From Theo being marched into the courtroom where the judge was already waiting along with Theo’s older brother Jacen and a few others it took only ten minutes for him to be sentenced. The conclusion was that Theo Castellanos was guilty on multiple accounts for a single criminal act and those accounts included several assaults, larceny and worst of all, manslaughter. Theo had protested as you would imagine anyone sure of their innocence would. It made no difference to the judges conclusion or the punishment he rendered unto Mr Castellanos which was to be forced off-world. Upon hearing those words Theo had fallen silent. He had become lost for words, unable to believe what had befallen him. After that he was marched out and if he were not beside himself might have noticed the presence of Cedric. Across the bar owners face had been a wide smile. His plan, as always, had worked. The judge even nodded to Cedric as he departed.
You see there is a seedy side to how the law operates in the twenty seventh century. Instead of justice there is only a need to be seen to be doing something about the high levels of crime that inevitably plague an overpopulated planet. Especially, when it’s a society where most are struggling to keep treading water.
You might believe Cedric and the judge are the extent of such a relationship that allows for the innocent to be decreed guilty but you would be wrong. The whole system is corrupt. Sure real criminals do regularly get punished for their crimes and yet it isn’t enough. Earth’s struggle is mounting and with no signs of its population growth slowing there was deemed a need for a way to maintain the population. With crime so prevalent it was determined some innocents needed to suffer the wrath of crooked law. So, everyone from police commissioners to judges to selected business people with below normal moral compasses formed a way for this to work. After all, an actual criminal will commit many crimes, not one and so this system allowed for people to be found guilty for another’s crimes. The general population like to hear that another x number of law breakers has been ejected from Earth. This is especially true when it puts the number of crimes committed and those sentenced at a much closer to one another pair of figures.
The true guilty party in the crimes Theo has been sentenced for will be hurled into space tomorrow. His name is Victor Campos and he’s spent his entire life breaking the law of whatever city, state or country he’s managed to worm his way into; always done so by illegal means to boot. It’s a real win for the legal system and yet he had more than enough crimes to his name and so his latest has been pinned to Theo Castellanos.
Theo spends the ride in the back of the police car with his head in his hands. They aren’t cuffed anymore. There is no need to cuff him. He can’t get out of the car or reach the driver. His punishment has been passed. The man is broken. A whimpering mess unable to understand how anyone can believe he is responsible for the crimes he’s been accused of. He proclaimed as much in court, to the judge, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
He doesn’t want to die. That’s what his sentence is, death. He’ll be shot into space in some tin can that will instantly be forgotten about. Theo isn’t sure how many of the starships used for such purposes even make it through the atmosphere, he doubts it’s many. Would it be better to die in hellfire or suffocate in space? Neither is a prospect he ever considered would be how his life would end and yet it is the one of those that will be his demise. Not that he gets to choose how his end comes. He doesn’t of course, but part of him hopes it’ll be in hellfire.
If only the now former Arden delivery driver knew that the likelihood of the starships used to evict the guilty from Earth were ninety eight point seven three percent successful. If he was aware of that fact he might be inclined to consider sabotage of some form. Yet he isn’t and so he is left to wait until the police car comes to a halt.
The blue eyed man with brown hair isn’t aware when the vehicle he’s sat in does come to a stop. He is too busy attempting, uselessly, to console himself. Not even when the door beside him is ripped open and a voice demands he get out does he hear it.
Due to his failure to comply Theo is grabbed roughly by the arm and dragged out. He cries in surprise and outrage even as his feet meet ground and he is quickly shoved. The shove so severe Theo almost loses his balance and goes head first toward the concrete beneath his feet. Somehow he manages to avoid performing a faceplant with considerable relief. Still, his eyes remain dipped as the officer, an overweight and grumpy looking man with a shaved head, spins him about to lead him toward the launch pad.
“This isn’t right, I’m innocent.” Theo mutters quietly as his head shakes from side to side and he wonders what he has done to deserve such a fate. He hasn’t an answer. As far as he’s concerned he has done nothing to deserve being flung into space because he has never committed any crime. He was working when it happened. He protested and made his best efforts to inform the judge of the fact but he wouldn’t hear it. All his proclamations achieved were to make the greying man turn a bright shade of red. If they had been anywhere else Theo would have concluded the judge was sunburnt. However, as the former delivery driver had seen the slight tan of the man in the moments prior he can safely say that sunburn was not the cause of the redness.
“Shut it, will you. You’re criminal scum and for your crimes you’re getting what you deserve.” The bald officer exclaims while continuing to pull Theo toward the tower ahead of them.
Theo finally looks up at the tower. It is entirely formed out of steel. There is no glass at all and that marks out that this structure is definitely not an office or apartment building. Theo gulps. He’s seen these towers before, never in person though. Previously he’s only ever seen them on a monitor. In person the launch silos are more formidable than he could have imagined. A shiver ripples down his back. He feels the urge to run. He doesn’t. The pull on his arm dissuades him from such an idea almost instantly.
Even if he did run try he’d have nowhere to go he soon realises as there are armed men posted along the walls that ring the open courtyard area that surrounds the launch silo. This open space is the most Theo has seen in all his life. He wasn’t aware such open areas still existed and wonders if this is meant to signal the last freedom he will ever have before being ejected from his home. If it is then they could not be anymore cruel about it. The truth as to why the courtyard exists is far more mundane. Put simply, it is a throwback from when the starships used to expel convicts from Earth produced massive exhaust clouds. The only reason the land has not been claimed is due to the contamination that has seeped through the concrete and stained the rock and soil beneath. No governments want to pay for the clean-up and so they allow these small open areas to remain. It just so happens to serve as a cruel reminder of something the banished will never have access to again, open space.
“This is such a cruel turn of fate.” Theo hears himself whisper a few steps short of entering into the silo.
Once inside, it if can be called that as there is no roof to the structure, Theo is met by a trio. Two are women, the other is a man. All are clad in white apparel which looks more like a sleeve than actual items of clothing. The only part of them visible is their faces. The rest of their heads are covered by the sleeve skin or in the case of their hands covered by dark green gloves. If their faces were not visible Theo would determine them aliens. One woman flashes him a brief smile and then launches into an evidently rehearsed script.
“Welcome. I am Natalie. And this is launch platform eighty two. First, I must ask you state your full name for the record.” The woman’s voice is overly cheery to the point that it makes Theo want to spit. He doesn’t, but then nor is he inclined to offer a reply either. His lack of response is soon met with a blunt reply from the officer who has hold of his arm. It comes in the form of a shove and then glares when Theo eyes meet his. Not so bad, he thinks, which is why he doesn’t understand what his incentive is to conform. Then the officer glances down several times. Theo takes the hint and follows the direction of the glances until he sets his blue peepers on a gun, the barrel of which is pointed his way. Theo gulps. He gets now why he should comply.
Will it make any difference I’m dead either way so maybe I should simply get it over with, is his first thought. Eerily it is at that moment the officer smiles an evil grin to suggest that he’d enjoy Theo refusing to adhere to the demands being made of him. Theo sighs. He’s defeated. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, or in actual fact he’s stuck between a violence loving cop and a starship that will carry him off into space. Not much of a choice.
“Theo Castellanos is my name.” He announces finally for no other reason than he doesn’t wish to indulge this ‘officers’ penchant for whatever he likes about being violent. The thought alone makes his skin crawl but when the officer roll his eyes clearly saddened by the compliance Theo feels a small drip of satisfaction.
“Ah yes, Mister Castellanos. We’ve been expecting you. Raise your arms please.” Are the words he is met with. Yet, the demand strikes him as odd and so instead of adhere he stands there with a furrowed brow which expertly marks his confusion.
“We need you to raise your arms so we may get you ready for your departure.” Natalie explains without so much as a pause for thought.
Something about her feels wrong to the former delivery driver while her two colleagues, who flank Natalie on either side, step forward. For reasons Theo cannot explain he accepts her explanation and raises his arms as if all his questions have been answered. Immediately he questions his compliance as the man and other woman wrap his arms in a similar looking fabric to that which they are all adorned in. The only difference is that it is bright orange. He can guess the reason for that. It doesn’t take a genius to and yet it seems utterly pointless. He’s not coming back to Earth. By all accounts there is an orbital weapons platform that’ll blast anyone who tries. Theo hopes he doesn’t have a malfunction that sees his new home begin falling back toward Earth. He doesn’t fancy being vaporised to a zillion pieces. Somehow that is less appealing than being condemned to what he can imagine will only be a few weeks in space on a starship that will inevitably be smaller than his former shoebox apartment.
With his arms wrapped, the pair quickly moves onto his torso and then his legs. No words are exchanged while Theo is prepared for departure. The process, in all, takes maybe three minutes and at the end of it the sections are sealed into one complete ‘suit.’
“Congratulations. You are now prepared for your journey. Accept this. You’ll need it.” With that Theo is offered a helmet. It looks to him more like a bowl but evidently is made of polyglass. He accepts it without prompting from the cop who is now stood a couple metres off to Theo’s right.
“Now if you’ll follow me this way.” Natalie declares with a hand gesture that points toward a waiting elevator platform composed entirely of lengths of steel bent and welded into a cradle shape.
“Don’t get any funny ideas.” The officer offers with a snarl. Theo doesn’t see the expression but he hears it. Not that he’d thought of attempting to run. He’s resigned to his fate and in some ways thinks it might beat being stuck with all these psychos. After all, that seems to be what they are, and he wonders how he got so lucky so fast.
Having stepped onto the elevator and listened to Natalie declare that he keep all arms and legs within the confines, the elevator begins to climb. Theo gulps. He feels compelled to run. Not that he has anywhere to run too now that he’s on an elevator that is ascending. Those thoughts are soon forgotten when out of the blue there is a loud thunk.
“What was that?” The former delivery driver cannot help but query. His eyes dart left, right, up and down frantically searching for the source of the noise he’s just heard while he waits for a reply.
Natalie smiles and again Theo gets the distinct feeling that she’s wrong in some way. He can’t say as to how or why, it’s just what goes through his head.
“That is the lower doors sealing as they always do prior to a launch.”
The words aren’t as comforting as perhaps Natalie appears to mean them to be. Again Theo’s heart sinks. If that were all he felt, despair, it might be bearable. However, it is not. Instead, his pulse is beating rapidly, and like a war drum it thunders in his chest. On top of that his throat is dry and he feels panic clawing at him. There is nothing he can do about it, he knows that. As a kid however, he’d wanted to go to space. The older he got and the more he learned about its dangers the more he couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather avoid. So when he’d been informed the likelihood of him going to space was none he’d felt peace. Now though, he feels all those familiar feelings he’d had as a teenager that had wound him up flood back into him because he really will be going into space. The dread he feels is astounding.
“How long is it until we reach the top?” He has to ask while he fidgets. Sweat is beginning to bead along his forehead, he can feel it.
“The top; we are not headed for the top. To answer your query we shall arrive at the hatch in…forty three seconds.” Hearing those words from Natalie’s mouth it suddenly dawns on him that she’s an automaton. He thought they’d all been decommissioned. He’s taken aback by the discovery. Sadly, his surprise quickly melts as it is swallowed up by his persistent sense of dread.
He might have questions but feels no wish to consider or ask not even one of them. Soon his fate will be sealed and he’ll be cast from the planet and into space. Just the thought makes him feel sick and to make matters worse the last face he’ll see isn’t even human. No, it belongs to a machine made to look like one. Had it not been for his query he never would have known. He regrets opening his mouth and uttering those words. He is utterly dejected.
Finally the elevator comes to a halt. Theo hasn’t a clue if it truly did take forty three seconds. He doesn’t care.
A section of the elevators side lowers and links with an open waiting hatch. Natalie gestures and smiles as if to say this is all he has ever wanted. It isn’t. It couldn’t be further from what he wants; which was a life, on Earth, where he and his family were born. Suddenly images of his brother Jacen spring to mind. A tear wells up and then rolls down his cheek. He’s going to miss his brother most of all. Yet, Jacen had been in court for his ‘trial.’ Theo prays his older brother doesn’t think he committed the crimes he was found guilty for. At least mom and dad weren’t alive to see this.
“Please, step through the hatch.” Again Natalie sounds inorganic when she speaks. It seems that whoever built her only made some of her speech authentic and non-artificial.
Theo wonders if the reason for that was due to a time constraint or something else entirely. Regardless, Theo takes one look at her and seeing little other option shimmies forward. His progress is slow but the automaton passes no comment or shows any signs of judgement. Not that he’d be capable of seeing them with her behind him.
Eventually, Theo steps through the hatch. He’s greeted by a slab of steel which sits less than a foot in front of his face. The hatch behind him slides closed. Theo gulps. He doesn’t like the idea of being shut in this space and it dawns on him that this could be his new home, this small box. Oh God no.
The slab of metal in his face suddenly opens. He breathes a sigh of relief and then steps forward into the room beyond. He can see nothing at first. Lights spring on a second after to illuminate the interior. The room is much larger than he anticipated. In fact his jaw drops. This space is more a home than his apartment had ever been. He can scarcely believe it. The door slides shut behind him. Following that a series of lights begin to run along the plating above his head. He isn’t sure he should term it a ceiling and yet he has no other word for it. Putting such thoughts aside he follows the lights ignoring the fully furnished kitchen living space. At the end of the line of lights he finds himself on the bridge of this starship. In comparison to the living area it’s rather barren and has more support braces than Theo thinks is entirely necessary. Still, there is a pair of seats. His brow furrows and he considers that perhaps he isn’t being sent into space alone. He spins around feeling equal parts alarm and joy but finds no one. His body deflates.
“Launch in ten, nine, eight…” The countdown begins without prior warning. Theo almost leaps out of his skin when he hears it. He feels terror grip him tight. He had not considered his expulsion would come so swiftly after his boarding.
He rushes to the nearest seat. He hasn’t a clue what to do with any of the buttons, switches or knobs which he is presented with. Panic shoves him from side to side and he feels his breath become short. He doesn’t even know if the seat he’s chosen is the correct one. It might not be. How do I tell? He cannot say. Then the count ends and everything begins to shake. Theo grabs a hold of the armrests, his knuckles soon turn white.
Through the windshield before him he can see nothing but sky, it’s a pristine blue. His breathing is turned incredibly short and sharp. He thinks he might be hyperventilating and hasn’t a clue what to do to stop it. It’s why he continues sucking down short breathes even as the blue turns blue-black and then darker than any night he has ever seen previously. At the sight of it his jaw drops and Theo forgets about his breathing. It is then that his breathes deepen. Unknowingly he rises from his seat. It hasn’t dawned on him that this ship has gravity. If it did he’d be further dumbfounded.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A voice he knows better than any other says from somewhere.
Theo looks about but finds no one. His initial conclusion is that he’s hearing things. Jacen can’t be here. He is alone on this ship in space and will remain so for however many days he has left.
Then Theo feels a hand on his shoulder. The convicted former delivery driver almost leaps out of his skin in fright while turning sure he’ll find empty air. To his shock and horror Jacen is stood right beside him.
“What’s going on? Jacen why are you here? I don’t understand.” Theo’s voice is a full octave higher than it would normally be. It makes his voice sound shrill, painfully so.
“It’s OK little brother. I wasn’t about to let you get evicted from our home without some company.” Jacen replies softly.
“Uh…wait…You are here? This isn’t in my head?” Theo stumbles over his words while continuing to look up at his grinning older brothers’ face.
Right then Jacen pinches Theo who exclaims, “Ouch! That hurts you…” His voice trails off as realisation strikes him. “Why?” Is the only thing he can manage to mutter in the time immediately afterward.
“Cause I could. Not like Earth has much for me anyway, especially if you’re not there.” Jacen replies with his trademark toothy grin. His green eyes smile almost as much as he does.
“But you’re a manager. You got somewhere. You had a life on Earth.” Theo cannot get to the point he’s attempting to make. His head is too foggy and nothing really makes sense at the moment.
“They don’t know do they?” Theo finally offers. This is the point he’s wanted to make this whole time and he’s finally gotten to it. Better late than never, he thinks.
Jacen shakes his head from side to side in silent confirmation.
“I don’t understand. I’m going to die up here and you wanted to come?” Theo spouts confused.
“Who says you die up here?” Is Jacen’s swift and succinct reply, and a deadly serious one at that.
“Isn’t that why they send the ‘guilty’ up here?”
“Well, for one you’re not guilty no matter what some judge might have said. Also, there is no proof those sent up here die, quickly.”
“Oh yeah that’s just great. Now we’re both going to die slowly in space. How is that any better, Jace?” Theo asks fixating on completely the wrong part of what Jacen said.
“Look at this ship. Does it look like a death sentence? It doesn’t to me. It looks more like the world’s smallest colony ship and, from the research I’ve been doing over the past few years, suggests that that is essentially it is.” Jacen explains.
“A colony ship would need more than one person on it.” Theo reminds doing nothing to hide his doubts.
“Just as well there are two on this one then, isn’t it?” Jacen points out undeterred.
Theo has to shake himself lose of this madness but finds even after he does that his brother is still stood before him and so utters, “And you have a plan?”
“We go out there. See what we can find. Maybe all this has been some kind of excuse to return to space exploration. Perhaps they hope the evicted will establish new colonies as proof of the success mankind could have on other worlds.”
“That’s madness.” Theo exclaims surprised his brother would ever allow such words to pass his lips.
“Then how about we go find out for ourselves little brother?” Jacen smiles and then adds, “Cause look there ain’t any bloody orbital defence system around Earth, is there?”
Theo’s brow furrows. He is convinced his brother must be wrong and is playing with him using some bad joke meant to lighten his mood. Still, he can’t resist the urge to know for sure, which is why he rushes off the bridge and across the open living area of the ship to a massive panoramic window that spans the back of the living area. The view is immense, yet it takes a while of searching. Ultimately Theo’s jaw drops when he discovers that Jacen is right. All there is orbiting Earth is debris. Most of it is the remains, in varying states of dysfunction from looking normal to strung out and finally to scattered shards, of satellites. The rest are functioning ones. There are no signs of orbital weapon emplacements.
“How…how did you know?” Theo stutters in disbelief.
Jacen smiles and then offers, “I’ll explain everything. But first, we’ve got to get going. The systems a large place and there is no time like the present to go exploring it.”
He puts his arm across Theo’s shoulders and begins to guide him back toward the bridge. He could not be more pleased that everything has worked out better than he thought it ever would.