This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Roger glanced around. “In an alley a long time past curfew. This isn’t a good place to be. What’s your name?”
Pain crossed the man’s face as he opened and closed his mouth several times. Finally he spoke.
“I don’t remember. I… I don’t remember anything. My name. Who I am. Why I’m here.”
Roger’s first instinct had been right then. Not a run of the mill curfew breaker. Not a drunk student or factory worker risking a late night trip. Not a gang member or a low life criminal out for themselves. The man was something different, something the militia would be desperate to get their hands on. Something they’d pay handsomely for. Roger made his decision. He stepped forward, holding his hand out.
“Here, let me help you up.”
The man climbed stiffly to his feet with Rogers help. He moved as if he was in pain, wincing with every movement. Was it cramp from having huddled in one position for so long, or injuries from a fight? Finding out would have to wait.
“I’m Roger. I want to help, but we have to move first. We’re out after curfew and that’s a really bad thing. If the militia catch us then a severe beating is the least we can expect. We need to get somewhere safer.”
Roger moved off down the alley and to his relief the man followed.
“I need to call you something.” Roger spoke quietly over his shoulder. “How about Jim?” he asked, picking a name at random.
The man considered for a moment then nodded his head.
“OK Jim. I know somewhere safer we can go. It’s going to take us about twenty minutes because we need to stay off the streets and avoid any patrols. Stay close and keep as quiet as you can.”
The man, Jim, nodded but didn’t speak. Roger moved off again.
* * *
The next few minutes were a huge strain for Roger. He was used to moving quietly around the city, dodging patrols and the gangs. He didn’t do it by choice. His daughter was seriously ill, cancer of the spinal cord. The drugs to treat it were expensive, far too expensive for Roger to buy. With no connections to the ruling party, no rich relatives or friends, Roger had turned to the only career which could save his daughter. Now he risked his life after curfew every night in order to save hers.
Leading the man, Jim, was much more of a strain. For such a large man Jim moved surprisingly quietly, making less noise than Roger, but if they were spotted he would stand out like a beacon. Where Roger could generally melt away into an alley and be ignored anyone spotting Jim would be sure to follow. As well as eating away at Roger’s nerves that meant they had to follow an even more convoluted route than normal.
After ten minutes Roger started to believe they might make it. Jim was following quietly and without question, trusting Roger and the route chosen despite the many twists and turns. The bright moonlight was playing into their hands. Many of those who regularly broke curfew were staying indoors, waiting for the moon to drop and shadows to reclaim the streets.
Yet another alleyway, cleaner this time, led them into a small courtyard. Shuttered apartment windows rose for several stories above. Shadows lurked around the edges below jutting balconies, while the centre was an oasis of light. Roger quickly led them forwards towards an alley on the other side.
As they neared the alleys entrance several dark shapes appeared from the shadows to block their way. Spinning round with a curse Roger saw more shapes blocking the alley they’d entered from. Three more stepped forwards into the moonlight at the centre of the courtyard. Two wore the dark uniforms of the militia, black with only dark patches to signify rank and unit. Nothing metallic, nothing shiny. All the better to hide in the shadows. The third wore a similar uniform, but with a peaked cap rather than a darkened helmet. An officer.
“Roger. How good to see you,” said the officer.
His voice was soft, gentle, cultured. A voice you could trust. Unless you saw his eyes, saw the cruel glint in them, the steely gaze. Taking a deep breath Roger stepped forwards.
“Captain. I’m so glad you found us. I found this curfew breaker and was bringing him to a station for processing.”
Roger expected Jim to react, but there was nothing. Whatever had scrambled his brain seemed to have done a pretty good job.
“Excellent,” said the Captain with a smile. Lifting his gaze to Jim he nodded once. “Owens, please do the honours.”
One of the militia who had moved close to Jim now jammed a large rectangular device against his back. With a crackle of electricity the device discharged, sending Jim crashing to the floor. Roger had seen these used before. The victim lost control of their body for several minutes at least, when feeling returned it was on a wave of agony. In some cases the shock was fatal but that never seemed to worry the militia.
Roger had seen them used in these same situations after delivering curfew breakers for processing. This was his new job, his way of getting the drugs his daughter needed. His deal with the devil. To keep his daughter alive others had to suffer. Finding Jim would mean a big bonus, guarantee the drugs for several weeks. That didn’t help the sick feeling inside though, the feeling of betrayal. Knowing he’d delivered someone for torture and possibly death.
“You say you were leading him to a station?” the Captain asked in a casual tone.
“Yes,” Roger answered cautiously. “But I had to be careful. I didn’t want to scare him off.”
“Of course. Except the route you took doesn’t lead to any station, not even in a roundabout way. And you passed within a few blocks of Saint Albrecht station several minutes ago but chose to turn away. I have to wonder why.”
All pretence at casualness was gone now, the Captain’s tone was steely. His eyes bored into Rogers. Roger stood speechless for a few seconds, then as he started to speak the Captain cut him off with a sharp hand gesture.
“Don’t bother with your lies. We’ve been tracking you. Your loyalty has been questioned, correctly I now see. Wherever you were leading this man it wasn’t to us. Curious.”
The Captain stepped forwards, gently gripping Roger’s chin in his hand. Turning Roger’s head from side to side as if studying him.
“Most curious.” The gentle voice was back. “You put this man before your daughter’s health, before her life. This man and others. Why?”
Roger didn’t answer. Couldn’t answer. His stomach seemed to be filled with lead, tears blurred his eyes. He’d been found out. He’d been caught cheating on his deal with the devil. Over the months he’d delivered up enough curfew breakers but not all those he found. The criminally minded he’d called in. Those so drunk they were bound to be caught by someone he led to the stations. But those unexpectedly caught out late, those scared, those running from violence or abuse at the hands of a family member he had led to safety. Led to the very limited underground resistance to the ruling party. He wasn’t involved, didn’t know any of them. They didn’t trust him that much. But they accepted those he led to them.
It had been his price for taking on this role. Every time he led some drunken soul to punishment or called in a report of a relatively minor offender he pictured those he’d been able to help. Now his choices had come home to roost. In the face of the Captain he saw his death, and worse the death of his daughter. He wondered if he should plead. Ask the Captain to punish him but not his daughter. But he knew that would do no good. Instead he stared blankly back at the Captain, trying to shove his feelings down deep.
“No excuses? No reasons?” the Captain asked. “Probably just as well. But don’t worry, we aren’t going to hurt you. Or your family. You’re all free to go. And don’t worry, your daughter will still keep getting her medicine.”
Roger felt a flicker of hope in his chest, despite knowing this was likely to be a trap, a lie.
“Well, she will get medicine still,” the Captain continued with a cruel smile, voice still playful. “Not the medicine she needs of course but it will look the same. And every morning, every evening you’ll see her taking those pills. See her taking them and know they won’t help. Know they do nothing. Know the cancer is eating away at her, killing her. And know it’s your fault.
How is that going to feel? Will you tell her? Will you strip what little hope she has left? Or will you keep quiet, dying a little inside each time she takes those pills. As her condition worsens each and every day.”
Despite himself, despite knowing it was what the Captain wanted, Roger let out a sob. The Captain smiled.
“The moment I return to the station the order goes out. You’re daughter’s slow, lingering death begins.”
Roger wasn’t a violent man, he hadn’t hit anyone since his childhood. Now though a burning anger was spreading through his chest. The Captain was taller, heavier, stronger, better trained and wearing armour. None of that mattered. Roger leapt screaming his hatred out.
He didn’t even reach the Captain, one of the militia smashed a baton against Roger’s head dropping him to the floor. A foot shoved him onto his back then pressed down on his chest. Through the pain and black specks clouding his vision he made out the Captain leaning over him.
“Pathetic!” he spat. “Is that the best you can do when your daughter’s life is at risk? Useless.”
“I guess it’s my turn then,” said a calm, deep voice.
The Captain’s head snapped round, Roger had to turn his a little slower. He saw Jim calmly climbing to his feet.
“Get him!” shouted the Captain.
Two of the militia stepped forward and shoved shock boxes against Jim’s back and side. Both discharged with a flash and the stink of Ozone but Jim showed no signs of noticing. He drew himself up and stretched, ignoring the two stunned looking militia holding their discharged devices.
“Kill him!” ordered the Captain, drawing his pistol.
Several of the militia already had weapons in hand. They opened fire with their squat, ugly machine pistols, showering Jim in bullets.
* * *
As he followed Roger through the deserted alleys and back streets he tried to piece together something, anything from his memory. He was sure Jim wasn’t his name, but had no idea what it really was. For the moment Jim would have to do. Thinking felt like hard work, his thoughts felt sluggish. It was more than just struggling with his memories, it was like chunks of his mind were missing.
He’d followed Roger in a daze, body moving silently without any conscious input. Not noticing the passing minutes. He was still wrestling with his memory when the men in black uniforms ambushed them.
He’d watched helplessly as their escape routes were closed off, and as one of their captors spoke to Roger.
“Captain. I’m so glad you found us. I found this curfew breaker and was bringing him to a station for processing.” Roger had replied.
Jim was still sluggishly trying to come to terms with Roger’s betrayal when one of their captors jammed a box against his back, electricity blasted through Jim’s body sending him crashing to the floor.
The effect was stunning, and Jim was sure it wasn’t what they had intended. His brain seemed to light up, thinking became easier. Then more than easier… it became faster, much faster. Feeling returned not just in his body but also in his suit. Systems coming back online and integrating with his mind.
At last he understood why he’d felt so dazed. The suit he wore interfaced with implants in his brain. This allowed control of its functions but also expanded his mind’s processing power and speed. Disconnecting and removing the suit was a lengthy business of withdrawing his consciousness into only his own mind. Something, and he still had no recollection of what, had knocked the suit offline and taken part of his consciousness with it. Luckily his mind had recoiled and gone into shock rather than taking any lasting damage, but it had badly scrambled some sections of his brain. It could take days for things to settle down enough that all his memories returned. Something about this reclaimed knowledge told him that it came from the newly reactivated suit rather than his own memories. Like a taste to the knowledge or a colour, yet not really either.
He had no idea what had knocked the suit offline, but had no doubt the large discharge of electricity from the militia’s device had caused it to reactivate. Systems were still powering up and integrating but already the power the suit gave had him awed.
All these thoughts raced through his mind in less than a second. Now he turned his attention outwards, studying those around him and listening to the conversation between Roger and the Captain.
He listened as the Captain laid out Roger’s treachery to the militia, as he so casually spelt out the lingering death Roger’s daughter now faced. Watched as Roger leapt forwards only to be smashed down by one of the militia. Watched the Captain deliver his verdict foot pressed on Rogers chest.
Watched… and reached his own decision. Roger had clearly tried to lead him to safety, despite the risks. In fact appeared to have done so for others too. And despite his small size, his obvious lack of training and insurmountable odds Roger had gone on the attack. Letting his mind accelerate further with the suit’s help Jim climbed to his feet.
“I guess it’s my turn then,” he said.
The Captain’s look of alarm was comical as he shouted orders. Two militia stepped close and smacked boxes against Jim’s suit. Once again they discharged in a blaze of electricity, but this time the suit was fully functioning. The power was channelled through the suit and safely into the ground. Jim stretched, unconcerned.
Now the Captain screamed an order out, a simple order. Kill. Several of the militia opened up with machine pistols, spraying not just Jim with bullets but also their two unlucky comrades who had tried to stun him.
* * *
Roger moaned wordlessly as the hail of bullets struck not just Jim but the two militia standing beside him. A moan that turned into a shocked gasp as the bodies of the two militia tumbled to the ground while Jim stayed standing calmly. Roger was sure many of the bullets had struck Jim but there were no wounds and he hadn’t even flinched.
With a wordless scream of hatred the Captain raised his pistol and fired three times at Jim’s face. Roger thought he saw a slight sparkle this time, just in front of Jim’s face, but other than that it was as if the bullets had never been fired.
The Captain stood stock still, pistol still aimed at Jim. The rest of the militia stood uncertainly, waiting to take their lead from the Captain. Roger was struck by the sudden deep silence so closely following the roar of gunfire.
The Captain reached a decision. He whipped round, swinging his gun to target Roger. The moment it was pointing at Roger’s head he pulled the trigger.
Jim moved faster than Roger would have believed possible. One moment he had been standing stock still, the next he was beside the Captain moving the pistol just enough for the bullet to fly past Roger’s right ear instead of planting itself firmly in his skull. With a sickening crack Jim crushed the Captain’s wrist and hand, the pistol dropped to the ground as he released his grip.
Shaking off their shock the remaining militia raised their weapons and opened fire. Jim disappeared. One moment he was standing by the Captain, the next he had vanished. The militia, clearly not chosen for their intellect, sprayed the area with bullets. Roger saw at least half of them cut down by fire from their comrades, including the Captain. Three militia were left standing, holding their emptied weapons disbelief etched into their faces.
Roger wasn’t surprised. In maybe half a minute they had gone from intimidating two captured curfew breakers to seeing one captive shake off everything they could throw at him and then had seen most of their comrades cut down including their Captain. Roger wondered if they yet realised that all the casualties had been inflicted by the militia themselves?
Jim snapped back into visibility next to one of the three, disarming him by simply crushing the gun in one hand with no more effort than had it been an empty drinks can. The remaining two militia were disarmed in the same way.
“Your friends might need a bit of help,” Jim told them, voice still calm. “Best get to it.”
Eyes wide with fear the three edged around Jim and hurried to their companions. Jim bent and offered his hand to Roger, pulling him to his feet. Roger noticed that the outfit Jim wore felt completely different now. Warm to the touch and stronger, tougher.
“Who are you?” Roger asked.
“A friend,” Jim replied with a smile. “I was sent here to help, something must have gone wrong though and my suit needed a kick start. Which that lot kindly supplied.”
“Sent here? To do what?”
“Well firstly I plan to put a stop to this curfew. Seems to me the time for a curfew has passed.”
Roger considered this for a moment then gave an emphatic nod. It was well past time for Curfew to end.