3R

As is often the case while writing, for me at least, this story changed a bit between when I had the idea and it being written. For starters I went back and forth on the opening. At one time it was going to start halfway through the first section, then at the second until finally I decided to put a bit more background into the events leading up to the core of the story. All that might leave you wondering, but what is the story about. I don’t want to spoil anything so you’ll have to read it to find out.

“You can’t do this to me!” Is the exclamation from the dishevelled man who struggles and squirms trying to break free from the restraints binding his wrists behind his back.

If not for the continuous electrical discharge immobilising his fingers his efforts might be more fruitful. It is impossible to say whether that alone would be enough to afford him the ability to escape but it certainly would increase his prospects from essentially zero to marginally above.

“Shut it and keep moving.” Is the reply from the Judicial Guard who couldn’t care less about the exclamations of a criminal waiting to be tried in the Damocles Complex on the human capital world of Mars.

The accompanying shove reinforces the guard’s lack of decorum. No surprise then that he is met with a glare from the other Judicial Guard alongside him, Demi Urlanium. There is no words which accompany the look for the deed is done and the suspected lawbreaker is already stumbling forward barely capable of staying upright with his hands so securely fastened and positioned at the small of his back.

“But I’m telling the truth! I’ve done nothing wrong! I don’t even know what this is about. What I’m supposed to have done.” Are the statements which spill out of the restrained man’s mouth. His brown eyes wide as the words leave his lips.

He looks like a deer in headlights. You know, just before they meet their end. Usually their fate is sealed when they come up against a rover truck in the dead of night as they ferry goods across the surface of Mars down the fourteen lane wide highways that connect the cities to one another.

“And I’ve never heard that one before. Ha. If you’re going to lie at least try and come up with something new, original. Not the same old, same old.”

“But I’m telling the…”

The male guard, Haymenous, has no further patience; it’s why he grabs the suspected criminal, stops his forward march only to lean close to his ear from behind.

“One more word out of you fucker and I’ll put the subjugation collar on you early. I might even lock it a tad too tight. Prisoners die all the time. No one will care if you’re added to that list. Am I clear? Or do you need a ‘reminder’ regarding what I’m asking you to do?”

The supposed lawbreaker says nothing. His face drained of colour, pale and terrified, instead shakes his head from side to side. It’s the only thing he can manage for words are no longer able to reach his mind for he is so afraid of making a misstep and dying before he gets the chance to be absolved of crimes he knows he didn’t commit.

“Good. Now get moving before my blood really starts to boil.”

Without the need for a shove the apprehended man resumes his march. It isn’t far now to the Judgement Chamber. He can see the building ahead, through the glass cylindrical connecting corridor that links the Administration Block to the light blue dome fashioned from triangles of rounded glass.

Not liking the way this is going, Demi jabs Haymenous in the ribs. She gets a snarl once his head has whipped round. A raised eyebrow soon dispels his careless reaction.

No apology is forthcoming, she didn’t expect one either.

Contrary to popular belief however this treatment is not in breach of any Damocles rites. Skirting close to the sun, so to speak, absolutely, but none thus far have been breached. It might sound wrong but on Mars law is tough. In fact, across all the colonies of Sol laws enforcement are permitted to be tough. Not because humanity is on the brink of failure, far from it, as by all metrics used it is thriving. It is just that humanity in the thirtieth century believes in strength. After all, a firm hand is a victorious one. Something that has been proven many times previously throughout human history, but at no point better perhaps than before mankind spread across the system, when they had been forced to brave the potential failure of Mars, its homeworld. It is said to be just as dramatic as it sounds seeing how Phobos had lost orbit and was preparing to crash into the fourth planet from the sun.

However, as is clear to see, certain doom was averted when the combined might of humanity unleashed its rage upon the rocky satellite that saw it blasted into dust. That was seven centuries ago and ever since mankind has gone from strength to strength. Still, it took Mars nearly two hundred years to surmount the damage wrought by Phobos prior to its ultimate destruction.

“Too much.” Demi mouths silently to Haymenous who snorts just as silently before offering a shrug and then turning his attention forward once more; on the prisoner, on their destination ahead. A crooked half smile appears across his face soon after. Demi catches it and shakes her head. She really doesn’t like how Haymenous conducts himself at times but shifts needed swapping and she drew the short straw.

“Judicor Urlanium.” A voice blurts with authority and urgency.

Demi’s response to the exclamation is immediate; she does an about and in doing so comes to set her grey eyes on Captain Parsine Velfarha, who is marching right toward her.

Without a thought she fires off a salute, clenched fist across her breastplate. “Captain.”

“You are relieved from this escort. You’re needed to resume your normal post.”

“Yes Captain. As you command.”

Demi’s ‘normal’ post is serving among the line guards that convicts pass as they are escorted to the Prison Pods that launch criminals off Mars and to the prison planet known as 3R, a dying world unsuitable for habitation by anyone but the scum of the race.

If the planet itself doesn’t kill them the other inhabitants surely will.

“Judicor Inor, I will accompany you the rest of the way. This one is particularly dangerous.” Demi hears Captain Velfarha claim as she marches away.

Hearing that she cannot help but raise an eyebrow for the prisoner, she does not know his name for introductions become forfeit as soon as a citizen is taken into custody, could not appear further from dangerous to her. Of course, it could all be an act by the suspect but… She shrugs, accepting the word of her superior, a man of great standing and perfect honour.

Sadly to get to her normal position Demi will need to go the long way around the Damocles Complex, as the only quick way is reserved for the guilty and she most certainly is not on trial for she is a Judicial Guard.

To her knowledge no Guard has never breached SolLaw, the laws of the Sol System. It isn’t surprising for Judicor’s are chosen based on their standing in addition to that of their families. Any minor infraction, including generations prior, can ruin a citizens chances of joining. Yet, permission to join is only the beginning as to become a Judicor takes eight years of intensive military and judicial training that can only be undertaken once you have proven your aptitude is above the minimum threshold that puts you in the top ten percent of your birth world’s populace. And no, Judicor’s are not permitted posts on non-birth worlds. Except in the most extreme of circumstances such as the Herahol Disaster that saw eighty percent of all Judicor’s on the station flash frozen by the void of space when a particle dust shower ruptured large sections of hull plating. What a tragedy that day was.

Fifteen minutes is how long it takes Demi to complete her jaunt from Block to Chamber connecting corridor round to Condemned Row, the nickname for the hall down which convicts are lead to the Prison Pods that rest on the elevated launch platform some three thousand feet above a gaping wound of a ravine in Mars’ surface.

Filling the vacant position in the line draws raised eyebrows, but none dare speak for a while. No surprise that when the hush is broken it is by Judicor Ceres Barritot. For better or worse, largely the latter Demi thinks for it is unbefitting, the man can’t keep his nose out of others business. How he became a Judicor when he’s so adamant about asking questions and interfering, Demi will never be capable of grasping.

“Thought you’d swapped; drawn the short straw?” Is the query that fires from the corner of his mouth as he continues to stare ahead, making no attempt to break from his at attention statuesque stance.

“I did but Captain Velfarha relieved me and ordered me back to my regular post, here.”

“What did you do to deserve that?” There is accusation in Ceres tone.

“Nothing.” Demi assures defensively.

“Bull… You must’ve done something. The Cap never relieves anyone. Hell, he doesn’t get involved in jack. You know that. So what did you do?”

“Nothing, I swear on SolLaw. I was escorting the suspect with Haymenous when…”

“Wait, Haymenous? Hmm. That’s odd.”

“What’s odd? Why is that odd?” Demi queries believing she must be missing something but not overly surprised seeing as she, as is normal for Judicor’s, makes no effort to involve herself in the activities, business and/or life of others. Especially those she works with.

It sounds like a lonely life, and it is, but there are perks to it. Judicor’s get free reign of the fertility facilities. You might be asking, well does that mean there is a fertility issue with humans in the thirtieth century? The answer is no, there is not. It’s just that on Mars people do to hook up the old fashioned way. Rather mates are chosen, in this case by the Judicor, but only following rigorous examination of the potential mates background, from record beginning, and includes the individuals current standing, psyche evaluation, credit, and three dozen other points all of which largely guarantee the next generation of humans are civilised, Judicial appropriate SolLaw abiders. Obviously it isn’t a perfect system or Judicor’s wouldn’t be needed.

“Well, the Cap’s second cousin has put in a complaint against Haymenous, claiming his standing is not without dispute. Apparently, it is believed that Haymenous might’ve managed to fiddle the…”

“Judicor Barritot, silence in the line. Duty is king, you part of its crown.” An authoritarian voice of considerable depth says.

The old saying is from one of the others and rings loud in Demi’s ears in the wake of its delivery by an old white stubbled Judicor who has looked grumpy throughout Demi and Ceres’ discussion. Unsurprising as it was inevitable.

Both Judicor Urlanium and Barritot fall silent immediately and continue to stare ahead. They are awaiting the convicts who will, no doubt, soon be passing. The giveaway is the elder Judicial Guard, unless of course his insinuation is a lie. The dark haired woman does not believe the old Judicor would do such a thing for that would bring his word into doubt, and a Judicor’s word can never be in doubt. If that were to happen SolLaw might crumble, with chaos left to reign and anarchy be permitted to flourish. Such a thing would spell certain doom for mankind, see it slide back into the ways of the old failure when wars were common and ruin was what the species teetered on the brink of.

Fenn is devastated, lost in his mind, filled with despair as he is marched amongst the other convicts toward his doom. His head is low, his mood more so as the subjugation collar keeps his body subdued while his mind swims in angry violence it wishes to extol onto those who have damned and condemned him to death for nothing.

They have the wrong person. He is convinced of it for he could not have been where it is claimed he was for…

A shove forces him to quicken. If not for the collar he might be capable of resisting but alas it is his cage for the time being. How long exactly it will adorn his neck he cannot say for he is a good SolLaw abiding man who has never been in trouble with authorities ever, anywhere. It’s quite the achievement bearing in mind that Fenn grew up in the Dnem Slums on Poseidon, a moon of Pluto.

A harsh and unforgiving place, the slums especially, that if anywhere Judicor’s had been needed in his youth it was there. Yet, only in recent years have they established themselves in the colony. Reasoning as to why is something he is unaware of, but SolLaw comes to all humans eventually.

Still, as a youth he lived by the rites put forth across all colonies as if Judicial Guards were present and ready swoop down at a moment’s notice to enforce the letter of the laws known to all from first steps.

Why am I thinking about this now? He does not know. He has no answers. It is stupid for his mind to be indulging in this frivolity when he has been wrongly condemned. But Judicor’s are never wrong.

 Well, they are this time! I am innocent. I have been framed and the judiciary misled.

How can you say that? You sound like a heretic! These are the words of an anarchist, a betrayer to the human way of life, the society that has been built over centuries in the wake of the Disaster.

No more can he think on such things. Sadly, Fenn cannot tell if that is because the collar wishes him not to, he did not realise that the argumentative voice was not his own as it had taken on his lilt and speech patterns, or whether it is because he is aware of the truth, that fighting is useless.

That isn’t you saying that! That is…

Silence! His mind goes blank. He is acutely aware this decision is not his own. That he is being controlled.

He hates this collar. These are not thoughts, these are feelings. He wasn’t aware there was a difference. His whole thirty years of life he was convinced thoughts and feelings were one and the same, interconnected, indistinguishable. It seems he has been incorrect. They are in fact different for he can feel but not think.

How is it possible? There is no reply for thoughts are not permitted. Then how did I question? Again there is only a torturous mental silence that he is about to scream in reaction to when he catches sight of a familiar face. In doing so he feels his disbelief manifest physically upon his face as he approaches the Judicial Guard, a woman with chin length black hair, grey eyes, large muscles, broad shoulders, a pointed jaw and a hard stare.

Without a doubt she is the Judicor who had been her escort, until she wasn’t when she was relieved by a Captain who escorted Fenn alongside the bully who liked to torment him. His initial hope is that the bully would be stopped with the presence of the Captain. He’s been wrong.

The feeling of a snarl tears in Fenn’s mind but his face remains blank. He is unaware of this, though the sound of the snarl soon forces him to abandon it for a more relaxed mental state. Mercifully, the deafening ends that same instant.

More control, he loathes it. Alas, he has no way of combating this violation of himself and even if he did he doubts the Judicial Guards would care. It is not in their blood.

Vitriol boils up, the collar cannot stop it. He screams, in his head only, then attempts to writhe. Outside of his mind his body continues to march toward its fate, the Prison Pods. Fenn has heard stories that the convicted never reach the prison planet which the general populace are unaware of the name of. Rather, the pods explode in the atmosphere. Whether a result of shoddy construction, by design or through the use of missiles there is no definitive answer it seems.

Never had he considered them true. Now however, all these memories have come flooding back to him.

You are a heretic! These are your thoughts and they slander SolLaw, the judiciary, Damocles Complex, all that humanity adheres to and holds as sacrosanct to its continued prosperity and survival. Atone!

The demand is skull splitting. Fenn tries to grab his head, to make the relentless echo of the command stop; he can’t. There is no preventing any of what he is suffering through.

Emotions boil, erupt, spark. His eyes fly open and land on Judicor Demi Urlanium. To his shock her eyes break from their forward stare to study him as he passes. There is recognition in them. He sees it. He is sure he…

Atone!

NO! Is the cry he manages to fire back. The collar flickers, Fenn feels some semblance of himself slip through a crack. He smiles both mentally and physically. Then it ends just as he endeavours to resist further control. The gap slammed shut like a heavy blast door that has malfunctioned and shut on his foot, the pain is immense.

Resistance is died. Control is returned. You are condemned. You are a heretic; a convict. You are not fit for society. Damnation is your future. Repent and perhaps your death will be swift, merciful. That is all you shall be permitted. Accept. Bow.

Looking again Fenn sees he has past the female Judicor. She has made no efforts to give aid.

Why would she? She is a proper SolLaw abider. You are a rite breaker.

If the words were all that Fenn had to face he thinks it would not be so bad but the exertion upon his mind, the weight pressing and forcing itself upon him is simply too much.

Before he reaches the Prison Pods, fifteen in total sat in position ready for deployment, his mind breaks. His will folds in upon itself. It is not so much acceptance but assimilation. And once achieved the collar falls silent. Its work is done. But Fenn’s sentence is not. Mind conquered or not Fenn was always going to be crammed into the Prison Pod and fired off.

Minutes later that is exactly what happens, alongside twelve others.

Once the countdown is done the pods fire their singular energy thrusters and rocket up and into the sky. With the heavy low clouds that fill the air this day the pods soon become lost to the eye. Not that the Judicor’s watch, neither those who performed the march nor those who lined the avenue down which the condemned were ferried. That would be far too merciful and not at all in line with SolLaw which declares that those found guilty are no longer human. They are nothing. Husks sent out as if they were broken. For in the eyes of SolLaw all those incapable of adhering are broken. They are non-functioning entities, hence that is why their disposal is upon a world uninhabitable and damned to a fate which they too share with it.

If they survive for any time on 3R they might understand their failures, their madness. Regardless, time will take them no matter what for nothing escapes the prison planet’s surface. It’s impossible for atmosphere based electromagnetic storms disable all technology and swirls around the brown, grey, yellow ball of toxic filth believed to exist below.

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