential hostages go because of your incompetence. We shall have to find a new gardener and liason as well."

"But -- "

At that moment the ground shakes and thunder rumbles. Or something that sounds like thunder. Thunder and explosions are kind of the same thing, right? Except that lightning doesn't strike on a clear day usually, and something is making a very loud sound that sounds like when you bounce a rock off a window, only a lot bigger. I look up.

Cars of all shapes and sizes fill the sky.

"Looks like the cavalry is here," says Aristede. "But I don't think it's on our side."

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