With the expression of disdain and annoyance, Space Marshall jumped on his feet, strolling along the table directly to the prisoner. "Neither are we here for trading free backup slots, nor for being mocked, Captain. Whatever you may think, the predicament you are in is severe. The charges of Colonel Steiner, with evidence from recordings of the battle, proved beyond any doubts you had neglected the direct order from the Space Station. As for your alleged cowardice, you can rest assured, nobody would consider it for a moment."
The officer's voice softened when he continued: "Look, son, we don't question the man who risks his life without the backup daily. But we require you to show humility, respecting the uniform you wear. Don't make it harder for yourself."
Son? Gromov, being forty, found such a condescending tone laughable. Should I call him daddy, then? Angered, Gromov stood up from his chair, staring hardly on Space Marshall.
"Allow me to analyze my situation, sir. Someone had gravely violated my rights, leaving me one month in the prison..."
"The detention, Captain," Mrs. Jaques stepped in. "The detention, not prison."
"Thank you for correcting me, madame. So I've spent one month in the detention, having no chance to contact anyone; my daily routine consisted of playing chess with myself. For the record, two chess pieces were missing. Moreover, you have even tortured me."
"Tortured? Now you are exaggerating, Captain."
"Every single day I had to listen to that damned song. Ten times a day. In my book, this is torture!"
"What song? What are you talking about, Captain?"
"I BELONG TO HIM!" barked Gromov. "Whoever is the guy that Miriam B. belongs to, I wish I could smash his face in. What a jerk!"
The members of the Special Commission exchanged hard-to-decipher glances.
"Captain, this is what we wish to investigate. What is your relationship with Miriam B? This is an official question, so answer carefully."
That left Gromov speechless. "This session is getting ridiculous," he snapped. "I've met that woman once, during the Space Forces' summit. Now back to ..."
"Captain, do you realize the man she is singing about is you?"
"Me? Sure! Whom else?" Gromov felt surreal. "I have enough! This little happy get-together is over. What respect do you expect me to have for a bunch of lunatics? I am well aware that the Ministry employs a good number of crappy psychologists, but let me tell you - this is not going to work. You won't make me question my sanity. Ever! I'm done. Send me to the martial court!"
Space Marshall did not seem bothered by Gromov's outburst.
"Captain, you think we are truly despicable, don't you?" he said, apparently amused. Then he added seriously. "Various media have gotten their hands on leakage from that battle. Now the political opposition attacked the government in Senat, asking for clarification. We do not blame you for that, but your person has become the symbol of a new civic movement called #OneForOne. The opposition demands the demise of the Minister of Defense since he had allowed the summit to happen. Consequently, they demand your liberation. One Minister for one Captain, you see."
"Well, they have my sympathy," Gromov grunted. "Still, they are politics and as such hardly trustworthy. I am not affiliated with manipulated masses, no matter of what kind."
"Manipulated masses? Aren't you too harsh towards people who support you?"
"The opposition and professional troublemakers play them to achieve their goals. In your opinion, should I give up my principles just to save my pitiful life?"
Gromov grinned when he saw the confused expression of Deputy Jaques. Delusional voters exercised their right of choice in meaningless struggles such as #OneForOne movements. Who cared if the incompetent and corrupted Minister resigned if the position was taken by another one? So what if a captain was executed as a scapegoat?
"I knew from the beginning you had not established this Special Committee from mere camaraderie," Gromov explained. "I can share your pain, Mrs. Deputy. Aren't we here to meet their requirements halfway? To release certain obnoxious captain to save certain endangered minister? Colonel Steiner was right when threw all the blame on me. As much is clear, but what the hell I have in common with that popstar?"
Space Marshall shook his grey head.
"Captain, you are sorely mistaken if you believe your case is going under the table. Please do not take it lightly. Space Forces cannot permit soldiers to disobey their orders willingly, no matter what they may think."
"All right," Gromov nodded. "Considering the unyielding military point of view, I guess this is why they have designed Mrs. Jaques the head of the Commission. So what about Miriam B?"
Reluctantly, Mrs. Jaques passed Gromov some newspaper. The page of interest was emphasized by a red marker and contained the interview with Miriam B. Under the bombastic title "My fated encounters with the man I belong to" the editor placed a huge photo, in which Miriam B, glittering in the flashlight and exercising snake-like flexibility, hugged an officer in the blue uniform, her arms around his neck and right leg around his waist, resembling so a dancer around the pole.
Flabbergasted, Gromov realized the man was him.
Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.