Bryan turned his gaze toward old Mother Nature's night light. There had been a time when he believed that the moon landing was faked, when he believed that men had never even been past the stratosphere, but the only people who still held that belief were either too young to remember or too dumb to accept or both. He knew the truth, he was one of the fortunate, or unfortunate, few who were tasked with collecting the Q Program participants, but even if he wasn't, the program and it's purpose was no secret and never had been. Originally, names had been announced beforehand, on the news, social media and by direct contact, to allow good-byes and to keep people from fearing what their loved ones would face up there. Congress thought that if there was complete transparency no one would suspect that there were nefarious forces at work. Once people began resisting the program, and fleeing its authority, the program had become a shadow operation. Men and women were taken from their homes in the dead of night and secreted away for delivery.
“Hey,” Cody said, whapping his shoulder, “you think she's gonna fight?”
Bryan turned from that large sphere, thinking more about what would happen to the woman when she got up there. “Does it matter?” There were four other Q agents with them, six on the southeast side of the house and two Suburbans ready for pursuit should it be necessary, which actually wasn't unheard of.
“I guess not. I hope so, we ain't had a good fight in a while.”
“You're fucking disgusting. Get away from me.”
“What the fuck's it matter? Once we put her on that rocket she's a waste anyway, why not put her to use once or twice?”
“Then why not let the guy's fuck you?”
“Dude, that's just gross.”
“No, what's gross is making this shit even worse on a person just for your own nut. Fuck you, Cody. Get the fuck away from me.”
“Whatever, man.” He moved back to his spot near the middle of the western wall of the house.
“Ready up,” squad leader Kramer spoke in his earpiece. “On my go, north team move in through the front and side doors, south team monitor the rear exit. If you detect any movement, clock it and report. Do not move until I give you the go. Copy? Over.”
One by one, each member of the south team copied. The north team copied next, Bryan himself last. “Singer, copy. Over.”
“No mistakes, Singer, we need a clean break on this one. Over.”
“Copy, sir. Out.”
“Counting down. Three.”
Bryan raised the battering ram to his waist.
He pulled it back.
“One. Go! Go! Go!”
Bryan dashed around the corner, his team in tow, stopped at the large front door, and slammed the head of the ram into the spot just below the knob. Wood splintered and spread across the floor as the door flew wide. He moved in and held the door against the wall to allow the other five members of his team to enter the house.
“This is Q-Squad!” Cody said, amplified by the speaker built into his helmet. “Stay where you are! Do not move or you will be immobilized!”
Immobilized was a nice way to say it. Incapacitated was a bit more accurate. Temporarily paralyzed was the most, though that did no justice either. Each agent had been put through ten shocks back to back, and Bryan had never felt anything more painful. He'd been shot three times, stabbed once and broken his femur jumping off a bridge in pursuit of a suspect when he was with the Murray Pointe Police Department. Of course he hadn't known how far he would fall, but that wouldn't have affected his decision because he hadn't even considered how tall that bridge might be before leaping over the side. None of it came close to those guns.
He followed the last man, which was actually a woman, into the home. Her name was Lena, andshe had come with him from P.D. They had been more than coworkers there, but once they'd joined Q-Squad they had fallen away from each other, more out of convenience than animosity. It had simply become too difficult to keep the relationship under everyone's radar, and intermingling was strictly forbidden.
Cody repeated his message, moving to the stairs and up to the second floor, where the couple's bedroom was located. He reached the door and found it locked. “Singer, move up.”
Bryan moved past Lena, George, Justin, Howard and Cody. He pulled back and sent the entire door flying into the room, broken almost in half. Someone screamed and now Bryan delivered the message that they were Q-Squad, to stay where they were or they would be immobilized. There were two people on the bed. Both were naked. The man jumped up and Cody fired his Electro. Bryan heard the crackle like it was in his ear, and realized that it basically was. The bolt spread across the man's chest and around to his back. It lasted about three seconds, then he stiffened and hit the floor with a thump that reminded Bryan of his first kill.
“Do not move!” He told the woman, dropping the ram and pulling his own Electro. He moved around to her side of the bed. “Cooperate and this will go a lot easier. Please.”
She was against the headboard with her knees against her chest. “You...You can't. I'm...I'm rich.” She was almost whispering. It was a common thing to hear when they dealt with anyone above a certain tax bracket, they assumed that because they paid a higher rate they were somehow exempt from the selection process.
“I'm sorry, ma'am, we don't choose, we just pick up and deliver.”
“Hey,” Cody said, "she don't need to know shit. Just put the damn cuffs on her.”
“Fuck you, I got this.”
“Both of you keep your mouths shut and get the woman out of there,” Kramer said. “I hear either of you arguing again you'll be in processing till you can't see straight. Got it? Over.”
They both indicated that they did.
“Lena, will you get her something to wear?”
Lena went to the wardrobe and brought something for her.
“Please,” the woman said. “Please.”
“Just put the clothes on. Don't give us any problems, it'll go a lot better for you that way.”
“I don't want to. It's not fair, I pay my taxes. I work. Why don't you people take criminals. They deserve it, not me. Please!”
“If you don't get dressed I'm gonna have to take you in like this, is that what you want?”
“Get her cuffed, Singer,” Cody said, “or I will.”
Bryan turned his amplifier off and knelt beside the bed. “Trust me when I say this, according to the Q Treaty, you no longer have rights as a human being. Your accounts are frozen, your citizenship has been revoked and there is an international warrant out for your arrest. What this means right now is that we can do anything we want, short of killing you. The agent standing over your husband has a penchant for rape. Please, just get dressed and cooperate.”
“You're just saying that to scare me.” She looked at Cody. Then at Bryan again. “You're just saying that to scare me, right? He can't...do anything to me.” She drew into herself. “It's...It's against the law.”
“I'm sorry, but I'm not trying to scare you. The law no longer applies as it once did. Not for you. Before we breached, that man told me he hoped you fought us, because it's been months since a woman resisted.”
She shuddered, and put her clothes on. As she came off the bed, she collapsed and Bryan caught her. She was light, maybe one-twenty at most, just a slip of a thing. Her eyes were light, and tears streamed from them. He told her he was sorry again, though he knew it meant nothing. Once your name was in the system it was only a matter of time before you made it onto a shuttle.
Bryan awoke from the dream sweating. He took the inducer off and set it on the bedside table. It shouldn't have been the memory that stuck, nor the one he forced himself to relive every night, because he had allowed far worse things to be done to other women during collection. He had seen something in those eyes that night, something that made him regret his job. It was the first time, and ever since, he had questioned his career path and every choice he had ever made because of it.
His phone rang. He pressed the button on the bedside table and got up. Lena's voice spoke through his inner-earpiece. “Your name came up, Bryan. You have twenty minutes. I'm sorry, I just found out.”
He went to the book-stand and pulled down on the top shelf. It lowered into the floor as his stash cabinet came down from the ceiling. He pulled the armored pants and shirt out and dressed. As he got the boots on, he equipped himself with an Electro, two Forty-Fives and slung his AK-47 onto his back. He pulled the duffel out and headed for the window.
“Bryan, what are you gonna do?”
“I'm gonna run, Lena, for as long as I can.”
“I'm so sorry. I hoped I'd never have to make this call.”
“We made that deal for a reason. I mean, isn't it part of why we joined the Agency? Just find someone else you can trust. Okay? I gotta go now, if I don't take this piece out they'll track me.”
“I love you, Bryan. I always have.”
“Let's not do this, Lena, it'll only be harder.”
He pulled the mini-magnet out of the bag and slid it into his ear, slowly maneuvering until it found the earpiece. He clicked the button at the end and a whining whir started deep in his head. It felt like it was inside his brain. He dropped to one knee, pulling gently. The piece came, but he might have been ripping out his ear drum. Blood began to trail his neck. He tossed the whole thing and stumbled out to the balcony.
There was a Ducati in a small shed at the edge of his property. If he could get there he would have a decent chance. He had agreements with multiple ship's captains for passage to a semi-secluded island off the coast of Australia, the only country which hadn't fully bought into the Q Treaty. Even if they knew a foreign citizen had crossed their borders, they would only turn them over in the event they were arrested on unrelated charges.
He leapt onto the carport awning and then down into the trees beyond. He was already in the shed when the alarm at the house went off. He started the bike and took off down the winding trail which led to a narrow two-lane almost two miles south of the property. He had only now to reach the coast. It was a five hour ride, but with so little traffic, he could cut it down to four. He looked up at the moon and thought about the woman he had carried from her home. No one actually knew what happened to the people sent up there, it was mostly speculation and assumptions, but they all had it pretty much the same, and it wasn't good. Not even a bit. If many were to be believed, it was much worse than that.
He reached the coast before daylight. Captain Romero was loading for a shipment to India. He agreed to make a detour, for a fee. Bryan paid it without argument and Romero showed him to a small room below deck. It was cramped and hot, but he wouldn't have cared if it had been a box next to the boilers. If he didn't get out of the country now he never would.
It was hours before they left the harbor. He spent them thinking about the woman he had dreamt of every night since sending her up to whatever fate awaited her on the moon. He had looked into those eyes and seen something he never thought he would. It wasn't fear, it wasn't dread, it wasn't
hopelessness. What he had seen in that woman's eyes was liberation. She had somehow believed he would save her. Even as he led her to the bus that would take her to the shuttle, she had gone on believing that he would stop it all.
Of course, it had never even crossed his mind, because that wasn't his job. Once your name was called, it was only a matter of time before you made it onto a shuttle. It didn't matter if you were the richest person in the world or the most powerful. In 2021, the year after the treaty was signed, two world leaders had even been called to make the sacrifice. They had gone without a fight. Most felt it was their duty, to protect the rest of the world, because they had all seen Quetzalcoatl's arrival, had seen his ship gleaming like a rainbow from one end to the other. It had come down in the middle of the Atlantic, causing tsunamis across the globe. Millions had died. It was apparent from that moment that there would be no fighting what came to be known, as he had been known in the past, as the Feathered Serpent. Any demands that he made would be met. Not a single person saw him, none had too. None wanted to.
There was a knock on the door, it echoed in the narrow space like the thump on a metal bucket. He got up, thinking again of the woman he had carried away to be sacrificed to a god no one had seen or heard of in two thousand years or more. He had kept the memory on his dream inducer so that he would never forget that face, those eyes, the look of pure adoration as she imagined being saved. If he had the power to save himself, he'd had the power to save her, the responsibility to.
He opened the door on six masked faces. He heard the same commands he had heard a thousand times before, the same ones he had given. He always told them that when your name was called it was only a matter of time. He had only been deluding himself to think he could beat the system. To believe that his sacrifice could be avoided.
He heard the crackle. The pain was secondary to his thoughts of the woman. It was only what he deserved. He would get the rest of what he had coming when he faced the Feathered Serpent, as she had. All those years ago.