Author: Ken Carlson

“The cries of the people will not be drowned out by ignorance! They can’t turn their backs forever; can’t run away from a revolution.”

“Turning and running? Sounds like a misguided aerobics class. Bartender, two more, please.”

In a spaceport bar, Harmon and Stickles, two reporters were arguing again. Working for rival newsites, Harmon wrote to pull at the heartstrings on the downtrodden, depressed, and paranoid. Stickles wrote to keep his ex-wives and landlord off his back.

They sat next to one another, facing the bar with its liquor bottles and monitors showing news and sports.

“Look up,” said Harmon, pointing up to the glass dome and the galaxy. “How can Earth think, with the suffering colonies on planets and moons, like this one, they should maintain control?”

Stickles paid for the drinks, shaking his head at his dwindling credit account. “Earth paid for these colonies. They sent the people up. They made life possible. Why shouldn’t they?”

“That was a hundred years ago,” said Harmon, taking a swig and wincing at the sharp edge. “In that time, colonists have died. Corners were cut on spacecraft. Terraforming programs were slipshod. Earth let these colonies decay. Meanwhile, Earth has reaped all the benefits from mining and research. People don’t like living on scraps. They won’t take it much longer.”

“How do you cry for independence while you’re living off Mom and Dad,” said Stickles. “America, they separated from England but still wanted trade privileges. Was anyone surprised when America fell like a house of cards and had to go back a few hundred years later, hat in hand?”

The bar was filling up. Transport workers got off from their shifts and travelers sought a resting spot before their flights.

“What of the secret police?!” Harmon asked. “How many disappearances must the colonists endure, family members going away, never being heard from again?”

Stickles said, “People go away for all kinds of reasons; say the wrong thing at the wrong time!”

Harmon took another drink. “It’s the sign of a police state! Nobody is safe! Doesn’t that bother you?!”

Stickles finished his drink, got up, and put on his coat. He looked at one of the screens for winning lottery numbers, sighing; he’d lost again.“Got to go. Deadline in a few hours.” They shook hands. “Good to see you. Try not to take everything so seriously.”

Harmon watched Stickles walk away, weaving through the crowd.

Stickles went back to his apartment. He’d moved near the spaceport because he thought being at a galactic hub brought its share of stories to your door. Another poor decision.

He opened the door and found two men in uniform.

“H. Stickles? #54-057-5999?” the taller officer asked. Stickles nodded. “You were speaking today with one V. Harmon, a reporter known for spreading dangerous, radical lies?”

Stickles was stunned. “Harmon is Harmon.”

The officer continued. “Did he present you with anti-government propaganda? We could reward you financially if you help with this traitor.”

Stickles stared at the officers sitting and the torn furniture in his dank home. He thought of his debts, his problems, and his friend of many years.

He shook his head, smiling a little. “Not at all. Everything was above board.”

“That’s enough,” said a familiar voice from behind. “Failure to report dangerous remarks made about our government is an actionable offense. Bring him in for questioning.”

As the officers rose, weapons raised, Stickles didn’t turn to see who it was. He had lost another bet. It was Harmon.