I guess I blacked out. Everything from the last day is an incomprehensible blur. I consider the possibility that I’ve died and gone on to the next life, but the slightest movement of my shoulder sends a fresh streak of pain through my body and that hopeful notion is instantly dismissed.
What did I tell them? How long did they question me? Only bits and pieces of the interrogation come back, but it’s a senseless jumble of sounds and sensations. The only clear memory is the pain.
I’m laid out flat on my back on the cold metal slab, a cadaver awaiting cremation. I lift my head gently from the table to get a look at myself. It’s not pretty. The spots on my skin where the electrical contacts were taped are covered in puffy wet blisters. The skin in some places has actually been burned so badly it’s flaking away. I look at my wounds with curious detachment, not quite grasping that it’s my own body I’m seeing. I realize that I’ll always bear the scars of this horrific ordeal.
That is, if they don’t kill me first.
As the mental fog clears, I begin to recall some their questions. They wanted to know who was in charge and how the Witnesses were communicating and convening. It’s almost amusing how this untrained band of Christians has managed to evade the authorities for so long. If I remember correctly, I had asked the interrogators some questions of my own. The answers hadn’t been forthcoming, but I learned as much from their silence as I would’ve had they come out and told me everything.
It seems that Walter and the rest of them were telling the truth: the Witnesses are harmless. This is in contrast to so many other churchgoers, many of whom took up arms to protest their suspended freedoms when things first started going downhill last year. Walter doesn’t even own a gun, for goodness’ sake.
All of this is preemptive.
I can’t help thinking about my own precinct. How much does Pryce know? I suppose it’s possible that he’s too low on the ladder to have the whole picture, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I may never know the truth. Like Eva said, the waters are intentionally muddied. At some point it’ll be impossible to separate fact from fiction, to know who’s really pulling strings. Does it really trace all the way back up to the U.N., like Meade had claimed, or was that just another strand in his web of deceit?
I close my eyes and delicately cover them with a hand. The muscles in my shoulder quiver and scream with the effort, but it’ll be the only way I can sleep in here. The halogen bulbs embedded in the ceiling are on and brighter than before. The game now is sleep deprivation, just one more tactic to get me to crack. That my government is capable of such things against one of it’s sworn officers should enrage me, but I’m far too tired to summon the indignation.
With time my mind finally succumbs to the fatigue and my body relaxes. The pain is almost tolerable as my consciousness slips away. But all that is shattered as music is suddenly pumped into the room. It’s heavy metal, screeching electric guitars and pounding drums, all designed to push me closer to the brink. My eardrums buzz with the assault and my headache returns in full force. I jam my fingers into my ears and try to will the sounds away, but it’s futile.
It’s the last straw. I feel my chest heave involuntarily as hot tears sting my eyes. The weight of defeat is unbearable. I’m not nearly as strong as I thought. All that experience on the force, all that psychological training, and they’ve broken me in less than a day. How could I be so weak?
And all the while, the domed eye watches me from the corner of the ceiling, recording it all. They’ve won. I give up.
“I don’t know anything!” I scream. The exertion sends waves of pain cascading through my body, but I ignore it as I continue screaming. I can almost feel my mind slipping away. The pain is submerged under a wave of hysterics.
I’m a victim of their game. I’m cracking.
I force myself to calm down and shut up. Why? How did I get here? Is God punishing me?
Maybe He really is out there and the Witnesses have it all right. Heck, maybe that’s why the feds haven’t been able to nab them yet. And if that’s true, and I’ve been trying to sell them out… I almost laugh at the thought, yet I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve been on the losing side of an uphill battle for a long time.
As suspicious as I always was of Chelsea and Walter, it’s impossible to ignore how peaceful things were when we were together. And the conversations I had with Walter, though few, stick in my mind. Even now, despite the screaming guitar chords hammering against my skull, his words come back to me.
“Imagine a cell phone plan that offered worldwide on-site emergency services. No matter where you were or how dire your circumstances, your call would be taken and responded to. Now imagine it was free. That’s what prayer is.”
I think back to the few prayers I heard Walter say before meals, remembering how freely he spoke. I figure that’ll have to do, since I can’t remember any of the formal church prayers I learned as a kid. I shut my eyes and clench my hands together and hope that God, if He’s up there, won’t mind me saying this one half naked while laid out flat on my back.
It’s awkward at first, like cold-calling a friend you haven’t seen in years because you need a favor, but it’s my last hope and I force myself to persevere. I begin with the apologies.
I’m sorry for giving Amy a hard time when I found out she was studying with the Witnesses. I’m sorry for being so cold to Chelsea and Walter when they were only trying to help. I’m sorry trying to pry the Witnesses’ for their secrets…
The list is long, but I do my best to get it all out.
After a while, the words become more natural. It almost feels like I could be talking to someone sitting in this room, someone right beside me. I unload everything that’s been weighing me down for the past few months. My anxiety with the new recruits at the office, my concerns with the decline of society and the government’s constant encroachment of civil liberties. It’s not the country I thought I was defending when I signed up for the force all those years ago, and I’m not sure it’s where I want to be now. It certainly hasn’t protected me, has it?
When I start talking about Amy, the tears return. The idea of her being held in a cell like this, going through any kind of interrogation, is unbearable. I pray that whatever happens, God keeps her far from this place. I thank Him for getting her through her coma. I pause as I come to the end of my prayer, wondering if I even deserve to ask to be saved. I decide it’s too unlikely to even bother mentioning, and plead again for Him to keep Amy safe. And Chelsea and Walter too. They’re good people, and if I never get out of here alive, I know they’ll adopt Amy as their daughter. I suppose, in a way, they already have. I decide to thank God for this, too.
I finish the prayer and open my eyes slowly. The lights are still glaring down from above and the music is as loud as ever, but somehow the room looks less threatening. I feel calmer, at peace. I shield my eyes with the crook of my arm and manage to drift off.
It’s almost midnight when we pull up to the Atlanta FBI Field Office. I expect we’ll have to turn around when we spot a guard booth at the entrance, but it’s empty and the gate is open. We drive in slowly, scanning the premises. There are a handful of buildings on either side of the road. They’re five or six stories tall with wrap-around mirrored glass windows on the upper floors and chunky concrete pillars at their bases. None of them looks like a prison. Were it not for the official FBI seal we passed out front, I would’ve just as soon guessed that this was a business park.
We coast southwards down the narrow road, flanked on either side by neat rows of towering, bare trees. The road dead-ends in a parking lot. Despite the late hour, there are a few dozen cars scattered about. Walter finds a space away from the nearest building. I turn back to glance at Chelsea, sound asleep and snoring.
“You wait here, I’ll see if there’s a front desk or something,” Walter says without looking at me. “Keep the doors locked.”
I nod and activate the electronic locks as he closes his door, stuffs his hands into his jacket, and strolls quickly towards the rotating glass door. The reflective glass hides him from view as soon as he enters. I wish Chelsea were awake. She’d know what to say to calm me. The thought that Luke might be nearby has me buzzing with nervous energy.
I glance around, noticing at once the security cameras perched like vultures on the overhead light posts. I watch as one of the lenses rotates eerily my way.
There’s a sudden bang from the rear of the vehicle. I jump with a gasp and whip around in my seat. A bright light is flashed directly in my eyes, followed by the bark of a man’s voice.
“Ma’am, I’m gonna need you to get out of your car slowly with your hands up,” orders the voice. I raise my hands immediately and watch as the beam of light travels across the cabin. The man comes around to my passenger side window and taps the glass twice with the edge of his flashlight. The light makes it hard to see, but the firearm in his hand is clear and cold.
“I need to unlock the door,” I say loudly.
“Use one hand and do it slowly,” he says with a warning tone. He eyes the cast on my leg as the door eases open and motions for me to stay in my seat.
“What’s her deal?” he asks, gesturing towards Chelsea sprawled out on the backseat.
“She’s on heavy medication. We just left the hospital. We were in a bad car accident a few weeks ago.”
“Uh huh,” the officer says as he shines the beam in my eyes. “You drove here?”
“No, sir. Another friend of ours drove the three of us.”
“Where is your friend now?”
“He went into that building over there,” I say.
“Why? What are y’all doing here?”
It takes me a moment to think of the right response. “Checking up on a friend.”
I expect a barrage of questions but the officer just glares in silence. A moment later he calls for backup into a microphone hidden somewhere on his wrist.
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize we were breaking any rules coming here. The guard shack out front was empty, so we just drove in.” The officer gives me a strange look and then turns away to say something else into his mike, but it’s too muffled for me to hear.
A second officer arrives in an unmarked car. He slings an automatic rifle over his shoulder and extends a long pole with a small angled mirror attached at the end. He makes sweeping motions under Walter’s car, apparently looking for hidden weapons or explosives.
The first officer looks me over suspiciously while the other conducts a thorough search.
“Your friend, the driver. What’s his name?”
“Walter Novak,” I say without hesitation. And just as I do, I see him walking back towards the car, alone, and my heart sinks.
“Can I help you, officers?” Walter asks as he approaches the vehicle with his hands raised. The two officers whip their weapons in his direction and order him to freeze. They ask a few questions and even frisk him, but when their search turns up nothing, they seem to relax a little.
The officers finally agree to let us go, but as Walter enters the driver’s side and pulls out his keys, the unthinkable happens. A loud crack of gunshot splits the air. The officers begin shouting as they duck for cover behind their cars.
We spot the van as it barrels towards the parking lot. The top half of a body is sticking out form the top of the roof, holding something up to his face. The object lights up with an orange spark as he fires a second round. I hear the bullet embed itself into the metal of one of the unmarked police cars.
Walter doesn’t wait for the third shot. He jams his keys in the ignition and floors it, racing to the far end of the parking lot away from the gunfire. Several more shots ring out behind us as we speed away. The sounds are much closer, the federal agents returning fire.
The men in the van holler and shriek with laughter as they race down the road, seemingly oblivious to the bullets whizzing their way. A cloud of yellow fire erupts from the ground as an explosion goes off. Streaks of blue flame creep along the pavement as the fireball dissipates high in the air.
“How are we going to get out of here?” I ask, terrified, as I watch the mayhem unfolding in our rearview mirrors. There’s only one road in and out of this lot, and it’s currently blocked by armed madmen. Walter still has us pointed in the opposite direction, but we’re quickly running out of room to run. A handful of heavily armed officers spill from one of the building’s side doors as we speed past. They take up positions behind trees and parked cars and join the fray.
Walter rounds the end of the parking lot, getting us as far from the rattle of automatic weapons as possible. A spotlight from somewhere high up floods the parking lot with a focused beam of light and centers itself on the attackers. I can see them clearly now. There are four men in total. Bandanas are tied around their heads and they’re covered in some kind of armor. Their van appears to be reinforced with heavy metal plating, and each of them is firing a weapon. On the side of their vehicle is a large, red spray painted ‘Z’.
“Who are these people?” I ask, terrified.
“I’ll explain later. Right now, I need you to hold on to something and make sure your seat belt is on.”
I turn around quickly in my seat and buckle in as he activates the 4x4 drive on his steering column. I brace myself by pressing against the headboard as Walter rambles up the sidewalk and onto a small paved footpath. Spindly shrubs scrape noisily against the sides of his truck. He grits his teeth as we charge up the hill. We plow across a small lawn bordered by low bushes and bound ahead.
We dodge trees and benches and eventually make our way back onto the main road. We’ve cut around the flying bullets, but it’s still only a few dozen yards behind us. If the attackers have backup, we’ll be right in their path.
Walter floors the gas as the screams of injured men fade in the distance. We fly past the abandoned guard shack and slip back onto northbound 1-85.