"Aitan Leser, second grade overseer of the fourth region, and son of Ishmael Leser?"
Standing stiff, his eyes towards the sun, Aitan sighed. "Yes."
"By order of the supreme overseer of the fourth region, you have been convicted of the murder of Adley Daughton. Are you fully aware of the implications of this conviction?"
An image of Adley flashed in his mind, of them together, sitting by the lake next to Adley's father's farm. Laughing, Adley had stretched his arms upwards towards the crystal blue sky, shaking his wet hair, grinning at Aitan when the water sprayed at him. "You should have gotten in," Adley had said.
Aitan frowned. "Yes, I am aware." He looked at the executioner, who had his digipak out, reading the ritual statements of the accused from the projected screen. Next, the executioner would list the major points of the crime, and then he would tell Aitan to sit in the chair. After that, there would be some speeches to the crowd. Lastly, he would flip the switch.
Where Aitan was from, murderers weren't allowed last words.
"On the night in question, you were at your home with Adley Daughton. At approximately nine at night, you slashed his neck in the living room with a non-serrated blade." There were mumblings down in the crowd. Even now, months after the murder, people were still shocked by the use of a knife. People usually didn't even own knives anymore.
Aitan looked down at them from the stage. None of those people city promenade watching his execution knew Adley, never talked to him, nor held his hand. Yet, they felt they were more close to him than Aitan ever was. They were Adley's avengers, and Aitan was the soulless fuck who killed him. They were eager for Aitan's blood.
Glancing over at the news cameras, he quelled the urge to smile. How many people were out there who wanted him dead? Enough to make a fortune on filming it. The only thing on the news was him- Aitan Leser, and Adley- the murdered innocent.
While he was held in the city prison, he was allowed an old, glitchy digipak to watch television with. It was a practice in self-flagellation, watching all those news segments.
Countless hours of theorizing and projecting about the case streamed in through the digipak, not to mention all the digging into his life. 'How could an overseer, the highest of classes, commit murder?' everyone wondered. He watched through the months of the trial as his name and mental stability was dragged through the mud.
He probably should have made it easier for them, and pretended to be nuts. That would have calmed them down, it would have been logical and simple.
"Aitan Leser, would you please sit down?"
The crowd jostled, some excited shouts floating up to the platform. Lurking nearby in the air, the news hoverlofts closed in. Aitan could feel the noose tightening, so to speak- the general holding of breaths. It was time for him to die.
"Of course," he said with a faint smile, looking up at the giant screens broadcasting behind him, just to see what he looked like in those last moments.
They had allowed him to wear his overseer outfit, a flattering, tightly held ensemble with a high, stiff collar. Always his favorite part, the subtle golden embroidering flashed nicely against the dark greens of the fabric. Running his gloved hand over his blonde hair, he let that image sink into his head.
At least he wouldn't see his body smoking and wilted after the electric shock.
Roaring, the crowd moved in languid waves as he stepped up towards the chair. He sat down, his back straight, and waited for the executioner to strap his arms down, but not before waving. Admittedly … he wanted to make them angry.
"You don't even want to seem contrite?" the executioner whispered to him as he placed a strap around Aitan's arm.
"I've been contrite long enough," Aitan replied. "It never did me any good."
Ignoring how tight the executioner pulled the strap, Aitan stopped looking at the crowds, and shut his eyes. In these last few minutes, Aitan just wanted to see him. At least, with this unexpected turn of events in his life, he would end up back where he started … with Adley.
He blushed when the executioner unbuttoned his shirt with cold efficiency, and started placing the electrical pads on his chest. Just let it go, he told himself, you should be past embarrassment by now, Aitan.
He felt a breeze on his face, and wondered if being prepared to die meant that every ounce of one's soul was screaming, begging, and pleading for a reprieve. Probably not.
He was a coward.
Well, he could keep a stoic face, at least, and they gave him a beautiful place to die in. The stage was set up on the edge of the city's promenade, the sparkling, glassy water of the fourth region's ocean shoreline stretching out behind him. Overall, it could have been worse, Aitan supposed. He wasn't leaving any family dishonored, none of them were alive … there was Adley's father of course, but for obvious reasons, he was no longer speaking to Aitan.
"They tell people there's no pain," the executioner was saying to him, "but I see it. There's always pain."
"Is that so?" Aitan replied mildly. After a tick of silence, he gripped the armrest of the chair a little too tightly, and the executioner grinned. Aitan frowned at him. "I'm going to die, there's no point in needling me."
"What else is there to do?" the executioner replied, leaning against the podium which held the control switch, his arms crossed. "That blowhard can talk for days."
He was referring to the grand overseer, and Aitan's former boss. Tradition dictated that he must give a eulogy for the murdered before the execution of the murderer. At the moment, he was detailing Adley's halcyon days at the farm- and not one mention of the fact that Aitan was there for every single one of them.
"Just between you and me," the executioner said, leaning in close, "Why'd you do it?"
Aitan's lip curled upwards. "I have to ask," he replied, "Why would you think I would answer that now after all the millions of times that I didn't."
"It's your last chance to," the executioner said with a shrug. "You wouldn't believe the things I hear right before I flip the switch."
"How does one become an executioner, apply? Did you need previous experience?"
Giving Aitan a bemused smirk, the executioner turned his head to the crowd. "They said you had a mouth."
Aitan breathed in a little shakily. Yes, what was he doing? Going to be snarky right up to the end? Perhaps he should bare his soul to this man. His eyes wandered to the news hoverlofts. They would dissect every movement his mouth made, and later put up a transcript. He wouldn't let them. He would … for lack of a better phrase, be taking everything with him to the grave.
"I used to be a bit friendly," he said, "people were starting to like me."
The executioner looked at him, perhaps taken aback, if his raised eyebrows were anything to go by.
"I mean, I'm not saying that I was a social butterfly or anything … but I was making friends."
Tilting his head, the executioner lost his grin. "You're … " He couldn't finish his sentence apparently, because he was just staring at Aitan with a sad expression. Finally, he let out a light sigh. "You should have put that face on during the trial," he said, "For the first time, you actually look innocent."
Aitan felt his whole face grow stiff, and the executioner nodded. "I see," he said, "It's hard for you, isn't it?"
Looking down, Aitan closed his eyes. Yes, it was hard. People confused him, even if they were nice. They always said he looked angry, which he was not, or they thought he hated them. Adley never thought that, not for a second.
Which was why it was so frustrating to hear all those newscasters and talking heads spew on and on about him, and his antisocial behavior. He was very social, social with Adley. Of course, that didn't help, it just made seem like he was completely dependent on Adley.
Maybe he was.
"You're giving them quite the show."
Aitan looked up the executioner, who was staring back and frowning slightly. "You look like you may finally break down crying."
"Oh," Aitan replied with a faint smile, "Is that what they've been waiting for?"
The executioner never got the chance to answer him. They both heard the the bell in the fourth region tower ring out, alerting the crowd that it was time. Time for Aitan Leser to die.
Moving away from the chair, the executioner returned to the podium. Aitan watched his retreating form with tight lips, wishing that the executioner had wanted to speak more. There were quite a few things Aitan could talk about- new schedules for army drills, which border posts needed resupply, who was going to be promoted to captain next week …
His job at the supreme overseer's office had probably already been refilled … and most likely, it wasn't someone convicted of murder.
"When all those other people were up here," he said loudly, "and they pleaded for their lives, begged you not to flip the switch, and told you they were innocent … did you ever believe any one of them?"
There was a moment of silence, even from the crowd below the stage. Then: "I try not to think about it."
Aitan heard the switch flip, he heard it click into place. Immediately, he thought that it was a little rude that the executioner hadn't warned him before hand. Then, he wondered why he was even thinking at all.
Looking over at the executioner, he knew … it hadn't worked. "This isn't fair," Aitan said, without thinking.
The executioner glanced at him. "Faulty lines," he growled, and opened the hatch on the side of the podium. Aitan could hear murmuring down in the crowd.
"We could reschedule," he said with a quirk of his lips. He heard a snort. There was more rumbling in the crowd, some general shifting and restlessness. He was disappointing them, apparently. "Well," he said, "Don't worry, I won't go anywhere."
Just as he said this, there was a scream. The executioner stood up, and they both looked out at the crowd as the mood visibly shifted. There were gunshots in the air, and Aitan watched helplessly as the executioner dived behind the podium, and he was stuck belted to the electric chair.
Their eyes met, and the executioner looked away. So, that's how it was going to be.
Shifting his focus back the crowd, Aitan watched as the people seemed to be herded together. Then, he noticed that the police hoverlofts were on the ground, with the men tied to each other in huddles. Someone had subdued the fourth region police? That was ballsy.
A line in the crowd started to form, and his eyebrows rose as he watched a man saunter towards the stage, gun in hand. He was dressed dark, rough clothes, including a long, leather jacket, and he had to be at least six inches taller than Aitan.
"Pirate," Aitan voiced, his mind immediately jumping to the holopicture action stars who played broad-shouldered swarthy anti-heroes. This man fit the bill entirely.
And he was headed right for Aitan. Jumping on the stage with apparent ease, he trotted up to the electric chair. As Aitan was confronted with the man's impressively cut form, the pirate leaned in and braced his hand against the top of the chair. His chiseled, lightly stubbled face, inches from Aitan's, was set in a slight frown. "You've never shown that face before, Aitan."
Eyebrows knotting, Aitan's mouth dropped in confusion until he noticed that the man was nodding towards the giant hologram projection behind him. Craning his neck around, Aitan saw that the news channels had switched to recorded footage, probably because they were too boneless to air the fourth region having issues keeping control.
The footage was of a few minutes prior, when the executioner told him that he looked innocent for the first time since the trial. His blonde hair had fallen into his eyes, and his usually hard expression had softened with resigned sadness.
"I would have preferred that you didn't show the entire solar system that expression, Aitan." the pirate said behind him, and he glanced back.
He felt inclined to apologize, the man actually seemed pretty … well, not angry, but uncomfortable with the idea that Aitan had made such a face. Then, he realized that he had never met this man in his life, so why the fuck should he be apologizing?
"It was a rough time in my life," Aitan said, and then smiled. He liked this new, sarcastic side of himself.
The pirate seemed less amused. With a stiff movement, he pulled a knife out of a sheath attached to his belt, and held pointed at Aitan. Aitan frowned, was this some stunt? Was he to die the same exact way that Adley had?
Flinching, his eyes widened as the pirate slide the knife under the straps around his arms, and cut them each with an expert slice. Next, the pirate seemed to hesitate, his eyes zeroed in on the Aitan's naked chest. After a moment, he ripped the electrical pads away, and Aitan winced at the sting.
"Wha-" Aitan began to say, only to be cut off as the pirate grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him up, and behind the chair. They walked right through the hologram screen, and when Aitan saw where they were heading, he pulled back.
"I'm not going to let you," was all he said.
The pirate jerked him forward, perhaps to demonstrate a marked difference in their strength. "I wasn't asking permission, Aitan," he replied, his voice dangerously low.
After a moment, something seemed to soften in his hard gaze as the pirate stared at Aitan. He took a step forward, and placed his hand on Aitan's head. "This way, you live. That way-" he pointed back towards the chair, "-you die. Is it really even a choice?"
He didn't wait for a response, instead pulling Aitan to the back edge of the stage. Aitan had one last second to look back, back at the city, back at the executioner, back at the crowd who had been waiting for him to die, before he felt himself being dragged over the edge.
They dropped. He felt the pirate pull him in close to his chest, and then they hit the water.
Region four's ocean shoreline was a destination spot, people enjoyed swimming there. So, it wasn't as if Aitan was freezing to death or anything, but he had just been dunked in the ocean fully-dressed with little warning. He started haphazardly paddling for the surface.
Once he broke through, he wheeled around, and saw that the pirate had surfaced a bit off from Aitan. When their eyes met, the pirate frowned, perhaps seeing something in Aitan's expression. "Aitan," he growled, "Don't do it."
Aitan didn't stick around to hear what "it" was. He swung his arm around, and started swimming for the beach.
The promenade that the execution was taking place on was actually a giant cement pier, which meant that Aitan had a little ways to swim before he hit actual the actual shore. His clothes were weighing him down, but he didn't have time to take them off. He could hear the pirate cursing behind him.
As the shore came into reach, he stumbled on the waves, and partly crawled up and out of the water. Shakily rising to his feet, he turned around, eyes widening, as he saw the pirate start to run up the shore towards him.
Two things struck him at one time: He would never be able to outrun the pirate, he had been locked in a cell for the past six months, and his endurance had atrophied. Secondly, if he did managed to make it back into the arms of civilization, he couldn't quite forget that civilization was trying to execute him.
This last thought had him fall to his knees, the water lapping at his waist with each wave.
The pirate slowed his pace when he saw that Aitan had stopped running. Walking up to Aitan, breathing heavily, he crossed his arms. "Why did you put me through all of that?"
"I had to put up a little effort, I suppose," he replied, pushed back slightly as a wave hit him.
Shoulders sinking, he bent over, and … quite embarrassingly, started sobbing.
If the pirate had been angry at Aitan for trying to get away, he hadn't shown it. He did, however, stare unflinchingly at Aitan's wracked sobbing, and when Aitan looked up with red-rimmed eyes, he blinked at the pirate's expression- surprise, grief, and … a small smile.
"You're amused by a man crying?" Aitan asked, wiping the snot from his face. " ... I suppose there is some humor in degradation."
"Only if you see crying as a form of weakness."
"Is there someone who doesn't?"
Aitan was glaring at the pirate, which he understood was a terrible plan, but sometimes, one cannot control one's face from broadcasting one's thoughts. Every ounce of anger he ever felt since the moment the detective showed up in his office with an arrest warrant, was now directed at the arrogant man standing in front of him.
"I hope you realize," he snarled, "that by saving my life, you have taken full responsibility for it."
The corner of the pirate's lipped curled upwards, a spark of amused compassion in his eyes, which only fueled Aitan's anger. Kneeling down in the water, the pirate placed a hand on Aitan's shoulder, and made eye contact- his dark gaze pressing into Aitan's skull. "My name is Saul, Aitan."
Aitan's jaw tightened. "I don't care."
"I know," Saul replied, grabbing on to Aitan's arm, and dragging him up to his feet, "but you should know the name of the man who's taking responsibility for your life, shouldn't you?" He said this with a grin.
Opening and closing his mouth several times, Aitan stared up at the pirate, Saul, whose hand was still tightly clasped to Aitan's upper arm. "I was joking … " he said, "I mean, I wasn't serious."
Saul considered him for a moment, with half-lidded eyes. "I am."
Gulping, Aitan had the decency to try and tug his arm back. Saul declined the hint. Pulling Aitan along, he headed up the shore. "My ship is waiting," he said.
His "ship" was a hulk of haphazard plates of metal soldered together into a shape that could perhaps be mistaken for something space-worthy.
Aitan considered it with growing distrust and apprehension as they neared it. It was quite large, meant to hold a sizable crew, and it stood out on the clean, white beach of the region four shoreline, but there was no doubt in his mind- it was a pirate spacecraft.
Dragged around to the back, Aitan frowned when he heard the 'ree-roo' of police hoverlofts ... they sounded far off.
"We need to get going," a gruff voice rang out as Saul dragged him into the ship.
It was the cargo bay of the ship. There were a few boxes strewn about, nothing major. So either they were terrible pirates, or they had just unloaded merchandise. Hearing a cough, he looked back at the two men.
The one who had spoken to them as they entered seemed a bit less amiable looking than Saul, if one could call any pirate amiable. His face was craggy, and his hair was kept in a close buzz cut. Crossing his wiry arms, he seemed to be considering Aitan with as much curiosity as Aitan felt about him.
"Close up," Saul said to the pirate, who nodded, and pressed a button on a control panel by the door. It started to crank shut with a loud, unpleasant screech. Immediately, there was a revving feeling vibrating throughout the ship, and Aitan could feel them go airborne. He let out a nervous breath.
Saul looked at him. "This way, Aitan," he said, nodded towards the door at the other end of the cargo bay.
Due to the circumstances, Aitan hadn't been able to address something that had nagged at him from the first moment he met Saul, but now seemed like the optimum moment. Every time Saul said Aitan's name, he said it as if he knew Aitan intimately, as if they had been friends for years. This did not sit well.
"I'm sorry," Aitan said, "Saul, was it? You seem quite familiar with me, but I must apologize. I know nothing about you."
Smiling, Saul chuckled as he passed a knowing look to the other pirate. Now, Aitan felt even more wary. "I suppose you wouldn't, Aitan," the pirate said. He took a step towards Aitan, and held out his hand. "The full name's Saul Finn," he gestured over to the other pirate, "and that's Sax, my first mate."
The corners of his eyes were crinkled in the way that smiling faces do, and his mouth was tilted upwards in a satisfied grin. Feeling stiff for a moment, Aitan finally took the offered hand with a measured movement. He nearly pulled it back when Saul gripped too tightly, Aitan could feel his bones mash together.
"Ah," Saul said, noticing Aitan's wince, "I'm sorry. I'm used to rough-and-tumble types, nothing delicate like yourself."
Aitan stared at him. "Delicate?"
"It's just as I expected," Saul replied, displaying Aitan's hand as if Aitan hadn't been attached to it for his entire life. "Even your hands are pretty."
Too amused at being called delicate to respond, Aitan blanched when Saul started to rub his thumb against Aitan's palm. "Soft as well," he said.
Aitan really wanted to pull his hand back- it was starting to feel like it didn't even belong to him anymore. He glanced at Sax to confirm that Saul was acting weird, but the he just had a resigned tilt to his shoulders as he stared back. So, then, that was strike two. Reaching his limit, Aitan jerked his hand out of Saul's grip.
"And yours are quite rough," Aitan said.
Grinning, Saul reached over and grasped Aitan's shoulder. "These are a man's hands," he said, "They're strong, and sturdy."
Aitan's jaw tightened- in fact he could feel his whole body go tense at the implied insult. What was the count now? Delicate, pretty, and now unmanly. He closed his eyes, and looked down at the ground to keep himself from shouting.
"Er," Saul said from above him, "You did feel a bit more muscled under those clothes than I imagined … not that I'm disappointed!"
Breathing out through his nose, Aitan looked up with narrowed eyes. "Why, in god's name, would you be disappointed?"
Saul seemed to be lost for a moment, staring at Aitan slack-jawed. "Your eyes are so much greener in person," he breathed.
"For fuck's sake." Swinging away from Saul, he headed for the emergency parachutes hanging by the cargo bay door. Before he could even take on step, he felt that familiar bone-crushing grip on his arm.
"Now, lad," Saul said, "We're probably already past the inner atmosphere by now."
"I don't care," Aitan replied, "My death was scheduled for today anyway, wasn't it?"
Honestly, he didn't expect the slap …. reaching up to his face, he stared wide-eyed at Saul as he felt his cheek, stinging from the impact. Saul's hand was still drawn back, as if he expected that he might need to do it again, and his grip on Aitan's arm had passed tight, and moved right on to bruising.
"I didn't risk my crew and my ship to come save your pretty ass just so you could end up as a greasy spot on the ground," Saul growled, "So, my apologies for hitting you, but you should know better than to talk so freely about killing yourself."
The pirate's expression softened. "Listen, I know this isn't what you expected to happen, but if you just take some time and get to know me-"
He was cut off when Aitan swung his palm sharply against Saul's stubbled cheek. As the sound of the slap rang out, Aitan heard Sax curse with surprise behind him. Saul turned his head back, and looked at Aitan with wide eyes.
"Lad," Aitan said, mimicking Saul's patronizing tone, "I did not ask you for any favors."
Staring at him for a moment, Saul let out a low whistle. "Sax," he said finally, " ... Get the cuffs."