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|The Court Martial|
June 21, 2014
"Everyone come to order!" General How of the Council of Five was the presiding officer at Ratana's court martial. There were an unusual amount of people in attendance for the hearing: earthbenders, warriors, regular army, almost the whole Terra Team, cavalry, militia and even navy. It was not often that a member of the Terra Team was put on trial, so it was naturally the talk of the town for the soldiers. Anything to keep their minds occupied on something other than the Fire Nation Army, which was mere days away from their capital by now.
Garbed in the same dirty tunic that she had worn in her cell, Ratana approached the seat beside the one where her representative in court sat. Her partner was also there, and he escorted her over to the seat in the center, her hands bound together by shackles. Even though Shun Ping was Ratana's defense attorney, Tooru was required there as the token member of the military, since Shun Ping was now a civilian and Ratana was stripped of her rank and position in the Terra Team pending the outcome of the case.
When the room had fallen silent at last, How directed the prosecuting attorney to present his opening statement to him and the other two generals who accompanied him. "Thank you, Your Honor. As you are aware, we are here today for the trial of Ratana of Gaipan, formerly revered and now disgraced member of the Terra Team, for the charges of: disobeying orders on the battlefield when commanded to retreat at what would later become the failed and infamous attack on the colony of Gujuhmin, assaulting her commanding officer, the respectable and esteemed Colonel Quan Jing, who vigorously stood with his troops at the aforementioned battle, and lastly, insubordinate behavior against the colonel's honor and dignity. It was also Colonel Quan Jing who directed Ratana from the Terra Team to complete her most recent mission. The details of such mission were kept secret, but it has been disclosed that she failed in her pursuit."
At the close of the prosecutor's opening statement, Tooru and Shun Ping both stood up at once. Then, the latter addressed the court, supporting himself with his walking stick. "I am here to defend loyal subject to the Earth King, earthbending master and war heroine Ratana for the unjust claims brought against her. Technically she did break some orders, but the officer whose orders she disobeyed initially broke orders himself, and following those orders meant disobeying his. In doing so, she saved many among the majority of the troops sent to Gujuhmin who were left behind. Yes, she attempted to make an arrest of Colonel Quan Jing following her return from her most recent mission. This undertaking, her so-called assault, was of reasonable justification and the defense intends to prove that the evidence points in her favor."
The prosecution's case was simple. The charges against Ratana were repeated and what was said in the opening statement was expanded into a detailed account of Ratana barging into Quan Jing and Sung in the hallway and the subsequent events that followed. It lasted merely a few minutes before witnesses were called.
"In the heat of the battle, if no one of higher rank is around, people sometimes take charge," Zan Xun recalled to the prosecuting attorney and to the rest of the room from the witness's seat. "Ratana was determined, and she spoke loudly at the time. We all know how the raid on Gujuhmin ended. If she had known her place and let Colonel Quan Jing do his job, things might've been different."
Once Zan Xun's testimony was complete, his earthbending partner Taigang elaborated further. "Like Ratana, we all ended up staying behind. We were all trapped within the city, and the outcome of the battle was highly uncertain. The colonel was nowhere to be found to tell us otherwise."
"You were in the first wave!" Although not a called witness or an attorney, Tooru had risen to his feet and shouted across the room at Taigang, up in arms about what he was listening to. "You were already trapped between enemy lines by the time the colonel left, and Ratana came back to help you. How can you forget that?"
"Tooru, sit down!" General Sung yelled from the stand, beside General How. "You do not have the floor." Reluctantly, Tooru was forced to lower himself back into his chair. As he did, he caught a glimpse of what he thought was Colonel Quan Jing smirking behind the generals, which made him cringe in fury.
As he wrapped up, the prosecuting attorney addressed the charges Ratana had attempted to levy against the colonel earlier, knowing that they would be brought up once Shun Ping held the floor. "Knowing that her reputation would crumble after her disgraceful return, a cowardly Ratana concocted a nonsensical tale about the colonel, and took it upon herself to deliver vigilante justice upon him. It is our wish that the court find the accused guilty as charged and deliver sentence upon her appropriately." The prosecution then rested its case.
After that, it was Shun Ping's turn. "As I said before, I am disputing the charge of Ratana's actions on the grounds that they were justified. This applies to both the orders and the subsequent run-in with the colonel. Now, as for the charges that Ratana hopes to bring against the colonel..."
"Objection," the prosecuting attorney stood up from his seat. "As the proceedings have established, Ratana is the one on trial today, not Colonel Quan Jing."
"Maybe so," said Shun Ping. "But these charges were what justified Ratana's actions, and furthermore what caused Quan Jing to intervene. When Ratana went on her mission, she encountered-"
"Stop right there," interrupted General Sung, who sat right next to General How. "The recent mission that Ratana was given was secret, and thus all details pertaining to it are classified and unable to be spoken of in this court martial. At any rate, they can't be relevant to today's proceedings."
"That's not fair!" Tooru shouted again from behind Shun Ping. "How can you expect the evidence to be presented if we're not allowed to talk about it?!"
"Out of order, sit down," the general on the opposite side of How as Sung stated. With this second outburst of his, the bailiff seized Tooru by the shoulder and shoved him back down into a sitting position so hard that Tooru nearly fell off his chair again and onto the floor.
"Very well," Shun Ping cleared his throat. "The charges that Ratana would bring against Quan Jing include negligence, cowardice, disobeying direct orders and reckless endangerment of those under his command. Now, onto the battle at Gujuhmin several months ago, which we have submitted a documented account of..."
"I can see why you of all people would recall that battle well," How said in acknowledgement of Shun Ping's injured legs. "But what does this have to do with Ratana's trial today?"
"Yes, I don't see how this is relevant," concurred Sung.
"It shows that Ratana was justified in her actions," said Shun Ping. "As I pointed out, that was why she attempted to make an arrest of Quan Jing. It all stemmed from his actions at Gujuhmin."
"Interesting," Sung struck his pointed goatee. "So it's the deciding factor for your case, then. It's a bold move to accuse a high-ranking officer in this manner. Should we allow it?"
"We'll allow it, for now," said How.
"It is the defense's belief that Quan Jing collapsed the earth lines and injured several troops before ordering a hasty retreat and deserting the battle," said Shun Ping. "Ratana saw this with her own two eyes."
"And she didn't report it until after her failed mission recently, and no one else said anything about such events, either," added the prosecution.
"We have witnesses," Shun Ping countered.
"Really?" asked the prosecuting attorney. "Where are they today?"
"Well, we had witnesses for this part of the case," Shun Ping clarified. "There was the driver of the tank that Ratana and the colonel both rode that day, who saw Quan Jing's grave error. However, the driver is...gone." At these words, Shun Ping shifted his gaze, briefly but clearly, to Colonel Quan Jing.
"If there's no witnesses to that, then you have no case for it," the prosecuting attorney articulated decisively. "The document from the raid that was submitted did not allude to any clear misconduct on the colonel's part, so what you're telling us is hearsay."
"It's true that not many at the battle were close by when the incident took place," admitted Shun Ping. "But more earthbenders than firebenders were crushed by Quan Jing's careless bending. The prosecutor's case may be that the rocks our benders brought from the ground near the wall were under unstable foundation and that the Terra Team members who erected it weren't on their best that day, but we know that it was because of Quan Jing. Besides, the colonel always made every effort to make sure the Terra Team was performing well. Taigang and Zan Xun's testimonies seem to be ignoring this. Ratana's actions that day were heroic, and she has been just as exceptional on the battlefield on many past occasions. I have a testimony of my own, as I said, to her bravery and honorable actions-"
"That is irrelevant," General Sung interrupted. "This trial is not about past valor, but about present misconduct."
"How can it be irrelevant?!" Tooru said aloud, rising from his chair a third time, equally as frustrated as he had been with Taigang and Zan Xun's testimonies earlier.
"Tooru, you're out of line," said How. "If you speak out of turn in this court martial again, you'll be held in contempt of court."
"He's right," Shun Ping trotted back to Ratana and Tooru's seats and whispered to the latter. "Pull yourself together! You're not doing me any favors like this."
"I can't help it," sulked Tooru, meeting Ratana's eyes with difficulty. "This whole debacle is a mockery of justice."
"It's not over yet," Ratana's defense attorney and former Terra Team comrade said in a hushed voice. "As I was saying," Shun Ping went on, addressing the full court once more. "I saw Ratana's actions at Gujuhmin myself. She saved me at the risk of her own life. I believe her."
"It's not whether you believe her," How spoke up. "It's whether we do."
"And the document gives great weight to her case as well," Shun Ping continued as though he had not been interrupted. "Unfortunately, not all the witnesses I hoped for are available, but she's simply not the kind of individual who would carry out the actions she's been accused of. I was also going to ask Brawki, who taught multiple members of the Terra Team including Ratana, to attest to her character today. He would've testified to the impeccable and honorable service record of Ratana. Unfortunately, he too is not around. He was called to serve in Munn not too long ago. A last minute reassignment, I might add. As for most of the rest of the witnesses, they have gone quiet or missing. They seem reluctant, and I can't help but think it's not of their own accord."
"Do you have any witnesses today, at all?" asked the prosecuting attorney, sensing that his task was becoming all too easy.
"I do have one," Shun Ping looked toward where he had sat down at the start of the proceedings. "Approach the stand...Tooru."
Right before Tooru's testimony was about to begin, General Sung made a remark. "Speak up, Tooru. You're actually allowed to do that now." This line drew laughs from a handful of officers and other spectators throughout the room.
Like he had swallowed a grapefruit, Tooru now felt out of his league, having done nothing yet today to enhance his credibility. Along with Shun Ping, he had reviewed what he would be saying ahead of time, though now, when it was too late, he wished he had rehearsed the exact words to give to make it the most compelling. "Ratana and I met up after the Outer Wall collapsed," Tooru echoed mainly what Shun Ping had indicated. "Quan Jing had just made the wall collapse."
"Did you see Quan Jing attack the wall?" the prosecuting attorney interrogated, not loudly, but his directness showed he had no patience for beating around the bush.
Gradually, Tooru lifted his gaze to Ratana and Shun Ping, now across from him. "I...did not." Even in defense of what he knew to be right and the truth, Tooru found himself unable to lie convincingly in this setting.
After Tooru left the stand, Shun Ping returned to Quan Jing's coverup effort. "We won't have to mention the finer points of the mission itself to point out that Quan Jing sent an assassin after Ratana following when he sent her on her secret mission, of which all details are confidential. He hired this assassin in a tavern not far from here in the week after Ratana left."
"Preposterous," retorted the prosecuting attorney. "Colonel Quan Jing never left the compound during that time."
"Let me rephrase that," said Shun Ping. "He didn't actually go himself. He sent a middle man to hire the assassin for him."
"Where is this assassin now?"
"That's awfully convenient for your story," said the prosecutor, crossing his arms and slowly returning to his seat. "Without anything to back it up, that's exactly what it is, too: a story. Have you any witnesses to that?"
Shun Ping briefly turned to Heidze, who was standing near the back of the room. The boy from the streets of Gangkouz was very much out of place here, and he knew that calling on him would be far more likely to put Heidze in danger than to save Ratana from it. "No."
After the prosecutor and Shun Ping exchanged closing statements, the generals convened briefly before announcing the verdict. Tooru sat close to Ratana, and moved his hand down to wrap his fingers around the digits in his partner's corresponding, still-cuffed hand. It was not long before the three generals made their announcement.
"We find the accused guilty as charged," stated How. "In accordance with our by-laws, we sentence her to death by being bound to a stake and stoned via earthbending." Colonel Quan Jing emerged from behind, whispered something in How's ear and the latter continued. "The execution will be carried out by the standing members of the Terra Team, whose honor she has defiled with her actions, and all current members will be required to participate."
Tooru, eyes widened, let go of his partner's hand exchanged a look of shock with Ratana. For a moment, the room spun around the pair of paralyzed earthbending friends, realizing what they had heard.
As the bailiff assisted the chain-cuffed Ratana, she shook herself free of his grasp. "Screw it!" She proceeded to bang her chains hard enough on the table edge to free her hands and shatter her shackles. Then, she kicked the floor and erected a stone pillar, shooting Quan Jing from his spot and crashing through the wall on the side of the building.
- A lot of this story arc so far was inspired by the movie Paths of Glory.
For the collective works of the author, go here.