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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2277880
Example entry for BlackAdder's Cantina
Outside of the window, the enormous crysteel structure rotated. The high-tech sustainable structure was tiled with high-capacity solar cells and banded with nanoglass windows. Those windows offered glances into spacious walkways and atriums decorated with hydroponic greenery. Glenhaven Imperial Orbital University was the Empire's flagship university and the quadrant leader in nanotechnology research. Jake Reed's son Gary was moving into one of those dormitories today, with his classes starting next week; the thought made Jake's chest swell with pride.

Gary's voice rose from the passenger seat, filled with impatience. "The docking bay is the broad side of the spindle, Dad. I don't know why you don't just turn on the autopilot."

Jake chuckled but hit the green icon on the dashboard with his index finger. "Fine, fine. See all those pods in the center of the long end?"

Gary leaned forward in his seat, trying to get a better look as the shuttle swerved in the other direction. "Yeah, those are the zero-G labs. They're the reason they built the University in space. Even today, there's some stuff you can't build in gravity."

"Yep, and they're the reason I'm spending tens of thousands of credits a year for you to be here. And look how many people are in the open glass sections of the outer rings!"

Gary laughed. "This isn't just a research university, Dad. Glenhaven's got poly-sci majors and artists too. Protesting is like work-study for them. I might swing by later to see what form the end of the Universe is taking this week."

Jake frowned. From time immemorial, kids had plagued their parents with complaints and demands to change the galaxy to suit them. Some good things had come out of that, he supposed, but mostly just a lot of trouble, and he wanted none of that for Gary.

Luckily, the shuttle was pulling into the enormous rotating hangar, obscuring the rotating habitats from view. Blue lights directed them to the lit square that denoted parking space #425, and the magnetic clamps engaged, securing them in place. "Grab your bags, Gary. We're here."

Father and son each floated two large bags to the elevator in silence past the other arrivals, then waited as the elevator accelerated to match the station's rotation and slotted itself into the shaft, lowering to the habitation levels. Unfortunately, they had to walk right past the protestors in order to reach Gary's dormitory. Hundreds of people: students, parents, reporters, and staff, were listening to a charismatic young man speak. Jake recognized his red-streaked hair, aristocratic nose, and mocha skin from the news: this was the son of an Imperial Senator: Jordan Rychert. The topic of the day was censorship of the news: knowledge of supposed atrocities and inequities being squashed by the Empire.

Jake's frown progressed into a grimace. Well, of course, the Empire censored the news! Anyone with the lowest-grade cyber-implant (and that was everyone) had enough processing power to fake a video no AI in the galaxy could falsify. False news had killed more people, started more wars, and wrecked more economies than the next ten causes combined. So sure, the Empire certified journalists, and it jailed anyone who spread "news" without a license. Obviously. Half of these protestors could use a day or two in jail, themselves, for spreading sedition. These jokers were threatening the world his son was just beginning to grow into, and Jake had no sympathy for them.

Jake was still fuming when they reached Gary's dorm. It was small, but it was fully furnished and customizable. With access to the nearby 3D printer and control over the room's smart paint, the four bags of clothes and personal items would be plenty enough to turn the place into a new home, and Gary was anxious to get started. He was already sharing jokes and fist bumps with his new neighbors. After a hug and a few bittersweet goodbyes, it was time for the father to get out of the way.

On the way back to the hangar, Jake could not resist stopping by the protest. Everyone knew their roles: students raised hands and voices against censorship, but not too loudly, and they stayed carefully within a square cordoned off by ropes and little orange flags. A dozen blue-uniformed security guards stood several paces back from the ropes, expressions marked by boredom and fatigue. There was scattered applause as Rychart left the dais and was replaced by another young woman who spoke in soft but impassioned tones. To Jake's surprise, Rychart caught his eye and walked directly up to him. "So, what do you think?"

Jake shook his head. "It's not quite what I expected. This is all pretty orderly for a protest. A folk concert would leave more of a mess than this. It would sure be a lot louder."

Rychart smiled as if he knew something Jake did not. "Do you think the Empire would let us do this if it saw us as a threat? We're the loyal opposition. Letting the certified newsies see us complain is some of the best PR they could get."

Jake raised a hand to scratch his head. "Then what's the point?"

Rychart spread his hands wide enough to match his grin. He'd done this before. "The Empire isn't as noble as it pretends: it's killing and jailing people, and there's corruption everywhere. People need to know about it, and there are few accredited journalists who have enough pull to report on it without getting disappeared: very few, and the Empire knows who they are. Keeping them away from what the Empire wants to hide is child's play."

Jake only shook his head, so Rychart continued. "So we ask people who aren't on the Empire's watch list to take footage from the real reporters, the ones who have to hide, to the ones who are allowed to report. Care to help us?

"Smuggling," Jake said.

Rychart nodded. "I can see this is a lot to take on. Just think about it and let me know if you change your mind. I'm easy to find."

Jake murmured something polite and escaped the troublemaker, making his way back to his shuttle. A tall, blue-uniformed man with a shock of blonde hair stopped him at the elevator. "Hello, sir, I'm with station security. Unfortunately, I need you to step aside so I can ask you a few questions."

"I'd really like to get back home if you don't mind. I've got errands to run and a meeting to make afterward."

The blonde guard shook his head. "I'm telling, not asking. This way."

Jake sighed, then followed the guard to a small room with a chair, a table, and a conspicuous camera. The guard reached up to hit a button on the camera, and the indicator light shut off. Another guard, this one dark-haired, followed the blonde one into the room, and crossed his arms. "Thanks for your cooperation. We need you to strip down: suits like the ones you're wearing can block your camera."

"Excuse me?!"

"Clothes off, or Jim here will take them off for you. Now"

Jake's hands started to shake. "I have rights. You - oof..."

Jim, the dark-haired guard, demonstrated what the fist of a 115Kg man can due to an unprepared gut, removing all the wind from Jake's lungs. Jake unfastened the jumpsuit that most shuttle pilots wore, pulling it down around his ankles. Jim pulled out a handheld scanner and ran it up and down Jake's side. "He's clean."

Jake coughed, steadying himself with one hand on the nearby desk and one on his gut. "Of course I'm clean. I don't suppose we're done here?"

The blonde guard's grin was not friendly. "Zip up and sit. I said I had questions for you. Tell me about Jordan Rychart."

Jake shaking hands refastened his suit, and he collapsed into the metal chair, glaring at the guard's stern faces in the pale light of the interrogation room. "Son of Senator Rychart, makes the news a lot for criticizing the Emperor. I never met him before today. I asked him why he was protesting. He wanted me to smuggle news."

The blonde guard scowled. "What did you tell him?"

Jake's voice shook. "Nothing. I walked away. I don't need his kind of problems."

Those huge arms remained crossed. Jim rubbed his knuckles. 'That's a serious accusation to level at a senator's son. What else do you know about Rychart? Or smuggling?"

Jake coughed again, swallowed, then spoke. "Nothing but what I've told you."

The blonde guard spat, a glob of spittle hitting the table less than a meter from Jake's face. "Not a great answer. Let's start again."

The guard's repeated questions repeated interminably. The only thing that changed in Jake's answers was the tone, one more burdened with fear with every hour that passed. The guard, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying himself. Neither guard had brought food or water. Neither had asked if he needed anything.

At one point, Jake tried to interrupt. "Look, I'm sorry, but I really need to use the bathroom."

The blonde guard shrugged. "Sure thing. Jump suits like yours are rated for human waste, so you can take care of business right here. I could really use a drink, though. I'll be back in a minute."

Jim scowled. He hadn't left for a snack in over an hour. Jake crossed his legs tighter. The dim artificial light didn't even flicker.

If not for his cyber-implant, Jake would have lost track of time. Instead, his vision was filled with reminders of overdue meetings and notifications of expected calls (lost because he was unconnected to the com network). Finally, the notification arrived that the end of his workday was nearing. At that point the blonde guard looked to his partner. "Well, I'm satisfied. Any more questions, Jim?"

The laconic dark-haired guard chewed his tongue for a moment. "Not a one, mate."

The blond guard smiled cheerfully. "In that case, it's been a pleasure. Since we're not charging you with anything, I think we can keep this little conversation off of the record. If your employer asks, you can tell him you were a witness to a crime, but we had enough depositions without you. Keep your nose clean, Jake. Oh, and if you're inclined to leave a survey about the quality of your service today, I really wouldn't. Have a nice day."

Jake squinted as the door opened, then stood and walked out. His stomach hurt, and his legs were cramped from misuse and dehydration. At the elevator, he risked a look back, to see the blonde guard watching, mouth twisted in amusement. The guard waved. Jake stepped in the elevator, seething with frustrated rage. There was no one he could report his experience to, no one it was safe to complain to: the Empire had the latitude to do anything it wanted to. There was no way Jake could let his son grow up in a world like this, one where the corrupt goons of the Empire had unlimited power. He wondered if Rychart was still looking for couriers. He had to do something. As the elevator rose, the force of gravity began to subside, removing some of his aches. Yes, he'd do it, in the name of freedom and for the sake of his son. He couldn't stop the Empire's corruption, but maybe he could be a part of people knowing something about it.


Rychart squinted from among the few remaining protestors as he watched Jake limp to the elevator. He spared a sigh of sympathy for the man as a tall blonde man in a security uniform approached. He reached into his pocket to remove a chip indicating a secure money transfer, then passed it surreptitiously to the guard as he shook his hand.

The blonde man smiled. "Been a pleasure. We'll talk next month."
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