People’s War Crimes Court, New Altron City, Jecos province, Artican Protectorate of Paradeshia, planet Piasha
The blaster clatters to the ground and the many spectators packed in the courtroom's gallery let out a collective gasp.
“This weapon,” says the prosecutor,” was found in the possession of this deviant.” He points his finger at the defendant, sitting, huddled in the defendant’s box, being restrained by a force field.
A hissing sound can be heard emanating from the audience.
“The weapon,” continues the prosecutor, ”has two settings. One is to stun." He turns to face the audience and adds “The other is to kill.”
“The weapon is not mine,” mumbles the defendant.
“Silence!” roars the prosecutor.
“You are not to speak at this time, deviant,” growls the Judge.
“Thank you Your Honor,” says the prosecutor. “Now as we know, possessing a lethal weapon is strictly forbidden within the Brelum. This is a serious crime, and must be punished. “Now there was another item that was found on the defendant.” He holds up a purple bandana.
The audience gawks at this symbol of the resistance against the Artican Masters.
“Now we have some witnesses that will testify what they saw the defendant do.”
“You traitors!” roars the defendant.
The Judge raises his gavel, but doesn’t drop it.
The first witness, a grizzled old man with a walking stick takes the stand.
“I am a Paradeshian, but I have no sympathy for these deviants,” growls the old man, glaring at the defendant. “They entered my village and stole all our food. They also kidnapped one of our boys.”
There is a stir among the audience.
The defendant convulsively rises from his chair, but the force field blocks him like an invisible brick wall.
“Let it be written into the official record that the witness did look at the defendant, Vlados Podolsk, when he made his testimony,” says the prosecutor.
“We will now call our next witness.”
A tall man wearing a greatcoat approaches the stand. “I am a technician who works at Communications tower12 on Mount Borius.”
Vlados grits his teeth.
“Our communication towers,” says the technician, “were repeatedly attacked by deviants operating out of the Bvers. One of our security drones has footage of him, “and he gestures toward Vlados, “leading a charge on Pedzio security forces and taking their weapons.”
“Did you ever see the accused or any of his accomplices do any violence against any Pedzios or innocent civilians within the Brelum?” asks the prosecutor.
“No,“ says the technician. “However, our job is to keep these towers operating at full power, and we had to shut them down several times when the deviants sabotaged them with rocket bombs or ordinance.”
The prosecutor rises from his chair, face turning crimson. “You must know that use of such weapons of war is sacrilege within the Brelum!”
“It wasn’t us, it was the Madrians,” says Vlados calmly.
There is a growl from the audience gathered in the gallery.
The Judge’s gavel smacks the bench with a shattering crash. “One more outburst from you, Vladom Podolsk, and I will be forced to move on to judgment immediately.”
Vlados is silent.
There is the muffled sound of detonations and some members of the audience look out the windows fearfully.
They are blasting towers, Vlados thinks, trying not to smile
The explosions trigger a recent memory in Vlados, to a time when he was free, just before he was captured by them….
Vekos province, Artican Protectorate of Paradeshia, Piasha
Major Vlados has the peak of Mount Borius fixed in his viewfinder. Jutting up through the mist, he can see four HFBE towers or High Frequency Beam Emitters. These towers have the power and range to emit Psychic beams over the entire Lacuv River valley. Psychic beams enter people's minds to create obedience to the Artican Masters. Destroying the grids of HFBE towers should, in theory, free people from the hegemony of the Articans.
The towers are bracketed by a rocket bomb, then a second one hits them dead center and two of them topple.
“Bullseye!” screams Vlados, his face flushed with glee.
The Madrians are good shots, Vlados and Kafka have propped their weapons, PedzioG12 sniper guns, on one of the frozen walls of their dugout. Strapped to their bodies are stun grenades and smoke bombs, also taken from Pedzios.
Vlados knows that all around him are similar dugouts of his cell, and they are waiting. The key is to avoid being detected by air patrols. If that happens, they know that Pedzio armor and artillery could be brought to bear on them and they would have to withdraw immediately. Their nemesis, of course, are the Artican Hunters, powerful drones capable of stunning and disabling dozens of them before they would be picked up by Pedzio patrols.
Vlados had dug a little hole in the snow wall so he could use his viewfinder, but now he fills it in, and they are completely hidden under a thick covering of snow.
The Major offers a cigarette to Kafka, who refuses. To his surprise, Kafka pulls out a worn pack of cards from tunic, and asks “Play?”
“Okay,” says Vlados. “You deal.”
The game is Kat, an Artican game of chance that ironically proved so popular among resistance members, it spread to almost every corner of Piasha. The cards feature Artican marines, air and armored units, the Artican Space Corps, and, of course, the Artican Masters, symbolized by dragons. The winner must secure all four dragons to win.
After several minutes of play, Kafka smiles and plays his final card “Artican Masters,” he says, and grins.
Vlados throws his cards in frustration.
At that moment, there is a distinct buzzing sound in the sky above them.
Hunter! Vlados thinks. Although he knows it could also be a Pedzio surveillance drone.
Vlados and Kafka’s eyes meet. They don’t move a single muscle.
Several moments pass, and the buzzing sound slowly fades and then vanishes. However, the two partisans still remain motionless, knowing that Hunters have a trick of doubling back for a second look if they are suspicious.
One minute later, the buzzing sound returns, this time noticeably louder.
Vlados wipes the sweat off his forehead, while Kafka covers his face, saying a silent prayer.
Several minutes pass, and the buzzing sound can still be heard faintly behind a nearby mountain.
Did they detect us? Vlados thinks. He knows, too, that all the others have the same fear.
"Prepare to bug out to the Bvers,” Vlados utters into his communicator. He pokes another hole into the snow wall and scans the perimeter with his viewfinder. He sees nothing to alarm him. He focuses on the tower complex. It is still smoking, and little figures can be seen scurrying around trying to extinguish the flames.
Then he sees it. A Pedzio armored personal carrier is falling out of the sky and lands in a clearing in the woods almost directly in front of their positions. Vlados’ viewfinder marks the range as 540 meters. He switches the viewfinder to maximum magnification and counts twelve white clad Pedzios, led by a burly mustachioed man with a Pedzio officer’s cap. One by one, they file out of the personal carrier and move en echelon into the pine forest, weapons ready. Some of the Pedzios are methodically dragging HDs, highly sensitive heat detectors, over the snowy landscape, searching for partisan dugouts.
Vlados activates his communicator “They’ll be coming. Hold your fire until I give the order. Good luck.”
The Major watches the Pedzios as they plod through the thick pine forest. Periodically, they stop and the Pedzios with the HDs thoroughly sweep the area.
Then the officer waves and all the Pedzios move forward.
300 meters, reads Vlados’ viewfinder. He turns to look at Kafka, who winks.
“We’ll soon have some shiny new Pedzio weapons, eh Vlados?”
200 meters, reads the viewfinder.
Vlados scans the skies above him, half expecting to detect Pedzio armored vehicles swoop out of the clouds. He detects nothing, however.
“Get ready,” barks Vlados.
Kafka snatches his sniper gun, pokes it through the snow, and calibrates it.
Vlados does the same with his weapon.
Vlados dares a peek at the Pedzios with the viewfinder. He can see them clearly now. The one coming straight for him is slightly chubby and has glasses. He can see the double headed purple eagle of Paradeshia on his uniform. He is armed with a PedzioP14 stun gun. A couple of smoke canisters are hooked to his uniform.
The others are similarly armed, except one, who has a Neimer, a double barreled 22mm blast cannon, used for blasting Bvers.
“Hold your fire,” Vlados whispers into his communicator.
“Fire!” roars Vlados, and he squeezes the trigger. The chubby Pedzio is hit and his glasses fall off. Kafka drops the officer with a single shot.
A fusillade of shots is heard and many Pezios are hit. The Pedzio column is broken and some of them toss smoke grenades and they turn to flee through the smoke back into the woods.
“Get them!” roars Vlados, bursting through the snow roof of their dugout, weapon drawn. Kafka leaps out after him. Together, they fire into the smoke. They hear one grunt. When the smoke clears, Vlados hand gestures all the partisans to advance.
They pile into the woods and find Pedzios inert or writhing on the ground. Some partisans begin picking up weapons from the Pedzios. A partisan named Karos tosses a weapon to Vlados, who catches it.
It is a regular Pedzio14 stun gun with one difference. It has a lethal setting for killing people.
Hmmm, thinks Vlados, stuffing the gun into his belt.
“What shall we do with the Pedzios?” Kafka asks, pinning a few Pedzio stun grenades he'd taken into his uniform.
“Leave them for their mommies,” says Vlados, chuckling slightly.
The other partisans laugh.
“They’ll recover soon and then they can tell all their Pedzio friends back at base how we zapped them and took all their toys!”
“Shouldn’t we tie them up?”
“No,” says Vlados.
Several tall bearded men in dirty grey uniforms appear out of the forest gloom. They are carrying rocket launchers.
One word is on the lips of every partisan: Madrians.
“Manuel!” blurts Vlados. “Good shooting today.”
Some of the partisans glare at the Madrians, who glare back.
“We want some of those Pedzio weapons,” growls Manuel, gesturing toward the Neimer, being examined lovingly by one of the partisans.
“Give them half!” barks Vlados. Without any hesitation, the weapons are exchanged. The partisan with the Neimer, however, stands firm.
“Give Manuel the Neimer now, Piaz,” barks Vlados.
Slowly, reluctantly, the Neimer is surrendered.
Vlados winks at Piaz, who grins slightly.
Several partisans have removed their purple bandanas and are waving them over their heads. “Long live Paradeshia! Long Live Paradeshia!”
Long Live Paradeshia! Vlados thinks, staring at the dim outline of the prosecutor.
“Look at the prosecutor when he is speaking with you!” roars the Judge.
Vlados stares at the prosecutor now and slumps in his chair.
“Good! Now we know some things about you, Vlados Podolsk,” says the prosecutor smoothly. “For instance, you were born in Borzov village in Vekos province, Northern Paradeshia. You served as a Major in the United Armies during the Second Great Continental War. You received several medals and citations for bravery, but then, however, you made a serious error. For instead of disarming as you were required to by the Peace of Bremlov, you took your weapons and joined the partisans in the Bvers inside the Weimos Mountains. We lost track of you, but now we have you at last.”
“Thanks for reminding me of that,” says Vlados dryly.
For the first time, the prosecutor laughs. “You are insane, Vlados, and that is why we have labelled you a deviant.”
Vlados drops his head and looks at the floor below him.
“We have thoroughly analyzed your brain wave patterns and your mind is full of violent thoughts and savage impulses which cannot be tolerated within the Brelum of the Artican Masters.”
“Hmph,” grumbles Vlados.
“The Artican Masters had great plans for you, but now you are accused of sabotage, robbing civilians, kidnapping, attacking security forces, unlawful possession of deadly weapons, and sedition against the state.”
“Are you finished?” Vlados dares utter.
There is a horrible silence in the entire courtroom.
“It is hard to believe that this deviant standing before us today was once a simple villager, herding goats for his mother,” says the persecutor.
Vlados has a recent memory of a village, but it was not his own….
“That’s Gorov village,” says Vlados, peering through the thick pine forest at the village with his viewfinder.
“Friendly or hostile?” enquires Kafka.
“It could go either way.” Vlados gestures with his arms.
The partisans in Vlado’s cell spread out evenly and begin trudging towards the village, weapons drawn.
Gorov village is tiny, consisting of a cluster of small of green tiled huts and one large building with a little steeple. No inhabitants can be seen outside of the huts.
Vlados notes that the ground has been scored by heavy boots. Pedzios have recently been here, Vlados thinks, fingering his blast gun.
“Search the village for transmitters or weapons!” barks Vlados.
Several partisans force some of the doors open and enter the huts.
An old man stumbles out of one of them, toting a cane. “Deviants!” he screeches. “Deviants have come to steal our livestock and food!”
“We are not robbers,” says Vlados calmly. “We merely ask you for supplies to continue resisting the oppressor.”
“I hope the Pedzios get you all!” screeches the old man.
An old woman, apparently the old man’s wife, appears and runs next to the man, supporting him. “Don’t shoot!” she shrieks holding up her hands. “We are just goat farmers!”
“Ma’am, I apologize for any inconvenience we might be causing you,” says Vlados in a gentle voice.
“Shut up you deviant pigs! “ screeches the old woman. “Go steal our livestock and be off!”
“Pedzios passed through here recently,” says Vlados firmly to the old man. “How long ago were they here?”
The old man spits his answer and swings his cane threateningly.
Vlados, tiring of this charade, and wary of Pedzios who could be lurking nearby, barks “Search the houses and take half of the provisions you find!”
While this was going on, a tall, young boy runs up to Kafka and announces “I want to join you!”
"Why?" demands Vlados.
"I am tired of licking Pedzio boots. I wish to fight!"
Kafka hands the new recruit a blast gun. However, the new recruit is unaware that the gun has been drained.
Vlados looks at Kafka and says "His clothes make him stand out like a sore thumb! He will betray us to the Pedzios."
"We will get him a new uniform once we get back to the Bvers," says Kafka.
"Keep an eye on him," whispers Vlados.
Kafka smacks the boy on the shoulder, then runs off to help carry provisions.
The old man and woman watch the young villager join the rest of the partisans, too dumbfounded to speak.
A man runs out of his hut, right up to the young man, and they have a heated argument. It is apparent that the man is the boy's father.
However, it seems that the young man gets the last word and the father is left teary eyed.
“Move out!” barks Vlados.
The old man continues to curse them loudly “You deviant scum! You deviant scum!”
As the partisans enter the relative safety of the pine forest, they realize that they are being followed.
Worse still, the new recruit has vanished!
“That traitorous pig!” growls Kafka.
All the partisans stop in their tracks, expecting Pedzios.
Instead, a dozen heavily armed men, practically invisible in their greatcoats, appear like specters from the forest gloom.
It only takes Vlados a moment to recognize their battle insignia: Artican Special Forces!
Vlados dumps the food he had been carrying and leaps into the forest like a deer but a well aimed blast hits him in the back and he is paralyzed.
The others throw their hands up and the Articans quickly disarm them.
An Artican soldier walks over to Vlado’s prone body, pokes it to see if he is conscious, then utters to no one in particular “Brave, but stupid.”
“Well, deviant Vlados Podolsk, do you have anything to say in your defense?”
The prosecutor’s voice echoes through Vlado’s head.
“I am free to speak anything?” Vlados enquires.
“Freedom of speech,” says the prosecutor “exists within the Brelum. However, no blatant lies or untruths will go unchallenged in this courtroom.”
“Well then,” says Vlados, noting that the force field holding him has been switched off. He stands up and turns to face the audience. “I am accused today of committing violent acts, but did no such thing. Everything I have done has been in self- defense. Indeed, to have not done so would make me a traitor to the free Republic of Paradeshia!”
“Go on,” utters the prosecutor. “I’m afraid the court doesn’t find your speech very enlightening.”
“The Artican Masters claim to have eliminated violence and brought their Brelum, a society of peace and harmony. This is fiction! The towers we are destroying are being used to Psychic beam the masses into a mental slavery of the Artican Masters!”
“We will not listen to groundless conspiracy theories!” barks the prosecutor.
“The Artican Masters talk of peace and harmony and non-violence but they used coercion and violence to seize control of Piasha. They are hypocrites!”
“We are not deviants; we are freedom fighters, trying to save you from mental enslavement by the Artican Masters!”
“We have heard quite enough from you, deviant!”
“I’m not finished,” says Vlados, striding away from the defendant’s box and standing at his full height. “The Artican Masters are trying to extinguish free will! They are replacing Truth with their lies; their twisted versions of reality!”
“Silence you insolent deviant!”
“Long live Paradeshia!” roars Vlados.
“You are sentenced to exile in…” begins the Judge.
“Long Live Paradeshia!” screeches a voice from among the crowd.
“Arrest him!” roars the Judge, pointing at the where the voice had shouted its defiance.
“Long Live Paradeshia!” screams another voice from another location.
Vlados turns his back on the Judge, and looks out at the gallery, face aglow, his fists clenched and his eyes blazing.
And he knows that, for the moment at least, he had won.