“We need to run the story now, Sp’Rark,” C’therax said.
“C’therax! You interviewed…” Sp’Rark interrupted.
“You brought an Earthling larvae…”
“…by accident. And that was Xogue’s fault. And we promptly returned her. And we are sure as heck are not going to run an article about her!”
“You’re lucky the biosensors on the Great Barricade didn’t shoot her down! But that’s not the point. Sp’Rark, the longer this regime stays in power the more and more people become supportive of press crackdowns. Now is the time to make our stand. We only get weaker with each passing day,” C’therax said.
“You knew that contacting her was risky. You didn’t even ask us! You have no proof she isn’t going to publicize the interview on Earth…if this leads to an even further increase of Earthling suspicion to multiterrestrials...people—our people—could die C’therax!” Sp’Rark said.
“She knows she would likely be killed if she publicized off-world communication. And she has a strong track record of protecting her multiterrestrial contacts. She credits multiterrestrials with saving her life on several occasions. The Martian Coat of Arms is always on her person.”
“Sarah Debattista is not known for playing it safe. The press down there is even more besieged than we are. If we she gets desperate, we don’t know what she will do.”
“The Martian Muckraker doesn’t play it safe either. We print the truth no one else will. That’s why our readers love us.”
“Even our readers won’t like borderline treason. You interviewed a member of a hostile species.”
“I exercised the rights of the press…”
There was a slamming sound and Sp’Rark and C’therax turned to see Dr. Vyryn marching in, still wearing his lab coat.
“Hush! Both of you. The military is here!” he hissed.
“What?” C’therax asked.
“They can’t shut us down. They don’t have the votes,” Sp’Rark protested.
“I don’t think they plan to. C’therax, have you gotten your medical shipments yet?” Dr. Vyryn asked.
C’therax’s tail tensed. There was a knock from outside the Editor’s Office. The three of them looked at each other and C’therax called out, “Come in!”
A C’rululian of Martian descent, like C’therax and Sp’Rark, entered and gave a bow. While his body was engaged in the typical etiquette of respect, his mouth formed a cruel and gleeful smile. He was wearing armor made of grey crater serpent scales. A red fang insignia marked the newcomer as a general.
C’therax, Sp’Rark and Dr. Vyryn bowed as well. C’therax kept his eyes locked on the general’s eyes.
“Fellow citizens of the Empire, I am General Vikeper. I wish to speak with C’therax in private.”
“You may speak to me only in public,” Ctherax said. “And on the record.”
The general’s grin got bigger. “It is to protect your medical privacy, my kind sir.”
“The request stands,” C’therax said.
Dr. Vyryn and Sp’Rark moved closer to C’therax.
“Sir, we have the understanding that you have been regularly ordering medical grade planetary ring dust. The Controlled Substances Division would like to verify that this is correct.”
“We will need to run tests on you to verify that you meet the requirements for such a prescription.”
“All my medical files can be made available for you.”
“We have already seen them, thanks to the Controlled Substances Crackdown Act. We understand that Dr. Vyryn is a good friend of yours and we want to make sure no affinity tampered his judgement.”
“I have the right to refuse.”
“And we have the right to block you from receiving further shipments.”
C’therax looked at Dr. Vyryn. It’s your choice, the doctor’s eyes seemed to say.
C’therax calculated. His antennae were badly aligned. If he refused to take the medical test he would suffer discontinuation syndrome within a few weeks. That would not leave enough time to mount an appeal—especially since the state would deliberately drag its feet.
If he did take the medical test, it was conceivable that the results would be tampered with and used to incriminate either himself or Dr. Vyryn.
“Counter proposal,” C’therax finally said. “I will take the test, provided it is done in as public a manner as possible.”
Sp’Rark gulped. Dr. Vyryn took a deep breath. Even General Vikiper looked shocked. “You are aware sir that under those circumstances your medical situation would be public for the whole universe to know.”
“So be it.”
“I will need to discuss with my superiors, but I believe that can be arranged,” the General said with an even larger grin than before.
C’therax gave a bow which the general returned. Sp’Rark bowed as well. Dr. Vyryn stayed standing strait. The general smiled at him with a cruel sweetness, being in too good a mood to protest his insolence. Then General Vikiper turned and left.
There was a silence which was eventually broken by Dr. Vyryn. “You are aware C’therax, that the current regime is doubling down on its mockery against those with antennae irregularities. The Prime Minister, in particular, likes to use your medical condition for jokes. The King will use this to argue that your articles are impacted by your allegedly imbalanced brain.”
C’therax nodded. “Sp’Rark, we get in writing that the Regime has agreed to my proposal. Once you have that in your possession, we are transmitting the Sarah Debattista story. If its a war of narratives they want, its a war they will get.”
“C’therax…” Sp’Rark said, “I know you believe in a hidden moral majority…but I think you give our readers too much credit…if the Regime spins the right narrative…our subscribers will abandon us. I-I just don’t want to see you sacrifice your reputation for nothing…”
“Having to be medicated for antennae irregularities should not be a source of shame…” C’therax said.
“It shouldn’t be, but in their eyes it is,” Sp’Rark said.
“Sp’Rark…even if the Light of the Immutable goes cold in the hearts of the many, we should not let it go cold in our own. If no one else is willing to the speak the truth then the Martian Muckraker must print it…stand firm in the Immutable!” C’therax said.
“Stand firm in the Immutable!” Dr.Vyryn and Sp’Rark responded. Their strong voices could not hide the fear in their eyes or the droop in their tails.
To Be Continued…
(Image by DasWortgewand)