He looked wild and unhealthy in the most horrible way possible for someone on the living side of the grave. His light-skinned thin face was a roadmap of scars and lesions, some old and scabbed and some fresh, moist and pink. The skin that circled his storm-gray eyes was a sickly brownish-purple color, that lent him a dark psychotic appearance. Even his hair was in bad shape, being matted in places and choppy and uneven in others. The interface sockets drilled into his temples and wrists seemed out of place; shiny buttons of chrome spit-polished to perfection. Like a beautiful new brass doorknob on an old weather-beaten door.
“Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but—” Marv flashed her a smile. Yellow, ragged teeth clenched around the cigarette butt. He adjusted the rumpled clothes that hung off his anorexic body like a tent. In his current condition, he looked more like the national poster boy for The Euthanasia Campaign, rather than one of the Eurasian Alliance’s Most Wanted.
Talitha watched his eyes take her appearance in. Her hair was cropped short, reddish-brown, curly. Her skin was a beautiful copper color. She recently lost a few pounds which brought her down to 121, which she considered to be her optimum weight.
“Are you alone?” Talitha asked, letting her eyes quickly dance around the room but always snapping back to her target, in case he decided to make his move. The only move he made was with the cigarette hand, bringing it to his lips for a quick toke.
The studio, stripped of the cheap grandeur it once laid claim to, was small. There was barely enough space to fit the little table and two stools that sat across from the stove and sink. To the right was an alcove that held a toilet, no sink, no shower, and no door. To the left, where Quinton stood, was an unrolled sleepmat. Atop the little table was an ashtray made of foil, an open can of Albanian beer, a dusty and scratched cybermodem with connecting interface wires, and some half-melted candles. Come to notice it, there were candles all over the room, on the stove, the sink, the floor.
Most importantly, on the floor, by his right foot, was a pistol. She brought her own gun to bear and targeted the spot between his eyes, her lips skinned back from her teeth. “Slowly kick the 9mike-mike my way, now!”
Marv hesitated a moment, looking at his Browning and its distance from his hand in relation to the slamtracker’s finger to her gun’s trigger. He sighed and complied, kicking his pistol across the wooden floor.
“Turn around and assume the position,” Talitha said.
He took a long last pull on the cigarette, crushed the butt in the ashtray, turned quietly and leaned against the wall, hands flat, feet spread apart. Talitha bent her knees and reached for the Browning, never taking her eyes off Quinton, and tucked it into the waistband of her slacks. She moved to her bounty and patted him down. Nimbly reaching into the largest of the advantage belt’s compartments she produced four very thin metal bracelets, two with green markings and two with red.
Talitha turned him to face her and Quinton obediently held his fists in front of him. She gently but firmly took him by one shoulder and pulled him down vertically, knees and back bent in a crouch, his hands positioned close to his ankles. With a series of clicks his wrists and ankles were cuffed. The bracelets had no chains or bars linking them. The slamtracker stepped away and triggered a device. Dim green and red lights emanated from the bands and they homed in for their counterpart. Two sharp clinks resounded when magnetized metal rings touched. She had arranged the bands so that his left wrist was shackled to his right ankle and vice versa. Unable to keep his balance in the awkward position, Quinton landed on his butt, knocking over his stool.
She did a quick scan of the toilet. Quinton was alone. In the periphery of her vision, she could see him sitting on the floor testing the magnacuffs.
“Forget it,” she said, holstering the Glock and examining the Browning. “To separate the cuffs you’d need to exert five hundred pounds of pressure in both directions.” Marv continued testing the cuffs anyway.
“Why didn’t you shoot me when I first walked in?” she asked, holding up his gun as if to say it’s loaded and functional.
“Not my style,” he looked up from the cuffs. His eyes, although weary and bloodshot, were sharp, intent, intelligent. “When I aim that gun I don’t shoot people, I shoot obstructions. I shoot aberrated ideologies. I shoot the future that has no place for the individual, only the corporate. The things that hit the ground when I squeezed that trigger were definitely not human. Maybe at one time, but not when they came to me.”
“You can’t glamorize killing. I do enough of it to know.” Talitha sat on the stool nearest her. “There’s nothing poetic about what you did. Nothing justifiable.”
“Since when isn’t freedom justifiable? Who decides that?” There was a twitch in one of Quinton’s jaw muscles.
“The survivors of murder victims.”
“And if you murdered me right now, could my survivors claim your freedom? Your life?”
“See this face? Not impressed by your word games.”
“They’re only word games, Ms. Slamtracker, if you’re on the losing side. When you’re winning, they’re indisputable facts.”
“Secure that crap, okay?”
After a long silence, Quinton said, “Murder me. Give my people a cause.”
“Your people? You mean—what is it you call yourselves now—The Midnight Raiders?”
“That’s what you call us. The media spoon-fed you a label and you lapped it up like a good corporate doggie. I’m talking about the hapless, the wretched, the destitute, the impoverished, the indigent, and unprovided for. All the underdogs are my people. They’re the stuff of lore. The kindling that keeps the flame alive.”
Talitha stared at him through slitted eyes. “Underdogs? How can you say that with a straight face? You’re part of the largest terrorist organization on three continents!”
Quinton’s intensity seemed to spark around his shoulders like electricity. “Since when is it terroristic to fight for freedom? When the movement first began, we held anti-corporate law protests, which was our right, to have our voices heard, to demand justice and equality. The response? They passed laws against us, claiming we were a menace to the EA Nations.”
Talitha glowered at him. “There are ways of fighting that don’t violate the law.”
“These corporations you work for, whose values you uphold and defend, siphoned billions of dollars from public programs that should have been used for food and shelter, creating a homelessness problem, which they sought to solve by rounding up the homeless and turning them into unwilling human subjects. They carved up the brains of public assistance recipients to implant software, wetware, data and storage chips, at first just to test the effects and later to create nonvoluntary data couriers. They connected toxin sacks to these people’s vital organs to force their cooperation. How can they expect us not to fight back?”
“Spare me your recruitment propaganda,” Talitha said and placed Quinton’s Browning in her waistband at the small of her sweat-stained back, adjusting it for comfort.
“Did you know the very first ‘Rinthjock, the guinea pig that was fitted with prototype interface sockets, was a woman on welfare?” Marv didn’t wait for her response. “Documented fact, look it up. In order to receive benefits for herself and her four children, she had to agree to submit herself for testing. The techies who created the method of downloading data directly into the mind without having to constantly slice open a skull and install datachips, devised a way to patch the human nervous system into a direct computer link via the major nerve trunks in the wrist and base of the skull. The process placed her in a vegetative state and to get a better understanding of what happened, they vivisected this poor woman, whom they considered intellectually inferior, and then had the nerve to rename the internet after her in tribute.”
“Her name was Labyrinth?”
“No, they weren’t interested in making a martyr out of her so they hid their tribute within a longer word. Her name was Arinthia Simpson.”
“You know, I let you go on to see if I could make some sense out of what you’ve done,” Talitha said. “But this dump is a sauna and I’m not in the right frame of mind to listen to zealotry at the moment, so be quiet, while I call this in.”
Double-tapping her right temple, Talitha activated her comm implant and held her thumb to her ear while speaking into her pinky. She called in the bounty and arranged for a wagon to swing by for the pick-up. All there was to do now was wait.
They sat in silence for nearly a half-hour, each with their own thoughts, until Marv said, “I read in a news article about a torture gadget the Eurasian Alliances Science Guild makes to sell to foreign countries that are still run by military dictatorships. Our own police agencies help by selling them torture equipment like this headband I saw. It’s worn like a skull cap and clamped on tight. Tiny pins on the inside of the band pierce the forehead, through the skull and into the brain. When activated, the headband selectively fries the forebrain with a jolt of current. Most of the victim’s memory is eradicated, leaving enough to implant an easily controlled pseudo personality into the empty brain, creating a killing machine.
“Our corporations manufacture these headbands. It’s made here, mass-produced in sweatshops that employ poor people at slave wages. Most of them don’t realize they’ll be wearing that cap eventually for some minor infraction that a rich person can simply buy their way out of. Mind you, I’ve only seen photographs of the headband; not the torture, just the results.”
“What did I tell you about—”
“Not spewing propaganda. Just making conversation to pass the time,” Marv said. “That wagon sure is taking its sweet time getting here. You positive it’s on the way?”
“It’ll be here, so why don’t you just sit there and reflect on your life choices.”
“Can I just tell you about this chair I saw?” he asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “It was a picture of an ordinary wooden chair bolted to the floor in a room in Chad where people had been tortured. There were no people in the photograph, but you knew from looking at the chair, from the blood-soaked back and seat that people had been tortured there. Women and men, light-skinned and dark, rebel and scapegoat, sane and crazy. In Chad, in Nova Scotia, in Cuba. And if it’s there for foreign dissidents, you know it’s here for native ‘Rinthjocks.”
“Of course, because you’re beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil corporations, blah-blah-blah.”
“Do you know the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?”
“I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,” Talitha rolled her eyes.
“It’s what side of the line you stand on. I’m on the freedom fighter side. How about you?”
“I’m on the side that upholds the law, the side that has to listen to your lies and whiny nonsense about being forced into a way of life not of your choosing. And when I don’t subscribe to your bullshit, then I become the enemy and that gives you the right to kill me.”
“That’s not what we—” Marv started.
“You weren’t born a rebel with interface sockets and firearms, it’s a choice,” she said. “You made a conscious choice to live outside the law and enforce your own brand of justice and you don’t even have the decency to explain yourself and own up to your crimes. Why is that, Mr. Freedom Fighter?”
Quinton squirmed a little to get comfortable in his crouched position. He was used to the heat so it didn’t bother him much but he noticed Talitha could not say the same. She had tied a rolled handkerchief around her head to keep the sweat out of her eyes, but was helpless to stop the dark crescents that grew under her armpits. “I’ll explain it to you, the way my mother did to me,” he said, keeping his tone even, gentle but not condescending. She was the one with all the weapons, after all.
To Be Continued…
Text and audio ©2002-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys