A great hulk of machinery hung weightless in space. It was Station Galliom, a stationary platform three kilometers in length housing over 6,000 inhabitants. It was an interkingdom platform, located inside the white zone between the Fifth and Second Kingdom. White zones were neutral and usually spanned 500,000 kilometers, which gave the station a comfortable distance from the paws of either of the Kingdoms.
Deep inside this great whale of a station, Galliom's stationmaster sat on an old chair in his office. He was a burly man in his fifties with hard eyes that had served in the Second Kingdom Navy. At the moment, they were set on the woman who looked to be in her late forties sitting in front of his desk. Her eyes had bags under them, and worry plagued her otherwise handsome feautures. Their conversation had begun not long ago. Stationmaster Turlo was trying his best to calm his guest down. "Ruth, you need to relax. This is an interkingdom station," he said reassuringly. "No Kingdom can nab you or your people, so long as you are inside this station."
Her arms tightly crossed over her chest, Ruth didn't seem to be reassured by his words. "Gary, things change. It was told to us that our time is near, and I don't want to make it your time, as well." Her voice was shaky, but that was most likely from exhaustion.
Turlo smiled with a tinge of incredulity. "Fantasizers are really something else. When and how did this happen, Ruth? How did you start believing in the supernatural? You really don't, and cannot, know when 'your time' will be. No one is going to die."
Ruth got up off her chair and looked intently into Turlo's eyes. "Gary, will you at least hear me out before we leave? I know what you think I am, but I also know that you know who I am. Why can't you just give me three minutes?"
"Leave? Who said you were leaving?" Turlo's smile shone with amusement, but the woman wasn't taking the gesture. "Maybe I will hear you out, Ruth, but not today. I got a lot of paperwork to do." Going from deep space special ops in the Navy to a paper-shredder on a practically defenseless civilian alloy box was a heavy toll, but it was better than sitting on a military retiree resort.
"If you don't want to listen, then we can't stay here any longer. I refuse to bring danger to you and to the people on Galliom any longer."
Turlo looked into the woman's dark eyes. He saw genuine concern there, but no fear. That was the Ruth he knew. She was as fearless as a lion, but a lion with a tender heart. As a child, she was always the first to go into the darkest caves, climb the highest trees, scale the largest rocks, but also the first to comfort and hear one out. Turlo tried his best to prevent these fond memories from putting a smile on his granite-like face. "Nothing will happen to the people, and you are not going to die, Ruth."
"I am not afraid of death, Gary. I know where I will go. The question is, where will you go?"
Turlo scoffed passively. "Into a lifeless void, of course. Listen, Ruth, I am..." he paused to choose the right word, "...touched, by your concern for me and the inhabitants, but I think you need to go and relax. Eat. Get better. Do whatever it is your people do in their spare time." He gestured with his hand for her to leave. As much as he would have liked for her to stay, he knew she was sleep deprived, hungry, and frazzled.
Ruth gave him a look of silent desperation as a last ditch-attempt. "Gary, please..."
Turlo got out of his seat and walked up to the exhausted woman. He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Ruth, everything will be okay." He smiled down at her. Never to anyone else had he shown so much emotion.
Ruth gave him one last look before leaving the room. Turlo stood there for a second. He felt something in his chest, and nervousness somehow crept in. That woman genuinely believed in what she was saying. He couldn't help but think, what if... Returning to his chair, Turlo shook his head as he sat back down. What a crazy, beautiful woman.
The stationmaster could not stop thinking about his long awaited encounter with Ruth, the person he trusted most in life. Ruth was now one of the fantasizers. He shook his head, cursing under his breath. She had the best intentions, he was sure, but her choice to "cross over" to the other side, where brains are apparently of no worth, would be her undoing. Every Kingdom was hunting down dissidents like no other. He heard about what they did to them, if arrested. They hauled them back to earth, the United Global State Center, and subjected the dissidents to the "correction process." So far as he knew, this "process" was not forced. In essence, though, it was; the alternative was the death sentence. Or might as well be, Turlo thought. He found it hard to concentrate on his work with all this running through his head. The thought of Ruth being turned into a living robot... He shuddered. Knowing Ruth, however, Turlo doubted she would accept it. She would probably rather die---but if only they would allow that. She had no idea of his feelings for her, how he thought of her day and night while serving in the Navy. It was those feelings that had practically forced him to find her as fast as he could after he had heard that she was compromised by her...choice. She may have become a fantasizer, but she was still his Ruth. He was going to protect her, or die trying.
The stationmaster couldn't help but think of the station's Second, his young Nebethsdan colonite, Senior Supervisor Wroclaw. She got this job three years ago, and he'd always put his neck out for her when she would do something wrong. He wasn't exactly sure why he did what he did for her, but something about her brought that out of him. Fresh out of advanced school, Charlie Wroclaw was confident and held her nose high, as practically every graduate of such a school did. After she got her job on Galliom, though, she started to make all sorts of mistakes. Wroclaw had no real experience, but Turlo never let her out of his sights. He practically adopted the young girl, and now he was placing her in danger. She knew nothing of these dissidents aboard Galliom...
Thoughts kept racing through his mind. He didn't get much paperwork done, and ended up staring at the holoscreen for minutes on end without moving a finger. A quiet trill, which seemed to blare, thrust him back into real time.
"Stationmaster, this is Control. Please respond."
Turlo blinked a few times before he could regain focus. He looked at the holograph of the senior supervisor displayed in front of his desk. Until he pressed the respond button, the supervisor wouldn't see Turlo. The stationmaster smacked the button. "What is it?"
"Motion trackers show a plate inbound. Their tag indicates category C."
Turlo's heartbeat went up. His nervousness was starting to irritate him. "Affiliation?" What would a 2K or 5K military plate be doing inside the white zone?
"Federal Sanction," was the curt reply.
Turlo suddenly forgot all about his irritation. He tried his best to keep a straight face. "I'll be right there." Hitting the end button, he hurried out of his office. It was not a long walk from his office to the station's control center. Walking through the automatic sliding doors, he immediately felt a tension in the room. Turlo's staff was nervous. In all his years in the 2K Navy, never did he see the Sanction being sent for chit-chat. C-plates were action-oriented---coupled with the fact that this was a Fed plate, they were here on some serious business. He felt the eyes of his staff on him as he made his way to the command chair, and the only thing running through his mind was Ruth and her words.
The senior supervisor surrendered the command chair as her stationmaster approached. She was a young woman with white hair, green eyes, a sharp nose and thin lips. Turlo took his seat on the "throne," and his senior supervisor took the seat next to him. She saw the distress in his eyes, even though he knew how to hide emotion well. Many ex-military people have come back from service looking and acting like robots. Turlo wasn't a robot, but when things got bad, he became one. She looked at the holoprojector in the center of Control. The Federal Sanction heading their way couldn't mean anything good. They certainly weren't delivering the mail.
"Have they contacted us, Charlie?" Turlo asked, leaning on the armrest closest to the supervisor.
"No," Charlie replied, shaking her head. "They're not attempting stealth, and their current velocity is Vega .67. Seems a little slow for a corvette." If the Sanction plate would fly under cover, there was no way the station would detect their tag. Every type of star-farring vessel gave off its own set of signatures which can be detected and recognized without using active scanning; these signatures are known as the tag.
Turlo rubbed his chin with his free hand, staring at the hologram of the medium support platform. Getting a visual scan on it would be pointless; Sanction ships possessed ultra-powered lights not only to be distinguished, but to blind visual scanners, in case anyone attempted to take a peek at their exterior. For a civilian platform to perform an active scan on a Federal military platform would violate a long list of interkingdom laws. All they could do is sit and wait for the Feds to arrive. He spoke in a lowered tone. "They don't want us to panic. Looks like they want something."
Charlie frowned. Want something? She respected and admired the stationmaster very much, but sometimes he just seemed like a weird old fart. Nevertheless, he was a father figure to her, so these "occurrences" did not stifle the deep respect she had for the man. She owed much to this man. She replied in a hushed tone, mimicking him. "What is it that they want, Mr. Turlo?" The stationmaster didn't seem to hear her.
Turlo leaned back against his chair, his lips firmly pressed together. His mind raced. If they discovered dissidents on Galliom, his staff would be arrested, the inhabitants processed for questioning, and the dissidents hauled back to No Man's Land. He shuddered. "How long before they get here, Charlie?" he asked in a steady voice.
The white-haired supervisor glanced at the screen next to her chair. "Twenty minutes or so."
Turlo cursed vehemently in his mind. Too close. If he would have sent Ruth out in a transport pod a few hours ago when they last spoke, then maybe the corvette wouldn't be able to track them down---maybe. Now, though, the Feds would be on top of them in a split second. If they were under terminal orders, they would just vaporize the pod without even increasing their speed. Turlo began to breath slightly faster, anger welling up in his chest. Those twenty minutes passed by with a great slowness. Every minute seemed like an hour to the stationmaster, and no solutions came to mind. By the time those twenty minutes were up, his vision was practically red with rage.
A low-pitched trill notified Control of a craft entering the vicinity. Then came the expected notification from the senior supervisor, "Federal Sanction military platform entering the vicinity, stationmaster." Moments later, the Feds were knocking on the door. "Receiving a communication request from the Sanction."
"Put it on the holo and answer the call, Miss Wroclaw," Turlo said quietly, his eyes staring straight ahead.
A male in Sanction uniform popped up on the holoprojector. His eyes were staring at Turlo, but didn't seem to see. "I am Commander Wunderlich of the FSMP Hollernst," he said. The voice which was apparently associated with the projected man was nuetral, but cold. "We are under Federal orders which are in accordance to Interkingdom Decree 5547, giving us the right to search your station for any dissidents."
Turlo frowned at the talking cadaver. "I am not aware of such a decree."
There was no pause by the Fed. "A96, Interkingdom Netherbellst Council, 3:48 Third Kingdom Time, the decree was issued. Prepare to lower any defenses and be boarded for a full search. APC platforms are ready for deployment. Have your docking gates ready to receive in ten minutes." The holographic man disappeared.
Turlo knew he had only minutes. "Notify the docking yards, Miss Wroclaw. Have them open the gates in fifteen minutes." He got up and headed towards the exit.
Wroclaw stared after him. "Mr. Turlo---"
"Do it, Charlie!"
He didn't stop or slow his pace. As he passed through the Control Room doors, he heard Wroclaw echoing his orders. His pace quickened as soon as the doors behind him closed. He couldn't call her in her quarters. The Feds would surely intercept the call. Turlo looked down at his hands as he hurried along the corridor. How he longed to caress her with these hands. And now, these hands had to... He clenched them into fists. Oh, the irony! He said to himself hundreds of times that he would do everything and anything to protect her, but not like this! He wanted to scream. His eyes darted back and forth, not finding a resting place. He couldn't focus. Sweat stung his eyes as he stepped into the MDT. Grabbing the support rails, Turlo didn't notice how the multi-directional transport car started to move.
The clock was ticking, and every second was hell. There was a Sanction corvette outside the station, full of cadavers waiting to infest the corridors of this civilian platform. In a flurry, Turlo punched the wall in the MDT. The dull thud did not fully convey the force with which the stationmaster slammed his fist into the wall.
MDT Assistance began to talk to him as the car slowed to a stop. "Now approaching a restricted area," it said in a cool voice. "Please specify a different destination, or supply an authorization code."
Turlo had to collect himself before answering. "Authorization Gary Turlo, eight seven six sparrow blue three. Veon Prime."
The car resumed its course. "Voice recognized. Code verified, Mr. Turlo."
Eventually, the MDT doors slid open, and Turlo had to force his legs to move him out of the car. Every step was hell, and with each one, Turlo's anguish increased. He didn't have much time. As he forced himself to liven his pace, he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a handle. The dark corridor crossed a few others, until finally he arrived at the dreaded door. A small light dimly illumined the door and its surroundings. Silence hung heavy in the corridor as Turlo pressed the doorbell.
No doubt, Ruth was looking at the screen which showed Turlo standing in front of her door. The door slid open with a slight hiss, Ruth standing behind it. There was a smile on her face, but it faded quickly. Her eyes looked down at the handle in his hand. "Hello, Gary," she said quietly. "Why don't you come in?"
Turlo didn't say anything. He just stared at the beautiful woman. Entering her quarters, he walked over to the living room in silence, looking around, expecting to see about a dozen or so fantasizers huddled together. There were none. He spun around to face Ruth. "Where are the others?" he asked incredulously, but in a whisper.
Ruth looked at him for a moment, then answered, "I sent them away on our pod as soon as I got back from your office." She walked over to the raggedy couch and took a seat. "I know about the danger, and I didn't want my brothers and sisters to fall into their hands."
Turlo frowned. "Has someone told you about the Feds outside?" Where could she have gotten this information?
"No one but the Lord," she said with a slight, weak smile. "I know I have only minutes left, Gary, and I know how you feel about me, too."
Turlo quickly lowered his eyes. Was he that obvious? Was he that stupid?
Ruth got up and approached the stationmaster. She took his hand which was clutching the handle into her own, and peered intently up into his eyes. "If that is true, will you grant me one last wish?"
Turlo was a man of steel. He was a man with a granite heart. But somehow, this fantasizer had managed to see past the rock and metal and find that heart which had been hiding for years upon years. A tear rolled down his cheek. "Make it quick," he croaked.
For the next few minutes, they sat on that couch together. She shared her faith with a man of the sword. She told him about how thousands of years ago, a man was born on earth to save him from an eternal afterlife of torment. He listened to her speak, each word penetrating the steel surrounding his soul. In those three minutes, his life flashed before his eyes, and he remembered all those years they spent together, all those moments they shared. Those three minutes were the shortest, and longest, in his entire life. He listened to her story. It was a rather beautiful story, he thought for a fleeting second, but a story nonetheless.
The sound of the doors hissing open broke the peace which had somehow found its way into his mind. The cold surge of reality and the sound of heavy military-grade boots hit him hard, but he did not falter, did not hesitate for a second---with a flick of his thumb, a long dagger-like blade shot out from one end of the handle he was holding. Fueled by adrenaline, his arm swung with stunning, almost inhuman, speed. His eyes locked with hers, he drove the nine-inch blade through her heart. Blood gushed out, splattering onto Turlo's chest and neck. Though her eyes flooded with shock, he saw fearlessness in them; he saw Ruth, the only person in his life to have cared for him. She was just telling him about how her hero from ancient times came back from the dead, defeating hell. The irony just wouldn't stop.
He heard the Feds shouting at him to stand down, but her eyes paralyzed him. Amidst all that was in them, he saw something else in those familiar eyes. Before the life left them, he thrust his lips onto hers. The taste of her blood mixed with their tears was bitter, but sweet. Ruth's eyes dimming was the last sight he saw before he blacked out from the shock caused by the electric tranquilizer shot into his body by the Feds...
A bright white light made it very hard for Turlo to open his eyes. His neck was numb, so he couldn't really move much to see where he was. He didn't have to. He knew he was on the Federal corvette. This was an interrogation room. It was like any typical interrogation room. He sat on a metal chair which was placed in the center of the room, his ankles and wrists held down by suppressors, with two lights in the small square room---one above him in the ceiling and one in front of him in the wall.
Behind him, the stationmaster heard a door opening and closing with a hydraulic hiss. A man stepped in front of him, but only partially obscuring the light. He wasn't blocking the light very much, so it was hard to see him, but enough could be seen to know that he was a Fed. Turlo glared into the his eyes. He couldn't help but shiver as they stared back into his; wide open but unemotional; seeing but hollow.
"Stationmaster Gary Turlo," the Fed said in that same tone as the commander of the corvette had used. "You have been charged with housing, aiding, and abetting dissidents. Do you have a statement or rebuttal?"
Turlo kept glaring at the Fed. "Burn in hell, cadaver," was his reply.
The Fed made no move or gesture that suggested any sort of reaction. His eyes and tone remained the same. "Under Interkingdom Decree 409, if a charged citizen refuses to make a statement, whether in defense or to confess guilt, when given the opportunity, he/she is pronounced---" A wad of spit hit the Fed's cheek, causing him to pause. After only a moment's pause, he continued. "He or she is consequently pronounced guilty, effective immediately."
"Save it, cadaver."
The door behind him hissed again, and another man came around to stand next to the Fed, a pad in his hand and a cigarette between his lips. He stood there, reading something off of his pad, affording himself a drag off the cigarette. "Take a break, Nancy," he said without looking up. The Fed looked at his comrade, the wad of spit still staining his cheek, and left the room without another glance at Turlo. After the door closed, the smoker didn't look up. "Table. Chair. Lights."
The light in the wall faded, while the one in the ceiling stayed lit. Out of the floor in front of Turlo, a rectangular platform was raised by four metal legs. Beneath the table there was more flooring, but slightly depressed. The chair came up out of the floor as a rectangular metal piece, which then one half folded up to make a crude "sitting device." The Fed, still reading and breathing the air drawn through the cigarette, took a seat.
Turlo examined him. He wasn't a cadaver, that much was obvious. There were rumors that "non-processed" people served on Fed plates, but never did Turlo hear of smoking being allowed. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, although his posture suggested an older age. The man was dressed in the same uniform as the other Feds: black cloth, a somewhat high fringed collar on his tunic, three brilliant blue stripes running down the right sleeve and pant leg, two rows of flat black buttons on the tunic, and metal-polish shoulderboards which had the Federal Sanction insignia printed on them in brilliant blue. His collar was undone, and a few buttons were loose; his black hair jutted out from beneath his black peaked cap, which sat crookedly. It had a flat black band and a metal-polish cap device with the Fed insignia bearing the Sanction's color, brilliant blue. His face looked like he hadn't shaved for a few days, and his bottom eyelids were slightly red.
The Fed removed the cigarette from between his lips, and his yellow-fingered hand came down to rest on the tabletop. He finally looked up at Turlo. "That's quite an impressive record you got there, commie," he said casually. The slouchy Fed was referring to Turlo's previous rank of commander in the military. He put the pad on the table and tucked his free hand underneath his other arm, dragging some more air through his cigarette. "How, in Sanction's name, did you end up in suppressors?"
The cigarette smoke drifted into Turlo's face. The stationmaster didn't flinch or cough as he breathed the second hand smoke. He didn't say anything.
The Fed sat there, burning up the last few bits that were left of his cigarette, staring at Turlo. He flicked the cigarette butt away, and reached into his tunic, pulling out a small, white box. More cigarettes. He took one out and blew lethargically at the tip for a slight second. It lit up, and he proceeded to stare at Turlo as he sluggishly drew breath through the cigarette, placing the box down on the table. He finally spoke again after smoking half his cigarette. "She must have been a fine ride."
Turlo's face didn't change, but the suppressors started to change from a soft blue to a red. The Fed glanced at them as he blew out smoke. "When they get white is when it really hurts," he said indifferently. "You should probably stop straining against them, commie. Eventually, it---"
Before the Fed could finish his sentence, the suppressors gave off a bright flash, and Turlo jerked spasmodically. Even after the shock, he could still feel pain pulsating through his body.
"So she was more than that, then." The Sanction officer leaned forward. "Had to be sure. Release suppressors." A few beeps and an automated voice asked for command confirmation. "Confirmed. Release the fedding suppressors!"
The blueish glow of the suppressors faded, and four circular cuffs fell to the floor with a clang. Turlo lifted his head shakily to look at the smoker. "Fedding?"
The officer shrugged. "They know how I mean it. Just another way to mock 'em. Sorry to have pushed your button like that. Just wanted to know what kind of man I'm dealing with. Special Officer Gen Vaughan. Chief interrogation officer."
The pain was subsiding at a quick pace, now. Turlo could hold his head steady. This Vaughan was unlike any officer in the Sanction he had ever seen. And what was he doing on a Sanction plate? "What are you doing on a cadaver plate?" Turlo murmured.
Vaughan picked up his cigarettes and held it up to Turlo. "Coughless."
Turlo didn't ponder for very long. He took one and lit it. He couldn't remember the last time he had a smoke. Probably not since he seriously began to climb the rank ladder. "Shouldn't you be attending a fund raiser for your old man, Officer Vaughan?" Smoke drifted out of his mouth and nostrils as he spoke.
The officer leaned back and replied with a wry smile. He got up and took a few steps towards the door, putting one hand in his pocket, and with the other held his cigarette. "Yeah, I suppose if I would've stuck with that, I wouldn't be surrounded by cadavers." He paused. "Governor of State Vaughan couldn't bear to have it on his rep sheet that his son was...corrected." Another pause. "So instead of turning me into a cadaver, he struck a deal with the fedding wigs to put me on a plate full of them. Fedding two timer."
Turlo remained silent. Whatever this boy had going on, it wasn't pretty. Vaughan came back to his metal chair and took a seat. He flicked away his depleted cigarette and lit another, squinching his eyes at Turlo. "You've been found channeling dissidents, commie. People notice things, and the Feds are good at squeezing the juice out of 'em. And by the way, they slapped a Priority One sticker on your rear quarters. The Feds want you delivered to them at any cost. What's your story?"
Turlo leaned forward, looking down at his cigarette inbetween his fingers. "It was the only way I could find her," he said quietly. Taking a drag off the cigarette, he shook his head ever so slightly. "It was the only way," he repeated in a barely audible voice, the smoke from the cigarette slowly drifting past his downturned eyes as he spoke.
Vaughan left his cigarette between his lips and loosely crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Look, Turlo...you're gonna fry, no matter what. But I want you to die for good."
Turlo looked up at Vaughan. "That's...very kind of you. You don't seem like the merciful type."
"Say what you like. I may be a wig brat, but I know a man of honor when I see one. The cadavers would have it too good to have someone like you joining them in their coffins."
This time it was Turlo who squinched his eyes at the other. "So tell me what it really is, son."
Vaughan held his eye on Turlo for a few moments. He broke his stare as he pulled away his cigarette, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air. Despite them smoking, the ventilation system made quick work of the smoke. "You had the guts to kill your dissident...unlike me."
Turlo nodded, lips pursing but eyes never changing. "I suppose I'm just lucky. Is she on this plate?"
Vaughan chuckled bitterly. "Her plate was blown to smithereens by the Ninth Kingdom. Nobody likes getting tickets, and nobody flinches if a fedding Fed plate gets wiped, especially out in the weeds." Taking another drag off his cigarette, he chuckled again. "You should know, deep space special ops commander." Vaughan averted his placid and bitter stare towards the wall. "I sent them a thank you card. Just wondering when it'll be my turn. Hopefully soon."
Turlo rolled his depleted cigarette between his fingers. "How do you pass the time here, Vaughan? As far as I'm concerned, you're the only human on this forsaken plate."
Vaughan shrugged, still staring at the wall with a half-empty look on his face now. "They let me have a cadaver or two all to myself now and again. Isn't much of a step up from holograms, but flesh is better than fluff, I suppose." The Fed sat in silence for a while, as did Turlo. Vaughan picked up the pad off the table. "Well," he began, "I gots' to have a talkin' with your little senior."
"She didn't have anything to do with it, Vaughan."
The interrogation officer didn't change his expression while getting up from his seat. "You know how it goes, commie," he said, pulling down on the edge of his tunic in an attempt to straighten it but instead causing it to sit crookedly. "It was her job to know these things. She didn't. I'm afraid she might have to hang with you."
Turlo looked at Vaughan for a second, rage overwhelming his mind. The stationmaster slammed his fist into the table. "Curse them!"
Vaughan nodded, taking a drag off his newly lit cigarette. "Yeah, Turlo, it fedding sucks. I'll see what I can do."
The Fed turned and started to leave. "Vaughan," Turlo murmured. The interrogater stopped. Turlo had to collect himself before saying, "Thank you."
Vaughan blew out some smoke in response and left the room.
Wroclaw gazed at the Fed standing in front of her. He was only partially obscuring the light in the wall, but she could still see his eyes. They were hollow. It was as if his eyes were painted onto glass balls which were then placed into his eye sockets. He told her about the charges against her and offered her a chance to make a statement or rebuttal, but the senior supervisor of Galliom was too taken aback by the charges and the Sanction officer to say anything.
That's when she heard the door opening and closing behind her. Another Fed came around to stand directly in front of her. "I'll take it from here, Corpsy." Hollow Eyes left without a word. After the door closed, the newcomer stepped to the side, as if to purposefully allow the light in the wall to shine on her. "Well, well," he said. "That's something."
Was that...a cigarette he was smoking?
"Lights. Table. Chair." A table rose up from the floor, and a chair for the Fed, just as the light in the wall dimmed.
The Fed's uniform was disheveled, and he looked like he hadn't shaved for days. His hair stuck out from beneath his ill-sitting peaked hat. His slightly red eyes looked at her with what seemed to be amusement. Wroclaw frowned up at him. He smiled and then chuckled, smoke coming out of his mouth and nostrils. "A little thin in the lips, but otherwise okay," he said, most likely to himself.
Wroclaw didn't care who he was or why he looked like a bum who stole a Fed uniform, so she didn't bother to ask about that. She needed to know what these ridiculous charges were about. "What exactly am I being charged with, officer? And where is Stationmaster Turlo?" she asked him pointedly.
The Fed took a seat and stretched out his hand to her. "Gen Vaughan. Chief interrogation officer." Wroclaw made no move to shake his hand in greeting. After a moment, Vaughan abandoned his futile attempt. "Before you get too worked up, missy, you---"
Vaughan chuckled. "Miss Wroclaw, your boss has been found channeling dissidents through the station."
Vaughan's statement, casually stated, made her jaw drop. "What?"
The bum wearing the Fed uniform, Vaughan, chuckled again. "Yes, that's right." He looked at his pad while Wroclaw sat there in disbelief, watching the Fed take drags off his cigarette. Vaughan looked up at her again, his amusement gone. "Miss Wroclaw, could you tell me what your job description is?"
"This is impossible! I---"
"Miss Wroclaw, need I remind you that you are under prosecution by the Federal Sanction? Using the time given to speak carefully would be highly advisable."
Wroclaw knew the bum was right. They taught about this in advanced school. She collected herself. "My responsibilities include overseeing external and internal traffic, inhabitant movement, habitation security, and enforcing interkingdom regulations within the station." As much as she wanted to hurl insult after insult at this forsaken Fed, she clenched her teeth and held her peace.
Vaughan nodded. "Were you not aware of dissidents inhabiting the station?"
"Why?" the Fed snapped back.
"All registered inhabitants I can account for." She didn't know what else to say. There was nothing she could say.
The interrogater flicked his cigarette butt away, missing her ear by a foot. He tossed the pad onto the metal table. "Graduate of Volterboll Advanced Learning. Why do I get the feeling that this man is the only reason you are still on that station?" His chuckle made her get red in the face with anger. He leaned forward suddenly. "Yes, you should be mad---mad at yourself! I've seen your type before; arrogant, puffed up, and fedding cocky. You failed at your job, and you'll be joining the cadavers in their metal graves soon enough."
Wroclaw let a tear roll down her hot cheek. This Fed wasn't wrong. Her nose was practically scraping the paint off the ceiling when she got the job on Galliom, but Turlo saw past that. He never yelled at her, never berated her like this forsaken bum in the Fed uniform, and never let her hand go. Looks like she would finally get her due. She sat in silence, staring down at her clasped hands resting on her legs. Another tear rolled down her cheek and dropped down onto those sweaty hands.
Vaughan leaned back, sighing silently. After a few moments, he said, "Look, I can't say that I feel sorry for you, but I can say that I am sorry for you, because you were put into a sorry situation. Just know that the man you were working for is an honorable man." He held up a finger to silence Wroclaw as she raised her head suddenly to stare at him, her mouth open. "But I cannot save you. I can't save him, either. What will most likely happen to you two is you'll be hauled back to UGSC and processed for correction." He lit another cigarette. "But, lucky for you, I hate the Feds, and anything that has anything to do with them. I'll see what I can do."
As Vaughan got up to leave the room, Wroclaw squinched her eyes at him and said, "Aren't you the son of a governor?"
Vaughan stopped beside Wroclaw and glanced down at her, his eyes darkening. "Was." He left the room.
For more on the Star Kingdom Universe, go to the Star Kingdom Universe Index!