Ignite, page 5
“Really?” Madalyn sat on the edge of the desk. Tom’s son was the third person at the scene? “About Tom Bailey …”
“His father was an activist, outspoken against Stratford’s policies. He and his wife were killed in an auto accident last summer. It made the news. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.” She’d hoped she’d never have to deal with this particular issue. “What if I told you the Baileys are alive?” She went on in a rush before he had time to speak. “They faked their own deaths. They’ve been in hiding, and Tom is leading the Resistance. Obviously, we have to make sure we control how the Bailey name … umm, finds its way back into the media.”
“How’d you find out about all this?”
“I have my sources. Now that we know their approximate location, we must apprehend them. If Tom Bailey decides to make any kind of public appearance, he could be an even greater threat to the OCSD than Trina Jacobs.”
“So what about a BOLO on the kid?”
“Hold on that. It won’t be long until Careen tells us exactly where to find the Resistance.”
Kevin spent the day locked in a room so luxurious that he could almost forget his freedom had been taken from him, except that doing nothing was driving him crazy. There was no television. No books. Not even a clock. He was exhausted but afraid to let his guard down and sleep.
His stomach churned and his mouth watered—a sure precursor to nausea. He tried to think of something else, but his stomach was at the forefront of his concerns. He couldn’t recall when he’d last eaten. The OCSD had gone to a lot of trouble to make his prison look like an upscale hotel room. They could’ve at least put in a minibar and stocked it with some candy and nuts. Alcohol would be good, too. And Alka-Seltzer.
Trina and Mitch must be wondering why he hadn’t checked in. He sank down on the tufted velvet sofa, heedless of the dried mud and grime that clung to his clothes. At least he was finally dry. He relaxed into the deep cushions and leaned his head back.
The click of the lock brought him back to full alert, and he leapt to his feet.
A woman in a brown suit came inside and closed the door, a Styrofoam to-go box and a bottle of water in her hands. She set the food on the coffee table and shrugged, almost like an apology. “She forgot about you. But I didn’t.”
He sat down again. “You’re her assistant.”
She nodded. “I’m Nicole. You used to work here, right?”
“So I guess you understand what it’s like, don’t you?”
He looked at her for a long moment. “Yeah, I do.”
She perched on the edge of the sofa and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Madam Director doesn’t think about anyone else.” What she’d just said was treacherous, even if it was true. “What I mean is, she’s so busy trying to protect everyone, she doesn’t think about anyone.” Her eyes darted around the room. “I don’t know how to explain it, exactly.”
“I know. She doesn’t focus on individuals—other than herself. Thank you for thinking of me. I was getting hungry.”
“The staff eats all their meals here. There’s plenty.”
Of course there would be. He forced the horrors of the nationwide food shortage to the back of his mind and opened the bottle of water. “Can you stay for a while? Keep me company?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t. She’ll be angry if she needs me for anything and I’m not there.” She hugged herself for a brief moment and consciously relaxed her shoulders.
“Is there any way you could get me some clean clothes? It’s been a rough week.”
“I’ll see what I can find.” She left the room, and he opened the container of food. There was a generous scoop of chicken salad on a bed of lettuce and tomato ready to be transferred onto a split croissant, a shiny red apple, and corn chips. Corn chips! I’ve been craving them since … forever. Have they had them here all along?
He was halfway through the meal when she returned and laid a folded uniform on the sofa beside him. He almost choked on a mouthful of food. “I was thinking you’d bring a pair of coveralls or scrubs and a lab coat. Do they just leave security guard uniforms lying around?”
“My friend works in the laundry. This was all they had ready right now.”
“Well, then I guess it’ll do.”
The cymbal crash was so loud and unexpected that Careen jerked convulsively. Her head rolled from side to side on the pillow as if to escape the noise, but her eyelids were too heavy to hold open more than a slit. She could see nothing in the dark space. The crashes increased in volume and intensity.
“Turn it off.” Her voice was slurred, muted. “Please turn it off.”
A stinging slap came out of the heavy darkness; Careen’s eyes flew open, and, still disoriented, she squinted as someone shined a light in her face.
She turned her face away and whoever it was slapped her again, harder, across her other cheek. She tried to put up her hands to defend herself, but the metal links on the restraints clanked against the bed rails and kept her from lifting her gauze-wrapped hands more than a few inches. When the cymbal crashes stopped, a woman’s voice came from the darkness beyond the flashlight beam, harsh and unfamiliar.
“Let’s start with something easy. Who bombed the student center?”
“What kind of explosives did you use?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who helped you prepare the explosives?”
“Why are you lying to protect people who don’t care about you? The Resistance won’t help you. They were just using you. Were you really that stupid?”
Stop listening, a calm inner voice whispered. Tommy won’t leave you here. Lara and Tom won’t leave you here. They’ll figure out a way to help you. You just have to hang on until then.
Another slap silenced her thoughts.
“Who bombed the university student center?”
Careen drew a sobbing breath. “I did.”
“What kind of explosives did you use?”
“Umm … dynamite.”
“Who helped you?”
“I don’t know.” She could sense another slap coming so she cried, “I never knew her name!”
“Where is Trina Jacobs?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is the headquarters of the Resistance?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must know what quadrant?”
“No one ever told me where we were.”
“What kind of explosives did you use?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Does that mean you lied before?”
Careen pressed her lips together and steeled herself for a slap that didn’t come.
Instead, the woman stepped into the light and unbuckled the straps across Careen’s legs and abdomen, unhooked the soft restraints from the rails, and dragged her out of bed.
When Danni had arrived in OP-439 that afternoon, she’d avoided getting anywhere near the PeopleCam news crew set up outside the CAUTION tape. She unloaded a shipment of food that was immediately put out for trade in her customers’ stalls. Marshals made their presence known outside the taped-off area but kept their distance.
She hung around as the day went on, watching the crowd swell inside the Restriction-Free Zone. When students who’d been reluctant to be part of the initial takeover saw nothing bad was happening to the CXD members who’d organized the flagrant act of defiance, they joined in, and by dinnertime the Zone took on a party atmosphere. Someone ran an extension cord from a nearby building and rigged up a sound system, and music blasted across the college green. Footballs and
Now, Jude Monroe conferred with the PeopleCam reporter before he raised the yellow tape and allowed him and the camera operator to enter. Danni followed them, eavesdropping.
“CXD is about nonviolent civil disobedience plus community spirit—like, helping each other. Careen Catecher said to avoid breaking the law, but when the laws are unjust—or just plain stupid—we must respectfully choose a different course of action. That’s why we’ve created this Restriction-Free Zone here at the university.”
The camera operator panned across the crowd gathered inside the designated space. “What goes on inside the Restriction-Free Zone?”
“We’re not doing anything wrong—just ignoring rules that curtail our personal freedoms. This market is always open, and we can meet friends here and stay out past nine o’clock. We’re organizing live music for tomorrow. This is exactly the kind of thing Careen meant when she encouraged civil disobedience in her last message.
“We expected her to condemn the university bombing. She was a student here, and we’re proud that one of our classmates has taken on such an important role in the fight for our personal freedoms.”
“Isn’t personal freedom just breaking the law?”
“No. It’s much more than that. Jeremy, you’ve been on this story from the beginning. You know the real issue is the food shortage. Essential Services was our only way to get food. But that’s not protecting us right now. It’s hurting more people than it’s helping.” He addressed the camera operator. “Make sure you get a shot of all the food. Show how well we eat in the Restriction-Free Zone.”
The Zone showed no sign of shutting down. Danni was sharing sips from her flask with a couple of guys when she saw Jude duck under the CAUTION tape and stride off into the shadows. She excused herself and followed him as he left campus, headed down a deserted side street for several blocks, and turned into an alley. This kid needs to take a lesson in self-preservation. I’m not even trying to hide the fact that I’m tailing him.
Danni chuckled as he whirled around, startled. Most people didn’t like it when you sneaked up on them in dark alleys, but Jude Monroe had more reason to be jumpy than most.
“Oh, hey. I’m gonna set up for the meeting. You coming?”
He unlocked a padlock on the back door of a building, and she followed him inside. He pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit several candles, casting a soft glow around the neglected storeroom.
“I’m not gonna hold meetings in the Zone, you know? Most of the people there are just checking it out, seeing what it’s like to break the Restrictions. And that’s cool. CXD meetings are for people who are serious, you know?”
Danni perched on an upended crate and offered him the flask. “You totally surprised me. I didn’t think you were serious at all. I thought you were just a candy-ass frat boy, especially when you asked about becoming affiliated with our national organization—like the Resistance and CXD are campus clubs or something. But you killed it on the news. And the Restriction-Free Zone thing is brilliant. The Resistance is wishing they thought of it.”
He took a swallow. “When I decided I couldn’t just sit around doing nothing anymore, I called my grandpa. He was involved in tons of protests when he was young, and he gave me some great ideas. Two of my best friends have disappeared since Distribution Day. One’s dead; the other one’s just gone. Ben and Drew weren’t activists or troublemakers or anything. They were just regular guys. Drew’s parents have made inquiries, but the QM isn’t required to give them any information. For all we know, Drew’s in a jail cell somewhere, or worse—dead, like Ben Sheridan.”
She nodded, wondering what it would be like to talk about her own loss with someone nice, like Jude.
“Even after I literally lost my friends, I didn’t speak out until Essential Services stopped feeding me. I was ticked that I had to come to the market and trade my vintage vinyl collection for something to eat. I kept waiting for someone else to do something, until I couldn’t wait anymore. But you—you’re doing something.”
Danni shrugged. “Someone’s got to rally the troops while the others get the glory.”
“I can help. I belong to a couple national campus organizations, and that means I have contacts all over the country. If you want them, you’ll have more willing protesters than you know what to do with. Everyone’s heard of Careen.”
Man, I wish I could say she was stupid enough to get herself caught and accused of something she didn’t do for the second time this month. “She hasn’t been around long enough to actually get her hands dirty.”
“But she knows what she’s talking about.”
“You seem to think she’s, like, model student by day, superhero by night. But she’s not. Trust me.”
A girl and two guys burst through the door, setting the candles flickering. All three were out of breath, but one of the guys gulped and spoke.
“QM. After you left … came and tore down the CAUTION tape. Scared everyone away.”
“Was the news crew still there?”
“Yeah. They filmed the whole thing.”
Henry Nelson crept up to the vacant storefront. This was the perfect clandestine meeting spot—on a side street, in a cluster of boarded-up buildings, half a block from the nearest street lamp. It was more than an hour past curfew, so no one was about. No one who was obeying the law, anyway. He’d arrived after the time noted on the slip of paper he’d retrieved from the trash that morning, so as not to tip off whoever was gathering there. Now that the Zone had been shut down, he hoped he’d be able to trap the instigators and shut down this nonsense for good.
The glass in the front door was dirty; he couldn’t get a good look inside. It was risky to go in without his service weapon, but he was there undercover. Unofficially, of course.
He grimaced as he pushed open the door and stepped into the darkness. Wes would have relished this kind of investigation. As his eyes adjusted, he could see a faint glimmer of light, somewhere deep in the recesses of the building. He pulled out his flashlight and, covering most of the beam with his hand, pointed it at the floor as he worked his way past office furniture and storage shelves that loomed eerily in the shadows.
The hum of voices rose as he approached the rear of the building. He moved forward a little too eagerly and brushed up against a desk. Something—a stapler, maybe—crashed to the floor, sounding ten times louder than it would have in the daytime. The voices hushed, and he heard a flurry of movement. Nelson cursed himself as he hurried to the door at the back of the main room. A rush of cold air hit him as he opened it.
Crates and plastic chairs were arranged in a cluster, and the sulfury smell of recently snuffed candles hung in the air. An apple core that had been picked nearly clean lay discarded on one of the crates. The draft was coming from the rear door, which stood ajar.
He crossed the space and poked his head out into the alley. No one was there. As he turned to go back inside, he saw the symbol CXD spray-painted on the cinderblock wall.
Careen’s legs wobbled, barely supporting her, and the thin hospital gown afforded little dignity. The links of the short chains dangled from Careen’s wrists until her captor cinched them together behind her back and steered her through the darkness. She stumbled, and the woman yanked her arms backward so viciously that she cried out in pain, afraid she wouldn’t stop until her arms popped like a doll’s from their sockets.
Four overhead spotlights powered up, one by one, until Careen was bathed in a circle of light. The rest of the room receded, and she couldn’t see into the darkness. The concrete floor chilled her bare feet.
Tommy is still alive. I have to protect him and the Resistance. She waited for the question that never came. Her knees began to shake, and it wasn’t long before the trembling spread through her body.
The first time she wavered on her feet it earned her a slap and a barked order: “Hold still!”
She waited for the questioning to start again, but there was nothing but the blinding light. Her legs began to ache and cramp, and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, seeking relief. That helped for a while, but then she leaned too far, lost her balance, and stumbled a step or two as she tried not to fall.
“Hold still!” Her interrogator was right behind her, shouting in her ear, yanking her upright. Careen winced and let out an involuntary shriek as the woman pulled a black hood over her head. Soon the air inside was stale and suffocating.
“Where is Resistance headquarters?”
The shouted questions became a senseless babble as she repeated over and over, “I don’t know.”
Friday, December 1, 2034
Jaycee, lugging a plastic tub crammed with food and a carafe of coffee, followed Mitch into the boardinghouse. Eduardo and David were asleep in front of the television. She roused them and went upstairs to knock on the others’ doors before she set up breakfast in the kitchen. Tommy was the last one to join the group. She tried to catch his eye, but he leaned against the wall and focused on the floor.
Mitch addressed the group. “Look, it’s critical that you stay inside until I give you the all-clear. I guess I fed that squad of marshals too well yesterday, because they came back again. Said they’d be here tomorrow, too. We can’t take a chance that they’ll show up when we’re in the middle of a meal or a meeting. Can’t have them catching sight of any of you, so you’re on lockdown until further notice.”