The Solution

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Peter Marshal has a problem, and maybe he has the answer.

Submitted: July 26, 2017

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Submitted: July 26, 2017

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“Are you ready?”  He looked into her large liquid eyes, inky and unfathomable, and squeezed her tiny hand.  “It'll be fine.”

She twisted her face into a crooked smile and nodded laboriously.  “Yes,” she lisped.

“OK, just repeat what I say as loudly as you can, and don't try to resist when they come for us.”

It wasn't just the hot July sun that was making him sweat.  He eyed the three blue-clad security men nervously.  They were standing next to the towering Union Statue, in the centre of Empire Square, watching sullenly as the city's residents drifted past.  Each carried a regulation weapon pack strapped to his belt, and each held a stout baton in his hand.

He swallowed, his mouth dry.  “Death to the Emperor,” he shouted.  “Long live the Republic.”

A quavering voice took up the refrain.  “Death to Emperor.  Long live Republic.”

He could feel her hand gripping his, her sharp talons digging painfully into his coarse skin.  Again and again he shouted his defiance, each time echoed by his loyal companion.  People turned and stared, shocked and frightened at this public display of resistance.  Instinctively the crowd recoiled as the security personnel, their faces contorted with anger, were galvanised into action.  Batons swinging, they forced their way roughly towards the cause of the disturbance.

A fist crashed into the side of his face, sending him reeling to the ground.  He heard a high pitched scream, shouted insults, and the sound of batons lashing his body.  Strong hands grabbed his wrists and twisted them behind his back.  He heard security restraints snapping shut and his own voice yelling as an agonizing pain shot up his arms.  Then he was hauled to his feet and punched repeatedly in the abdomen.

He watched as a blue hovercopter whooshed out of the sky.  It landed feet from him in a maelstrom of swirling grit and flying litter.  A hatch slid open in the side revealing a small windowless compartment.  Brusquely he was thrown in headfirst, landing with a thud on the compartment’s metal floor.  Rolling onto his side he caught a glimpse of a squirming body being flung next to him, then everything went dark as the hatch snapped shut.

With a roar the hovercopter became airborne.  Over the noise of the engine he heard the sound of retching beside him.  “Are you all right?“ he called out, alarmed, as the acrid stench of vomit filled the cabin.

“Yes,” a weak voice answered.  “Sick up.”

The journey did not last long.  There was a jar as the craft landed, then silence.  “Remember,” he said quickly, “don’t argue, admit everything, and sign anything they ask you to.”

“Yes.”

There was a hiss as the cabin door slid open.  Blinking in the cold, artificial light flooding through the hatch, he smiled at her as hands grabbed his legs and pulled him from the hovercopter.  “It’ll be all right,” he shouted as he was stood upright and bundled from the landing dock.  Frogmarched down a long grey corridor, he was dragged into a small square, windowless room and quickly searched.  Then he was forced unceremoniously onto a hard bench that ran the length of the wall opposite the door.

The time past slowly.  He sat, staring at the closed door, trying not to notice the aches in his bruised body.  Eventually a man entered.  He was tall, wiry, and looked to be in his thirties.  Dressed in crumpled civilian clothes, he carried a tapcorder in his right hand.

“Peter Marshal,” the man said, scanning the tapcorder, “is that your name?”  Looking up, Marshal nodded.  “I’m Captain Andersen,” the man continued.  “I take it you know why you’re here?”  Marshal nodded again.  “You’re in serious trouble, Peter,” Andersen said.  “Do yourself some good and tell me who your Rep contacts are.”

Marshal shook his head.  “I don’t have any Rep contacts.  I’ve only been on earth for seventeen days.  The last five years I’ve spent on Rectik Four, doing military service.  There’s no Rep activity in the colonies, as you well know.”  He smiled.  “Do you think the Reps are going to recruit me after less than three weeks on earth?”

“You expect me to believe, that after just seventeen days on earth, you and your Mook friend decide to let off steam by calling for the Emperor’s death?”

“Everybody here walks around like a zombie, afraid of their own shadow.  It pisses me off.”

“So you think creating a disturbance in Empire Square is going to change things?”

Marshal shrugged.  “Maybe.”

Andersen sighed.  “It won’t.  All you’ve done is ruin your life.”

“It was ruined the minute I hooked up with the Mook,” Marshal said bitterly.

“You could have left her.”

Marshal shook his head.  “It would have killed her.  I couldn’t do that.”

Andersen studied the tapcorder’s screen.  “So you married her three days ago.  It’s a strange sort of honeymoon you two decided to have.“  He sighed.  “If I write up a joint confession, will you and the Mook sign it?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want legal representation?”

“No.”

“OK, I’ll take you to an interview room where we can get this settled.  Stand up and come with me.”  Marshal stood and allowed Andersen to guide him out of the cell and through the building.  Reaching an open door, Andersen walked him into a frugal room containing a table and some chairs.  Drawing one of the metal chairs back, Andersen pointed.  “Sit.”

Marshal sat and watched as Andersen left the room and shut the door.  Minutes later the door opened and Marshal’s wife entered, followed by Andersen.  Screeching with joy she loped towards him.  “Oh,” Andersen said mockingly, “that’s so touching.“  He drew the seat beside Marshal back.  “Tell your wife to sit down.”

Marshal smiled at his wife and indicated the chair with his head.  “Sit beside me.”  Clicking her pointed tongue against the back of her razor sharp teeth, she sat and rubbed her soft cheek against his muscular shoulder.

“OK,” Andersen said, placing the tapcorder and stylus in his hand on the table, “here’s the deal.  I’m going to remove your restraints so you two lovebirds can hold hands.  While doing that both of you read this confession and sign it.”  He looked at Marshal.  “Can the Mook read?”

“She’s got a basic grasp of Empire English,” Marshal replied.  “Anything she doesn’t understand I’ll explain to her.”

“Fair enough,” Andersen said.  He quickly removed the metal restraints and sat down in one of the vacant chairs opposite.

The document wasn’t long, nor was it particularly complicated.  It set out accurately the events leading to their arrest.  Marshal looked at his wife and smiled.  “Do you understand it?”  She looked at him and nodded gravely.  “Right, I’ll sign it first,” he said, “then you do the same.  Understand?”

“Yes.”

Marshal picked up the stylus and signed his name carefully.  Then he handed the stylus to his wife.  Gripping it tightly with her tawny coloured fingers, she slowly wrote her married name: “Cherry Marshal.”

“Good,” Andersen said, looking pleased.  “I’ll arrange a court hearing for tomorrow.”  He stood and went to the door.  Opening it he beckoned, then stood aside as two uniformed guards tramped into the room.  “You’ll be taken back to your holding cells until the judge can see you.”

“It’ll be all right,“ Marshal called after her as a burly woman officer escorted his wife away.  Cherry turned her head and smiled as she was led out into the corridor.  Then it was his turn.  Roughly, he was led back to the little grey cell and the hard bench.  He smiled as the door closed.  Things were improving.  Now that he had his hands free, he could relieve himself in the functional toilet in the corner.

The next day, after a bland, unappetising meal, he was transported to the justice building.  Led into a small court room, he saw that his wife was already present.  As he walked the few steps to where he was to sit, he reflected on the events that had wreaked his life.  Sitting beside her, he kissed Cherry gently on the crown of her smooth, hairless head and stroked the backs of her three fingered hands.

“All rise.”  Marshal stood and indicated to his wife to do the same.  The judge, a stooped woman in her mid fifties, entered the court through a door behind the justice bench.  Sitting down with a sigh, she adjusted her black robes fussily before giving a nod to the clerk.  “All sit.”  Marshal sat and pulled his wife down beside him.

The judge scanned the screen in front of her with tired eyes, then looked at Marshal and his wife.  In a listless voice she asked them to confirm their names.

“Peter Marshal.”

“Cherry Marshal.”

Did they want legal representation?

“No.”

“No”

How did they plead?

“Guilty.”

“Guilty.”

Did the prosecutor want to add anything?

“No, your Honour,” came the bored reply.

Marshal gripped his wife’s hand.  The judge eyed them benignly.  “As neither of you have wasted the court’s time,” she began, “I am minded to be lenient.  Consequently I sentence you to the minimum tariff allowed by law.  As you are husband and wife you will be transported to prison planet K 134, where you will serve fifty years in your joint and sole company, sentence to be executed at the earliest possible opportunity.”  Nodding to no one in particular, she rose and hurried out the court.

“The convicts will rise.”

Marshal squeezed his wife’s hand and rose.  “It’ll be all right,” he told her, pulling her up.  She smiled toothily and nodded.

After three weeks Marshal found himself boarding a prison vehicle in the company of ten other prisoners, one being his wife.  Dressed in identical orange overalls, each was restrained in a separate cubicle.  When all the prisoners were secure the vehicle made its way leisurely to the spaceport, and the waiting transport.  After six days on board, Marshal was taken from his holding pen and marched at gunpoint to the airlock.  Moments later another detail brought his wife.

“OK, I will only say this once.”  The senior guard, his grey face fat and sweaty, stood with a podgy finger on the red “open” button.  “When I open the inner door you will enter the airlock quickly.  When the outer door opens you will leave even more quickly and get as far away from this ship as you can.  Do otherwise and you will be shot.  Understand?”  Marshal took his wife’s hand and nodded.  “Right then, get ready.”

The inner hatch to the airlock rumbled open.  Marshal pulled lightly on his wife’s arm and stepped into the dimly lit chamber.  Turning, he saw her join him.  There was a rumble behind them, then the outer hatch opened with a groan.  Fierce sunlight cascaded through the open port, forcing him to shield his eyes with an uplifted hand.  Grasping his wife, Marshal stepped out of the airlock and walked briskly down the boarding ramp.  In the distance he could see a simple metal hut shimmering in the heat.  

Glancing over his shoulder he saw that the ramp had already been retracted and that the hatch was shutting.  “We have to hurry,” he said.  “They’ll be taking off shortly.”  He began to run, dragging his wife with him over the bare, baked earth.  A great roaring noise filled the air as the ground shook violently.  Then a searing gale sent them, choking, stumbling forwards.

The roaring died to a rumbling thunder, and then was gone.  Overhead the hot sun poured its brilliance down from a cloudless sky.  Slowly Marshal limped towards the hut, his wife by his side.  Beyond it a field of yellow plants, watered by a tinkling brook, waved gently in the listless breeze.  Stepping through the open doorway, he swept the hut’s interior with his gaze.  Except for a bed, two pillows, and a mattress, it was empty.  He felt Cherry’s arm slip around his waist.  Dazed, Marshal turned and looked at his wife.  For the first time in a long while she looked happy.  “We alone,” she said, smiling crookedly.

“Yes, Cherry,” Marshal answered, “we are well and truly alone.  There’s nothing here save the two of us, this hut, a field of nutritious but utterly boring Imettent Grass, and a stream of water.  Just enough to keep us alive, but nothing more.  From now on I will never look at a woman, and nobody will call you a Mook.”

“Good!”


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