“Croach,” said Sparks, feet on his desk, looking at the memo that had come into his in-tray. “We’re, uh, we’re being inspected later today. Some Mars-Earth Coalition bureaucrats comin’ down to check we’re doin’ stuff right.” He lifted the first page of the memo, reading the paper underneath.
“And, uh, wehavetopetendtobemarried.” Sparks mumbled the last part of the sentence, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the sheet in his hands.
“I am sorry, Sparks Nevada, I did not hear you. Speak clearly.”
“Today. We’re being inspected.”
“Yes, that much I heard.”
“Sparks Nevada, if you do not enunciate clearly, no one will understand you.”
“It’s really simple, Croach. Inspectors from the Mars-Earth Coalition are coming today to inspect our marshallin’ operation.”
“Yes, Sparks Nevada, we have already established this at some length.”
“And a couple of months ago, they introduced some new regulation, havin’ bin talkin’ with them USSA types too much, statin’ that only married couples could be Marshal and Deputy. Somethin’ to do with it workin’ so well on starcrafts, I dunno. So anyway, they sent through the paperwork, and on account of it being a dumbass regulation, I just ticked the box that said we’re married, figurin’ nothin’d come of it, but apparently all the Marshal’s were doin’ it, marshallin’ not being a career suited to family types. So now they’re sendin’ round inspectors makin’ sure. So when they come, we’re gonna hafta pretend we’re married, otherwise I’ll lose my badge, and that ain’t somethin’ I reckon on happenin’. Again.”
“Bagropa. Sparks Nevada, are you telling me that you falsified paperwork?”
Croach’s voice rose a notch with incredulity.
“It didn’t sit well with me, but it’s not like it was paperwork that was gonna set some outlaw free, or get some innocent thrown in jail. And, given it was paperwork that was makin’ sure I got to keep doin’ my job and keep the good folks of this planet safe, I figgered it’d balance out.”
Croach frowned at this explanation. He narrowed his eyes and leant forward, antenna twitching.
“Croach, what are you… oh gross…” Sparks batted Croach’s antennae away as it poked into his ear.
“Forgive me, Sparks Nevada, I have to ascertain that you are not a Jupiter Spy.”
“Well, I’m not. I’m me.”
“I must be sure, Sparks Nevada; falsifying paperwork is most uncharacteristic. I would be under onus to you if you let me finish my investigation.”
Sparks sighed, “If’n I do, reckon we can get back on with our day?”
“Once I ascertain that you are indeed Sparks Nevada we may indeed resume our normal duties.”
Sparks sighed again, “Fine. Do what you have to.”
He held still as Croach bent to examine him more closely, suppressing a shiver as Croach’s antennae brushed lightly over his face. After a minute Croach straightened.
“Yes, Sparks Nevada. You have not been replaced with a Jupiter Spy. I am under onus to you for my suspicions.”
“Nah, Croach,” Sparks waved off the onus. “It’s as well to be cautious.” He sighed. “Look, I know I’m askin’ a lot. But it ain’t like I’m just doin’ this for me. Mars needs a marshal, and it don’t got anyone better qualified than me, and it don’t need some bureaucrat from the MEC deciding I ain’t fit to be marshal just cos I ain’t married. So I lied on some paperwork and now I need you to back me up during this dang fool inspection.”
Croach exhaled a breath that might be called a sigh of exasperation if the being in question admitted to experiencing emotions.
“Very well, Sparks Nevada. I concede your argument. I shall attempt to help you convince this inspector that we are indeed in a relationship of reciprocal onus, but only because I perceive that G’loot Praktaw benefits from your continued status as Marshal.”
“Thanks buddy, I owe you one.”
“Sparks Nevada, you shall owe me more than ‘one’. I am placing you under great onus to me for this undertaking.”
Sparks spluttered but before he could formulate a reply, the Marshal Station Artificial Intelligence chimed in.
“Marshal, an MEC Inspectorate Ship requests permission to enter Mars airspace.” “This’ll be the inspectors, reckon. Ok, AI, put them on screen.” Sparks turned to the vid screen, taking Croach’s hand and pulling him closer to his chair.
“Sparks Nevada, what are you doing?”
“I told ya, Croach. We have to make these inspectors think we’re married, otherwise I’ll lose my badge.”
“Sparks Nevada, I am placing you under so much onus for this. So much onus.”
The vid screen flickered to life, and two familiar faces appeared on it.
“Noodle, don’t tell me you got married without telling me.”