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Face in the Crowd

By AnnaS
Page 1 of 1

Of course, you know they never had a chance. That's what everybody's saying. The Federation has survived revolution, civil war, the collapse of Central Control, alien invasion, and more resisters than anybody will even try to remember. What hope could one man offer?

You should have come earlier. Or you should've stayed at home--you'd see it all much better on the viscast. Here, in the only space you could find with any sort of view, the platform is too far away to make out anything clearly. So are the giant screens--side on, or blocked by other structures, their pictures are distorted or incomplete.

Never mind. There'll be repeats.

Six figures. Pale faces. Tiny blobs in the distance, inhuman smears on the vast screens.

Even the noises from the platform are indistinct. You hear an echo of angry voices, but no words reach you. One of them is crying. From this distance, they sound like a child.

The Dome PA system, broadcasting the live commentary over badly maintained speakers, says that almost four hundred thousand loyal citizens have come to see this. Why did you come? Was it fear? Fear of not being seen to be loyal? If so, you aren't alone. The crowd around you has an undercurrent of fear, and of other things. Troopers wait around the edges, much nearer to you than the platform is, ready for trouble.

No need for you to worry, though. Pylene-50, an open, terrifying secret, has never been used on any of the Inner Worlds. Not yet.

Movement on the platform--troopers and officials, as far as you can tell. If you'd stayed at home, watched the viscast, you'd know what was happening. Did you come because you wanted see something with your own eyes, this once? To to be a part of history? To be able to say that you were here, at the execution of Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Vila--

No. Perhaps you shouldn't say that. You know the names now, as familiar as your own family, but it will be wiser to forget them. You can tell your grandchildren you were there when Blake the Traitor and his Criminal Gang were finally brought to justice. That will be safe enough.

But really, why should you need a reason to be here? You're only one in the crowd, and the six on the platform travelled much further. All the way here, to Earth, from a Glorious Federation Victory on a frontier planet you've never heard of before. Can you imagine that distance? You, who though it was a long walk in to work yesterday morning when the transporters were cancelled? Who has never even been Outside?

You thought about it once--not about Outside, but about joining the resisters. Even about trying to find Blake himself. Who hasn't, when they cut the rations, again? Or a riot was bloodily suppressed, or the Service recruiters took yet another round of conscripts to die pacifying yet another planet? Or when they arrested your friend's sister for subversion and, hating yourself, you never spoke to him again because it was safer that way?

You thought about going then. You might have done it, if you'd had any idea how to get illegal passage off Earth. Someone approached you once, suggested something, but you thought he could be an agent from Central Security and so you reported him.

You might have gone, but--

What if you were caught? What about the Interrogation Division? What about the things they'd do those you'd leave behind? What if you braved the dangers and made it and all the propaganda about him was true?

Terrorist, butcher, and worse. Hundreds dead in an attack on Space Command. A neutral base destroyed. A civilian research facility wiped out on Fosforon--that was on the viscast. A woman in your division lost her Service husband on Saurian Major. You've never met her, but there was a sympathy card and a collection, so you know it's true. Two fatherless children--what did that achieve?

The Children, the other children, were on a viscast last night. They always are, whenever Blake's name crops up. If you asked anyone, and they thought they could trust you, they'd say Blake was innocent. Framed. But still, you have to wonder...

One of them--Carl Deca--died years ago. Couldn't handle it, started having delusions about Blake. The doctors tried to help him, of course. Killed himself, in the end. Sad.

There's a Foundation named after Carl. They had a spokesman from there on the viscast, and the rest of the Children and their families. Older now, but still as angry. Blake Destroyed My Life, as the title of the viscast put it. "We'll never forgive him. If the Federation doesn't kill him and his friends, we will."

Not that there was ever any doubt that the Federation would kill them in the end. They never had a chance.

The distant voices from the platform are silenced, one by one. From here, you can't even see how they die.

Never mind. There'll be repeats.

Would it have done any good if you'd risked your dreams and damned your family and gone to find him? Would it have mattered? Would it have made a difference to how things ended here, today?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Now, you'll never know.

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