Stepan Izmaylov smiled and took a deep breath. He’d been waiting for his audience with the Burrough’s Council of Districts for the past six hours. Since he’d arrived just after sunrise, he’d counted forty-three people who had been ushered in and out. From where he stood, he looked down two levels to the Council Chamber’s lobby. The far wall was made of polished Martian sandstone and glass bands. He could see the surface of the planet. He could see the sun was setting.
The Chamber door abruptly opened. A court aide gestured and he hurried after the young man. The District representatives sat at a simple, slightly curved table of wood imported from Earth. There were fifteen men, women and genneuts, seven on either side of a seat with a slightly higher back. Council Director Haman held the office currently. She wasn’t smiling. Tapping her pen, she waited until the doors closed behind Stepan to say, “You may approach the Council, Citizen Izmaylov.” When he reached a low railing, Haman said, “You must know that your request is denied.”
Stepan rocked back. “I can’t present my case?” he asked.
The Fifth District rep snapped, “Even you can’t be so naïve as to expect us to grant you license to reopen your filthy little Christian church after what happened to FirstDome!”
Haman shot the older man a dark look but let the remark pass. She continued, “While I don’t approve of Representative Denvik’s rudeness, I concur with his sentiment. We can no longer allow the religious to gather in groups larger than five.”
“FirstDome was an accident – and had more to do with gang warfare than religious worship,” Stepan said softly.
The Director scowled, picked up her gavel and banged it. “Good day, Citizen Izmaylov.”
By the time he made it back to his apartment, news had spread. He sighed – he didn’t realize that many people watched the Council proceedings. Mostly the people who identified him glared, nodding in his direction and whispering to others. More than a few flipped him off; two shouted obscenities and a teen girl spit at him. When his apartment door irised closed behind him, he leaned back against it.
He couldn’t let this go. Something in him – he felt it as the Holy Spirit – was driving him to press the issue. He took a deep breath, went to the kitchen to get something to eat, then to his computer station. He pulled up the Burrough’s Blog and went to the opinion page. He skimmed through a few entries. He’d never protested anything in his life. Not even mom and dad’s rules when he was a teenager. His bosses at the garage had always said he was a ‘real team player’ and ‘a steady, dependable worker’. He picked up enough Domeflyer repair work from friends, family and neighbors on the side to have tucked away a decent-sized savings account. He’d never rocked the boat in his life.
He was about to try and tip it now. Hunching over the virtual keyboard, he wrote.
The next morning he pulled the BBlog to see if anyone had responded to his letter. In headline font, it read: CITIZEN IZMAYLOV SENDS HATE MAIL TO ALL CITIZENS WHO DISAGREE WITH HIM!
Stepan blinked and read the text of the message purported to have been from him. The first two paragraphs were word-for-word what he’d written. Appended were two paragraphs of obscene, abusive, slanderous – and sometimes misspelled – rantings that he’d never seen before but appeared above his signature.
His apartment security system blipped. He went to the door. He wasn’t entirely surprised to see a peacekeeper. He was surprised to see four. And a dozen people jeering him up the hallway. This time the ‘keeper’s faceshield was down and the voice that came to him was filtered. “Citizen Izmaylov?”
Stepan nodded saying, “That’s me.”
“Council Director Haman requires and requests your immediate attendance at the emergency District Council session. Will you please come with us?”
“Sure, let me…”
The ‘keeper held out a hand. “Please take my hand, Citizen.”
Frowning, Stepan did. The air around them fuzzed and crackled for an instant, then he and the four ‘keepers were standing in the Council Chambers before the assembled Council. He breathed, “Instantaneous Matter Transmission?”
Director Haman nodded – smugly, Stepan thought – and said, “We use it only for emergencies.”
“What’s the emergency?”
Director Haman, along with most of the Council Representatives, frowned. Hama said, “You have become the emergency, Citizen Izmaylov.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
(Image from Jet Propulsion Laboratory "Ice Cold Sunrise on Mars" Phoenix Mars Lander)
The first "On Mars" flash fiction was here: