“Martian sentiment has turned sharply against the C’rululian Empire,” the soldier stammered out to General Vikiper.
Vikiper enjoyed the tremor in the soldier’s body as he spoke, but not enough to offset the seriousness of the news. “Continue.” Vikiper ordered.
“Several soldiers with ties close to the Empire have been relieved from duty in the Martian Army and the Martian government is quietly reserving critical resources. No one wants war, but they are not ruling it out. Peaceful protesters are barricading every embassy the Empire has. We’ve withdrawn two critical diplomats. They are demanding C’therax’s release. The other diplomats are still in position…but we are afraid. We don’t know what…”
“We need to get C’therax to break…” Vikiper said cutting him off. He turned towards the dungeon deck of the ship, knowing that, for a mere newspaper editor, C’therax would be hard to break.
C’therax’s hands were shaking. He hadn’t had a dose of his medical grade comment dust in over a month and withdrawal symptoms were setting in. He’d alternate between falling to the floor of his cell unable to gain the energy to move or even to eat his prison rations, to having jolts of energy that caused him to pace back and forth like crazy. His anxiety was rising.
The energy field in front of his cell opened and General Vikiper walked in.
“C’therax. C’therax. I see you are still declining our offers.”
“The Muckraker lives. Democracy lives,” C’therax said, feeling the tremble in his voice. Vikiper smiled.
C’therax realized that there was a part of him that was glad to see Vikiper. That’s part of their game. They only allow you person to person contact with Vikiper. Everything else is through machines. They want to weaken the part of your mind that needs the company of other people, C’therax thought.
Vikiper produced a hologram showing what appeared to be the offices of the Martian Muckraker newspaper. “The former Martian Muckraker building has been converted into a business hub, C’therax and any rumors of the Muckraker continuing to be published on Earth are a fantasy.”
It’s not real, C’therax. Or if it is, there is context missing. Hologram images can be doctored.
Vikiper produced a vile of medical grade comet dust. C’therax involuntarily reached for it. Vikiper held it just out of reach.
“Relax my dear boy. I hate to see you suffer like you do. I want you to feel better, C’therax. Sp’Rark and Dr. Vyryn have already taken offers…”
The hologram shifted and showed Sp’Rark looking into the camera and speaking.
“As a reporter I falsified most of my reports out of an Editorial bias towards the C’rululian Empire. Democracy is a government of the past, we need a strong central unity if we are to compete with the dangers in the Universe…” the alleged voice of Sp’Rark said.
C’therax was aware that he was hyperventilating. Images can be doctored and if she did betray the cause it must have been under some kind of distress…don’t don’t…
Vikiper continued to speak, “The real withdrawal symptoms don’t happen during month one C’therax, they happen during month two. The pain you are feeling…it will only get worse…and not only that…Mars is moving on without you. Your chance to have a legacy is drying up, C’therax. You have to move now if you want to resume your rightful place. Otherwise history will forget you were ever born. Mars still retains some love for you…but you can only go back if you join the new Mars ready to be strong and loyal to the common good, the good of Empire.”
C’therax’s head was spinning…
“I will never do one of your crazy v-v-v-id…” C’therax gripped his antennae and tried to take deep breaths. The room was spinning and a pain was growing in his spine.
“No videos C’therax, there is the Annual Empire Ball tonight… Don’t you miss seeing other Martians? You can go…if you behave yourself. I want you there in person, to speak, meet with a few dignitaries…your old friend Gorg will be there…he committed his sins but the Empire is always ready to forgive. If one shows loyalty.”
C’therax paused. He considered.
Then he laughed.
“You’re a careful man, Vikiper. I’ve learned that about you over the years. You would never let me out of this cell if it wasn’t necessary. So why not insist on a holovid confession? Why risk having me at a ball…sure you’d have a handler watching me, and most of the people at that stupid event are propaganda props. But even then there is risk…I’m in public…propaganda videos are much safer. ”
“There-s no logic C’therax… I merely…”
“You know that even if I did do a holovid Martians would doubt. They would believe it was doctored. Which means that contrary to what you claim, there are still Martians that believe in me, who are holding on to hope against hope, who wouldn’t believe a holovid confession even if they saw one. A confession that occurs in person thus is needed, harder for the resistance to deny.”
Vikiper didn’t answer.
“Such a high risk maneuver being proposed by you…things must be getting desperate for you out there.”
Vikiper’s poker face was good. The only sign of stress he showed was the faintest of lines in his forehead, but C’therax from years of being a reporter knew how to read body language like a book. C’therax saw and knew that Vikiper was bluffing. C’therax smirked.
Vikiper stormed out.
A week later the cell’s energy field lowered once more and Vikiper walked in.
“C’therax we are afraid that this closed cell is hurting your health. We really do want what’s best…the Supreme Leader objected but I pleaded…” Vikiper said.
“You’re a shitty actor Vikiper…” C’therax spat.
“We will allow you a flyby of the rings of Saturn, free and in a space suit. Movement can help with the withdrawal symptoms.”
Vikiper held out his hand.
C’therax started to take it…then pulled back. “I will go if you guarantee that Sp’Rark and Vyryn will be there…and they have to meet me here before we go.”
“That is out of the question, my boy, this is a limited…”
C’therax curled up into a ball and refused to answer Vikiper’s offers.
C’therax stayed in the curled position for three weeks opening up only occasionally to take a bite of the rations that were brought in by machine into his cell. Whenever Vikiper would appear he would curl up again and refuse to look at him.
The need for human contact is part of their strategy, C’therax, don’t look at him don’t let him brainwash you… C’therax repeated to himself over and over.
Then one day he heard Sp’Rark’s voice.
“C’therax…” C’therax opened up and looked. Just outside the energy field was Sp’Rark looking radiant and beautiful. She spoke again “It’s so so good to see you…”
“Sp-sp sp…” C’therax tried to say
“I want to be with you C’therax, I want to free you…but we need to accept that our days of star-trotting irresponsibility are over….” the voice continued to say.
Once again the room began to spin. C’therax leaned against a wall to prevent from falling over.
“Wh-wh…” C’therax’s tried to focus despite the throbbing in his head. They must be enhancing the symptoms somehow, he thought.
“Please C’therax, I love you and I am doing this so we can be together and share in the Empire’s glory…
“What did you get to eat on our first date?” C’therax asked. It has to be a holovid, it has to be.
“I had that disgusting Venus Blubber…”Sp’Rark said with a laugh. C’therax’s heart dropped. No…no…no only Sp’Rark knows that…she has really turned…
“Sp’Rark please they are brainwashing us, we can’t-we can’t give up the cause…” C’therax begged.
“I got it on your recommendation too…you laughed so hard when I spit it out…” Sp’Rark continued.
C’therax smiled, despite himself, at the scene.
“And that’s when we kissed…”
C’therax crossed his eyes.
“Something wrong dear…?” the voice of Sp’Rark asked.
“We’ve never kissed Sp’Rark…” C’therax said. Soon after I became editor, politics caused us both to turn away from romance and onto more serious pursuits…we never even made it to being an “official” thing…maybe one day…
The image of Sp’Rark opened and closed its mouth.
“YOU’RE A LIAR VIKIPER!” C’therax shouted and the image vanished. C’therax collapsed sobbing. They must have been pounding Sp’Rark for details all this time in order to make this deception he thought. She must have slipped them the false story of the kiss in order to let me know that this was a trick…and I was so stupid…I should have played along! Instead I announced that she had fed them false information…stupid stupid stupid…now they will hurt her because they know she tricked them…
The next day sirens rang in the prison. C’therax briefly heard the sounds of lasers being fired. No one came by his cell though. The isolation from social contact continued.
The sound of the energy field being lowered woke C’therax up. He didn’t move.
Then he felt a soft kiss on his forehead. He let his eyes open. Dr. Vyryn and Sp’Rark stood over him.
Sp’Rark had tears coming down her eyes, Dr. Vyryn himself also looked emotional.
“Are…are…what can you say that only Sp’Rark would say.”
“We need to get back to work,” she said and in one fluid motion she injected C’therax with a syringe. The effect was almost instantaneous. The pain in his head stopped and his anxiety levels dropped like a rock. C’therax let out a gasp.
“You always were the business minded one, ” C’therax laughed. The three of them hugged.
“Mars has closed all its ports in protest. The galactic economy is tanking. Martians are rationing what food they have left to stretch out the trade freeze as long as possible,” Sp’Rark said.
C’therax smiled. “So the Empire had to let me go? This…this is real?”
Three days journey later, C’therax, Vyryn, Sp’Rark and the collective staff of The Martian Muckraker stood by the tachyon transmitter in the central communications deck of the Martian Muckraker building. Vyryn finished soldering on one last tachyon capacitor than flipped a switch. The machine glowed green and gave a warm humming sound.
Cheers broke out and that day’s reporting began transmission. Vyryn, Sp’Rark and C’therax smiled at each other. The Muckraker, the last honest newspaper in the Milky Way, was alive.
To Be Continued…
Hi everyone, this was a more intense story than usual. If you are looking for something on the more goofy side you can visit my http://www.Martian.Earth website where there is now a “Chat a Martian” app. I hope you enjoy.