The images jumbled together. Murray stood in Bull’s apartment and stared at the wall screen. Her feet rooted to his slick, perfectly-shined floor tiles. On screen, smoke billowed from windows. Flames licked between straight columns. Chaos ran the streets.
Over the drone of screams and pounding feet, a flat female voice announced a play by play of the events unfolding. Murray watched it, life-sized, and tried to catch the words over the terror howling in her mind.
“Group of radical terrorists attempted to free their leader.”
It didn’t sound good. In particular the word “attempted” bothered her.
“Explosions and electrical sabotage.”
The scene shifted to the front steps of the detainment building. A haze of debris littered the street, the sidewalk and the surrounding areas. It still rained detritus around the on-site reporter who hunkered between columns and grinned for the cameras. “The fiendish rebels have been apprehended,” she said happily. “And the criminal has been returned to custody.”
They’d had him then, had him out at least for a moment. Murray closed her eyes and fought back a wave of hope, anger and bald-faced terror. Zora had said they didn’t want him dead, and she’d scoffed. She never guessed they’d have planned to rescue their martyr.
“Revolutionary and an off-world woman resisting arrest.”
Murray’s knees wobbled as Zora was dragged across the screen. Two Damascan officers held her by the arms, and she kicked and twisted between them. Her hair had come free, throwing a cloud of red tangles against the silver metal forearms. She howled and tossed her head from side to side.
The reporter closed in, followed by a camera man who stumbled and caused the view to slide off of Murray’s sister. She saw Leer in a similar situation, though he walked with a triumphant posture that made Murray grind her teeth together. She heard him talking to the crowd, spreading his message from his new power position as victim of the system. Murray knew the drill.
“The corruption and injustice has to end, now!” One of his handlers shook him less than gently. “We are prisoners. We’re all prisoners.”
“They’re using you.” Zora’s voice joined Leer’s. The camera man recovered. He swung back around to her. “They’re selling your bodies to the highest bidder.”
The camera jerked to the side, and Murray saw a glimpse of the crowd. She heard the announcer scream and the camera man’s grunt as the mob surged forward. The angle tilted and showed a press of legs before it settled on the ground. The scene cut to a studio reporter, a man who wore a wide, stiff smile.
“We’re experiencing technical difficulties,” he said. “Our crews on the ground assure us that the situation is well in order. In the meantime, reports just in that the Council has ordered the immediate execution of the treaty violator.”
“What?” Murray spun around. “Bull? What did he say?”
“Public example,” the reporter continued. “To be broadcast live--.”
Rook’s lawyer stared at her. He didn’t so much as twitch, may as well have been off line, empty. For a second, she’ feared he died, or whatever the Damascan equivalent. She pushed it to the bottom of her pile of fears and pushed on the front of Bull’s chest.
He blinked and turned away from the screen. “Did they say execution?”
“But we haven’t had the trial.” He shook his head and looked to her. As if she might have the answer to his quandary, as if she could even think at the moment. “The Council doesn’t have legal standing to forego a trial.”
“They’re panicking. Or they’re covering their asses. I don’t care which, Bull. Just do something!”
He blinked twice, and Murray held her breath. There would be something, some lawyer thing that he could do. Behind her, the reporter’s voice shifted and adopted a trace of panic.
“The rioting seems to have escalated. Suspects enticing the crowd to violence.”
“I’ll call,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a mistaken report.”
He left her. Murray watched him disappear behind his study door and then she turned back to the wall where a scrolling message informed her that everything was under control. Above it, the cameras shifted to a distant view of the detention block as seen from above. Smoke blocked most of the view.
Silence enveloped her. The reporter had stopped speaking or the system cut out. Either way, the images flowed by without sound. Her insides churned. Bull said it was a mistake. Bull knew more about his planetary government than she did.
Except the scrolling letters disagreed. They spelled out her horror: TREATY VIOLATOR TO BE EXECUTED LIVE. Murray closed her eyes, and the sound kicked in. She heard muffled shouting. It took her less than a breath to realize it came from the study. Bull’s voice. Shouting.
She ran from the apartment. The lift carried her to street level where the side of every building scrolled the same impossible message. Her tears blurred the words. Her chest pinched. She ran anyway, ran past the columns, past pedestrians who looked too much like Rook, who could never come close. They stood like statues in her peripheral vision, statues that could almost be him.
She ignored them, ignored everything, and ran for the center of town.
The barricades didn’t stop her. The revolution had already bled across them, crushed a few of the structures and left the remainders unmanned. The crowd only slowed her. She wove between them all, didn’t pause to distinguish police from protestor. She ran through and around. She jumped and dodged.
She ran until she heard Rook’s voice. It descended, echoed from every building, and she froze. Her legs turned leaden. She pressed her eyes shut and refused to look. The trick didn’t work on her ears. She heard the speech—his message to the people—the farewell message.
It was beautiful. The crowd around her paused and listened to him. His planet hung on every word. Murray let the tears leak around her lids and refused to watch.
It couldn’t happen like this, distant, broadcast. They deserved a goodbye, a last minute “I love you” at least. Instead she stood alone, surrounded by Damascan strangers who roared in response to Rook’s words, who surged to his message, but didn’t love him enough to stop his death. Murray shook her head. It wouldn’t happen like this. Love stories didn’t end like this.
But as Rook’s voice droned on, sounding like an android for the first time since she’d met him, she heard the collective gasp and had to open her eyes. They had him on his knees. The bastards had him on his knees. Two armed guards stood like bookends beside him. Rook stared forward and kept talking. He continued, focused on the cameras and speaking his message, while the third man opened the back of his head.
Her stomach clenched. She could see what they saw, though she’d only looked inside him once. She remembered. A blue marble glowed and extended tendrils of light into the brain. She’d even touched it, him, once.
She saw the rod in the guard’s hand, the arch of electricity dancing at its tip, and she snapped. The spell lifted. She searched the crowd for a break, for last minute help, for a miracle. All eyes riveted on the big screens.
“Stop this!” Murray screamed, hardly recognized her own frantic voice. “He hasn’t had a trial!”
A few Damascans, the ones closest to her, glanced in her direction.
“They haven’t given him a trial!” She tried louder. A few more noticed. A whisper spread through the crowd.
It died quickly in the shriek of electricity snapping. The crowd gasped, a sound like a tidal wave that washed through the city, washed over Murray’s screams and buried her protest under a sea of disbelief. Her breath caught in her throat. Her heart paused. She stared at the ground. Her knees buckled and kissed the pavement. She saw the flash of legs around her, heard the sudden thunder of a thousand angry voices.
None of them could cover the sound of a metal body falling forward, hitting the tiles, crashing, lifeless, to the cell floor. Even her own screams didn’t drown that out.