Devin heard footsteps approaching. An angry face in a black helmet appeared in the tiny window of his cell door. His voice crackled over a speaker in the ceiling.
“Stand up! Face the wall! Place your hands on the wall! Do not resist!” Devin complied.
The door opened. Three more officers dressed in black shock gear rushed into the cell like fighting bulls. One smashed his face into the wall. One put him in a headlock. One shackled his ankles. The other stood poised with a pulse emitter in the doorway. Devin’s arms were yanked down behind his back and his wrists were cuffed.
The nats jogged him down a long corridor. He nearly fell trying to keep up the pace as his strides were shortened by the ankle restraints. They checked him through a heavy glass door, then another, and another that exited into a courtyard.
A glistening armored transport vehicle awaited them. They shoved Devin into the back and a nat got into the hold with him. The engine revved and the truck threw them back as it launched forward.
The nat riding along with Devin was a boyish looking fellow with a fringe of blond hair poking out around the edges of his shock helmet. His doe-ish eyes betrayed his best efforts to look fierce.
Devin tried to concoct a scenario in his mind by which he could escape. There was no plausible means. His arms and legs were shackled. His brain was termination chipped. He was in a physically weakened state. The boy across from him appeared to be lacking confidence and experience but he was armed and undoubtedly well-trained. There was no hope. He was a dead man.
Nevertheless, he imagined breaking loose. He envisioned stealing the nat’s sidearm and holding him at gunpoint- demanding the other nats open the door and set him loose. They would open the door but, of course, they would not set him free. They never turned armed assailants loose. So they would be frozen in a hopeless standoff. Eventually, a sniper would pick Devin off or he would simply give up out of frustration.
It would have to end another way. With no chance of escape, he would have to finish it with a flurry. He would get the nats to open the door. Then he would start firing. He’d shoot at least one of them. The boy would struggle. He would shoot him point blank, too, right in the temple. The boy’s body would go limp and heavy and slip out of his grasp. With nothing left to risk, the others would open fire into the hold. Devin would die quickly, his body riddled with a thousand bullets...
No. He wouldn’t become an animal. He was above that. He was human. The pointless killing would serve no purpose other than to confirm their judgment of him.
He thought about the boy. He had a mother. He probably had a young wife and maybe and a small child. He probably desperately needed a job to feed his family and NaPol was probably his best option. Besides, the boy had never really done anything to him. He was not innocent. He was a willing cog in the totalitarian machine, but he was not guilty either, at least not to the extent that he deserved death by Devin’s hand.
There would be no pointless killing. Pointless killing is murder. There would be no suicide, either. With rare exception, suicide has no purpose other than to elicit pity. Such an act would be undignified. Besides, what benefit would come from others pitying him if he was not around to acknowledge it? Perhaps that’s why people leave suicide notes— it’s their way of savoring their pity in advance, he concluded.
Devin resigned himself to his fate. Even the fantasy of an escape had now been completely extinguished. His life was now nothing more than a battle for dignity. Could he maintain it during the torture sessions? Could he maintain it during a long, psychosis inducing confinement? Dignity, he decided, was his sole remaining life purpose.
“What’s your name?” he asked the boy nat.
“Shut your mouth,” answered the boy with unconvincing sternness.
“How long have you been a nat…I mean, with National Police?”
“Do you want to get yourself pulsed? Shut up.”
“I’m just trying to be cordial. I’m not sure how long this ride will be. Is it long?
“The ride is six months long?”
“I’ve been in NaPol for six months.”
“Do you have a family?”
“I’m not supposed to talk to you. They said you’re a hypnotic manipulator.”
“How would I manipulate you? Look at me.” Devin raised his shackled wrists for the nat to see.
“Stop asking me questions.”
“It’s a long drive to the airport, no?”
“Forty five minutes. Now stop asking me questions or I’ll have to pulse you.”
They drove for several minutes down the superhighway with their flashers blinking and alarms wailing. The ride was smoother on the highway. The boy produced his water bottle and took a drink. He caught Devin’s eye watching him. Grudgingly, he offered Devin the bottle.
“Thank you,” Devin replied.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what they’re transferring you for,” explained the boy. “I don’t care to know, either. I’m just doing my job. So please don’t force me to get tactical on you.”
“I will not force you to do anything. You have my word.”
The truck decelerated and came to a stop. The driver blasted an obnoxious air horn to no avail. The rumbling engine idled. Devin tried to peek up the road out the slit windows but all he could see were backed up electros. The truck lurched forward and hit something. It lurched forward again and hit something again. Then it swerved onto the shoulder and picked up speed, passing an electro with a badly damaged rear end and a terrified driver with his hands submissively raised.
They exited the highway onto an arterial street. Then they turned left then right, driving for a minute or so and then stopping again. The sirens switched off. The boy nat was whispering into his headset and then listening intently with wide, darting eyes.
“What happened?” Devin asked.
“Big accident on the highway. Some truck tipped over. Haz-waz everywhere. We’re not allowed to stop with a class four anti-pat in transport. Apparently you have motivated and dangerous friends. Sit tight. We’ll be moving again any second.”
The truck started moving. It turned and picked up speed. The sirens came back on as they drove for several minutes through the empty store fronts of some urban commercial district.
“Consider this an extra few minutes of freedom,” the nat remarked.
“I don’t know about ‘freedom’,” Devin replied rubbing his wrists where the nylon restraints had dug in. “But I will say that you’re the first nat that’s treated me with any civility since I got here. I guess that’s worth something.”
A red light started flashing in the hold. The boy nat held his earpiece. The sirens turned off.
“What’s going on, now?” Devin asked.
“Sensors going off…detecting something…radio transmitters…jammers, maybe.” The truck slowed. “The sensors go off all the time. Don’t worry. Sit tight. Just taking precautions.”
The boy’s assurances were betrayed by his widened eyes and the sweat beads forming on his brow. He seemed fidgety and anxious. He started patting at his pockets as if he was looking for something. Then he readied his sidearm by taking the safety off. The truck accelerated. “Sometimes it’s best just to get through the zone.”
“You know, ‘uncovered pops’— areas with unfriendlies who black out the surveillance. We’re a little blind out here so we turn our sensors up to eleven just to be safe.” The sirens blared again. The truck accelerated. The kid winked at Devin. “See, I told you. Just a false al…”
The truck flew into the air and came down with a spectacular crash landing on its side. The boy fell onto Devin. The hold instantly filled with white, choking smoke. Devin couldn’t hear anything as the concussion knocked out his hearing. The smoke thickened. It was complete white out. Then a flash of bright light in the haze, like a spark or a flame. Then it was white again, then another flash. He could hear himself breathing. The squealing alarms of the truck pierced the smoke from somewhere inside hold. Devin was not sure if he was upside down. Then it wasn’t squealing alarms, anymore, it was ringing in his ears. He heard thumping like drumbeats, sensing the sound more than hearing it. No, it wasn’t his ears ringing, it was the alarms. The screeching sounds became clearer.
“Move! Move!” he shouted to himself but he couldn’t move. His arms and his legs were useless, paralyzed. He tried but it was as if they were submerged in tar. The boy was motionless on top of him. Was he unconscious? Was he dead? Devin couldn’t tell. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe it isn’t real, he thought. “Wake up!” He shouted.
It was no dream.
The cloud of white smoke dissipated. He could see an alarm flashing red on the rippled steel wall of the transport. The boy was still motionless on top of him. He could see sunlight above the boy’s shoulder but he couldn’t move him out of the way.
There were more drumbeats but they were crisper than before as his hearing was coming back. The beats were gunfire! Yes, there were bullets ripping through the air all around. One bullet clanked against the crumpled steel wall of the transport hold sending off an arc of sparks. Another whizzed past above. There was another explosion and he could feel the heat of the fireball on his face.
“Get up! Get Up!” he shouted at his body but he couldn’t move. He struggled. Then he could move a little. His leg, yes his leg, he could move his leg! His leg shackles had broken loose, somehow. He slid his leg out from under the boy. His arm, yes he could move it. He used his good arm to drag his paralyzed arm from under the boy. The boy rolled off into the smoke. “Should I try to wake him? No, leave him. No way to tell if he’s dead. Get out”, he shouted to himself.
There was fire. It was getting hot on his left side. The nat was between him and the fire. It had to be cooking him, melting his polyester uniform into his skin. Black smoke poured into the hold.
“Where are they? Why aren’t they coming to finish us off? I have to get out now! Where are the nats? Why aren’t they returning fire? Why aren’t they dragging us out?”
He tried to shove himself up with his weakened legs. He couldn’t. He was starting to choke. The heat was increasing. It was burning his left leg. The ray of sunlight above was filling in with smoke. He couldn’t see anything. His lungs burned.
Just then, a set of hands grabbed him by the front of his shirt and, with a succession of eight or nine violent yanks, pulled him out of the wreckage. Whoever it was dragged him onto the concrete and into an alleyway. There was more gunfire zipping past. It was cool in the alley.
“Get the boy. There’s a boy in there. He’s burning. He might be alive,” Devin pleaded as he caught his breath. “The boy! We’ve got to save the boy. We’ve got to go back.” He blinked and rubbed the soot from his eyes. Everything was blurry. There was a face looking down on him. It came into focus. He couldn’t believe…it couldn’t be.
“Forget him. He’s dead,” explained Ramielle.
Chapter 15 Chapters 17 & 18 will be available next weekend
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here at Amazon