Blue Sky of Mars, page 1part #2 of Legend of Jethro Tull Series
The Legend of Jethro Tull Book 2
C R Wills
Figure 11 Publishing
Copyright © 2019 C R Wills
All rights reserved.
To my lovely Wifey Denise who has put up with me for a lot of years.
Assistant Secretary of Defence for Special Operations, Edward Lytton was troubled. He realized as a defence minister with a very high level security clearance that something was wrong with the Court Martial and conviction of Sub Lieutenant Jethro Tull.
According to his daughter, Bronte, a friend of Jethro from officer training, a close friend, although she wouldn’t say how close, Jethro was a straight talking guy and if he said he had evidence that aliens were currently invading Mars, then the evidence existed, and she insisted he was not a traitor. Lytton wanted to believe her, but to date, none of his connections had come through with anything to contradict the Court Martial.
This meeting was his last hope. A connection in Black Ops had arranged for him to meet someone who claims they recently returned from Mars. Lytton didn’t believe them as he had checked with the Department of Communications and Surveillance and they had detected nothing arriving on Earth in the last week unaccounted for.
“Are you sure this is it, sir?”
Lytton looked at his Communicator. “Yes. This is the place.”
“This is too dangerous, sir, I have to come with you,” said the bodyguard next to him in the back of the hovercar.
“Very kind but I insist I am going alone. I have cleared it with your boss. You won’t get into trouble no matter what happens to me.”
Lytton left the hovercar and disappeared into the blackness of the industrial estate.
“Bloody fool,” said the bodyguard.
“His life,” agreed the driver, and they left for a safer part of the city.
Lytton made his way through the maze of derelict industrial units and rubble and the crackling and spitting of small fires guarded by shadows huddled together like animals craving warmth and protection. He also saw dark shapes drifting around slowly and projected onto walls, making them dance menacingly. He felt as though there were eyes on him from every dark corner and there were a lot of dark corners.
There was evidence of life as the poorest and most vulnerable in society tried to escape the reality of twenty-fifth century Earth. The poverty of hard-pressed people left behind the persistent push to compete and improve in the new Capitalist world created after the great war between Mars and Earth. Cardboard box tents and piles of old clothes that smelled of damp and tramp showed the other side of Capitalism; the side nobody wants to see or to smell.
The fear was leaving Lytton and was being replaced by compassion and anger. Compassion for these people and anger for the society, of which he was a part, created the holes for these people to fall through. Surely it was the duty of a wealthy society to take care of its poor? It turned Lytton’s stomach to think with all the wealth the Earth and Mars generated by mining the Asteroids and stretching out to the stars that there were human beings living at a level close to that of the Stone Age hunter gatherers with paper bags.
“Stop and don’t turn around.”
Lytton did as ordered.
“You’re a brave and stupid man for coming here.”
Lytton always thought stupidity and bravery were closely linked. “Do you have the evidence?”
“In front of you on the crate. There’s a memory stick. Take it.”
Lytton could see the crate. He walked forward and saw the memory stick and picked it up. “How do I know this is legit?”
No answer. Lytton slowly turned around until he faced the point where the voice had come from. There was nobody there.
“Hey wait,” he shouted, but he couldn’t even hear footsteps. He would not put the memory stick in his communicator, too dangerous. He would take it back to his office and scan it first. Then if it was OK he would watch it on a private offline communicator he kept secret.
It was nearly time.
Too soon, not fair, too late, not now, shit.
Jethro heard a noise behind his cell door. The guards were there. He slumped down on the bed pretending to be asleep.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Think.
He heard two guards come into the cell in quick time and through his half-closed eyes he could see them take up positions along the wall. He saw a third enter with a belaying pin dangling from his right hand. The pin was raised to strike him whilst he was supposed to be asleep.
“Go on. Club him. We can say he tried to escape.” A first voice said.
“I’ve always wanted to club an officer,” a second voice said, to general laughter.
Jethro recognised the second voice as the most brutal of his guards. He nicknamed him gobby guard. The one who always put the boot in when it was unnecessary, the one who always hit him after he was safely secured.
No fucking chance sunshine. If it’s the last thing I do, it’s going to be you.
At the last moment, Jethro rolled to one side and the pin whished past his ear. He grabbed the pin as he rolled and pulled it in the direction it was going. This caused gobby guard to be pulled forward off his balance, crash into the wall and lose his grip on the pin.
Jethro leapt up and pushed the pin between the legs of the nearest guard, causing him to double up in pain. Then he quickly withdrew it, and in an arc smashed it on the side of the head of gobby guard causing him to collapse in a snotty heap on the floor. Only one more guard in the cell. Jethro raised the club to hit the third guard, but he was prepared and parried the attempt with his arm.
In the melee Jethro heard a shout and more guards rushed into the tiny cell. He had little room to fight them all at once so he fought his way to the door. If he could get out into the space of the corridor, his superior fighting skills would give him an advantage.
He made it but as soon as he left the cell, he realised he had no chance; there were too many guards waiting for him and he went down in a rain of blows from fists, clubs and gun butts.
Jethro came to and tried to stand up, but he was pushed down by two large guards who stood either side of him. He tried to move but his hands were secured tightly behind his back and both his legs were shackled together.
“Priest. You’ve got five minutes.”
Jethro saw a large figure move towards him in the gloom.
The priest knelt so that Jethro could see his face. For a priest he had a hard and well-worn face and one of his eyes was glazed over so he probably couldn’t see through it.
“My son, would you like to confess your sins to me so I can pray for you?”
“Don’t waste your prayers on me.”
The priest appeared taken aback and paused as if he didn’t know what to say.
“There is one thing you can do for me, Priest,” Jethro said through his swollen lips.
“Pray for my father and mother and my friends. My father is a farmer.”
“I will do that for you my son; but I will also save a prayer for you.”
The priest started mumbling his prayers and as he did, he leaned forward right up to Jethro’s ear and whispered so that the guards couldn’t hear, “don’t dance son, remember, don’t dance.”
Jethro did not understand what he was talking about.
The priest opened his black book and continued praying in Latin. Jethro had never been afraid of dying and in his short career as a junior officer in the Special Space Service he had already faced death a few times but this was different. This was no battle with aliens on
He thought of his childhood on the farm at the edges of the wilds of Dartmoor with Dad and Mum. The wild free days riding his souped up hoverbike at reckless speeds across the moor. The hard work of the farm at harvest time. He thought of the wonderful family meals that his Mum cooked and the laughter and the tension because Jethro always wanted to join the military but Dad wanted him to become a farmer.
He thought of Mum’s brother, the Colonel, turning up out of the blue and crashing into the reservoir and rescuing him. He thought of being chased by the military police and taking the Colonel to a hiding place on the moor. He thought of the potion the Colonel had made him drink and the Colonel’s funeral. What did it all mean?
It meant nothing now that Jethro was about to be hung from the neck.
“Be brave my son.” The priest had finished his praying and stood up and put his hand on Jethro’s head.
Be brave? What a stupid thing to say. I’m going to die. What is the point of being brave? Who am I being brave for? Once I’m dead, it doesn’t matter how brave I was.
Jethro wanted to stand up and try to get away but he knew it was no use; he wouldn’t get far with his legs shackled together and his hands secured behind his back.
He looked around the dimly lit room he was in. It was a big room compared to the tiny cell he had occupied. There was a row of Space Marines in their red number ones standing against the wall behind him. The priest had retired to stand to one side of the room. Then there were the two Space Marines standing next to him making sure he didn’t stand up or do anything until it was time. There was a door next to the priest and there was a small window high up the wall. Jethro thought he could see a star through the window and he wondered what star it might be.
The room was lit by a thin string of temporary LEDs hanging off the wall behind him and not by the efficient ceiling lighting so common in government buildings. This suggested to Jethro that the room was normally in the dark. The light appeared to flicker which was odd and when it flickered it switched on and off strange malevolent shadows across the walls, the most sinister of which was that of the noose.
When the priest moved away Jethro saw the noose hanging in front of him. He also noticed the wooden trapdoor in the floor and the single wooden lever directly behind the trapdoor. The shadow of the noose danced across the wall around the priest but no matter how the light sputtered, the shadow still looked like a noose.
Jethro could hear the occasional movement or cough of the Space Marines behind him. The priest was murmuring to himself; probably another prayer. Then he heard footsteps growing louder as they approached the door.
One of the Space Marines standing next to him stepped in front and leaned down to meet Jethro face to face. He grinned showing that he had only two teeth left and he stank of ale, tobacco, and rotting food.
“I will enjoy watching you dance as the breath gets squeezed from your lungs. Then I’m going to personally cut off your head and pig stick it on one of the government walls.”
Jethro saw that he was a corporal and also a huge bruise on the side of the man’s head and guessed he may have been one of the soldiers who had come into his cell earlier. He wondered what to say to the man and briefly considered head butting him; but he stared back at him and from somewhere deep inside he found a smile that betrayed everything he was feeling.
“Why you…” The corporal turned his rifle over and was going to smash the kevlar butt into Jethro’s face.
“Corporal.” The priest stepped forward and placed himself between Jethro and the corporal.
The corporal spat on the floor beside the priest but then returned to his position beside Jethro’s chair.
The footsteps had stopped the other side of the door and suddenly Jethro was terrified. He wriggled but couldn’t move and although the room was cold; he was sweating. He had a desperate urge to relieve himself, which caused him to laugh as he thought of asking if he could go to the bathroom.
The door slowly swung open and three men walked in. The first was young, pasty faced and dressed in black. He carried a sheath of papers and looked like he never left Capitol Hill during daylight. The second was much older and dressed in black. He had been around and carried a black bag like a doctor might. Jethro knew what the doctor was for. The third was a big man in every direction and almost failed to get through the door; he’d have fun racing around a spaceship during a firefight. He wore a simple black hood with holes where his eyes were.
There was a fourth man who had come in behind the hangman. He too was old, and he carried some weight but he carried it easily. The four stood facing Jethro.
The two soldiers beside him pulled Jethro until he was standing up and someone from behind took the chair away. He could hardly stand because the bones in his legs seemed to have become soft and unable to support him. The soldiers clung onto him but he was determined not to allow them so he stood taller and shook his shoulders causing them to drop their grip on him.
“Get on with it.” The fourth man told the young official who was nervously shuffling his papers. The order came comfortably from the speaker.
The official finally settled on a piece of paper and with a weak and nervous voice read out the findings of the Court Martial.
Seeing and feeling the official’s fear helped Jethro feel stronger. This man was more nervous than he was; it must be his first hanging.
The official squeaked on and Jethro found that he was inadvertently praying; not to any God in particular but to any God that might exist. He wished he had been a better man. No. He was a good man; he had been set up and betrayed. He prayed that if there was anything after, that he could come back and get revenge. And he also prayed for his Dad and Mum and friends.
The room went quiet again except for the lamp and the priest still mumbling to himself.
“Hangman.” Another command.
The hangman took up a position beside Jethro and showed him a hood. Jethro shook his head but the hangman said, “Sorry sir. Orders,” and gently put it over Jethro’s head.
Jethro could hold himself no longer and pissed himself. He started breathing quickly through the hood.
This was it. The end. He was shuffled forward by the soldiers until he felt himself take up a position over the wooden trapdoor.
I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
He felt something being put around his neck. The noose. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. He had to force himself to breathe. It was as if the noose was stopping air from coming through the black canvas hood. He could feel the hood patting against his face as he breathed through it. How many others had worn this hood of death?
He heard the priest speaking louder.
The noose was tightened around the back of his neck and in the front, it was pulled up so it was just under his chin. He heard something through the hood. The hangman said something quietly so he could just hear it but he doubted anybody else in the room heard it.
“Don’t dance sir, just hang.”
The hangman did not need to say that because Jethro had no intention of dancing for the corporal’s amusement.
Suddenly the priest stopped. There was quiet and Jethro could only hear his own forced breathing.
He saw the Soy Bean fields and Dad walking towards him. Jethro ran to him.
“Don’t run Jethro. It worries people.”
Jethro looked around and the people in the fields had stopped working and were looking at him. Why was he running? What had he seen, or what did he know? He could see the concern on their faces. He stopped running and one by one they resumed their work picking the Soy Beans.
He could hear Dad. “Jethro, have you done your studies today?”
“Have you done your chores today?”
Jethro had jumped up at Dad. “Dad, Dad what will my reward be?”
“I don’t know Jethro, for it is God who will reward you.”
Jethro remembered turning his face away from Dad to hide his disappointment but he managed to say, “thank you Dad,” hoping it didn’t show in his voice.
Then his dad faded and all he could see was the black of the hood over his head and all he could hear was his own breathing. But he wanted Dad back because he wanted to say sorry to him; he needed to make peace with him. He knew Dad would forgive him because that was the man he was; but he still wanted the chance to ask for his forgiveness face to face. He didn’t want to die, not yet.
Then after an age in time he heard the clunk of the lever and he felt the floor beneath him fall away and he fell but only until the rope jerked his head back and he hung by his neck.
I’m not dead. I’m not dead. I can’t be dead. You can’t think when you’re dead.
He had the urge to swing, but he remembered the words of the priest and the hangman. Why had the hangman told him not to dance?
The noose was too high up his neck so he could just about breathe. He hung limp and tried to listen. So this was what it was like to be hanged. The knot was at the rear of the neck; that was the problem. He had seen a man hang on film before; a traitor from the Great War with Mars, Lord Laugh Laugh. The knot was supposed to go at the side then the neck would break by the weight of the body falling. Or the noose should be tight enough to choke the person or strangle him. This was neither.
I’m still alive.
He wanted to shout out to the corporal but he didn’t. Why did the priest and the hangman tell him not to dance?
Then he heard someone speak; it was the fourth man.
“Corporal dismiss your Space Marines.”
He heard the voice of the corporal. “Stand at ease, stand easy. Party, party, shun! Right turn! By the right, quick march! Left, right, left, right. Come on, you look like a bunch of ragamuffins.”