Perfect Tools of the Government
I lean my forehead against the window and close my eyes. The glass is cold, cooling one side of my heated face, and yet it cannot calm my thoughts.
I will never leave you alone.
My stomach tightens. Just six words. A simple promise and yet it contains a terrible lie.
Back then it rained the same way is all I can think while watching raindrops that softly patter against the car window.
"Hey," a voice says, and as I tilt my head, I see Mason, who has our mission's case file in his lap. "You seem off."
"There's nothing wrong with me," I reply.
"Come on, you can tell me." Mason squeezes against me and lowers his voice. "You're thinking about him, right?"
Heat rushes to my cheeks. "Not at all."
"Go ahead and admit it," Mason gloats.
I smack him with the file like he's a disgusting cockroach. "Stop it, you ass!"
"Guys!" Isaac snorts from the driver's seat. "We're not here for fun."
My eyes turn to the road ahead of us. We're driving down the highway at one hundred miles per hour, following the black SUV flanked by two patrol cars. Then I look at the folder. It's matte blue with gold lettering and the emblem of NOS - a lion's head sitting on a cross. It is supposed to represent bravery and justice.
Our mission sounds simple. Securing the transport. Inside the SUV is a Subject, age and gender unknown, but whose ability is dehydration. Based on the information it can dehydrate with just a single touch. The speed of the process is estimated at thirty seconds but a side note mentioned that the power can be affected by external factors.
Like heat or even rain.
"We should stay cautious," I say, addressing Mason.
He clicks his tongue in annoyance. "Since when do you take it so seriously?"
"Tobias is right," Liam interrupts from the passenger seat. He holds a tablet between his hands that displays our planned route and current position. "We'll reach Memphis soon."
"Oh man, now don't get your knickers in a twist." Mason points to the SUV. "We've been on the road for hours and nothing's happened. So lighten up, will you?"
I don't know where he gets this composure but I sit back and look out the window.
Several drones hover above us. These small flying machines record the progress of the mission. However, these beetle-like companions have an entirely different function. As their red eyes take aim at me, I turn away.
We leave the highway and it gets darker immediately until I can only make out the outlines of the cars in front of us.
Memphis has changed. Instead of streets full of life and wrapped in bright lights, there is an eerie silence. Once, thousands of people lived here and led normal lives. But insecurities, existential fears and panic spread like wildfire. Within a few months, chaos ruled the city.
As Isaac slows the car, my eyes dart to a brick wall. It is plastered with many posters, most of them half torn down. There are a lot of things that I already know, either thanks to the persistent indoctrination by the media or because I have read about them myself. Warnings about Subjects and their identifying features. On a piece of paper there is an appeal to the population to think of their children. In people's minds is a twisted image of a disease that is highly contagious, especially among teenagers. There is no cure. Neither pills nor vaccination stop the symptoms.
Among the posters is a face of a man which is wrapped in shadows with slogans below:
NOS is good
The AUTHORITY protects you
People believe the slogan. Nothing is giving them hope except for the speeches of this man. Yet they only know his voice, which is broadcasted over radio and TV programs. I myself have never met this person. Very few people have contact with him. According to the media, it is for self-protection and no one doubts that. They follow the man and draw strength from his words. Honestly, I think this is downright stupid, however, it is not for me to judge. Any doubt attracts attention. Something I must absolutely prevent should my life be dear to me.
The SUV turns into a main road, taking away my view of more posters. Dark concrete colossuses which are at least twenty stories high rise to the left and right. Store windows are smashed or barred with wooden boards. Debris, torn-down posters and left-behind objects litter the sidewalks.
"What the hell happened here?" Mason asks. Both of his hands grab Liam's headrest so that he can get a better view out the windshield.
"Memphis declared a state of emergency two years ago," Isaac returns.
"Based on witnesses and live broadcasts at the time, several Subjects lost control, so they started attacking people," Isaac explains. "NOS was called in to resolve the situation."
Liam emits a bitter murmur. "Not to resolve. To kill."
Mason grumbles in comprehension. "And they gave up an entire city for that? I find that hard to believe."
"Not when you look at the situation," I retort.
"What do you mean?" Mason asks.
"It's a net," I say without looking away. "How many Subjects do you think would seek shelter here? Memphis is centrally located with plenty of places to hide."
"Then it's intentional?" he concludes.
I nod. "The fact that NOS chooses this route is part of their sick mind game. In the last month three escape attempts had to be prevented. The Protection Guard has lost at least ten officers in the process."
I look up and meet Isaac's warning gaze in the rearview mirror. As team leader it is his job to keep us under control. That includes not only our powers, but also any distrust of NOS. A Subject acting on behalf of the AUTHORITY is a gift which must be respected and honored. I realize that Isaac wants to protect me but sometimes I wonder if he is really that naive.
"Wait a minute," Mason says. "Are you seriously suggesting that we take this route to provoke these incidents? Why should NOS do that?"
The answer is simple. "To show how powerless we are."
Mason raises a brow. "Isn't that completely nuts?"
"Maybe," Liam says tensely. "But it's not our place to question it."
It should be. After all Mason hits a point. It's illogical to sacrifice an entire city for this but it's also an effective way to play their sadistic game with us. Even if a Subject manages to flee and uses the darkness to their advantage, escape will be impossible.
Life or death.
We really have no other choice.
I look at the black plastic wristband wrapped around my right arm. It flashes green at regular intervals. A sign that I serve NOS and unquestioningly obey their orders on behalf of the government.
"I don't like it," Mason voices his concerns.
"No worries," Isaac says. "I've driven this route a thousand times. I know it inside and out -"
Suddenly I'm thrown forward and yanked back by the seat belt. Our car lurches and comes to a jarring stop with a horrible squeal from the tires. My head hits the window pane. White flashes appear before my eyes and the sound of panicked screams and clanging glass makes me go completely numb. The blood rushes in my ears and it takes several heartbeats before I catch myself. As I do, I barely notice Isaac pulling the keys and getting out of the car.
"What happened?", I ask hoarsely.
"I don't know," Mason replies.
Our car has stopped sideways to the roadway. One patrol car is parked intact on the side, the second has crashed into a lamppost but it seems that no one was hurt. The SUV presents a totally different picture.
As I slam the door behind me, I feel the cool wind mercilessly hitting my face. A musty, wet smell hangs in the air.
I pull the sleeves of my jacket over my knuckles and slowly approach the wrecked car. The first thing I notice is the right rear door. It's wide open, suggesting what has happened.
Liam reaches for his lighter inside his jacket and turns it on. In the flickering light, I can make out his hardened features as he leans forward and risks a look inside the cab.
"We need to find the Subject," he says dryly. "It's dangerous and seems to show absolutely no inhibition."
I would have loved to contradict him, but what reveals in front of me leaves me speechless. There is so much blood. The passenger's carotid artery has been severed with a smooth cut. A razor blade lies in the cup holder of the center console.
I find two more people in the back seat. Their skin is completely desiccated and covered with deep wrinkles. They have no external wounds but a look at Isaac's face tells me they are dead.
A woman screams behind me. She is chalky white, whimpering unintelligible stuff. Fractionally I understand 'husband' and 'baby'. Two colleagues lead her away. It's easier for her if she doesn't have to witness the horror.
I walk around the rear, broken glass crunches under my timberlands. On the other side is Mason who tries to open the rear door, though it is completely dented by the impact. I try to take a deep breath after I discover the pool of blood under the driver's side. The red liquid drips from the B-pillar, mixes with the rain and runs in slow streams in my direction. The crushed person had no chance of survival.
"What's going on here?!" a thunderous voice rages. A burly man pushes himself forward. He is tall, dark-skinned and wears the uniform of the local police. His black hair is slicked back but the dim light from his cigarette reveals a few gray strands. On his chest is the badge of NOS.
"Officer Reed." A police man steps nervously to his side, shifting weight awkwardly from one foot to another. "We can't determine what happened, however -" his voice lowers, "- the Subject was able to escape."
Reed's features darken menacingly as he pulls some sort of control device from the inside pocket of his black jacket. I notice the sound of a drone coming down and hovering in front of Reed. With a soft click the panel opens and a hologram image shows the last minutes before the accident. The video isn't useful, as it doesn't explain how this could have happened, nor where the Subject fled to. This seems to be clear to Reed as well, judging by the fierce expression on his face.
"I want it found" he murmurs.
The police officers salute and begin to make the necessary preparations. He then turns his attention to me.
"Wasn't it your fucking job to prevent something like this?!"
Protectively Isaac steps in front of me. "With all due respect Officer Reed, we are Subjects, not psychics."
"Useless scum. Find it!"
Isaac shakes his head and pulls me towards our car. By now the rain has subsided, and I look up at the buildings as I pass. The lack of electricity makes it much harder to perceive any movement.
As soon as we reach the van Isaac begins to divide the group. Liam and Mason are to scan the immediate area and wait for further orders. Isaac stays with Officer Reed to keep track of the situation.
"Ty," Isaac turns to me. "I hope I don't have to explain to you what you have to do should the Subject refuse to cooperate."
"You think I'm that stupid?", I retort tonelessly.
"So am I."
He waits, for three or four seconds before taking a deep breath, pulling out a map from the glove compartment and spreading it out on the hood.
"Then tell me where the Subject fled to," he demands.
I look at the map indecisively. There are some residences and stores that offer enough protection based on their location, however, that wouldn't be a permanent solution. The Subject must have something else in mind. His act shows pure desperation. He didn't care how many people die in the accident and the brutality behind it proves that any means is fine with him. My eyes slide to the eastern edge. There is a farm. Rumor has it that it's a gathering place for Renegades to form small resistance groups.
"The farm?" Isaac asks.
"It's remote and leads directly to the city limits."
"Go there, check it out and report back" he suggests.
Not objecting, I follow the road.