"They've caught him."
"I can't believe it- he's caught."
"The one whose been wrecking all this havoc, raiding our vessels, stealing shipments of food and medicine- they've captured him."
"He's real dangerous; he's been evading us since the day this war started. It's as if he's a ghost, there one moment, completely gone the next. But this time, our men out-tricked the trickster. This time, we've got him."
The murmured words, hissed through excited teeth, crowded Thomas' ears as he made his way down the corridor. The sleek, white walls rose up on either side of him, just as spotless as the rest of the base. Surrounded by ocean, monitored constantly by guards such as himself, loaded with heavy machinery that could take down threats in less than thirty seconds- to say the least, the base was a force to be reckoned with.
So was Thomas. Since joining The Executive, he'd advanced quickly through the ranks. His commanding officer claimed he'd soon surpass her, his classmates were Points below him in their studies, and even the Washmen respected him, letting him skimp on his rotation, provided he snuck them treats from the countless war meetings he endured.
It wasn't as if he'd chosen this, though. None of them at the base had. When the war started and The Executive gained the upper hand, when his village burned to the ground, Thomas had made the right choice.
The Executive weren't unfair; they offered every soul in his village a chance to join them. To survive the brewing contention, to support their family from afar. And, with guns pointed at him, with his house reduced to kindling, with his weeping sisters and mother gripping his arms, Thomas chose The Executive.
The white walls faded to a dull gray as Thomas reached the holding cells, his boots thudding against metal flooring. On the ceiling, a security camera blinked green. For a moment, the green light faded to red before flickering back again.
He stifled a sigh. Although heavily armored, the base's technical difficulties grew daily. As a heavy tropical storm neared, it seemed they had prepared in every way save technological.
Stopping at the last door in the hall, Thomas waved his wristband under the sensor. It beeped, electricity rushing up his arm. Wincing, he unlocked the wristband with his fingerprint.
His commanding officer's face flickered to life. Thomas dipped his head. "Captain."
"Seargent Thomas," she acknowledged. "You requested access to Prisoner 798."
"I've been ordered to interrogate the Raider, Captain. The one who's been targeting our vessels."
Her mouth twisted downward. "Do you assume I do not know of your assignment, Seargent?"
Thomas flushed. "No, Captain."
"I paged you to warn you. This Raider has caused irreversible damage to The Executive, and he has not done it alone. This interrogation is crucial to finding his accomplices. Do you understand?"
"You have shown great skill. Do not let me down."
Thomas' stomach twisted, and he muttered, "Yes, Captain."
With a final glare, she disconnected, leaving him staring at his dark wristband. He needed to succeed, for his mother and sisters more than himself. Although The Executive denied him contact with his family- relations made a Sergeant weak- he received confirmation each month that his salary had been sent to them. Because of him, they survived, while so many others fell victim to a merciless war. He wouldn't let them down.
Inhaling, Thomas slid his wristband under the scanner. This time, the door popped open with a click. He stepped through, the door sealing shut. It would take his wristband to open again.
For a moment, he stared at the door, steeling himself. Already, he knew the simple interrogation room held two immovable metal chairs and a desk, but the prisoner remained mysterious. They were alone; no one would listen in on this interrogation, but it would all be recorded on his wristband.
Readying himself, Thomas turned.
The resolve he'd managed to construct shattered as he took in the man at the table, wrists and ankles cuffed. The air left Thomas' lungs, the floor wavering beneath his boots as he gaped. The expressionless mask The Executive had conditioned him to wear cracked, revealing his genuine, horrified emotions.
Carter leaned forward in his chair, his blond hair bloody from an injury on the side of his head. Overcoming his surprise far faster than Thomas, his eyes narrowed.
"You," he spat.
"Me? Carter, what are you talking about? You're the one who's chained up. You're the Raider! You've been stealing our supplies!"
"Just the food and medicine," Carter snarled. "Never the weapons. But I suppose you already knew that; look at you, you're clothed like one of them."
"I am one of them," Thomas managed. "The Executive wants to help. They want this war to end, just as much as everyone else."
"Is that what they tell you, then? Are you honestly twisted enough to believe that?"
Thomas' knees shook, and he slumped into the chair across from Carter. As he leaned on the table, Carter's blue eyes flickered to his wristband. A steady line indicated their conversation was being recorded.
Thomas watched the line race, then forcibly looked at Carter. For a moment, the boy he'd known replaced the man. He could almost see his friend across from him, streaked in mud, a fort constructed from Old-Age scraps behind him.
Despite himself, Thomas' fingers rose, tapping once on the wristband. The recording stopped.
Carter glared. "Why did you do that?"
"We've been having technical difficulties," Thomas said flatly. "No one will suspect."
"You shouldn't have stopped it. I want you to have a record, to remember every detail of how you condemned me to die."
"Die?" Thomas' voice cracked. He should've known Carter was too much of a threat to be left alive. But death...
"Yes, die." Carter peered at him intently. "How can you be so highly ranked yet so clueless?"
"I'm not clueless," Thomas interjected fiercely. "If anything, you are. The Executive gave you the same opportunity they gave me. You could be working beside me, supporting your brother as I support my family."
Carter flinched, seething, "Connor's dead. He got sick, and nobody had the medicine to treat him. By the time I returned from stealing it, it was too late. He was gone." He slammed a fist on the table. "Do you think I want to Raid? I didn't start because of my anger toward The Executive, but the more I stole, the more I saw what you had that we didn't, Raiding turned into rebellion."
Carter drew as close as his chains would let him, but Thomas didn't move away, listening intently to what he said. Hearing his playmate in this stranger. Viewing a side of the war The Executive never spoke of.
"Your family isn't being paid, Thomas. I don't know what you've been told, but it isn't the truth. They're starving alongside the rest of us." Carter's voice cracked, his anger subsiding long enough for him to say, "Thomas, I've known you since I was three and you were five. I know that whatever this is, whatever path you're on, you're only traveling it because you think it's right. But it's not. There are two sides to every story, and while you might be on the winning one, you aren't on the right one. Please, Thomas. Think about what you're doing."
Thomas' mind raced at Carter's words, at his tone, at the tumbling memories of the time they'd spent together. His family wasn't being paid... Everything he'd thought he'd known- a trick, a lie.
Stiffly, Thomas stood, unlocking the door with a flick of his wrist. His arm shifted, and Carter flinched, seemingly expecting him to draw his gun. Surprising himself and Carter, however, Thomas tossed his wristband on the table instead.
"This will get you out of your cell. After that, your escape is up to you. I guard the West Beach at dusk. I will not see you should you steal an escape vessel."
Carter gaped at him, murmuring, "Thank you."
"Two sides," Thomas replied hollowly. "Don't trust me to choose your side again."
Carter's stare bore into him as he ducked into the corridor, closing the door. Glancing up, Thomas watched the security camera's green light shift to red.
He was glad when it didn't change back.