Post by spanishspy on Feb 27, 2016 23:43:55 GMT
Preface: This story was posted on AH.com on June 7th, 2015, as a response to a challenge put forth by Zioneer.
AN ORIGINAL STORY BY SPANISHSPY
His daughter, now seventeen, was absolutely enthralled in the new iPhone 24. If Tom were a parent a generation earlier, he would lambast how long she spent on it; he grew up in a time when newspapers were in their dying throes, and his parents read them. Now, there were tablets at the morning table in the vast majority of American households and nobody cared much.
However, there was something Tom could object to. “Katrina,” he said to her in the most authoritative yet loving way, “do you think that you spend just a bit too much time on social media?”
“Oh, come on, Dad,” she remarked. “I’m just doing the status update the government wants!”
“I did mine in a few minutes before you got up, before breakfast!” Tom replied, trying to sound moderate. “I don’t include everything that I did in them!”
“Some NSA worker you are,” she replied, with attitude.
He sighed. “Come on, Katrina, do you think your mother wanted you to be glued to that screen all day? Just because I spend so much time around computers doing that sort of thing doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of mindless drone!”
The sunlight that illuminated their dining room, up until radiant and warm, went cold for just a second, bringing darkness. They both looked up out the window.
It was a government surveillance drone. A common sight around here, especially so close to DC. Walking out of your house in a town like Bethesda, or any of the towns around the District, there would always be about five drones in the sky at any one time. Rockville, Largo, Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, Frederick, all the same. Drones were part of the scenery.
“Just don’t waste your time on there too much.” He tried to look her in the eye, but she was buried in there.
“There is still room for face-to-face interaction in this digital age,” he said. “Lock the door when I leave.”
Without much more talk Tom left the building and got in his car. He hooked up his smartphone to the car’s console to see if there was any congestion on the way to Fort Meade. It was normal; he went the normal way.
He spoke to the vehicle; “play newsreels,” he commanded. He prided himself on being on top of world events.
The female voice from the car’s speakers began reading the day’s headlines.
“Protests have occurred in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar as
the current war in Pakistan enters its twenty-seventh year…”
“Elections in Greece have resulted in an overwhelming victory for Golden Dawn, gaining a parliamentary majority and removing the SYRIZA government from office…”
“The European Union Parliament has voted to severely restrict political parties deemed too ‘reactionary’ or ‘intolerant,’ removing their constitutional liberties within Europe..."
“State executioners in the Iraqi Caliphate have decapitated several ‘apostates’…”
“A scandal has erupted over the usage of unfair labor practices in a Chinese commercial drone factory in the city of Changsha…”
The world was not a nice place, he thought to himself. He felt lucky to be living in such a stable country.
He drove across the roads listening to his news. The sun was bright and the sky was a brilliant blue, obstructed by only the occasional wispy cloud and the omnipresent surveillance drones.
He came to an intersection, or at least could see the damn thing several yards in front of him. Traffic had ground to a halt; the road had become a parking lot. He could perceive police blocking the road with their APCs in the livery of the Maryland State Police. The police were carrying assault rifles and had military-grade helmets with goggles on them. Their faces were completely concealed.
“Damn it!” Tom swore to himself. “You people think that I have all the time in the world? Today’s pretty f***ing important for me.” He sighed with exasperation.
He saw blaring red and blue sirens on more APCs rushing to whatever crime scene that they had to be at. They were followed by Humvees, again in the colors of the Maryland police, and then a minesweeper vehicle. The sirens emitted a deafening roar.
After what felt like an eternity, but was only about three minutes (as inconveniences often tend to seem), the APCs that had cordoned off the perpendicular road at the crossing pulled to the side. The traffic lights turned green, and on both sides of the road the cars began moving once more in a frenzy that suggested that life was expecting them somewhere.
Tom was expected at Fort Meade, an army base. He wasn’t a member of the military; he felt that he wasn’t cut out to be a soldier. He was an analyst.
After some more uneventful driving he pulled into the parking lot for its civilian workers and got out. He walked to the entrance and was met by the armed security guards and the scanner. He placed his belongings in the conveyor belt for the items to be scanned and entered the cylindrical chamber, with curved surroundings of glass and metal, and put his hands up.
The shifting scanners swiveled around, and the reading was negative.
“You’re clear,” said the officer manning the station.
He looked into the mandatory eye scanner. “DREIGHTON, THOMAS” said the screen. He was valid.
He picked up his bags and made his way to his office. The hallways were bristling with more activity than usual. There was a reception today that all employees had to be at; this was made possible by the programs that did a lot of the boring, tedious job of surveillance for them. The facility could read the communications of the whole world without a single staffer.
“Ah, Tom,” said a voice in his office at the computer next to his. “The ceremony starts in ten minutes.”
“Well, Julio, I can say that I wish that we could all just sleep in for a while.
But the director himself wants us all there, so what can we do?” Tom shrugged.
Julio Quintana sat at the desktop, then stood up and looked his coworker and friend in the eye. “Don’t we all?” announced Julio to the entire room. There was a brief chuckle from all of them.
“So Julio, how goes the search for that Larroca guy?” asked Tom, trying to make conversation. He was struggling to keep awake, in all honesty. He was a late sleeper.
“We’ve got nothing. Probing all sorts of social media sites, emails, phone records, texts, all that. Only things we’re getting are stuff from angry college students and hippies.” He laughed wryly.
“So what do you think? Run off to Brazil or something?”
“Maybe in this country. Wilderness of Montana, couldn’t he?”
“Far less drone upkeep of that state,” remarked Tom. “Both the DHS and the NSA think it’s not worth having that many drones in such an uninhabited area. I’d think they’d be even more important to have drones out there because of whistleblowers like this.”
Idle chatter continued between the two of them. A deep male voice came from the intercom after the introductory beep, a high-pitched squeal.
“All staffers please report to the conference room A-2.”
They went to the room and assumed their seats, the chairs arranged in a rows for when the director wanted to speak with them. This one, Vastano, had a penchant for flair and ceremony.
He saw Vastano at the front of the room, talking with some other high-ranking NSA officials. Tom himself just zoned out, the whole world just going out focus as his eyes slowly closed.
He heard Vastano rambling about something or other; he didn’t care what he said. He was just tired.
He was thinking about … nothing. He just knew he couldn’t fall asleep; that would be bad for his career. But he had to pay attention, and he couldn’t.
Sounds that were something like words entered his head and grabbed his attention. It was Vastano’s speech and it seemed to actually interesting now.
“You see, my friends, it’s not Congress that runs the country. It’s not the President that runs the country. It’s we who run the country. You see, we have the power to prosecute whoever we must, and Congress will believe us. We have been entrusted with the epic task of keeping American society peaceful and stable. The enemy is cancer, and we are the various devices that the body has to destroy cancerous cells, to help the body to continue to thrive and to maintain homeostasis, or a regular, stable environment inside.”
Vastano’s voice was cold and authoritative, the very type of person a government would want running an enterprise like the National Security Agency. He exuded a sense of piercing intelligence and a desire to know what lurked in every man, woman, and child’s heart and soul. Tom knew in the back of his mind that this man felt a great pain. A pain that he could not know all.
“The outdated notions of privacy and isolation are hindrances to the combatting of terrorism. The September 11th attacks decades again are a stern reminder. And there are many more: Boston 2013, Philadelphia 2017, Houston 2025, Los Angeles and Sacramento 2028, Seattle and Portland 2031, New Orleans 2039, Detroit 2046. The times that we live in are those that demand a certain degree of cooperation between citizenry and government, a voluntary forfeiture of rights to those who benevolently watch over them. Who watches the watchers? They watch themselves. They do not need oversight. They need room to work.”
“You are the watchmen,” said Vastano to the assembled monitors. “You are to examine the minute details of every American citizen. You are the modern equivalents of minutemen, of the Grand Army of the Republic, of the GIs at Iwo Jima.” He paused, rapidly moving his eyes, locking his with those of everyone in the hall. For a fleeting second his eyes met Tom’s. It was as if he was stabbed with an icicle.
“You will examine the status updates of every citizen. You will know them. You will see into their souls. For the good of all.”
The Director went on discussing patriotism and security and terrorism and other things of that nature; whatever energy he had briefly inflicted in Tom and the others had receded. He nodded off back to sleep, hearing Vastano’s interminable speechifying as if it were a particularly angry, inconsiderate lullaby.
He woke up to the chatter of his coworkers. It had ended, and Vastano was being escorted away from the podium. He made his way through the pencil-plain modern building back to his office.
He sat down unceremoniously at his desktop. Julio was at the computer to his right.
He had to look over several profiles today, all of them from the Washington area. Other people he knew were assigned to people all throughout the country; Julio did West Virginia. They were frustratingly mundane; most about relationships or careers or broken dreams. His task was to find anything that could be deemed “supporting criminals or terrorists” who might threaten the United States and its people. Ostensibly.
There was the occasional update about mourning, sadness, death, depression. He tried to reserve some form of sympathy for the people whose lives he monitored daily, and in a sense saw them as almost friends, for many of them he viewed many times over the course of his career of several years with them. He knew names, faces, occupations. When one of them moved to another part of the country, he would feel a small sense of loss that someone he had watched for so long had gone. And yet he had never met the vast majority of these people in person.
“f*** THE NSA” proclaimed one update, a seventeen year old from Bethesda. Tom sighed. Another angsty adolescent who didn’t like the government. Well guess what? Tom rhetorically asked the youth. I don’t like the government in this case either. Spying on people like this will get us nowhere.
But it was that system, however despicable, that gave him a livelihood. The money that he used to pay for his daughter’s health and education was from this monstrous security state. After his wife died in a freak accident he had to work for them all the more. The security state had made itself the only way to survive.
So he did what he was told to do. He pressed the button labeled “subversive” near the teenager’s update. A police officer would likely be seeing him shortly.
“Julio,” asked Tom to his friend, now at his desk searching through records just as Tom was. “Is it moral for us to be snooping on people like this? To require them to do things to be snooped on?”
Julio looked at Tom, his eyebrows locked firm in a straight line. “Are you seriously asking that question now? When you’re doing it for a living?” he asked incredulously.
“I mean, it’s just that I’m starting to think this whole thing is just not needed.”
“I don’t know what’s needed for this country,” said Julio. “People like Vastano do. Do you honestly think that you, a lowly computer worker, have any idea how to run this country’s security apparatus? Do you have the information needed to make decisions like those that the President or Congress or people like Vastano make? I don’t think so.”
“Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic,” said Tom, “but I like to think that there is some right to privacy in this country.”
“We don’t have cameras in their homes, Tom,” snapped Julio.
“But we do have a tendency to go after teenagers going through an edgy phase while letting actual terrorists run rampant in Iraq and Pakistan,” said Tom. “What does that say about our priorities?” he asked, deep in thought.
“It says that we can’t have people like that growing up without consequences. Discipline and all that. Besides, the Agency provides so much for the people that it hires. When my parents died in that plane crash when I had just gotten out of college it was the NSA that helped me get out of that mess. It’s a force for good, Tom. Your wife, my parents, all of them. The Agency cares. Don’t forget that.”
The day went on. Not much happened otherwise. He drove home under the cover of drones as always, little white specks dotting the blue sky.
He came home. He saw Katrina again doing whatever she did with her smartphone; her fingers moved deftly and she chattered incessantly with whatever person was willing to engage with her. He loved his daughter, he really did, but there were times she would simply not shut up. He needed the quiet, especially on a day like today.
“Do you have anything better to be doing, Katrina?” he asked tiredly.
“I got all my work done, don’t worry about me,” she coddled him, wanting to be back immersed in whatever fantasy she was engaging in.
“Whatever you say, but do keep in mind that this is the real deal.”
Scholarships. They needed money for scholarships. At this point they needed whatever money they could get, college tuition going for upwards of three hundred thousand dollars a semester. And of course, the colleges. The colleges wouldn’t accept slackers to their ranks.
He sat himself down on the living room couch and opened his tablet, again looking at the news.
“Today, there has been another confrontation between anti-government far-right groups and the US Army in Billings, Montana, in which subversive speech was being fomented by a neo-Tea Party faction. At least thirty-two are dead in the battle that involved Air Force detachments attacking a rebel base on the outskirts of the city.”
“More riots are wracking cities like Richmond and Baltimore due to what has been called unnecessary police shootings…”
He flipped through the channels; he chose something local.
“Walter Johnson High School sophomore Quentin Newman has been arrested on charges of subversion. A few hours ago police interrupted his classes and arrested him, locking the school down in the process. Friends of his who attempted to free him from the police engaged in a violent altercation with them, resulting in a firefight that resulted in the deaths of two students.”
He shuddered. “No,” he said to himself quietly. It was that kid he reported as subversive.
“Newman’s parents have been calling for the child’s release, saying that an errant social media post against the government is not grounds for imprisonment. However, Montgomery County Police Chief Sarah Weymouth has said that such actions have been illegal for decades, and that protesting in that nature will not solve anything, implying that doing so may itself warrant imprisonment.”
“In a stunning turn of events, Director of the National Security Agency Justin Vastano spoke on the incident, saying that the incriminating post was found at the Fort Meade data center. At a press conference, Vastano said that Newman’s actions were ‘downright treasonous and harmful to civic order’ and thusly punishment would be completely justified.”
Tom let it sink in. He did this. He condemned a young man’s life to eternal government surveillance, and not just the benign, ubiquitous kind, but of the actively intrusive, threatening kind. He would be under the scrutiny of the entire government of the United States for decades to come. Employment, college, you name it, it would be harder for him.
All because of a stupid status update.
“Police violence at the school, and the deaths of Newman’s colleagues, have also been justified by the police department as being ‘necessary to defend the lives of officers,’ meaning that there will be no trial whatsoever. Objections from the community have been met on deaf ears, and the police department is likely to resume business as usual in the coming days.”
He felt personally responsible.
No, that was wrong.
He was personally responsible.
He felt the guilt crashing down to him, the fact that he had created a criminal where none had been.
He wanted to drown himself in meaningless pleasures, and, since the internet offered so much that it did, went on to do exactly that. He checked his Facebook, and saw his daily status update that he had written that morning. It was simple pleasantries for the government; “still working, still alive, still a loyal citizen,” it said along with some other empty language.
He saw all of his friends on Facebook, whatever that vapid word “friend” meant in the modern world. He had met so many of these people once and never spoken to them again, and yet the definition of ‘friend’ seemed to be pushed further and further into the circle of acquaintances.
It was as if all society was trying to destroy intimacy.
That is why he clung to the family he had; his ailing parents in Rockville and his daughter Katrina. Her mother had died in a car accident when she was only four years old.
He clung to whatever meaningful relationships he had in a time when they seemed to be becoming so preciously rare.
He responded to the queries and curiosities of his relatives. It was almost cathartic.
He checked once more the news, this time on Facebook. More anger, more war, more death, more hate, more economic stagnation, more inequality, the whole of it. That was the news today. Negativity. Anger.
He continued looking through his newsfeed, of popular posts on Facebook and from things around the internet, around the world. He saw advertisements for new smartphones, new cars, new movies, all sorts of strange and wonderful things.
Strange and wonderful things, incidentally, were on the list of qualities that
the National Security Agency was very suspicious of. Strangeness and wonderfulness were dangerous qualities to have, perhaps almost terroristic qualities.
After all, he had been told, the September 11th attacks were strange in their mode of execution and wonderful in the sense that they instilled wonder as to why people like that would kill three thousand people, just about, for ideological reasons.
He had a few radical anti-establishment acquaintances; he had made sure not to go into too much detail regarding his occupation. He saw a few of them saying anti-government things, about ‘corporate oligarchy’ and ‘wage slavery’ and other things that made some sort of sense but were, in his view, too cut off from the real world to be of any practical significance.
He, idly, saw one of them online. For no reason whatsoever, he opened up his instant messaging app to see if this friend of his was available. He was.
Chris Brixton. A friend of his from his time at the University of Maryland. They were roommates their junior year; they lived in a cheap apartment in College Park together. There were a few angry shouting matches based on politics until they swore off talking to each other about that subject on the basis that it just got too damned ugly.
“Hey Chris,” typed in Tom. “Haven’t talked to you for a while. How’ve you been?”
The icon changed to ‘typing.’ So Chris was there after all.
“Good. However I’m not sure I’ll be able to talk to you very much for a while after this.” He stopped typing almost abruptly.
“What for?” asked Tom.
“I’m moving out.”
“I’m sick of the government being able to snoop on my communications. f*** you, NSA,” he said nonchalantly.
It almost hurt Tom. Almost.
“So where are you moving? You know and I know the government is watching the communications lanes all over the world!”
Nothing was safe, he knew. The US government had a history of doing this, with the cracking of the enigma code not being revealed until the 1970s so that they could spy on other countries.
Nosy bastards, he thought. He wouldn’t have been surprised of Chris had thought the same.
“Moving to Tennessee,” said Chris.
“Tennessee? I thought you were never going to touch the South with a ten foot pole!”
“Never said I was going to talk to people down there,” replied Chris almost laconically. “Moving to a commune.”
“A commune? You always were a bit of an idealist, Chris, but so far as a commune?”
“Yes. I don’t want to live in this godawful society anymore. I just want to live in something resembling equality. Not the fake equality promoted by the corporations but by actual equality. And actual sharing, too. Why not?”
“Because you’re so connected to the world, Chris. Isolating yourself won’t
get you anywhere.”
“It’ll get me out of this wreck of a country, at least in spirit.”
“Whatever you say, Chris,” remarked Tom. “But think about this hard.”
“I have. Don’t worry, Tom, I f***ing have.”
That was just crazy, thought Tom. Off to the wilderness? With no security,
no modern amenities, nothing?
He then lost himself in the internet even more, and did so for several hours that seemed to just vanish as he engaged in a form of catharsis, an embrace of the temporal for the sake of his own sanity.
He eventually had one more small dinner, something heated up that he had bought at the local grocery store from the refrigerator. He went to bed. He woke up and read more news.
“Clashes in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sevastopol forebode Second Russian Civil War, says Polish Defense Minister Wilczek”
“Australian state of Queensland passes anti-protesting law”
“Massive fire sweeps favelas outside of Sao Paulo”
“Civil War wracks Nigeria after military coup; Abuja divided between rebels, military”
Just as he expected. More negativity. More death. More violence.
He talked with Katrina again, still on her phone as she always was.
“Did you make your update?” She asked.
“I did,” she said. “But I still don’t see why we need to do it.”
Tom wished he had an answer for that question. He began to doubt.
He had also neglected to write his own update. He savored that small rebellion.
He went to work and prepared for the worse. He did not want to hold responsibility for the destruction of an innocent (if somewhat rebellious) life, but he knew he was. This was, if nothing else, atonement.
He entered. “Welcome, Thomas Dreighton,” the welcoming prerecorded voice said to him with a false veneer of happiness, one that tried ever so desperately to persuade him that he was not violating civil liberties as part of his regular employment.
He sat down at his desk, Julio next to him.
“I’m thinking about moving,” said Tom nonchalantly.
“Where to?” asked Julio, still fixated on his work.
“Maybe Tennessee. A friend of mine is down there looking for a job.” A job in a commune, perhaps. It was technically true if nothing else.
“Oak Ridge, I’m guessing?” asked Julio. “Don’t see why the NSA would send you down there otherwise.”
“If I do move, I’ll be resigning my job here. I’m not going to Oak Ridge,” he said.
Julio looked at him dumbfounded. “Why would you leave the Agency?”
“I don’t know, honestly. I just am not completely comfortable spying on people for a living, I guess.”
“We’re not spying. We’re keeping people in line,” said Julio. “Would you rather anarchy?”
“I think that the country went along just fine without us spying on everything.”
“What, you think like Snowden?”
“Occasionally my enemy can be right.”
“Talking like that does not mean that he is your enemy.”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“In that case you aren’t a patriotic American. You are a traitor.”
“I never said that I wasn’t a patriot.”
“But then you ought to continue working for the Agency,” quipped Julio. “It is providing for your child after your wife’s death. Why would you abandon that?”
“Maybe I’ll wait until after Katrina’s graduation. But it’s something I’m definitely thinking about.”
“Whatever you say.”
Tom continued reading profiles, hoping that nobody noticed that he had failed to update his own. He tagged a few as subversive, but only the obvious ones. He almost pitied them; they seemed too dumb for their own good. If you knew the government was reading it, why would you post it so publicly?
One stuck out of him. It read:
“Dear NSA worker who is reading this,
I don’t know who you are, but I do know it is your job to do this. I ask of you, stop. What you are doing is an affront to civil liberties. Civil liberties, whatever it is worth to you people in Fort Meade or wherever the hell you are, are under attack and have been for decades. You can stop this. Just take it up with whatever superior you have and possibly get the ball rolling.
Do it for our future.”
He hesitated. He was being paid to mark it as subversive, and by some definition of the term it was indeed subversive. But was subversion, in this case, moral? He asked himself.
He gripped the mouse and hovered the cursor over the button that said ‘subversive.’ The button saying ‘not subversive’ was tempting him, beckoning him to click it, to savor whatever small rebellion he could make by disobeying his regulations.
He succumbed to the temptation. He clicked ‘not subversive.’
He continued his job and left for lunch break at a restaurant not far from the base.
In the skies were the ever ubiquitous drones.
He returned, and at his cubicle was waiting a woman with short-cropped hair and a dark blazer; indeed her whole wardrobe was black punctuated with a silvery blue.
“Mr. Dreighton, I presume?” asked the woman.
“Yes, that is me,” Tom said.
“Director Moultrie would like to have a few words with you.”
Moultrie was his immediate superior. She was a very abrasive woman who wanted unquestioning obedience to Agency policy.
Considering how she could fire him it seemed like a very good idea to do so.
“Good morning, Ms. Moultrie,” said Tom somewhat nervously.
“Good morning, Mr. Dreighton. It has come to my attention that you have been discussing moving to a commune of anarchists and subversives in Tennessee, and that you have a history of such a behavior, in addition to not writing a status update this morning.”
“A history of subversive contacts? You mean having a college roommate that had those ideas that I kept in touch with?”
Moultrie looked in his eyes coldly. “You are either with us, or with the terrorists, Mr. Dreighton, I’m certain you’re aware.”
“I never associated with any terrorists. I will swear on a stack of bibles to the truth of that.”
“You see, Mr. Dreighton, that activity is suspicious, and suspicious is something we cannot have here at the National Security Agency. WE need loyal people, not people who advocate for the overthrowing of the current hegemony of this country over the world.”
She paused, to let the impact of her words sink in.
He could tell that she was accusing him of what was tantamount to treason.
“Also, you are clearly asocial and iconoclastic by your refusal to update your social media this morning. A loyal citizen and member of the society of the 21st century is somebody who updates their social media profiles constantly. You see, privacy as a concept is now thoroughly outdated.”
“Would it be treasonous of me to propose that such a belief may not be
shared by everyone?” asked Tom, defiantly.
“Not in the law, certainly, with the first amendment and all that, but the intent is very much in the same character of traitors, Snowdens, Assanges, Mannings. They’re all the same. They all hate your country. They all hate you.”
“And, I can certainly tell,” she said with a rasp, “you hate America.”
“What brings you to that conclusion?” he asked.
“You are not willing to share. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. You clearly are hiding some dangerous thought, Mr. Dreighton. And in the current political climate, we cannot have dangerous thoughts.”
There was a long silence.
“Tomorrow your case will be reviewed by my superiors. They will determine what happens to you.”
She got up to leave.
“Remember, please, to write your status update tomorrow.” He returned to work as usual, and then went home rather more quickly than he did usually. He almost began speeding but moderated himself when he saw the drones clustering above his car, and a police APC behind a sign in front of an elementary school. Common speed trap, it was.
The drones went their separate ways, content that he was not committing the crime of road rage.
However, there was something nagging at him. Every time he looked in the mirror he saw a drone seemingly following him, and very attentive at that.
Or so he thought. There were drones everywhere in the skies and occasionally they would follow the road. He may have just been unlucky enough to be on one of those paths. Or maybe he wasn’t unlucky.
He came home. Katrina was there, on her phone as always.
He got out his iPad and opened the messenger app. Chris was online.
“Hey, Chris,” he said to his old friend.
“Hey,” said Chris nonchalantly.
“Is there any more room in that Tennessee commune you’re moving too?”
“Yeah, several slots.”
“Can you make room for two more?”
“Sure. They need people.”
“I’m coming down there. Spat with the Agency.”
“I knew you’d come around,” typed Chris, the perceived triumph perceptible in his writing. “You see the security state coming all around us, watching us, consuming us. About time you broke free.”
“I’m moving tomorrow. Where is this place?”
“Eastern Tennessee. Near Gatlinburg.”
“Okay, tell them I’m coming.”
He clambered out of bed next morning and pulled out his tablet. He pulled open Facebook. He didn’t strictly have to use Facebook but it was what he used; there were a few sites that the government let you use to update your status.
He typed in something. “Going to go to work as normal. Sorry for missing yesterday’s update.”
It was small. But if small things were the cornerstone of remaining a loyal citizen, risking arrest if they refused to write something so insubstantial, so daft, it meant it had to be done.
He ate breakfast. Read more news. Same depressing things that had dominated the news for Lord knows how long. Protests in China destroyed by the military again. Terrorist attack in Faisalabad. Election shenanigans in Ukraine. All the same.
He couldn’t honestly remember a time when the world had been positive.
He had begun to think of the people who spoke of their love of humanity as delusional and willfully ignorant decades ago, maybe so long ago as high school.
He said nothings to Katrina, glued to her phone as always. He left and went to work as usual. He went through the security check and to his station.
On his lunch break he sat down alone; he was too emotionally fragile to take on his coworkers right now.
He heard fleeting bits of conversation. Spouses. Children. Internet. Sports. Politics. The last one exhausted him. He didn’t talk all that much politics, really. Living so close to Washington it was absolutely inescapable, but he would try to make his escapes.
“Did you hear about that Dreighton fellow?” said one passerby.
“Throwing him in jail or Gitmo or something like that, or that’s what director McCandless said,” said the passerby’s companion. “It was a closed door meeting but the janitor heard them speak. Honestly surprised that they let the janitor in in the first place.”
He became light-headed, an empty pain running through his entire body, as if pressure throughout his being had lessened to an uncomfortable extend. He took a deep, deep breath.
It might be the last one he would take in a while.
He had to leave the building. Now.
He wanted to rush, but that would be counterproductive. He went calmly to his cubicle. Julio was typing away, doing more monitoring.
He picked up his bags. “Where are you going?” Julio asked him incredulously.
“Being ordered to a special function,” he replied.
“And I wasn’t?” Julio scoffed sarcastically. “Whatever. Enjoy yourself.” He went back to his work.
He was relieved for whatever little solace that gave him. Julio unwittingly was on his side.
He was almost out. Almost out to freedom.
His smartphone vibrated and did so many times. He took it out. It was Katrina. He swiped at the phone icon and held it up to his ear.
“Katrina? Hello?” he said anxiously.
“Dad, I don’t know what’s going on. The government came to take me out of my class and put me in detention or something like that. Anyway I’m running out of the building. Please, help! I don’t know what’s going on.”
He began to say something, but the white noise common in phone calls, an ever present reminder that the call was stilling going on, had vanished. He yanked the phone from his head and saw that the call had terminated.
“Oh, no,” he whispered to himself, too quietly, he hoped, for anyone to have heard, and darted to his car. He pulled out of the parking lot, slammed the gas pedal, and made his way as fast as he could to her school.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“f***,” Katrina said to herself. The government had cut the phone service. She tried anything, texting (no wi-fi), and anything else. No luck.
The heavily armed men had entered the school without announcement, barged into her class, and tried to taze her. As she ran, bullets flew. She thought one of her friends may have been shot by accident.
The government would spin that as a heroic death. She knew it.
She began reading the news at thirteen or so; by that time, she reasoned, she felt that she deserved to have basic knowledge of what was going on in the world. She started reading the news app on her tablet by then and her father didn’t bother her much at all about it. Of what he said, it was good to know.
She knew what the government did. The schools did the same, they all did the same damned thing.
Covering their asses, is what her father told her. It was a basic facet of human nature, right after food, sex, and not dying.
Seemed basic enough, really, even as she ran down that hall, darting out of the school, automatic doors swiveling open to let her out.
She lost them, thank God, she thought as she hid behind some kind of auxiliary building near the tennis courts beside the school.
She pulled out her phone from her pocket (thankfully by this time clothing companies had seen the benefit in installing actual, functional pockets in women’s clothing; her grandmother had told of a time when that was not the case, infuriatingly) and pressed the button to turn it on. She called her father, and pleaded for his help.
Before he could offer her reassurances the call went black. They had cut the cell signal for the whole area. Maybe the whole town. Maybe the whole county. Maybe the whole state.
Expected, honestly. They had worms everywhere; her father made sure that she knew that.
She pulled her phone away from her ear and looked at it. It simply had stopped. No signal, nothing.
Then there was white. She was dazed. Out of that little dot on her phone erupted a phenomenal white, a white that rivalled the sun in its intensity, in its brightness, and in its blinding capability. She could not see. She was dazed.
She could nothing as she was handcuffed and thrown unceremoniously onto the police truck, taking her to somewhere she could not anticipate.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tom rammed on the gas pedal of his car, which, despite his childhood fantasies had dictated, was not self-driving (legal in California but not here, frustratingly). He weaved through traffic, running red lights, cutting people off, and generally being a nuisance to most drivers. He didn’t care.
If his daughter was imprisoned or worse, he simply did not care.
He most certainly did not care about the horde of drones convening around him or the police cruisers and APCs lining up in pursuit him. The wail of sirens could be music for all he cared.
It was the paternal instinct.
He knew the way to Katrina’s school, but the direct route was simply too obvious. He weaved through the neighborhoods around it, over bridges and highways, and running lights that were increasingly meaningless. It was a blur.
He lost the vehicles but the drones were still on his tail. He saw the school ahead, but he was immediately dissuaded from going there.
Helicopters were encircling the school as if it were some kind of Pakistani terrorist compound. There were police cars everywhere, and even a tank dispatched from some military base in the area (there were plenty, given the proximity to Washington).
They were armed and he was not.
“I’m sorry, Katrina,” he said to himself. Then he unrolled the window next to him, gazed one of the drones in what appeared to be the optical sensor, and flipped the bird at it. It was glorious. Whatever he could do against the government, against the machine, against the ‘establishment’ as so many people called it, was small, but it felt so good.
He rammed the pedal to the floor and zoomed out. His destination? Tennessee.
Still drones, but no cop cars. Not as if they cared. The school was their main target now and he was intent on keeping it that way.
He took the interstate southward to Virginia, crossing the border and entering the far northern part of the state: Loudoun County, that unceremonious lump in an otherwise smooth border between Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, the land of the rich people who preferred the countryside to the upscale housing developments of Washington, Arlington, Bethesda, or any of the other myriad suburbs of the national capital.
He planned to stop at Leesburg, the County Seat, briefly before heading off on the interstate down to eastern Tennessee.
Entering northern Loudoun County was just open road. He eventually came to Leesburg, grabbed a bite to eat, and checked his phone.
It was shot. There was no cell phone reception. More than likely the government’s doing, no doubt.
He tried to remember where in Eastern Tennessee he was off to. Chris said the location where he was going.
It ended in –burg. He remembered that. He tried to access Google Maps on his phone, but again there was no reception to update the map. Only a blur persisted over eastern Tennessee and most of Virginia.
He left the restaurant and looked for a gas station. The only place he knew still sold paper atlases were gas stations.
Without drawing undue attention to himself, he navigated among the gridded streets of Leesburg and made his way to the nearest gas station. He liked the town; there was a lot of historic architecture. It felt as if he were for a moment in England or Scotland, where by all accounts this was absolutely common.
He entered the gas station, a slight dinging noise erupting from the small bells that signified a customer had entered. The cashier looked at him briefly and then returned to the vast world of information on his phone. It really was as if there was the human species’ great libraries were condensed into little blocks you could keep in your pocket.
Blocks that could listen to your conversations, granted, but the base idea still applied.
To Tom’s pleasant surprise there was a rack of paper atlases. One was of the entire Southeast. It promised maps of everywhere from New Orleans to Baltimore and Kansas City to Miami and every little place in between. That would be enough for him, he thought.
He picked up a soft drink and gave it and the atlas to the cashier.
“Long distance?” asked the cashier.
“Yes, yes that’s why I have this. Can’t expect cell signal everywhere.”
“Good call,” replied the man at the cash register.
Tom forked over his cash and handed it to the cashier. After receiving his change and his receipt he bid a “good day” to him. The cashier nodded and
Tom walked out of the door to his car.
He fervently searched for the town in Eastern Tennessee. He found it.
He was on the road for days, stopping in little towns and larger not-quite-cities throughout Virginia. Harrisonburg, Staunton, Bristol all served as homes at least briefly. He taught himself, no matter how arduously it may have been, to read the map on paper. He wasn’t used to doing much on paper. It was all digital nowadays.
But he did it. Adapting was good. Adapting when you were being chased by the government was even better. He remembered Snowden when he flew off to Russia. One hell of an adaptation, going from North Carolina to Hawaii to Hong Kong to Russia.
Granted, it didn’t save him from the CIA when his time came but nevertheless it helped him for a while.
He started to see less and less drones; as he ventured further and further into the rural parts of Virginia he began to feel almost free, as if the government saw no use in watching what went on in these parts. It reminded him of the news stories about the NSA higher ups being angry that there weren’t enough drones in Montana. Obviously this was a systemic problem.
He passed Bristol, Virginia into Kingsport, Tennessee; he was getting close to Gatlinburg. He had seen on the map that he had that two towns close to Gatlinburg were Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.
As he made his way down there, the “Welcome to Gatlinburg” signs filled his heart with joy, or at least relief. Joy wasn’t the right word. He couldn’t feel joy so long as he knew that the girl he raised since her infancy was now in the government’s hands. She could be dead for all he knew.
Knowing the government, he thought that was a very real possibility.
He looked through the town. It was a charming old town, an old frontier town from Revolutionary times, or so it was before the introduction of steadily more advanced technology. In the distance he could see the mountains in the distance. “Purple Mountains’ Majesty” seemed very appropriate now that he had the evidence right before him. It gave him a little bit of faith. A little bit of faith was needed in this time.
As he gazed upon those mountains his awe morphed into fear, an unpleasant realization that he felt like the greatest of fools for forgetting.
He never found the name of this commune. He had no idea.
He took a seat on a public bench and just stared dejectedly at the mountains. He came all this way, across two state lines, to come to a place where he could be free, and he didn’t even bother finding out where it was.
He pulled out his wallet. He had some paper money left. Most of the money nowadays was brought about electronically but the Federal Reserve continued to print paper money and mint coins in the various reserve cities. Sometimes the obstinacy of the federal bureaucracy was helpful. Other times it was the origin of all sorts of misery.
Like the one with which he was afflicted right now, incidentally.
He thought that would be enough for some food, maybe a pocket knife, and not much else. He thought about selling his car but he doubted anyone would have any reason to buy it (it was a fairly small urban car; here in Tennessee larger trucks seemed to be a tad more commonplace).
He went to a general store and bought some jerky, some water, some chips, and, he decided, a pocket knife. He paid for them at the cash register near the front of the windows.
“Going camping?” asked the cashier nonchalantly. It was clear he was making small talk because the manager told him to.
“Yeah,” he said. “Seems like a wonderful place to do it.”
“Oh, it is,” said the cashier, a haggard older man who must have had vivid memories of the twentieth century. “You’ll be fine. Just look out for the survivalist kooks that live out there.”
A light bulb flashed in his mind, rhetorically speaking. These could be Chris’ ideological companions.
“Where are they known to camp out?” he asked. “So that I can avoid them.”
Tom braced for a cold stare, but the cashier answered nonchalantly. “about ten miles west of the outskirts of town,” he said with a very matter-of-fact tone. “Keep south or east of the town and you’ll be fine. I’ve heard that they’ve been known to steal things.”
“I will keep that in mind,” Tom replied as the cashier handed him his receipt. “Thank you, and have a good day.”
“You too,” responded the cashier, going back to his business.
He began walking. He abandoned the car; frankly he didn’t care about the car anymore. He was on foot.
He made his way to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, the western part to be precise. He took one final look at the town; it really meant nothing to him but he did it for some odd notion of sentimentality. He didn’t know why.
He doubted that it mattered at all.
He trudged into the wilderness and didn’t look back otherwise. He occasionally took bites out of the jerky that he had bought but otherwise had no sustenance, only a dogged determination to find Chris’ commune.
He wondered what Chris was up to nowadays. He hadn’t the opportunity to talk to him for a while; the days he had spent on the road were enough to make him forget about most things. Except Chris.
And Katrina. He would not forget Katrina, no matter where she may have been.
He walked for hours and hours. Nothing. Nothing at all except trees, fallen branches, and the occasional bug. That all soon turned to darkness.
He still walked. All he did was walk. There was no time to think, he told himself. Thinking would make him walk less.
But eventually, even if the mind were willing, the body could only take so much. He eventually had to stop his epic trek, or so it felt.
It felt wasted. It felt as if he had failed. As if he was worthless. As if he had surrendered to the government that he hated and yet was subservient to by design, by purpose, by his own twisted birthright, his birth certificate.
But this was not surrender, he tried to reassure himself. This is acknowledgement of the troubles that he would have to go through to save himself.
Finding a clearing underneath a tree, he looked around briefly to see if there was any sign of rain; if there was rain there was lightning, and being under a tree during lightning was something that would not help him in the slightest.
Thankfully the skies were clear, pockmarked with the little specks of light that illuminated the forest. There was a slight breeze. The chirping of some birds, maybe. Or maybe they were bugs. Insects – perhaps crickets? He didn’t know. He didn’t care.
Unlike the government he saw no need to know everything. That he viewed as a strength. Not everything was his business.
What his business was, he determined, was to sleep, to prepare for the next day of walking westward. He lay down on a root of the tree. It was firm but comfortable, less truly physically comfortable and more comforting by providing the knowledge that he was safe and sound. He ate some more jerky.
After doing so he went into a daze, absorbing the sounds of nature around him, sounds that he heard so little in the grand scheme of Washington metropolitan life.
He didn’t dream, or he didn’t think he dreamt. He was rather in that state where blackness isn’t the right description; there was nothing to be aware of, nothing to see. No color to exist to be absorbed, not allowing the black to be.
He woke up. It was still night, stars still there. Some of them, however, were obscured by what appeared to be trees that were not there before.
A tree said to him, “who are you? What are you doing here?”
“How the hell are trees talking to me?” asked Tom. “What the hell kind of world am I in now?” he inquired, “where trees can talk.”
The sun came up suddenly.
No. Not the sun.
“I don’t know who you are or what the hell kind of drugs you’re on,” said this voice, now clearly belonging to a human being, “but you are quite possibly somewhere you don’t want to be.”
“And why is that?” asked Tom, still groggy and not fully functional, like a lawnmower stuttering when the cord is pulled.
“Because we don’t like most people around here. We left society for a reason.” The emphasis on the last word was very obvious.
“And you are?” asked Tom.
“What gives you any right to adopt such an arrogant tone, eh?” asked his interrogator. “Who are you, some kind of government mole?” As if his point was not clear enough already he held up a formidable firearm, pointing the barrel towards Tom’s head.
“Well, I guess I was,” replied Tom, the anxiety welling in him.
“What do you mean, was?” The barrel did not move.
“I came down here to find some kind of commune that a friend of mine was going to go to. I refused to update my social media profile just once and now the government is after me. They’ve kidnapped my daughter.”
“And what makes you spit out all this information to me? To us?”
Tom shuddered, but he resolved to conduct himself with dignity even in the face of what seemed like an early death. He gripped a section of the root, tensing his muscles as if to build resolve; there probably was no real benefit, but there certainly was no real harm.
“Because I have a name of the guy who said he’d be heading here. He’s the guy who told me about this place I’m going.”
“And his name is?”
There was a silence from his captors, then some mumbling under their
breaths. Tom could tell they were conferring among themselves.
His grip on the root tensed. He couldn’t tell whether the incessant, quiet chattering was an accolade or a threat.
The barrel still did not move in the slightest, but his captor’s head did. The men who had surrounded him were all holding their heads in an impromptu circle, not unlike a huddle among a football team.
“What’s your name?” asked the ringleader.
“Tom. Tom Dreighton. From Bethesda, Maryland.”
“Come with us.”
He forced himself to walk, and together they trudged through the forest. They went down hills and clambered past trees, often navigating by touch alone. It was odd to Tom at first but, as one might expect, he got used to it.
There was eventually the faintest of lights, the dimmest of fires in the distance. “Is that where we’re heading?” asked Tom.
“Yes, yes it is,” rasped one of the men making the march. “Notice how we’re going further west, not back towards Gatlinburg.”
The camp itself was plain, with huts made out of wood and stone and the occasional fire pit burning in circles of these humble abodes. They entered into this camp not through a gate or any other structure, rather just entering the inglorious blob of huts that constituted this ramshackle settlement.
Without saying anything the crowd dispersed. Tom sat on a log near a fire, letting it warm him.
He was there for a while.
“Tom,” said a voice behind him. He was scared briefly, but saw it was one of the men who had escorted him there. “Give me your phone.”
Without questioning him Tom gave him his smartphone. Doing anything else just seemed unwise.
He took the phone, threw it to the ground, took some kind of long, blunt object, perhaps a log or a pipe, and rammed it onto the phone. The little tablet, the beacon of modernity and knowledge, of surveillance and oppression, was reduced to little bits of glass, metal, and plastic. It shined as the light from the fire reflected it. The militant, lacking a better word for Tom to describe him with, scuffed his foot onto the debris, scattering the dust to the wind.
“And you think that they can’t hear you?” said this commune-dweller.
“I guess that they could have,” said Tom, trying to deflect possible punishment.
“You could have gotten them to find us. Hell, you already have.”
Tom’s head felt as if it lightened, again. That feeling of utter nervousness consumed him, causing him to appeal to whatever higher power that he might believe in to save him from this situation.
“Get some sleep,” rasped the guard. “There is an empty shack just for you,” he pointed to the squalid abode that was standard in this little ramshackle town.
“Just sleep. Not like you can do much if they do indeed come.” His obscured face allowed frigid eyes to stare through at Tom. They made the command, “go,” very clear. They were eyes of somebody that ought not to be resisted without heavy armament.
Tom plodded to the little wooden shack. It had one small hammock for a bed, with a table and chair hastily fashioned out of wood from trees that had been chopped down without any sense of economy or efficiency. He lay down on the hammock. He took out some jerky and guzzled it down; he was tired and he was hungry from the trek to the commune. He dozed off to sleep.
He thought he was dreaming; maybe he was just awake for a brief interlude during the dark of night. It looked like it was day, or maybe it wasn’t. He honestly couldn’t tell. He was in a sort of delirium that made everything hazy, everything seem as if it wasn’t completely real. What little consciousness that manifested itself came to the conclusion that the needed this; reality was harsh enough that it needed a well-deserved respite, a vacation from all that mattered in the world.
Or not a vacation. An abduction.
The world then looked grey and white. He tried to muster the energy to say something, but no words manifested. In this delirium he lay his head back onto the hammock, which now felt very cold and stony, metallic even.
He faded back into the nothingness that sleep had, where there was no black as color did not exist. The firing of neurons made it such that they were not aware, paradoxically, that they were being fired.
He expected to be awake in the cold of the hut that he had settled in, the commune that he had took such a voyage to.
The hammock felt awfully hard, and cold. Maybe he had drooled over it and it had frozen in the night.
Impossible, he thought. It was warm, and this was in the South. It was tropical, he guessed, at least compared to Maryland. It shouldn’t be cold.
He tried to lift his arms up.
There was something keeping him from lifting up his arms, something preventing him from escaping to the world, ready to defend from the feds who were inevitably tracking him.
He tried to kick out his legs. Those were forced down too.
He slowly regained consciousness; it took slower than usual as he had no way to rub his eyes, to force himself back to the land of the living. He struggled; was he in sleep paralysis? No, he concluded. He could move, He could be aware of things, he was just stuck somehow, as if his arms had been tied down to a pole.
He thought that to himself as a kind of poetic hyperbole, but further struggling revealed that it was literally true. He tried to yank himself off of the pole but there was no recluse. There was nothing to free him.
He took a risk. “Hello?” he screamed out to the darkened room, clearly not his hut.
“Mr. Dreighton,” said a frigid voice. “It’s been so long. We expected you up far earlier than you were today.”
It was a female voice, Tom could discern, but there was so little that he could really discern. “You’ve been awfully tardy to work.”
“Moultrie!” Tom cried out angrily, realizing it was one of his superiors.
“What the hell have you done?”
“I would say that you have to answer to that, Mr. Dreighton. Why did you refuse to do what every law-abiding citizen has to do?”
“I did it as a protest. I did it to say that I do not support the Agency’s policies.”
“But you work for us. Your political beliefs are of no matter. You must be doing your work as we need you to. As your country needs you to.”
“I love my country. I honestly love my country. I love it enough to give it some privacy.”
“That is treasonous talk, Mr. Dreighton.” Moultrie sighed, and pulled up what appeared to be a small microphone wrapped around her neck. “He’s ready.”
An eternity passed, or it felt like it. Perhaps delusional, he saw Moultrie’s skin turning to dust, hair graying than decaying. He saw the metal around him rust and the ropes around his limbs decay.
He jolted his arms to take advantage of this window. He surged them in alternate directions to break the rope.
The rope did not break. His eyes opened in strain, and he saw shining metal walls and Moultrie completely healthy.
There was another figure beside her, a man, graying hair and a very fancy uniform. Military uniform.
“Every time this happens,” said the man, frustrated, “I am here to speak with the guilty personally.”
“I was not tried,” snapped Tom, defiant.
“You were witnessed and tried in a secret court, one that we don’t normally let the public see,” said the man.
“Who are you?” seethed Tom.
“I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me,” snarled the supervisor. “General Justin Vastano, United States Army, and Director of the National Security Agency, at your service,” he said with a droning sarcasm in his tone, pointing to his badges on his left breast. “You have forgotten your boss, what else are you going to forget?”
“I forget nothing. I remember the things that I was sworn to fight for.”
“To defend the constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“Then you understand,” Vastano remarked, “why you are in here. You are now a domestic enemy, a terrorist. It should all fall into place.”
“Tell me, Mr. Dreighton,” asked the General, “why do you resist?”
“Katarina,” he muttered.
“Why, of course, your daughter. How sad that she grew up without a mother.”
“You do your research,” cracked Tom, a snide smile on his face. Vastano made a small sigh.
“When that truck rammed into her car, she lost a great role model, a great caregiver, and someone beyond a friend,” said Vastano chidingly.
He stared right into Tom’s soul, challenging him.
“I must ask: how do you know this?”
“Files on the operation to have the crash happen,” Vastano said dismissively.
There was a long silence.
“Yes, the implications that you may derive from that statement, as intelligent you are, are indeed true,” the General remarked.
“You killed my wife. You killed her mother.”
“Small price to pay in a nation of four hundred million.”
“You have no concept of the value of life, Vastano.”
“You have no concept of the greater good, Mr. Dreighton. I need loyalty. I need dedication. One could say I need dependence.”
“I do. It does not involve death.”
“So, so courageous, Mr. Dreighton,” said Vastano. “Tell me, what makes you so brave all of a sudden?”
“I have little to lose now.” He was telling the truth. “Only my daughter’s life.”
“You can have that, Mr. Dreighton!” Vastano said with a condescendingly high tone. “And besides, we have no reason to kill her.”
He turned to Moultrie. “Turn the pole and open the window.”
Moultrie took some kind of communicator, almost a smartphone, from her belt and pressed some buttons. The pole suspending Tom swiveled about ninety degrees. Upon the wall was a large glass window, whose panes had receded upward, coiling up as if some kind of snake.
In there was his daughter tied to a long metal board. In there were some technicians, with official uniforms and masks over their faces.
“Katrina!” he yelled the most barbaric yell he had ever made. It was the parental instinct kicking in.
“She can’t hear you. Hell, she can’t see you,” said Vastano. “It’s soundproof and it’s one way glass only. She only sees herself, not you.”
“Get her out of there!” he screamed.
“I have no compunctions doing so. Just renounce your treason and pledge to the flag.”
As if on cue (and it likely was) an aid put an American flag, on the pole with the brass eagle perched atop, in front of him.
“You know the pledge. You said it every day in school. You’ve memorized it. Say it, and prove your loyalty. Only then will she be released.”
“No. If it means that I swear my allegiance to you, I refuse to.”
“So be it, Mr. Dreighton. We must resort to other forms of persuasion.”
The board Katrina was on was tilted slightly. One of the aids tied a wet rag over her face.
A hose, connected to an unknown source of water, was brought over her face. Water began streaming out of the hose onto her face and all over her body, with little real care.
She screamed and gagged, trying to rip herself out of her captors’ grasp.
When she tried, they restrained her further and turned up the intensity of the water.
“Let her go, you monster!” he yelled at Vastano and Moultrie.
Vastano once more sighed. “You are such a sadist, such a sociopath, Mr. Dreighton. You care so little about your daughter. You want her to be tortured. You want her to fear for her life.”
“I want you to let her go!”
“What a spoiled little ingrate you are, Dreighton,” he spat, not bothering with any honorifics. “We give you so much money to provide for her upbringing. We paid for the best schools, the best of everything. And now you throw that all away.”
“Let. Her. Go!”
“By continuing to resist, you display your disdain of her, your spite of her. Your hatred of her. Why not pledge? Why not abandon treason?”
“Because I believe in liberty.”
The water pressure increased, his daughter writhing in pain, wailing at the top of her lungs like some kind of insulted infant.
“We are being awfully merciful, Dreighton. I must say the boys at the CIA are all very creative in their interrogation techniques, but I opted for something more traditional, more respectable. Can you not see that? The only thing stopping her from peace is you!”
The water pressurized even further. She howled some more.
Tom couldn’t say anything.
“Say it, Tom. Say it now.”
Vastano heard murmuring coming from Tom’s mouth.
Tom pulled up his head and grimaced towards the flag.
Still murmuring, then a dejected look.
“Pledge your undying loyalty to country and agency and she will go free.”
“Say it, Tom. You have nothing more to lose.”
He was still quiet.
“I can read you like a book, Tom. I can tell you want to. I can tell you want your daughter to be saved.”
There was deafening silence.
Tom pulled his head up. He gazed Katrina right where her eyes would be, obscured by the towel. He almost thought she could see back.
Stunned silence for far too long. The water flowed faster.
“Say it, Tom.”
There was a hush in the room. An eternity of a second passed.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”