Time waits for no man, and Gamillion was running out of time. 3 Minutes to arm it, 5 more to find the Commander, and 10 minutes to kill him. The man in the green Med Ward gown crouched hidden in the shadows, waiting for the guard to turn his back. It’s now or never big guy, he stole his chance and slipped in through the vast metal hanger doors a moment before they closed.
They had left him nothing, except the windup Toy Clock and his determination. The ancient clock, with its bright colours, and smiling dial-face was a battered mechanical throw back to a bygone era. Mercy -they must have thought- we are merciful, leave him the sentimental toy, what use could he have for it.
The Doctors report had said, a broken Collar Bone and torn Ligaments in his leg. Gamillion felt the stinging pain now as he stumbled forward deeper into the hanger toward the Ore Carrier.
The fleet hangar was eerily quite, there murderous mission complete. Giant gleaming Transports dwarfed over the fast black Interceptors. Row upon row of Protectorate weaponry sat like tombstones to the murdered children.
He found the twisted wreckage, a charred gaping hole rent through as if a giant had smashed the tin can with a flaming spike. The cargo bay door hang limply to one site, it’s beautiful cargo destroyed in a millisecond. He reached out and stroked the pitted metal tenderly.
Forgive me son, I’m coming soon.
He found the control panel of the Fusion Drill slung below the crushed hulk of the Ore carrier. He unclipped the control panel, exposing the wires. He found the pair he was looking for, and ripped them out of the panel with a bright spark and a sizzle. He touched them together briefly and heard the satisfying hum of the Fusion Tunneller begin spooling up. He felt the urge to just let it run, to finish the job, and be done. Not yet, you have a date with the Commander first.
He connected the exposed wires to each hand of the smiling clock face, he turned the simple spring to wind it up, just like his grandfather had shown him, and how he had shown Jono. He listened for the soothing tick, tock. It was still working, he turned the little dial at the back making the hands move until it was 20 to twelve.
20 minutes, that should be enough time he hoped. If they found him, and he failed his mission, well it wouldn’t take them long to find out just how merciful Gamillion was.
He pulled out some unnecessary wires and wrapped them around his hand and forearm, he took a loose switch and held it as if it was connected to the wires. He carefully placed the control panel cover back, 19 minutes.
Gamillion limped out the side door of the hanger, towards the concourse and the Commanders suite, his pale green gown flowing over his muscular frame as he hobble-ran.
“Please don’t drop me,” said the flaccid Commander, his top lip quivered over his pleading voice.
Gamillion held the commander by his maroon tunic collar, dangling precariously over the central concourse far below. The Patriots below stood frozen, gawking at the murderous scene playing out a hundred feet above them.
Gamillion frothed with rage, his temples pulsing red, his square jaw forcing each word out like a bullet to the Commanders head. “I murdered them, SAY IT. I murdered them.”
The commander’s eyes were soft and pleading, like a puppy, as he dangled over the concourse far below. Those same eyes had ordered Gamillion with an indifferent arrogance, a murderous mathematical order he could not refuse. ‘Gamillion, hand over the kids, or we will be merciful, and everyone dies’.
“They weren’t your – I – I didn’t kill them, it was an accident, please let’s talk this through.”
Gamillion noticed movement to his side, a crescent of Security had formed around them, weapons trained to fire in a millisecond, to hell with them too, nobody was innocent any more.
He closed his eyes, and saw his boy, the cute red cheeks, his soft blonde hair, his infectious laugh, it all came rushing back to him. They had done this to him, to all the children, vengeance would be paid.
He pulled the gowns sleeve back with his teeth, so that the security cordon could see the wires wrapped around his arm. He made his eyes wild, and his madness clear. “This is a dead man trigger, I have placed a Fusion Drill on the Reactor Core, if I die, it will tunnel through the Core Shielding and cause the reactor to go Thermo, and everyone dies, you got me? Now back off, or you so help me, I will set it off just to watch the expression on your faces.”
He had bought a few more precious minutes, he turned his attention back to the man who had started it all. “You ordered them to open fire, you knew the kids were on board, why did you order them to fire?”
His eyes white with fear, sweat running freely, his hands scratching for a grasp on the smooth metal cliff. “It would have made no difference, it was over for them, I was being merciful.”
“Mercy, you cooked them in a can, and blew them out into the vacuum, I’ll show you mercy.” Gamillion dropped him an inch.
He grasped onto Gamillion’s wrists, with a death grip. “No, no, you don’t understand, they were never going to make it back, those where the orders.”
“You were going to murder them anyway? Why would you want them dead?”
“We are merciful, they had been recalled. I was just follow orders.”
The clock was ticking, engineers would be crawling all over the Reactor Core looking for the Tunneller, his gamble couldn’t last much longer.
“Did you kill the Ex-Patriots on Ceres as well, is Jill dead, tell me man, is my wife Dead?”
“We didn’t fire on Ceres, our orders where to be merciful to the children, we finished our mission and we left.”
Gamillion heard shuffling feet and turned to see the cordon dissolving back, they lowered their guns, what game were they playing at?
A new voice echoed through the still mezzanine, “Stand down, and you can have the boy.”
Gamillion looked over his shoulder and saw a small child being shepherded between the guards. In the dim light it was difficult to make him out, he had blonde hair, and was the same height as Jono. It couldn’t be?
The man who spoke emerged from the shadows pushing the boy forward. He was the Cruiser’s Mora, dressed in a flowing pearl white gown his long silver hair tied up. The Mora where assigned to teach and test the complete moral compliance of the crew. He escorted the child forward, his hands firmly on the shoulders, he pushed him forward like a shield toward Gamillion.
Loose folds of skin hung off his gaunt face, his eyes black from a thousand acts of mercy. “We have your child, release the commander, and nobody gets hurt.”
Gamillion felt his reality slipping, it couldn’t be. It was Jono, he was alive, infront of his eyes. But that was impossible, how could it be his boy, he was dead, he had seen him disappear in a flash, arcing overhead through the black sky, he had felt the explosion in the small of his back. How could he be here now. It must be a Hologram, or some other trick to get him to drop his guard so they could take him out before he completed his mission. He had failed once, but never again.
“Let me see the boy, bring him closer.”
“Pull up the Commander, and then you can talk to your child.”
Maybe they had another kid who looked like him, there was no way they could have known what he looked like. He didn’t even look like me, more like his mom.
He shook his head and whispered, “my boy is dead.”
The Mora pushed the child closer, but kept his claw hold on his shoulders, “look closely, you will see that he is your child, it doesn’t have to be this way.”
It looked exactly like him, maybe it was a nightmare, a waking horror, but he had seen the ship destroyed, how was this possible?
“Lieutenant Gamillion, you have served the Protectorate well, release the Commander now, and we will send your child home to Ceres on a shuttle, where he can live peacefully with your wife.”
To finish his mission would be easy, a quick reflex would open his hands, the Commander would fall and Gamillion would die instantly by a thousand shots. But what if it had been a mix up, the child looked like Jono, could it be him, if I drop the Commander, then I might ruin the only chance I have of saving Jono.
“He goes home, no funny business?”
He would lose the chance to do right by the Commander, but he could save Jill the eternal suffering. She could love again. Jill, oh my love, forgive me, I promised I would protect him, he looked again at the child, could he dream to take the child, escape and find Jill and put this whole mess behind them. Gamillion looked at the firepower levelled against him. No he had made it final, the best he could hope for was that Jill might find the boy and they could live in peace without him.
He lifted the Commander back over the hand railing, and threw him down at his feet. An iron grip on the back of his collar half strangled the Commander.
“Don’t get excited Mora, it’s not over until I’m sure he is my boy.” He waived the boy closer, “come here, let me see you.”
They shuffled closer, the boy calm and dispassionate. The right side of the Mora’s face had developed a slight tick, he was used to ordering others to do the dirty work, and now he found himself in the heart of the crucible.
He looked closely at the boy, it was him, but how, he had the same hair, his mother’s thin smile, was he finally losing his mind? He needed time to think, precious time. How was it possible they had Jono here, maybe he had survived the attack, and they had rescued him too? But how? He tried to remember through the fog of the last few hours, hours that felt like an eternity.
It was Gamillions stupid plan, sneak through the blockade and hide out in the one of the Belt mines until they had left. The parents had comforted the crying children, all 50 of them less than 6 years old. They held their hands as they walked up the cargo ramp. Parents fighting every instinct to try and save their children, the distrustful looks shot at Gamillion, the awkward promises to protect them. It was his plan, and his fault. He saw the terror in Jono’s eyes, he hugged him and said, “be a brave boy, don’t worry my son, I will never leave you.”
The Cruiser opened fire without warning, the plasma blew through the cargo hold, incinerating the precious cargo, leaving the forward pressure cabin untouched. He had hoped to die floating out there in the shattered shuttle, only to find himself in the Cruisers Med Ward when he woke.
He touched the sensitive spot on his collar bone where he had smashed into the control panel. It had happened, he wasn’t losing his mind.
The Commander saw an opportunity and started to slide-crawl away, Gamillion grabbed him by the ankle and pulled him closer, he pushed the Dead man switch into his face, “Stay where you are, I just need to let go, and you will ALL suffer my mercy.”
He stroked the child’s tender face, brushed at the whisp of baby hair.
“Daddy, I’m scared,” said Jono.
The words shot through Gamillion’s spine like a bullet, the sound of his only child’s voice weakened his legs and he fell to his knees. He wrapped his arms around his son, he had found his baby again.
“I’m sorry boy, I’m so sorry, it wasn’t meant to happen this way, I was trying to save you, please forgive me.”
The child stood impassive, his eyes wide with fear, but without joy.
“Whatever happens, you don’t look ok. You promise me you look away. You must go and find mommy, and tell her I said l love her, and I’m sorry, ok. Can you do that boy?”
“Yes dad.” The reply was in his child’s voice, but it didn’t sound right, too mechanical, like the emotion had been sucked out of him.
“Have they treated you ok, are you hungry? They haven’t hurt you, have they?”
“No Dad.” The same mechanical voice again, no hope, no terror. Something wasn’t right.
He sat back on his haunches and took a closer look at him, it was him, his round green eyes, his sweet lips, his little ears, it was him. But, except. He didn’t have the hairline scar on his right eyebrow, where he had run into the coolant line chasing after the cat. He had cried for a minute, and Gamillion had wiped the blood away, and stuck a plaster over the small cut, ready for his mom’s inevitable grilling.
“Do you remember when we found the cat, what was his name again?”
“What cat Dad?”
It couldn’t be possible, had they brain washed him, deleted his memories? No wait, the scar, it was gone, it wasn’t Jono.
The Mora saw that he was losing the deal, he pulled the kid back away from Gamillion.
Gamillion reached for his child trying to pull him back, “what was our Hab number Jono, you remember, tell me boy, please tell me where we stayed?”
The child turned and looked to the Mora for guidance.
The Mora tilted his head slightly to receive a silent message, and smiled. “Ok Mr. Gamillion, times up, there is no Drill,” he waived at the security to approach.
A new rage filled Gamillion, they had taken away his only child, murdered in cold blood, and then offered him, what, maybe a new type of Hologram, to fool him, too buy time.
Gamillion lifted the Commander and charged forward using his flaying body as a battering ram, smashing into the first Patriot in range. He reached forward and wrestled control of his firearm. He thrust it hard into the Commanders jaw and slid behind him as a shield.
“Back off, the deal is off, he is not my boy.”
The Mora set a firm grimace, shrugged his shoulders, raised his arm up high, and slapped the poor child with a vicious backhand. The boy crumpled to the floor.
“No, don’t touch him.” Gamillion pointed the weapon at the Mora to make him stop.
“What are you going to do, die to save a reject like this?” He raised his leg and crunched a boot into the childs ribs, and then another until the boy was screaming in pain.
“Touch him again and they will be scrapping pieces of your brain of the concourse for weeks.”
“I’ll make you a new offer Gamillion, seeing as you were so picky for the last one. Release the Commander and I will stop…” another boot smashed into the child’s face, “hurting him.”
Blood pooled around the still child’s head, his breath gurgling in the back of his throat.
If he released the Commander then they were all dead, Gamillion definitely, but maybe he could spare the child that looked so much like his son. He would lose his chance at vengeance, at justice for Jono, but this boy was suffering, he needed to do something.
“New deal Mora, I’ll give you the Commander on two conditions. One, you send the boy back to Ceres to Jill, and second, that you will not be merciful on me.”
Mora looked around incredulously, “Gamillion are you sure you don’t want mercy? Cause I can promise you the court will sentence you to the worst suffering known to man.”
He pushed the gun deeper into the Commanders neck.
“You swear to me Mora, on your Code in front of these witnesses, the child goes safely to Jill, and I have no Mercy.”
“Ok, I swear by the Holy Moral Code of the Protectorate, and all these witnesses, that you will not have Mercy, and the child will be free.”
It was over, he had done what he could, forgive me son.
He raised his arm out to his side, and dropped the weapon. The first blows landed a moment later, they crowded over him and took pleasure in having no mercy, they pummelled and stabbed, stomped and smashed, the pain was unbearable, but nothing like what the boy must of felt. The pain only stopped when he finally blacked out.
10 Minutes after Twelve
The Hanger with it’s gleaming shuttles, and transports became the Courthouse, and the Gallows. The wreck of the ore transport sat behind the 3 Judges, a reminder of his failing.
The Commander sat staring down at him smugly, he had failed at everything. The boy, his wife, all the parents on Ceres, everything. He shook his head in despair, blood dripping from his nose, and left ear.
The panel of three Judicial Patriots, the Commander, the sadistic Mora, and a new face. The grey bearded man acted as the Judge President, the commander and Mora as Prosecutorial Judges, they presided over the proceedings with an iron determination, to ensure he was convicted of all crimes.
“Lieutenant Gamillion of the Patriot Securitate, you are hereby charged with Disobeying a Direct Order, Incitement to Mutiny, Destruction of State property, Endangerment of the Protectorate, Treason of the highest order, how do you plead.”
He looked up at the 3 judges sitting at the hastily erected bench. “Don’t I have the right to representation or something?”
“You forgo all of your rights when committed the heinous act of Treason, plead now or we will enter your plea for you.”
He took a moment, his eyes searching in his mind. “Your honour, may I address the court?”
The judge scowled at him for a moment before deciding, “very well, let it be know that the High Court of the Protectorate is merciful.“
“I was ordered by the commander to go to Ceres and spy on the ex-patriots, to integrate myself within the community and report monthly for a long term mission.”
The judge wasn’t interested in the story, probably more interested in lunch, “the short version if you will.”
“After 3 years I met a beautiful woman who I married, we were happy, and my reports to the Commander still happened regularly. One day I received an order from him to make contact with another group on Titan, and to build try and build a relationship with them. I dutifully followed instructions, and left my wife. For 3 years I was gone, building contacts within the group. After the successful mission I returned home to find a surprise. My wife had a child while I was away.”
“We are not writing your life story, make it quick or I will order your mouth shut.”
“For 3 year I grew to love the boy, he was a part of me. Until one day this Cruiser and the Commander show up and order all the children to be handed over.”
“And you failed to comply with a direct order.”
“Yes I did.”
The commander mumbled to the other judges, “Finally, we have a plea.”
“I took those kids, and I promised all the other parents that it was the safest thing to do, you see your honour, my plan was to take the children to the commander as he requested. I lied to the other parents. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t sacrifice all those children in the hope that I could save mine. So I turned the ship around and we tried to get away.”
“Your actions killed those children.” Said the Judge
“But the strangest thing is, my child is dead, I saw it with my own eyes, I think I’m loosing my mind, tell me your mercifulness, who was that child I saw today?”
“Yes the child was not yours, you see Mr Gamillion, while you were away on Titan, your wife and the others on Ceres received new children. Did she not explain to you?” He saw the confusion on Gamillions face and pushed the point, “did you never wonder why when you left there were no children, and then 3 years later, the place is alive with children?”
It had never occurred to Gamillion why all the kids were about the same age when he arrived, 3 years old.
“Those children where the property of the Protectorate, they were not your children, but a failed experiment, nothing more. The laws where not changed to allow Ex-patriots to have children, they were clones, simple companions, toys if you will, meant to help keep moral up in some of the outlying colonies. Ceres was the test case, and you failed miserably. They were ordered to be cleansed mercifully.”
His child, a clone, a man made organism, no, he remembered his face when he read him stories before bedtime, how he hated the Algae Protein paste, how he liked to make fart jokes, clone or not Jono was his child.
“My child was murdered out there today, your Mora, and all that you hold dear is a lie, to murder children is to destroy any morality you claim.”
The judge became flustered, “Enough talking. Judges, how do you find the defendant?”
The Commander spoke first, a snear of joy on his pugilist face, “Guilty.”
Then the Mora, his nose raised to ensure his moral authority was intact, “Guilty.”
“Mr Gamillion, you have been found guilty on all charges, traditionally you would be sentenced to a Merciful Execution by blaster. However you have requested the court shows you no Mercy. Very well, You are hereby sentenced to an Eternal Wake. You will spend an eternity, conscious, but without hope of rescue, drifting amongst the stars. You will spend millennia orbiting in the blackness until your final death, with the death of the Sun.”
He lay bound in the cold steel coffin, the small glass portal over his face the only view he had. The technicians busied themselves connecting pipes, white clouds hissed from the tubes. The cryo-stasis would lock him in a conscious state, his mind alive and working, but immobile. The same technology that allowed them to survive the trip between stars, would be his eternal torture chamber amongst the stars.
They slid the capsule into its holding rack, and a man said a few muffled words, about peace and some other bullshit.
There was the metal on metal sound of a hatch locking behind him, the woosh of the decompression launching him forward, bright lights flashing past the glass, and then nothing, blackness and the beautiful stars. The capsule rolled lazily, he was alone finally.
The silence and stillness calmed his soul, “I’m with you now my boy, and daddy will never leave you again.”