“The Universal United Human Authority is not here to harm anyone. Earth is the home planet of humanity and the UUHA–or ‘you-ha’ to the uneducated, unclean, riffraff–is here to keep us united with our home. The rebels say that we no longer need contact with Earth. And to that I say, ‘I will not turn my back on over ten thousand years of history.’
“The rebels have, though. For over two hundred years, Earth convention has held that children are not allowed to participate in armed conflict. Yet, the rebels have drafted some as young as six. Six! The shame every Athenian should feel is overwhelming. The noble Authority soldiers cry every time they are forced to defend themselves from these brainwashed boys and girls sent in by the rebels to die in wave after wave.
“The streets of this great city are awash in innocent blood and it is on the heads of these so called ‘Republicans’.
“It is the duty of every colonist on Athena to tell these ruffians, these uncultured barbarians, that they will not be supported. Withhold your food, your ammunition, your beds. When they see that their ‘Republic’ is nothing more than the pet project of a few egotistical madmen, the rebellion will rightfully collapse and peace can finally be had within the colonies of Earth.”
Sevda Behar turned away from her microphone after the red light signaling a live broadcast in progress flicked off. She pulled her headphones from her ears and over her dark hair, tossing them onto the desk with little regard as to the expensive microphones mounted on its faux-wood top. Behind a soundproofed window, Major Nakashima clapped his hands, head shaking in awe. She closed her eyes, wishing for spontaneous human combustion to take him, or herself. Either would do. It didn’t really matter, one way or another, as long as she didn’t have to read any more “news”.
“Nice work, Sevda,” Nakashima said through the booth intercom. His words were difficult to make out, his english trained on Earth rather than the dialect of Colonial English spoken on Athena. “You really are the voice of planet.”
“Just what I always hoped to be,” Sevda mumbled.
Nakashima opened the door to the studio and entered, a toothy grin dominating his face and making his eyes small dark pebbles on a sandy beach of pockmarks. He clapped, grinning at Sevda, and wouldn’t stop until she replied with a small bow, in acknowledgement of his appreciation.
“If that’s all you need from me, Major,” Sevda said. Her eyes avoiding his as she prayed he wouldn’t notice.
“I think that’ll do fine, Miss Behar,” Nakashima said. He strolled over and dropped a hand on her small shoulder, squeezing as if comrades fighting for the same cause. “We’ll make sure the satellite transmits it twice more today,” he said. “You did a really great job today.”
“Yeah,” Sevda said. Her eyes searched for the best path past him without any more physical contact.
“No, really,” Nakashima said. “You have no idea how much you’re helping the cause of reunification.” He glanced at his watch and back at Sevda. “I think right now the news should be telling of the latest rout of rebel forces. You should take pride in the fact that you helped with that.”
“Yeah,” Sevda sighed. “Every day.”
Nakashima’s smile faded.
“Well,” he said with an abrupt clicking of his boot heels. “You must be tired. Be safe on your way home.”
“Thank you, Major,” Sevda said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She squeezed past Nakashima and out of the studio. She paused at her desk to collect a few personal affects, her purse and a pair of sunglasses. The newsroom, which had been bustling just a few days before, was silent except for the lazy clicking of a computer keyboard and the snoring of those who slept under their desks. Most of those asleep lived too far toward the western part of the city and had found it impossible to go home. The constant fighting between the Earth occupational forces and the Republican Militia had divided the island and reports had the line coming ever closer. Sevda lived in the Little Moscow District though, which was only a short walk to the east.
She grabbed her belongings and headed toward the printer. In a wire basket were the latest UUHA approved news bulletins. Scanning the black lines of text, she saw that Nakashima had been correct about the rout of Republican troops. According to the occupational forces, the militia was being pushed back and defeat was only days away. She dropped the sheet back into the basket, shoulders falling in disappointment. Would the rest of her career going to consist of reading propaganda for a conquered, disspirited populace? Ayla Athena for life?
Dragging herself to the elevator, Sevda punched the lift call button without conviction. Her show’s producer, Anatoly, had tried just the day before to cross the battle lines and had been executed as a Republican sympathizer by Nakashima. In the final analysis, she decided it was better to receive hollow adulation rather than a genuine bullet to the head.
After a speedy elevator ride, she stepped into a lobby filled with milling soldiers, then out into the bright Athenian sunlight. The Romanov Broadcast Media Building was on the northern shore of the island holding Athena City. It faced the Sea Creatures Stadium on the ocean’s shore. Four years ago, she and her ex-boyfriend had held season tickets for the baseball club despite her father’s ownership and best friend’s management of the Sand Dollars. But no games were being played that day. The stadium had been turned into an armory for the occupiers–the field torn up by the trucks and halftracks coming and going.
Sevda’s pace to her condominium was so brisk it bordered on a run. To avoid getting shot by the Earth soldiers, she held her pass high in the air. No fighting had taken place that far east since the occupation began but that didn’t mean that she was safe. It wasn’t unusual for people to throw objects from their windows or take potshots at the soldiers and for the soldiers to fire back. She was determined not to be an accidental causality.
She made it home in time to hear the tail end of her broadcast. It had been recorded and broadcast on time-delay in case she veered from the approved script, despite Nakashima’s praise of their collaboration. She dropped into a recliner and listened with increasing dismay. The words she spoke filled the room with anti-Republican venom and even her cat wasn’t interested in being nearby, hiding instead under the couch across the wide hardwood floor of the sunlit room.
“I want more stories about imminent defeat,” Nakashima said. His voice had taken on an odd quiver and his narrow eyes darted from face to face with the speed of a hummingbird. “And I don’t want any damned excuses. The usual crap you write won’t cut it any more.”
The staff watched, kicking their feet together and avoiding making eye contact as his fingers tickled the grip of his sidearm.
“We need to bring this damned conflict to a close,” Nakashima said. “If any of you have any questions, talk to Miss Behar. She seems to be the only one of you worth a damn.”
He stormed from the newsroom, leaving the staff staring at Sevda.
“Is it just me,” asked Chris Haynes, Sevda’s former co-anchor. “Or is he terribly jumpy today?”
“I have no idea,” Sevda said. “But he’s definitely not in top form.”
“When did you become the station manager,” asked Pembe Akbulut, a former editor. Her always frizzy hair had been given up on and exploded out around her face from a loose ponytail. Black ringed her eyes and bitterness dripped from her voice.
“Since he had Will executed, I guess,” Sevda said. “I don’t know. I just do what I’m told.”
“Obviously,” Pembe muttered.
“Hey,” Christopher said. “Lay off. It’s a crap situation, which ever way you look at it. Okay?”
“Look guys,” Sevda said. “Let’s just give the stuff from Occupational Command our best polish, keep Nakashima happy, and all of us alive.”
“We all know that it’s propaganda,” Christopher said, nodding toward Sevda. “And I know that rubs our ethics bones the wrong way, whatever our politics, but we’re here and being kept alive because of it. All right?”
“I don’t really care any more,” said a voice from under a desk. “I mean, really. Why the hell should I?” Hal McGovern, a business reporter for Sevda’s former show, crawled out in an even more shabby state than Pembe and forty pounds lighter than before Earth decided to visit.
“Well,” Sevda said, pushing a strand of black hair behind her ear. ” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up like Anatoly.”
“It doesn’t matter, does it,” asked Pembe. “The militia will try us for treason if they manage to win. I mean, you’re ‘Ayla Athena’ for Christ’s sake. And you-ha will probably shoot us if they ever get around to our archives and hear your pro-Republican editorials.”
“Maybe,” Sevda said. She sighed and shrugged with exhaustion. “But remember Anatoly. And Will. And everyone else. Just correct the spelling and make it presentable and let’s make it through today and tomorrow, okay?”
A few groans sounded around the room but they were the noises of resignation. Hal slid back under his desk and Pembe pecked at her keyboard.
Invoking the death of Anatoly was low for Sevda and she knew it. Pembe and Hal had been the least happy since the takeover and would interpret it the worst. As far as they were concerned, she might as well be part of the UUHA.
“Sev,” Christopher said, waving her into his office. “I have today’s ‘information’ for you to disseminate. I just got finished ‘editing’ it.” He made quotate marks in the air with his fingers.
“Thanks, Chris,” she said, taking the sheets of double-spaced treason from his hands.
Sevda searched the station floor for Nakashima and his approval of the script. She found him smoking a cigarette in the break room, rocking onto the back legs of an orange plastic chair.
“Uh,” she said. “I’m, I’ve, we’ve… I’ve got today’s statement for you to look over?”
She held out the script and he snatched them away. He skimmed the first page, then the second with contemptuous grunts before reaching the third. Pulling a red pen out of a coat pocket, he crossed out two paragraphs. When he was done, red ink colored every other page. He handed the pages back so quick Sevda thought he was throwing them at her.
“Should I have it revised, or just go with everything not crossed out?”
“I couldn’t really care,” Nakashima said. “Just stop bothering me.”
“Um, okay,” Sevda said, backing away. Returning to Christopher’s office, she handed him the edited script. “I think we’re all going to die today.”
“I hope so,” Christopher said. He scanned the red marks. “I’d like to see that ass run the station by himself. And I think Hal would welcome a bullet to the head these days.”
“Chris, Jesus,” Sevda hissed, glancing over a shoulder.
“What am I supposed to do with this, Sev,” Christopher asked.
“Just delete all the red bits,” she said. She glanced at her watch. “I need to be on air in an hour and I’m not submitting it to him for a second pass.”
After receiving permission to go home for the day, Sevda stuffed her purse with a few papers and ran for the elevator before he could change his mind. With the office tower emptied, the ride was swift and a minute later she was deposited in the lobby of the Romanov Building. A quiet lobby, tense in anticipation of something she could not yet see.
With her heels clicking against the marble floor, Sevda inched away from the elevator banks and toward the concierge desk. The Earth soldiers were silent, alert, and behind piles of sandbags that had been set up sometime after she arrived in the morning morning. Some turned and scowled at noise her shoes made. She ran for the desk and fell behind it, discovering two soldiers already there.
“What’s going on,” she asked, slow and careful to enunciate.
“Insurgents,” a soldier hissed.
“But I thought they were pushed back west.”
The English spoken on Earth was different enough from the Colonial English spoken in the Republic that it was sometimes difficult to understand one another. All the more so when talking to a low level soldier for whom English might not have been their first language anyway. But she could hear the unmistakeable sarcasm in his voice.
Sevda’s mind raced, pondering the news. She knew every piece of information that came through the station was filtered by the Authority but she never dreamed it could be so distorted. If the Republican Militia was at the Romanov Building then they had control of nearly two thirds of the city.
Just as she considered her exit strategy, a baseball-sized black object in flight shattered the front window of the building. It bounced once then twice with metallic clinks and rolled toward one of the sandbag ramparts. The soldiers fell flat against the cold marble floor. Sevda was frozen in place. It exploded with the force of hurricane winds. She was thrown back against the wall, sliding down until slumped on the floor in a daze. A sound like corn popping was barely audible over the ocean waves crashing through her ears.
Pieces of the wall chipped away all around her as projectiles embedded into it. A piece of shrapnel grazed her face and she crawled for the desk. The two soldiers screamed at each other. She couldn’t decipher what they said, the din of water still sloshing in her ears. As it receded, she found that there still wasn’t much to hear much over the weapons fire that came from all directions.
One of the soldiers sharing the desk fell over, clawing at his neck with both hands as blood spurted in a panicked rhythm. He writhed on the floor and then over Sevda, his blood turning her linnen suit crimson as he went limp. She struggled out from underneath him. The other solider curled into a fetal position, rocking, hands covering his ears, muttering.
The gunfire ceased after a few more minutes and was replaced dozens pairs of boots clomping about the lobby. “Clear,” people yelled from different positions.
“Help,” Sevda croaked, trying to get their attention without getting shot for her trouble. “Help!”
Boots rushed over and Sevda saw a boy, no more than sixteen, pointing a weapon at her. The rifle was almost as large as he. “Skip,” he cried, voice cracking with puberty. “Come see this!”
A man with a pistol strapped to each thigh appeared from around the desk and studied Sevda. She raised her hands slowly, picking a stray strand of black hair from her eyes. The man crouched down for a closer look. His eyes shifted between her and the soldier rocking back and forth. They finally settled on her.
There was something familiar about him, as if they’d met before though she knew they hadn’t. He was dressed like he’d just stepped off a cargo ship with thick boots, thermal insulating trousers, and a jacket with Trout over one breast and “Dutch” over the other. Her jaw worked as she struggled to remember why she might have known him.
“What do we have, Dutch,” asked an unseen voice.
Dutch reached over and picked up the plastic pass given to Sevda by Nakashima. He wiped off the blood to read it and dropped it back to her chest.
“Looks like we’ve caught us a sympathizer.” Dutch stood, knees popping, and wiped his bloody fingers on the leg of his trousers. He glanced at the kid with the gun. “Bind her,” he said.
Sevda opened her mouth in protest but the kid rammed the butt of the rifle into her temple and the lights went out, slumping across the body of the dead occupation soldier.
The sudden brightness made Sevda wince as her pupils adjusted. Her hands were cuffed to a metal chair making it impossible for her to shade her face. It was the first light she had seen in days, perhaps weeks. It was impossible to tell. She awoke in the dark with a fearsome headache, alone. Someone had left two pills, presumably for her pain, and a plastic cup of water. Then she waited. From time to time, she relieved herself in a corner that seemed to slope away from the center. Finally, she was fetched roughly by two Republican Militia soldiers and brought to the new, bright room. Until then, she was convinced that she’d been forgotten.
As her eyes adjusted, she realized that she was in a makeshift interrogation room, furnished only with a metal table and four metal chairs. In them sat the same man who ordered her bound and two others in Republican Fleet uniforms.
“Ayla Athena,” Dutch said when he was certain she could see him. “Meet Colonel Choi and Major Carpenter.”
“My name is Sevda,” she croaked. “Sevda Behar.”
“Oh, we already know that, Miss Behar,” Colonel Choi said. “But to a lot of people out there, you’re Ayla Athena, the voice of you-ha radio.”
“When the Authority took over the station,” Sevda said. “They forced me and my staff to help them.”
“That’s very interesting,” Major Carpenter said. “Because from what we’ve heard, it sounded a lot like collaboration.”
“From what I said on the radio,” Sevda asked, squinting to see the Major better. “I was forced to say all of that.”
“No,” Carpenter said. “From what a Mister McGovern and a Miss Akbulut have said.”
“Christ,” Sevda sighed. “Hal and Pembe? Have you talked to Chris Haynes? He’ll tell you what happened.”
“We’d love to,” Dutch said. “Except he died trying to wrestle Major Nakashima’s gun away from him. Hell, we’d ask Nakashima except that he ate the damn thing before we had a chance to capture him.”
“Miss Behar,” Major Carpenter said. “We’re here to inform you of our intent to prosecute you for treason during a time of war.”
“This is crazy,” Sevda shouted. She yanked at the cuffs binding her to her chair. “I’m a Republican! I’ve supported independence since I was in college! All you have to do is look at the station’s archives to see what we’ve, I’ve, said!”
“Proof’s in the pudding,” Dutch said, pausing to light a cigarette. “Babe.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Dutch laughed as he stood up and brushed a piece of ash from his shoulders. “Well, gentlemen, I think I’ll go find myself a bar.”
“I want a lawyer,” Sevda said. “I want a lawyer, now.”
“You’re going to need one, Miss Behar,” Colonel Choi said. He waved to the man next to him. “Major Carpenter is going to be your prosecutor.”
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” Dmitry said to Sevda from across the conference table. Sevda watched her young lawyer shuffle a stack of papers, seemingly by size and color.
“And,” she asked after a full minute.
“Oh, well,” Dmitry said. “Do you have a preference for which you’d like to hear first?”
“Dimitry,” Sevda sighed. “For the love of god, just tell me.”
“Okay, the good news first then. And that would be…,” he said, looking for his notes in the reshuffled pile. “Yeah. The good news is that Hal and Pembe’s acknowledgement that you never wrote any of your pieces seems to have hurt their credibility.”
“Yeah. I thought so too. Unfortunately, that’s it for the good news.”
“I’m surprised there was any,” she said.
“Well, Sevda, we knew from the beginning that…”
“‘We didn’t really have a shot in hell’,” Sevda said, finishing her lawyer’s refrain. “Yeah, I know. And you’re what? Ten? It’s Miss Behar until we win.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Dmitry said, blushing. “Also our appeal to have Judge Borisov removed was denied.”
“Our appeal to have Judge…”
” I heard you,” Sevda said. “So I’m guessing I should be looking forward to the firing line today then.”
“I don’t know about that,” Dmitry said. “He claims to be impartial and the court of appeals seems to believe him.”
“Impartial? His son was killed by you-ha.”
“I know,” Dmitry said, standing up and strolling to the cell door. “I know, I know. But it was a while ago and he claims he’s over it, you know the story.”
Dmitry wrapped his knuckles on the heavy steel and a bailiff opened from the other side.
“We’re ready,” he said.
“Dmitry,” Sevda said. “Sit up.”
The young lawyer pulled himself up in his seat, gaining an extra few inches. Adjusting his tie, it was difficult to tell who was the client and who was the attorney, Sevda straight-backed calm, hands folded on the table or Dmitry, sweat darkening his collar and prone to slouching as if to hide from the judge.
“We shouldn’t get our hopes up,” he whispered. “I mean, we probably don’t have a shot–”
“Yes, yes,” she said.
“But I just don’t want you to get too excited,” he said. “John Adams didn’t get those Boston Massacre soldiers off the first time.”
Sevda glared. In prison she’d had a lot of time to read. “Yes, he did,” she said, sighing. “Now be quiet.”
“All stand,” the court officer called. “Judge Oleg Borisov, entering.”
Sevda and Dmitry leapt to their feet, as did Major Carpenter and a gallery packed with reporters and protesters. The graying judge emerged through a back door and dropped himself into a large brown leather chair.
“Sit,” Borisov commanded and everyone did. “Officer, please bring in the jury.”
The court officer opened a side door and ten of Sevda’s peers filed into the jury box. It was perhaps the first case on Athena that people didn’t try to get out of jury duty. The problem, Major Carpenter and Dmitry discovered, was trying to find ten who didn’t already have an opinion.
Once the ten were comfortable, Borisov asked, “Citizens of the Republic, have you reached a verdict?”
“We have, Judge,” said the jury president.
“Sevda Behar, please stand,” Borisov ordered. Sevda and Dmitry stood again, as did Major Carpenter, the corners of his mouth pulled up just enough to sink Sevda’s hopes. “What do you find?”
“We find the citizen, Sevda Behar, tried on the charge of Treason During A Time of War, not guilty due to reasonable doubt,” said the president.
A lightness filled Sevda’s head and she put a hand on Demitry’s shoulder to keep from falling over. Major Carpenter collapsed into his chair, shaking his head, mouth open but speechless. Dmitry turned and embraced Sevda tight enough that it became hard to breathe. She freed herself from his arms and patted him on the shoulder, mouthing a thank you over an explosion of boos from the gallery.
“Miss Behar,” said Borisov. “A jury of your fellow citizens has found you not guilty of the charge against you. You are free to go.”
“Thank you, Judge,” she said with relief. Dmitry took her by the arm and led her toward the front doors of the courthouse.
“What did I tell you, Sevda,” Dmitry asked.
“Dmitry,” she mumbled out of the corner of her smile. “If you mention John fucking Adams to me, I will knock you cold.”
Pressing through the crush of the gallery proved to be difficult. Her first hour of freedom was spent avoiding fists and dodging spit before making it outside into the fresh ocean air of the city. Once away from the courthouse, she had nowhere to go, her condominium had been broken into and set ablaze by an intruder no one seemed interested in finding. But even with the prospect of moving back in with her parents, she was still glad to be outside, hands free, and her schedule her own.
Reporters, many of whom she knew personally, thronged around shouting a barrage of questions she had no hope of deciphering much less answering. It was a roiling sea of lights and microphones refreshed by an invisible current that brought new faces to the front as it pulled the old away. Sevda worried about being overcome by the crush as she descended the steps to the street and the car that Dmitry had waiting for them. With his arm around her, she managed to stay upright and climb into the backseat, a sigh of relief escaping.
As she straightened her skirt beneath her, she gazed out the window and caught the dark eyes of an older woman’s face looking in. She didn’t have any of the instruments of a journalist but something in the expression on the lined face made Sevda shiver. She glanced at Dmitry, still standing in the open doorway of the car trying to answer a shouted question, and looked back at the woman. The lines softened just a touch. Then the window exploded. A high velocity bullet, traveling faster than the speed of sound, entered Sevda’s chest and exited near her shoulder blade, the shockwave behind it carrying a large part of her heart and a lung out with it.
The second shot missed Sevda but struck Dmitry in the right calf, bringing him down to meet the third, aimed low and entering his back before exiting though his chest, spraying the nearby reporters with blood. Those with quick reactions dropped to the pavement while the ones in back scattered. The woman pitched the heavy weapon into the car at Sevda’s lifeless face but missed. It bounced off the leather seat and out the other side in a metal clatter. She breathed heavy, eyes on fire, then turned and crossed the street, rounding a corner, and disappearing into the throng that is Athena City.