23.2228 – Sector 11 Express – Lasting
David Warren tried to allow his mind to wander, but it was hard with the incessant chatter from Officer #10255. Every time there was a moment to think, the kid spoke up.
“Why are we going in circles?” The rookie asked.
“The captain assigned us to this stretch of the freeway.” David replied as he entered a turning ramp to head the opposite way. The Lasting freeway was a stretch of 10km. Each direction, towards the inner sectors and towards the edge of the city, was four lanes, separated by a large median. Every quarter kilometer was a turning lane for State vehicles.
“But what’s the point?” The kid was becoming jittery. “You think people will just say ‘Hey, I’m breaking the law.'”
“We are watching and listening for any crimes against the State.” David hoped that would appease him.
“How long you’ve been on traffic?”
“Too long.” David replied with a sharp bite.
“I hate doing traffic.”
“Isn’t this your first shift?”
“First shift out of the Precinct, but I’ve been an Officer for the last eight days.” He said with a lot of pride. “I would have preferred to do Block Busting so I could see some action.”
“Look, kid, you aren’t my first partner.” David was burning at the trigger happy rookie. “My last one got himself killed, and I don’t need another doing that. Just sit back and do surveillance.”
“Shit, sorry, I heard about Officer #…” He hesitated trying to recall Keith Wilhelm’s number.
“It doesn’t matter.” David sighed. “Look, what’s your name?”
“Officer #10—” His training kicked in.
“Your real name. I don’t trust a number.” David smirked to himself as he heard his first mentor’s voice.
“David Warren.” David replied. “See the console right here.” David pointed to a screen to the right of the steering wheel. “Code #2211 will activate a directional listening device.” The kid sat for a minute then punched in the code when he realized David was waiting for him. “Grab the microphone stick next to my seat and aim it at all the cars you can.”
“What else does this do?” Joe seemed focused on the control panel.
“Nothing important for you right now.” David answered with that same sharpness. He caught himself. Nearly every other officer was as cynical towards rookies. He tried to soften his demeanor for the rookie who was just eager to learn.
Joe pointed the microphone at a random car on the freeway, and the radio burst with speech.
“Why are there so many fucking cars on the road at this hour?” A man said.
“Don’t complain. At least the State gives you good health.” A female voice nagged back. Joe bounced from car to car, pausing a few seconds to listen to conversation.
“Won’t they see us and act straight?”
“Nope. Our cruiser looks enough like any other car that they wouldn’t even think anything of it.” David said focusing on the road. “The only difference is I get to use manual control, but they wouldn’t even notice.” David kept steering the car in and out of gaps in traffic. The traffic system creates gaps in traffic via the underground electric lines to allow a buffer should a vehicle break down and cause a major accident. “To those drivers, I am just like them—the car is making precise movements and passes based on data, but that’s because I’ve practiced a bit.” David smirked and got quiet when he realized he was bragging.
“Why even allow manual driving then?” Joe asked.
“We give people the choice to dissent. That’s how you know true rebellion” David explained his rationale. “If people cannot break The Rules, they are subservient zombies. The State has no need for that.”
“I want to skip my blocks today.” A male voice said on the radio after Joe moved to a new car.
“Don’t even joke about that.” A different male voice intruded.
“I’m serious. Who will stop me?”
After allowing Peter to miss his shift, David saw this as an opportunity to maintain status quo. He entered a different code into the console and tapped on the target car on the populated screen.
“What did that do?”
“It gives me control over every vehicle on auto. The one I tapped will stop somewhere safe.”
“How do you remember all those codes?”
“Practice.” Joe nodded and looked out the window. His fists clenched.
“Are we slowing down?” The second man said.
“Shit, I think I am being pulled over!” The first man became frantic and began to swear over and over again. David pulled the cruiser behind their car on the side of the freeway.
“Hey, kid.” David said. He always hated when people called him that as a rookie, but it came so natural. “You go on the passenger side of the car. Don’t say much, just observe. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” Joe said, and then, frowned.
“Got something to say?”
“If this goes bad, what do I do?”
“It won’t go bad. Just don’t forget your helmet.”
As David walked towards the driver’s door, he entered a code into his wrist communicator. As he approached, the car’s windows lowered.
“I’m sorry, Officer #9301” The man scoured David’s badge. “I really didn’t mean to—” David held up his hand.
“No lying. Identification and registration for this vehicle.” The man produced it without a word. “Please state your crime.” David flicked his eyes over the ID with minimal movement.
“I was talking about skipping work.”
“Truancy is not tolerated by the World Government of Earth.” David replied. “And bragging, Mr. Coleman, is heavily frowned upon. I, by the power of the World Government of Earth, sentence you to a hearing by the lower court on 35.2228. Do you understand?”
“Your crime is worthy of an arrest and review by the Tribunal of City-7434, you know?” David answered without a pause. His training instilled these words by instinct.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I will be there.” After handing the man identification and registration back, David entered a code on his communicator to raise the car windows. Joe was waiting for him between the two vehicles.
“Why you went easy on him?”
“He was just venting.” David didn’t stop and continued to their cruiser. “The Tribunal handles bigger situations than that shit. He’d probably have been verbally chastised and jailed for a day or two, then released. Now, the lower courts can dock his pay.”
“But, how?” They got back inside the cruiser and removed their helmets. While the helmets were great for protection, they made driving cumbersome.
“The surveillance records conversations, and there’s a dashboard camera that records everything. We are sending the data to the lower courts right now.” David punched a series of codes into the control panel.
“How will I ever learn all this shit? It’s too much.”
“Kid, you are eighteen. I’ve been doing this for twelve years. You learn it.” David saw his own youthful fears in Joe.
“It seems like there’s so much to learn.”
“It’ll come.” David pulled back onto the freeway and noticed a car moving a slight clip faster than the rest. “See that car in the outer lane? What is he doing wrong?”
“I see him.” Joe moved for the command panel, and David stopped him.
“You don’t need that. Look at it closely.” David glanced at the guidance system to confirm his suspicions.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“He’s driving in manual.”
“What?” Joe was again shocked. “How can you tell?”
“He’s out pacing all cars by more than that lane allows.”
“He is in the passing lane, though. The far left one.” Joe responded.
“Right, but the lane is limited to passing the three center cruising lanes of about one or two vehicles at a time. He is doing way more than that. Also, look at the monitor. He isn’t there.” David switched lanes and began to follow him.
“Think he’s a terrorist?” Joe was beyond elated.
“I don’t know.” David shrugged. “Listen in on him.” Joe grabbed the microphone and voices boomed through the radio.
“Honey, I’m sorry I…” The radio blurted out.
“You bet you’ll be sorry! Sam wanted you at her play since she started twenty days ago. No way will you make it in time if you are heading into Sector 1 now. That’s an eight hour job, Calvin, then who knows how much driving time. You really let us down, Calvin!” The woman’s voice sounded familiar to David.
“I know I said I’d be able to make it, but… shit!”
“Calvin, what’s wrong?”
“Honey, do you see my card?” The man’s voice was frantic.
“Yeah, it’s right here. Charlie was playing with it, so he must ha… Calvin?” His wife sounded worried.
“I have to go, Cindy. I love you.”
“How did he notice us?” Joe inquired.
“I guess he saw a car keeping pace. Few can do that.” David entered a code and his voice resonated through Calvin’s car. “Driver, enter automatic mode immediately.”
“He’s on the screen.” David exhaled in relief that the man was cooperating.
“Thank you, driver.” David typed in the code into the command panel to shut down the car like with the previous driver. Within seconds, the car slowed and veered to the shoulder of the freeway as traffic permitted. David’s vehicle slowed, as the navigation system locked him to the other car. He pulled behind the scofflaw.
“Okay, this will be a bit worse.” David said to Joe. “He said on there he doesn’t have an ID, so we will have to chastise him. Just hang back and watch, okay?”
“Will I get a chance to join in?” The kid asked, his excitement obvious.
“I doubt it. Put your helmet on and follow me.” They flanked the car like last time. As they approached, David lowered all the windows.
“Morning Officer…,” the man looked at the badge. “…Warren. I’m sorry I was speeding, but I have—” Joe startled Calvin when he walked up to the other window.
“You did more than speeding, boy,” said David. “I.D. and registration for this vehicle?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I just have my registration.” David took the card from Calvin’s trembling hand and motioned Joe to follow him to their car. When they arrived, he fed the card into his dashboard scanner.
“What are you doing now?” Joe asked.
“Checking his information. If he has anything outstanding we’ll know. Also, this is sending a request to a lower court to make a decision on his punishments.”
“I thought we made that choice.”
“We decide guilt, but they decide punishment for serious things like no identification.” David paused. “If he has any associations that are dangerous to State safety, we have to arrest him.”
The device scanned with a loud, whining squeal. With no rush, the dash printed information about the driver. The man’s name was Calvin Reed. He was 34-years-old. A bell rang showing one flag.
“We’ve stopped him before. That doubles his punishment.”
“What’s his punishment?”
“Physical Chastisement for 20 minutes. The timer is set. Just stay back and watch.”
David walked back to Calvin, snapped the door open, and dragged the man between the two vehicles. He ignored the pleas from the driver. David pulled out the standard issue nightstick and cracked it across Calvin’s ribcage. Two bones broke immediately. With a deep wheeze, Calvin righted himself and shuddered with shock as another crack of the nightstick landed on the back of his head. David saw pain wash through his body.
With great reluctance, David, hidden behind the tinted shatter-resistant visor, continued the beating for a few minutes. To David, every minute was as long as an eon. He clenched his face and swallowed a thick lump in his throat. The bloody body of Calvin Reed survived from injections from his AID system. The chip could withstand blows from objects much larger than a nightstick. With a glance, David saw the timer read twelve minutes remaining of the punishment.
“Please, don’t do this.” Calvin screamed in a frantic tone. “You’re killing me!” That hyperbole took David’s breath.
“If you are using the correct chip, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” David said with all the coolness he could muster. “Are you admitting to being off our firmware? That will extend your time.”
“Please, just a minute to catch my breath.” Calvin worked his way up to his knees.
David motioned with his head toward his car, “I’m sorry, but they will kill us both if I don’t finish your punishment.”
“But…I’ll…I’ll pay a fine, anything!”
“A bribe? I should add another 20 minutes for that one!” He gave him a kick to the chest, sending him on his back. “The State takes care of me. I take care of scofflaws.”
“But… please… I have a wife and kids! I swear I’m not one of those… those terrorists!”
“Who said anything about terrorists? You seem a bit paranoid.” David kicked Calvin in the ribs and then followed with a club to the stomach.
“I’m sorry…please…it hurts so much. I’m sorry, David… I’m sorry! I can’t do this anymore.” said the man as he began to fall into hysterics. David thought he heard this man say his name. He glanced at his badge, but it only showed his State number.
“I said …” David hesitated before striking him again.
“Please, Officer.” Calvin sighed with so much effort, his body heaved and shivered. He held his ribs. “I am just like you. I’m less! I’m a nobody. Beating me to death won’t help anything.”
“I have to punish you to the fullest extent of the law.” David was speaking by rote. “For this crime, you could be sent to City-7434 jail for 16 days, or I beat you unconscious in front of that camera over there.” David pointed to the car, hoping Calvin got his hidden meaning to play dead.
David knew he had to knock Calvin out or his co-workers would question his loyalty.
“Shut the fuck up!” David said to silence the man as he heard a vehicle slowing down.
“Officer #93—Warren!” Joe shouted to him. “I think someone is here.”
“How long did you stop for?” asked Calvin. He held on to consciousness by a thin tendril.
“Too long.” The man who answered was in a sergeant’s uniform. He lumbered over to David’s car, placing a small box of doughnuts and a thermos of what David assumed was spiked coffee on the hood. Unneeded thanks to the AID system, but Unies loved donuts and coffee. The man flipped up his visor. “This isn’t for you, rookie.” The man said as he passed Joe.
Relief washed over David at the sight of Sergeant Vincent Judd. Since David trusted him, his relief quickly turned to embarrassment over his being caught relaxing the Rules. David flipped up his visor as he walked to meet Judd.
Judd walked over, smiling, and pulled David aside. “What we have here, Maverick?” David winced in reaction to the nickname. “You know I fucking hate that name.”
“You look wrecked.” Judd said ignoring the comment. He motioned towards Joe. “Who’s the kid?”
“Fresh meat.” David replied with a smirk. “I’m fine. I just relaxed a little. Let me finish his chastisement time.”
“It’s fine, my boy, just fine.” David noticed the kindness of Judd’s tone. Despite being only three years older than David, Judd still treated him with the gentleness of a father.
“I guess I am a bit tired.”
“It’s no problem, Warren. Go have some coffee.” Judd motioned toward the thermos. “I spiked it.” He smirked. “But none for the rookie.” Judd raised his voice for Joe to hear.
“Thanks, Judd.” David said. “Been a long day, I guess.”
“Stress… I miss,” Judd seemed to choke back the words.
“I know, Judd.” David didn’t want to hear it. Judd and Keith Wilhelm were close. “I’m sorry for it.”
“Death for a Unie cause doesn’t cause sadness.” Judd responded like a robot with little sincerity. “Let me take over for a bit. I saw the report on this guy.” Judd motioned towards Calvin.
“All yours. You got about ten minutes left.” David walked to his car. He popped the box opened and grabbed a donut with brown icing. Joe watched him, his visor flipped up. He had the look of a starving dissenter.
“How’s it taste?”
“Not unlike the flavor syringes.”
“What are those?”
“You were in the Youth’s Safe Haven weren’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” Joe replied. David knew another orphan when he saw one.
“Once you hit 30 days, you’ll get a shipment. It will change your world.” He chuckled. “Here, try a piece, but don’t tell Judd.” Joe pawed a piece of the treat.
“Why do they make real food though? The chips make us not need food.”
“Well, if there’s ever a terrorist attack on our chips and they inhibit that part that satisfies hunger, we would be fucked. The State has a cadre of chefs teaching people cooking skills all the time.”
“Smart.” The two turned back to see Judd tossing what looked like a syringe. “What did he just toss?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just trust Judd.”
Judd withdrew a nightstick and eyed Calvin. He flipped down his visor and began tapping the nightstick to the palm of his hand.
Judd stalked the rising citizen who was wheezing for breath. He delivered a kick that utilized Judd’s full 104-kilogram body. Judd’s kicks were coming in fast, as if he had no idea what exhaustion meant.
David noticed that Calvin was in a lot more pain than normal.
“Judd, I think he’s hurt.” David shouted.
“Not yet he’s not.” Judd kicked again. “But soon, he will be.”
“What was in that syringe?” David remained leaning against the cruiser to convey a relaxed façade.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“He’s going to kill him.” David said out loud.
“I don’t think he can. The chip is too good.” Joe responded, showing his naiveté.
Calvin struggled through the multitude of pain as another crack of the nightstick smashed his spine.
After several minutes, David saw the penalty timer was flashing zero on his dashboard, but Judd continued his onslaught.
“All right, Judd, the timer’s done. Let him go.” David paced his speech to sound calm. Judd continued to strike Calvin.
“He isn’t stopping.” Joe said. “Maybe he didn’t hear you.” Joe flipped his visor down and walked towards Judd. “Sergeant, the timer has depleted.” Joe said as he touched Judd’s shoulder.
“Get the fuck away from me, rookie!” Judd smacked Joe so hard across the helmet it dropped him and then went back to attacking Calvin. That reaction concerned David. He walked up to Judd who immediately struck him with the nightstick. It smacked hard on David’s wrist communicator. “You don’t need to protect him! For all you know, he’s another insurgent waiting to capture us or worse! Whose side are you on, anyway, Maverick?” Judd’s voice sounded full of a sinister glee that made David wince. He once saw this man as a friend, but in this moment, he had no clue who he was.
Turning back, Judd began toying with Calvin. As Calvin stumbled to his feet like a toddler, another blow dashed against his skull. Fear clouded the man’s face as Sergeant Judd continued to beat him.
“Judd, if you fucking kill him, we’ll have to deal with IA. They will cause a lot of headaches. Back off of him.” Judd ignored him. David knew he had to do something. He regretted the thoughts flashing through his mind, but he had to stop this assault.
As Judd cranked back for a potentially killing blow, David caught the nightstick before Judd could unleash the attack. When he couldn’t budge the stick, Judd turned to see David holding the weapon back. David heard a loud grunt of rage and frustration.
David questioned himself. He glanced at his patrol vehicle and knew it was watching this whole altercation. He then glanced at a motionless Joe.
Calvin looked terrified on the ground as well as relieved that David stepped up to stop this crime.
“Warren, what are you doin’? He’s mine. They took out Keith that day in the market, and I’m taking out one of them. I have to show them they can’t kill us.” Judd’s head twitched. David could tell he was fidgeting in his helmet.
“How do you know he isn’t just some nobody?”
“If you stand in my way,” Judd’s voice was breaking up, which led David to believe he was on something like Adrenall—an illegal homebrew that pumped adrenaline and testosterone into users. Emotional breakdowns were common. “Then, you are going to die first, Maverick.” Judd drove a metal-gloved fist into David’s visor, shattering it. While the visor remained in one piece, glass shards scrapped his face.
Judd’s fist breaking David’s shatter-resistant visor confirmed his fear. “Are you fucking using?”
“Fuck you, Warren,” was all Judd replied and swung at him again, with reckless abandon.
David glanced to check on Calvin—who remained still but alert—and Joe who was stirring. This lapse in attention gave Judd enough time to deliver a blow to David’s lower abdomen. David knew Judd had forgotten all about Calvin; he had a new target.
“It’s time all the State-haters paid the price. One of my men for one of yours.” David noticed the crazed tone in Judd’s voice.
“Where’s this coming from, Judd?” David shouted at him in frustration. “We were friends.”
“No, you killed my only friend.” Judd’s retort burned like acid.
David could see Calvin crawling towards his own car. With the man out of the way and protecting himself, David could deal with Judd.
David tossed off his now useless helmet. Judd charged full speed. As he closed in, Judd cocked his right arm back to punch David. With sudden focus, David saw Judd slow down, and he ducked a hard right and moved behind Judd. When he missed, Judd stumbled and almost tumbled into traffic. While facing his back, David unclipped Judd’s helmet. When Judd turned, David grabbed the back of the helmet and pulled towards his chest, while pushing his legs into Judd’s midsection. David rolled onto his back sending Judd overhead towards the parked vehicles. Judd’s helmet ripped off in the judo flip.
After standing, Judd cracked his neck with his eyes closed and snapped back open. Whatever damage David had done just healed.
David, still confused by his own speed and strength, tried to slow down the adrenaline rush. He needed to be in control so he didn’t hurt Judd more than necessary. Judd pawed at his belt and yanked his pistol out with quick precision. David was now at the mercy of an expert with a weapon. David moved for his own pistol.
“Don’t you fucking do it!” Judd shouted.
“Judd, don’t do this.”
David stared into the eyes of Vincent Judd—the one man who had kept the other men at bay, the one man who had protected him. He looked down the barrel of Judd’s Class-D Infusion Pistol. The situation surprised David, though he didn’t expect Judd to fire. He knew a Unie would never shoot another, especially on camera.
Judd laughed as he shot twice into David’s chest. Judd taunted, “How do those shots feel, Maverick? I loaded these bullets with a nice inhibitor.” The smirk on Judd’s face looked sick.
The Unie bullets were enhanced to pierce armor like David’s vest like a knife through bare skin. David’s chest deflated, and the world faded to black.