Content Warning: I’ve always gone back and forth and content warnings. A part of me hates anything beyond like TV ratings, with very vague warnings, because I want to be able to surprise the reader; but I recognize the stress and discomfort that brings to readers, and I hate that, too. The compromise I think I’m going to try out is this; in blog form, I’ll flag moments that seem like they push the envelope at all, like this one, and in the print version, I’ll include a content warning at the front of the book, maybe with links back to it from warning-worthy chapters. That way, if you’ve got something you want to either avoid or want advance knowledge of, you get it, but if you’d rather have the surprise, you can have that, too. I’m weighing whether, in that case, it makes sense to include a synopsis, as an example for this chapter: Irene testifies at the trial of the militia men who invaded the campus, discussing in harrowing terms being hit by one, then overhearing others discuss sexually assaulting her class mates. It hit her harder, because she was assaulted the year before by a classmate.
Irene felt penned in by the witness stand. It reminded her too much of being locked in a broom closet with several other students, and she pushed the thought out of her mind.
“Ms. Trellane,” the prosecutor said, “you’ve driven down from Bellingham to be here with us today. You’re one of literally hundreds of students and faculty taken hostage at gunpoint by the defendants-“
“Objection,” defense counsel said, “prosecution is testifying.”
“Sustained,” the judge said.
“Right.” A thin smile spread over the prosecutor’s lips. “Were you taken hostage at gunpoint during the events of the siege of your school?”
“And are those who, among other things, took you hostage, in this courtroom?”
“Yes,” Irene said.
“Could you point them out for us.” Irene pointed at the co-defendants seated at a table with their lawyers. “Let the record show the witness has pointed out the defendants as her hostage takers.”
“Which ones?” Defense counsel asked.
“Wait your turn, counselor,” the judge admonished.
“Go ahead, Ms. Trellane. Point out which men you saw personally, and then tell us what you saw them do.”
Irene swallowed. “The man with sideburns, the moustache, and the asymmetrical patches of grey at his temples. He was the one who directed me, and several other students, at gunpoint, into a closet at the school. I don’t know much about guns, but he had a long gun, with a, with the hinge, that breaks down the middle.”
“An overunder shotgun. I call attention to exhibit 17C, a Blaser F16 overunder shotgun, registered to the defendant Ms. Trellane identified, Mr. Wagner Hegel. Mr. Hegel’s fingerprints were the only ones on the gun, trigger, stock, as well as on the shell in either barrel. Mr. Hegel was also found with several matching shells on his person at the time of his arrest. Now, Ms. Trellane, was Mr. Hegel alone?”
“No. He did seem to be he oldest one there, and in a position of authority, a least over those who were with him. Those included the shorter man with dark hair seated at the end of the table-
“And the taller man with glasses and light brown hair.”
“The one nearer us, or closer to Mr. Bartholomew?”
“Closer to us.”
“That would be Mr. Batts. All three were taken into custody at the same location by campus police. And you only saw those three?”
“Like I said, they put us in a closet.”
“You were hesitant to go into the closet, were you not?”
“Yeah,” Irene said, and looked down at the rail separating her from the prosecutor.
“Could you tell the court why that was?”
“They had guns, and not our best interests at heart, I suspected. But also… I was assaulted on campus last spring.”
“I’m entering into the record a report of that altercation, filed on April 3rd of that year,” the prosecutor said, before turning back towards Irene. “Because of that attack, when told, at gunpoint, to go into the closet, you hesitated?”
“Yes,” Irene said softly.
“Now let me back up, a moment. Mr. Hegel was armed. What about Mr. Batts and Mr. Bartholomew?”
“Mr. Bartholomew had a handgun; I don’t think I ever saw him without it in his hand, and I don’t recall seeing a holster for it. The gun had a cylinder. Shiny, silver, with a black scope on it, about,” Irene held her hands about a foot apart.
“That sounds like a description of a Taurus revolver, belonging but not registered to Mr. Bartholomew. The gun had been cleaned recently, but not well; his fingerprints were found inside the revolver at several places only accessible while the weapon is disassembled, exhibit 17F. What about Mr. Batts?”
“Mr. Batts had two weapons.” Irene noticed that, subtly, the defense counsel leaned forward in his seat. “One was a knife, tied to his leg in a black plastic sheath. I never saw him remove it. On the other side he had a handgun, small, a lot smaller than the revolver. It was also in a black plastic, holder, and it looked sort of plastic, too. At first I wasn’t sure what it was.”
“Is this it?” The prosecutor handed her a photograph of the gun.
“I think so.”
“That’s a Ruger. Found on the person of Mr. Batts, fingerprints on the holster, not on the gun, the magazine or any bullets. He reported it stolen last December in a home robbery. Did you ever see Mr. Batts touch the gun?”
Irene’s eyes narrowed. “No. Once or twice his hand kind of hovered over the holster. And there was one time, when they were trying to get us to go into the closet, when he was tapping on the holster impatiently. But I never saw him draw the gun. The other two never put their guns down; he never picked his up.”
“That would explain why the gun had no fingerprints on it.”
“He also had gloves,” Irene said. “Purple cleaning gloves, tucked under his belt and kind of hanging out from under it.”
“So these three armed men were trying to intimidate you into the closet. What happened next?”
“I froze, for a moment, remembering the attack.”
“Then what happened?”
“Mr. Hegel hit me.”
“Hit you how?”
“With his hand.”
“With an open or closed fist?”
Slowly, she balled her fist, and the word came out ragged, “Closed.”
“If you need to take a break,” the prosecutor prompted.
“I’m okay,” Irene said, though she wasn’t sure if that was true.
“Can you describe for us the injury.”
“It broke two bones, around the eye; the cheek and the, I guess eyebrow. It wasn’t too bad, that day; it hurt, but only swelled up a little. But by the next day I woke up and I couldn’t open the eye.”
“I’m entering into the record exhibit 79A, records from the campus clinic corroborating the injuries Ms. Trellane describes.” She leaned in. “Go on.”
“I think, the other students helped me into the closet. I was still a little in shock, moving slowly, but they grabbed my arms and ushered me into the closet, kind of shielding me from attack.”
“What happened after that?”
“We tried to talk, quietly, among ourselves. We tried calling the police; they didn’t take our phones, but none of us could get a signal.”
“I would point out exhibit 68A, an illegal cell signal blocker, as well as repeaters for said blocker, 68B through F, found at the campus. They seem to have been ordered by Mr. Schultz, who claimed they were to be used for academic purposes, and paid with a credit card by Mr. Batts. Fingerprints belonging to six of the men seated at defense counsel were found on the equipment. And what about your abilities, Irene?”
“I can do weird stuff with my voice, even float, if I concentrate enough.”
“I mean, the school is, primarily, one focused on the instruction of gifted students, what some scholars have called Breed abilities. President Drump himself has likened those abilities to weapons of mass destruction. So how could a poorly armed, poorly organized militia take five of you- let alone a whole campus- hostage?”
“Our abilities wouldn’t work. And for most of us, they’re just useless talents, like being able to wiggle your ears or turn your eyelids inside out. Some students can use a computer without a mouse and keyboard, some of us can talk without using our mouths. But we aren’t soldiers, or SWAT. And outside of life or death situations, the textbook answer in a crisis is still not to act.”
“I’m sorry, textbook?”
“Maybe a poor choice of words. But the handbook, when we go through orientation. They warned us about just this kind of situation, and that, most of the time, advice from experts is still to remain calm and passive. It’s only if you believe that you’re going to be killed that the equation changes, like on the hijacked planes on 9/11.”
“So even if your abilities were working, you would not have tried to fight back?”
“Not until it was clear that they meant to harm us.”
“Wouldn’t you classify the damage done to your eye socket and cheekbone ‘harm’?”
“Sure. But I expected to live through it. And that’s the goal in a hostage situation. To live through it. Everything else becomes secondary.”
“So you and these other four students, you were all hunkered down inside this closet. Would you tell the court what happened next?”
“My hearing’s pretty good. I think- really, a friend I have who’s pre-med has a theory- that since my ability works with sonics, that I subconsciously protect myself from all the various little ways people’s hearing gets damaged over time.”
“Ms. Trellane has been examined by a regionally renowned ENT specialist who can back that up, if the defense requires verification; I’ll sum up the findings, her hearing is superb, into the 99th percentile. What did you hear?”
“Mr. Hegel left. I didn’t catch all of it; they were whispering, and talking over one another. There was some kind of device he needed to see to, so he left. After that, I heard the other two talking. They were louder, now. One of them tried to be quieter, even tried to get the other one to be quiet, but he refused. I don’t know which was which; they hardly spoke before they put us into the closet. But the one with the deeper, louder voice, he was the one who,” she stopped, her lip quivering. “He suggested they separate us. He said he,” her breathing was speeding up, “he thought he could teach us to fucking respect them. He said he wanted the redhead, unless her face got too fucked up. Then the other one laughed, and said he’d take the black bitches.”
“What did you do?” the prosecutor asked, as the rest of the court sat in stunned silence.
“I had us move, so two of us were leaned against the door, to it would be harder for them to get it open. And I said, ‘We can’t let them separate us.’”
“What happened after that?”
“We stayed there. A couple of times they tried to open the door, and we pushed against it so they couldn’t get in. They yelled at us, threatened us. We pretended like we couldn’t hear them through the door. Pretended we were just stupid, silly schoolgirls who didn’t have any idea what was going on, played at being oblivious. Each time they stormed off. Once or twice they told us if we didn’t move they’d shoot through the door. The others wanted to listen to them, but… I refused to move.”
“Did you think, if you let them inside, that the men who held you at gunpoint and threatened you would assault you?”
“Objection, calls for speculation,” the defense counsel argued.
“I’ll rephrase. Were you afraid, if they got in, that they would hurt you and the other students?”
“I knew they would,” Irene said, her voice quaking with angry defiance. “That’s why I refused to let them in.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Trellane, that that happened to you. It happened because we failed to protect you, and those other students. But we can clarify, today, that what happened to you was not okay. We can tell people who might consider doing something similar in the future, that they will be held responsible for their actions. I know nothing can make up for our failure to protect you, but I hope that will be a start. Nothing further from this witness at this time.”