“Well, here it is,” said Mal “The child is pregnant. She says her father has been abusing her for near four years, from since her mother got pregnant with the little one. Her mother is frantic and accusing the girl of whorin.”
“What does Rahim say?” Asked Faoud. “He was just yelling when I was guarding him. It was not too clear what about.”
“We haven’t asked his story yet.” Admitted Mal. “My first thought was to put him off my boat. I got kids too.”
“We’ll all be getting off at Lazarus”.
“Wasn’t plannin on waitin till we hit dirt.”
The imam interrupted. “We must not allow revenge to become our guide. We must find justice for this child, for her family and for Rahim.”
“The airlock is justice.”
“He was rapin Hope’s little friend,” Said Jayne. “Airlock’s too good for ‘m. It’s fast.”
The passengers looked horrified at the attitude of the spacers.
“That is anger speaking.” Said the imam. “We must seek justice not revenge.”
“What will happen to Aysha?
“Well the women are taking care of her… medical needs. She is too young to undergo a pregnancy. And they are offering counsel to her mother. They hope to reconcile them as soon as Rehab calms down.”
“What happens when we get to Lazarus? We turn Rahim over to the authorities there?” Sander looked nervous. “This sounds like it would reflect on the rest of us as we settle in to the community.”
The spacers stared at him.
“Whatever happens to Rahim on Lazarus: jail, execution, even release, the story will stick to us and, unfortunately, to Aysha.” Sander said, his jaw set. “We have not only to protect an innocent child, and her even more innocent sister, because you all know that this kind of filth will spread, but we need to protect our own families, parents and children.”
The imam sighed. “Your words are cold, but yes, we must consider the whole community. I’m sorry, Captain, this is not the simple crime and punishment that you may have envisioned.”
“Nothin ever goes smooth, Machmoud. Nothin never.”
“Well. We know the girl’s story. I suppose we should hear Rahim out too. Should we all speak with him or shall we have just one person take his confession.”
“I’ll do it. I kin get anyone to talk.”
“No, Jayne. We need somethin that can stand up in court if necessary. He don’t need scarin.”
“He does Mal. He needs scarin bad.”
The imam said, “As the leader of our little group, I will take his story. I would like another person as witness. Sander, you have indicated that you have a wider view of this than the rest of us. Will you?”
While Machmoud and Sander were talking with Rahim, the other men sat silently.
Miriam and Fatima were with Rehab, who was sobbing uncontrollably.
“How can I forgive her bringing such shame on us? And accusing her own father to cover her own whorish behaviour. I will kill her and her bastard!”
“She was eight when the abuse started. Eight. The child is innocent of any wrongdoing. The sin is Rahim’s and no one else. Unless refusing to see that sin is a sin its own self.”
Rehab began wailing.
Nasira and Zoe finished their work with Aysha and gave her a smoother to make her sleep.
They joined the other women in the kitchen. Miriam made mint tea and found sweet biscuits. A chime sounded. ‘It is time for prayers,” she said. “We should join our husbands in the cargo bay.’
Adults and children, all but Rahim, Rehab and the sleeping Aysha, gathered at the prayer rug.
The imam said the traditional comforting words and the passengers made their well –known responses.
After prayer the adults, save Rehab and River, gathered in the common area. Rehab was sleeping, and River had taken all the children for a gymnastic dance class.
“That stateroom ain’t much cop as a brig,” muttered Jayne.
“There’s nowheres he kin go, Jayne.”
“True enough, but he could get out, cause all kinds of fuss.”
Mal grunted. “What did he have to say, imam?”
“He’s denying everything. And his accusations against the child are worse than those of her mother. He seems to have a great hatred for women in general. He also accuses his wife of infidelity and claims that the smaller girl is not his. He has whores and promiscuity on the brain. Short of a DNA test, which we can’t do here, we have no way of proving that he is lying. He may even believe his stories.”
“I gotta nidea. We could try to scare it out of him.”
“Jayne, you been told. Nuthin that won’t stand up.”
“Put him in the airlock.”
“That time has passed. Do it immediate-like, hot blood, no repercussions. Do it now? Looks bad on all of us.”
“I didn’t mean put him out the airlock, Mal. I meant just put him in there. We’re just a day out of the Heinlein system. Give him time to think and not enough comfort for him ta think we’re believin him.”
The imam nodded slowly. “That’s not a bad idea. We would still be turning him over to the authorities on Lazarus? No accidental opening of the airlock before we land?”
“And there’s an alarm on both airlock doors, shipside and outside. Could work.”
“Are we in agreement then?” Imam el-Said looked over at the women who looked back at him stonefaced.
Zoe’s gaze circled the women’s faces. “He’s gettin off light.”
Miriam agreed, “This is a terrible crime. A crime against a defenceless child.”
Kaylee said,”Can we protect the kids from what is happening to him? And what happened to Aysha?”
“We’ll have to leave explanations up to parents, bao bei. They know how much each child can understand. “Mal stood. “If we’re agreed, we’ll move him to the airlock at dinnertime, when the kids are distracted. And when we hit dirt, we turn him over to the local authorities.”
Everyone nodded, some more slowly than others.
Late that night there was a knock on the door to the Captain’s stateroom. River was there, trembling and shocked. She fled to Mal’s embrace muttering, tears streaming down her pale face.
“What’s the problem, Riv? Slow down an’ let me help.”
“He’s thinking. He’s remembering….. and he’s enjoying his memories.”
“You’re safe here, Riv. Shh. You’re safe. We’ll stop it. Kaylee go to the infirmary and get a smoother for River? A #3 , I guess. And then get Hope up in the bridge to make sure we’re on autopilot.”
Kaylee was moving almost as soon as he spoke. All the crew hated River’s fits. Once it was because it made them uncomfortable, now because they knew what caused them and how much they hurt their genius pilot.
“Where is she,” muttered Mal when Kaylee did not return swiftly. Mal soothed River until she stopped shaking but was still sobbing.
Then the airlock alarm went off as it opened. Briefly. And closed.
Kaylee returned with the smoother.