Andy N was born and raised in the bustling city of Mumbai before he moved to the UK, where he’s been living for the last twelve years. Even as a child, Andy was curious and creative with all his toys having back stories. He is fascinated by how we’re evolving as a society and channelled this creativity into world building.
THE WAY IT ALL CAME TO BE
Angie was still rummaging through her bag as she ran from the elevator to the lobby doors.
“Hat, hat, hat…where’s the hat?” Angie muttered as she reached the doors still looking into her bag. She was usually very organised. She had to be. Today was different.
“Everything ok there Angie?” said Victoria, the ever-chirpy night manager, who was heading home.
Angie always wondered what Victoria’s days were like. Did she just treat her days like nights and sleep through them? Or did she stay awake enjoying a whole day off before she came into work in the evenings? Maybe she didn’t need as much sleep and her body had adjusted to just staying awake. She really should ask Victoria these questions some time. She should also ask her how she was always so happy; even on a miserable day like this.
“Angie?” Victoria raised her eyebrows as she stepped closer, which made Angie realise she hadn’t answered Victoria yet.
“Oh everythi...Shit!” Angie cursed turning away quickly as a large droplet made its way through the slightly open door and hit her face. Whipping out her handkerchief, she started carefully dabbing her face, hoping her make-up was still intact.
Today was important. There was a lot to do.
“Angie!” Victoria took her name for a third time, coming even closer.
Angie carefully wiped her face while looking at her reflection in the shining glass corridor wall. “Yes, yes. Bloody rain just splashed straight into my eye.” Angie said airily trying to make her voice sound calm. “It’s been a busy morning and I’m running late. Typical, right?” she said still with her back to Victoria, hoping the attempt at humour would ease any concerns for Victoria.
“Wear your rain hat girl! They’re called that for a reason.” Victoria stepped back laughing. “Your day can only get better!” she said cheerily as she opened the door completely, stepped out and walked away without a drop of rain hitting her.
Phew, that was close Angie thought as she checked her make-up, which was holding up well. She dabbed off the water and dug out a little black pouch. A pull on the string on one end opened up a hat with a wide rim which she quickly put on her head. As she stepped out into the rain the first droplet hit her hat and bounced a good six feet feet away. The pattern repeated again as every drop of rain simply bounced away harmlessly off the rain hat. The best she could explain the technology was that the hats ‘repelled’ rain and kept the wearer dry.
Wonder what they did back in the day? Angie thought as she walked out the door and past the History Museum. She lived only a few feet from it but had visited it just the one time. It showcased all the beautiful, weird and wonderful artefacts from the days gone by, including a huge section referencing the time before the Event in 2020. She paused for a second and looked through the glass façade. Will this all change? What will the new story be? Her wrist receiver beeped indicating that she needed to be on her way, and so she continued walking.
Not long now. Not long at all.
As she walked down towards the parking meter to swipe her building card, she saw a few brave women in summer dresses with large rain hats having a cheery conversation. “Seriously?” Angie wondered out loud. “In this weather?”
One of the women might have heard her, because she stopped and waved. For a second Angie was unsure if they were waving at her and she looked around just to make sure. When she didn’t see anyone else, she smiled and waved back.
“Glorious weather huh?” she greeted them.
“Ooh! Do you know her? We’re heading that way too!” one of the women replied.
Angie was confused and thought for a moment about clarifying, but then realised she was late and didn’t have time for a conversation about nothing. Instead, she brightly replied, “Go ahead, I’ll catch up!”
The women giggled and carried on. They entered a wine bar around the corner with a large banner outside proclaiming ‘Gloria’s 40th Birthday!’. Now that conversation made a little more sense. Maybe she could blow off work and go chill with Gloria and her friends instead!
But she didn’t have the time; she had to be somewhere. She got to the meter, swiped the building card to verify her identity and slid into the driver’s seat of her Society issued City Squad cruiser. Immediately her steering wheel beeped with a message.
“Yes, read” she commanded as she pulled out of her spot letting the car switch to autopilot and head off towards the main highway.
“Message from Antonia. Male on Male crime. Meet at 12 Junction Road.” the voice reader in the car said with its usual human intonations.
“Fuck. . .” was all Angie could manage, as she reset the auto pilot for her new location.
Male on Male crime in itself was not serious. But it was the frequency lately that was worrying. After the Event in 2020, the Council had been formed and the decision was taken to make sure something like this never happened again. Men, it was decided, were the problem. The answer? A new society created, led and nurtured by women. This new civilisation was creatively named ‘Society’. Angie guessed women didn’t see the need for an interesting name as a crucial point at the time. To be fair they did have bigger issues they were dealing with.
Society had no place for men. Initially all the existing men were forced to live in Fringe Towns on the outskirts of the Society locations. There was the question of what to do with new male children born in the early days. In-vitro fertilisation still had 50% chance of a male birth. The question was debated long and hard in the Council and the decision was made to deal with it dispassionately. The male babies were quickly shipped out to the Fringe Towns for the other Males to raise them. The sanctity of the Society came first. Families were allowed to send care packages to the Males at an agreed frequency, if they chose to do so.
As technology advanced steps were taken to control childbirth to ensure only new female births. In the last fifty-four years there had been only a handful of cases of male births. It was all a little cold and calculating, but decisions were made. Actions were taken. It had to be done.
It had to be done. . .didn’t it? Angie pondered this thought again, as she so often did when alone. Before she could delve deeper into the reasons for it this morning, her car beeped to signal that she was close to her destination.
As the car parked itself Angie looked out the window to see Antonia who was impatiently tapping her heels by the side of the road. Angie was tempted to switch to manual drive and take her own sweet time parking just to wind Antonia up some more but decided against it. The car slid smoothly into an empty space and opened the door in one swift motion. Angie jumped out and walked over to Antonia who was now practically hopping from one foot to the other in impatience.
“Too much coffee honey?” Angie offered as way of greeting.
“Fuck you” Antonia countered as she turned and strode away towards the crime scene tape.
Antonia was a lot of things, but patient was not one of them. At 35 she was the youngest detective and Angie’s partner on the City Squad. Antonia was a beautiful woman. Slender with short blonde hair, incredibly fit and with un-matched stamina as a result of her seven days a week workout routine. “You sure she isn’t a robot?” her colleagues had whispered to Angie many times when they all went running, hiking or taking on obstacle courses. “Not sure,” Angie usually answered shrugging her shoulders, “the other day she cut herself and some oil leaked out, but you never know.” This answer drew howls of laughter as the other Officers just stood and admired Antonia’s sheer athleticism.
Angie herself was not at the same level as Antonia. She was stockier, with jet black hair which she wore tied up and while she was not as fit as Antonia, she could hold her own with most people. The honest truth though was that she was quite unremarkable. And at 45 she was ok with it. As you grow older you stop caring what people think of you.
City Squad was not large, but it was the only crime fighting unit the world needed these days. They had all heard stories of the days before the Event, when there were a number of investigative and police bodies that did different things. But after the Event all that had stopped. You didn’t have…scratch that…you didn’t NEED, more than one crime fighting unit. Afterall the only criminals were the Males.
Antonia had walked briskly away, so Angie jogged after her to catch up. “Hey hold on. What? No hug?” she pretended to plead holding her hands out wide.
“No” Antonia snapped. “These assholes just don’t stop. What is with these fucking Males. Why can’t they behave?” She was clearly in a mood.
“Awww, did someone not get enough sleep? Does someone miss their blankie?” Angie imitated a baby voice for Antonia’s benefit but stopped abruptly as she saw the scene. She needed a quick moment to gather herself, so she looked down and rubbed her temples. These incidents made her head hurt. How did it come to this?
Crime scene bollards had been erected and switched on at four points to form a mis-shapen square approximately ten feet wide on each side. Thin red beams of light connected them to form a digital crime scene tape with the words - CRIME SCENE. DO NOT CROSS – scrolling across like a stock market ticker. Officers moved in and out of the cordoned off area with their badges being scanned automatically to let them pass. Any curious onlooker who managed to get near the scene would set the alarms flashing if they tried to get through the tape without a badge. The scene itself was quite disgusting. Two unconscious Males in tattered clothing lay on top of each other in a pool of, what Angie could only assume was, a mixture of blood, vomit and alcohol. The rain that morning had done it’s share in mixing with the dirt on the ground to make it all look like the bodies were floating in a viscous brown sludge. Bottles of alcohol lined the sides of this liquid pool. One bottle had just been caught in a small wave and was now starting to float towards the bodies dripping the remnants of its contents into the putrid mixture.
“Was it The Caller again?” Angie asked no-one in particular. A few heads nodded while others sniggered and ignored her.
“Of course, who else!” Antonia snapped. “Fucker is riling these Males up and then they end up giving Society a problem.” she finished. Or at least it seemed like she did, before she added “…and some people make it more difficult for us by giving him notoriety with their talks to the media.”
Angie lifted her eyes to meet Antonia’s and saw that same look she had seen on so many Officer’s eyes. She, Angie, had been the one who had gone to the media with the news of the ‘vigilante’ Male who was going by the name ‘The Caller’. She had wanted to let the people know so that they could find him faster, but it had backfired. He had got more of a following now and even some of the women were clearly sympathetic. It had been a cluster fuck and she had set it in motion.
“That’s not fair Toni” Angie answered using the nickname they used when they were not on the job. “That is just not fucking fair.”
Antonia’s eyes softened, as she walked up and put her arms around Angie’s shoulders and squeezed her hard. “I’m sorry. It’s just that these cases get to me. But it’s not your fault and I’m sorry.”
Angie smiled back and nodded towards the two drunk men, “What’s their story?”
One of the uniforms on the scene started reading from her notes, “They picked up a broadcast on the wrist receivers and decided to act on it. The alcohol is from the store down the street and they purchased it using the hacked currency code The Caller released last week. They were able to get their hands on two whole bottles and as you can see…” she gestured dramatically at the two sprawled bodies on the street with vomit and blood around them “…they got wasted and started fighting. The limiting agent in the alcohol interacted with the testosterone and they passed out till we stumbled on them. Our lucky day!” she finished as the rain started washing a mixture of vomit, blood and dirt onto the shoes of all the officers at the scene.
“Ain’t that beautiful?” Antonia said sarcastically as she walked towards the other side of the bodies for a final scan and the officers chuckled. Some shook their head in disgust and started walking away. Nothing to see here, just another mindless Male crime. They were getting used to it now but there was no denying that the frequency and severity was increasing.
“Right, clean them up, and take them into custody. Run a chemical clean and send them back out.” Angie shouted instructions to the uniform who had just read out the report. “We don’t need this to be any bigger than it is. Keep it quiet.” she added for good measure.
Where is all this heading? Angie thought to herself as she turned around to stare into the distance at the Monument.
The Monument was a huge marble structure that towered over the buildings around it. You could see it from anywhere in the city as the spire on top reached for the sky. It was a symbol of the renaissance of the world after the Event. The Council headquarters were located on the upper floors and you could only reach them by walking through the lower floors of the Monument. Floors that were filled with relics from a past life. Remnants of brutal battles, pictures of towns destroyed and families torn apart, scriptures that preached violence and oil paintings of men who led the world to its end. It was intentionally built that way to ensure that all who went before the Council to answer for their actions realised the full weight of the rules and why their actions had to have consequences.
No-one alive remembered these events but they trusted the Council. They believed in Society and they knew that they were better off now than they were before. Every major city in the world had their version of the Monument. And all the Monuments were connected by a network that let the Council make decisions, share information and maintain the integrity of Society.
As Angie was contemplating these things, she didn’t notice Antonia walk back over to stand beside her until she felt her breath. “Do you think we’ll ever find out the full story behind the Event?” Angie asked her.
“No, not this again Ange!” Antonia groaned with more than a twinge of desperation in her voice. “Why can’t you let that go. And be careful, if anyone hears you speaking like this, you could be in front of the Council.”
“Aren’t you curious?” Angie continued without missing a beat. “It’s been a hundred years since the Event and yet all we know are bits and pieces. We’ve become a society of women because the Males cannot be trusted. They’ve been relegated to the side-line and live off the allowances we give them. And this. . .” she said with obvious pain in her voice as she pointed to the scene of the two Males being loaded into a truck “is what they are reduced to. Doesn’t that make you wonder what they did that was so bad, that we had to do take these steps?”
Antonia had heard these thoughts from Angie before and like always her views were more straightforward. She was from one of the rare families in which the in-vitro had failed in recent years. Her mother had a daughter and a son. Antonia had a brother, not that she ever acknowledged it. As per the law, her brother had been dispatched to the Fringe Towns immediately to live with the other Males. Society was no place for mMales. But Antonia had taken it hard. She somehow felt that she had let the Society down by having a brother and every crime scene was a reminder of it. She believed in what the Society stood for and she didn’t need any other reason.
“No Ange, I don’t wonder. And I don’t lose sleep. And I don’t wish better for them. The archives tell us that Males were responsible for all the war, murder and major crimes for decades. Centuries even! We’ve got a society of peace and understanding now. The Monument is a reminder of everything we have worked for. A celebration of everything we have achieved ever since the Event. It’s what we all know, what we all signed up for and what we all work towards maintaining. You need to stop with this nonsense.”
“But Toni…” Angie started but it was too late. Antonia had turned and walked away.
Angie shook her head. She knew she had overstepped. She needed to maintain control. She needed to be careful.
Back at the car Antonia was already in the driver’s seat and the car was calculating the shortest distance to the Council where they would have to write up another event report. The tenth of the week. That was more than the entire previous ten months put together. There would be tough questions to answer.
“Look Toni, about that back there…” Angie started
“Forget it. Talking about it isn’t going to end well. Let’s just move on ok. The Council is going to mind fuck us anyway. Tenth incident report this week. Jesus fucking Christ.” Antonia was looking at her feet like a little girl who had been admonished by her parents. Angie felt bad for her and tried to cheer her up.
“At least we don’t have to spend as much time writing it. We’re practically experts now and can deliver it in double quick time. We’ll be finished before the bars open!” she said pointing to the neon lights that were all switched off now but would be buzzing with life in an hour.
“I’m staying till last call!” Antonia answered.
Toni was back. That made Angie feel better. With everything she was coping with the last thing she needed was an angry Antonia. Life would get so much more complicated.
Even as Angie was patting herself on the back for diffusing the situation and getting into the car, their wrist receivers started buzzing.
FRINGE TOWN CENTRE. 6PM. BE THERE AND LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT THE EVENT. HOW MUCH DO YOU ACTUALLY KNOW? THEY AREN’T TELLING US EVERYTHING. LET ME LEAD YOU TO THE LIGHT.
The words flashed on both their wrist receivers in bright red text that cast an eerie glow inside the dimly lit car.
Angie just stared at Antonia in complete silence with her mouth trying to form words. The wrist receivers were supposed to be fire walled and ‘un-hackable’. How the hell had he broken through the encryption? And what was this call to arms all about?
“The motherfucker fucked up” Antonia said triumphantly.
“What?” Angie was confused. “He hacked into the main network!”
“No, I don’t think he did. I think he accidentally tapped into the main network.” Antonia said confidently with a sly grin.
“Do you know something I don’t know?” Angie asked.
“Well, you know how he’s always been sending signals using the wrist receivers to only the Fringe Town residents? I kind of, sort of, hacked them.” Antonia was beaming with pride.
“What do you mean ‘hacked them’? You mean you got the Males to help you? How? And why would they do it?” Angie had so many questions.
“No, nothing of that sort. They would never voluntarily help me.” Antonia paused for effect. “I slipped a transmitter into the care package my mother sends my brother every month. It was one of the new models the Council released to us recently that’s totally undetectable. Once his wrist receiver came close to the transmitter it paired and Voila! We now receive The Caller’s mass transmissions!”
Angie didn’t know what to say. “Toni! You’re a genius. I knew your IT smarts would come in handy some-day.”
“Oh and guess what. The entire City Squad team have received this. We’ll all be there to nail this fucker to the wall now!” Antonia was loving the moment as she got on the radio to the whole unit.
“City Squad, do you copy? The message on the wrist receivers is from The Caller. It’s part of a sting. Head to the border of the Fringe Towns and wait for tactical backup. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. Let’s get him!” the radio crackled with the mock sounds of the old analogue radios, even though these were state of the art digital transmitters. Apparently, the sounds were designed to give a sense of messages being received instead of the complete silence the digital transmission actually produced. Hearing the crackle to signal that the message was out there to the whole City Squad, Angie could see why.
As if in answer to Toni’s message, the steering wheel vibrated with a reddish glow. The universal sign for a message from the Council. Angie had only ever received this once before, but any CS Officer recognised it in an instant. She tapped the wheel to display the message as the car switched to autopilot immediately.
“Officer Viali, this is…” Antonia visibly winced at the mention of her last name. Viali was a good name, Angie had always thought. Much better than her own, which was Burke. When she had started out as a cadet, the girls always called her “Burke, the jerk!”. It was good natured banter, but not a great name to have.
“…Council Woman Arietta” the message continued. “Excellent work. You have a shoot to kill order when you confront The Caller.”
“What?” Angie almost shouted into the wheel.
The message continued “Society is built on the principles of the Council and we cannot tolerate these…” there was a pause as the Council Woman tried to find the right word. “…discrepancies. We need to nip the problem in the bud. Great work and may Society prosper.”
“Well, good thing this isn’t a two-way system, huh?” Antonia was giving Angie a hard look. “Trying to get us suspended missy?”
“Shoot to kill? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take him alive so we can find out his agenda and uncover any other accomplices?” Angie countered, as she took manual drive control back. The feel of her hands on the steering wheel and navigating traffic usually calmed her down and allowed her to think.
“He’s the leader Ange. We take him out and the rest will collapse.” Antonia proceeded to unload her weapon and check the magazine as she switched to lethal rounds. Angie knew when she’d lost an argument with her partner and continued to focus on the road. She was not happy about this. Not one bit.
They arrived in silence to a cacophony of activity. The Fringe Towns were at the borders of the cities, with a wall protecting Society from the vagabonds, discards and criminals. Or put simply, the Males.
On the way over Antonia had not said a word to Angie after the argument over the message, but she had not wasted her time. Getting on the radio to City Squad she had quickly, and carefully, described how she got the transmitter in place. She followed this up with a tactical approach plan to help them get set up as soon as they arrived. Most Officers used the autopilot and were already briefed and ready when they arrived on location. They all knew the protocol. As the Officer responsible for the lead, Antonia called the shots unless she decided to nominate someone else. But this was Toni they were talking about. She was never going to let someone else bring The Caller down. This was her bust.
It seemed the entire City Squad had responded. There was no way The Caller was going to get away.
As Angie was gearing up, she felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up to see Antonia. “Team A, right? Follow the side roads, stay out of sight and wait on point till the air support is in place before we move in. I’m ready.” she smiled at Toni, hoping that her memorising the plan would make up for the disagreements. “Look even the rain has let up. It’s a sign” she finished looking for some support from her partner.
“Look Angie. You’re an incredible Officer and I would trust you any other time, but with this kill order, I’m not sure you’re up for it. I’m placing you in the support van. Sorry.” Antonia said looking Angie straight in the eye.
“But Toni! We’ve tracked him together all this time. You know that no matter what I would never compromise an operation. Especially not one you’re in command of. And one so important!” Angie practically screamed.
“I’m sorry Ange.” Antonia paused for a second, and then continued in a formal tone speaking not as her friend, but as the Commanding Officer “Officer Burke, please report to the support van.”
It took Angie a few seconds to adjust, but you never question your Commanding Officer. She smiled meekly, nodded her agreement and walked away towards the van. Everyone has a part to play and today her role was to be ready in the support van, if anything went wrong.
Antonia had never led an operation before. She’d been second in command to Angie twice before but had never been in command. This felt different. She had given orders, set strategy and led the offensive as the second in command, but being the woman everyone looked at for leadership was…thrilling. She was loving it.
And she would have loved it more if she had her friend and partner with her. But she could not risk it. Angie was as fine an Officer as they come, but she was against the kill order and that would jeopardise the mission. This was way too important to blow on sentiments. Angie would understand.
For now, Antonia had a mission, and nothing could distract her.
She checked her own equipment and then ran a safety check on her partner’s – Officer Jade Mallory, who was a veteran and Antonia felt assured having Officer Mallory by her side. Plan? Check. Weapon? Check. Communications? Check. This is it. I’m going to bring the biggest threat to Society down today. Will I see my brother? How will I react when I do? Antonia pushed these thoughts out of her and focused on her equipment one last time, then turned to face the rest of the City Squad.
“Ok, the plan is simple. We get in there, we identify this fucker, and we take him out. No prisoners. He’s fucked with us enough and now he’s going to pay for it. Society depends on us for protection and we’re responsible for ensuring that the law is maintained. May Society prosper!” she tapped the badge on her chest. The rest of City Squad followed suit. The Caller did not stand a chance.
They split into their designated teams and walked through the entrance to the Fringe Town. As they crossed to the other side of the wall, the Males started walking up to gawk at them with curiosity. Filthy animals Antonia thought to herself. The Squad didn’t have to stop because the Males were kept away from the roads with force shield fences. These 40-foot high electronic fences were easily identifiable by their blue colour and dull hum. Only the smallest microbes could get through them and anything larger was stopped with a polite electric current. It worked perfectly to keep the Males within the bounds of the Fringe Towns. They could get close to the roads but not get on them. It gave the Officers the space they needed to regularly police the area. The Council had decided this was a better barrier than walls for two reasons – The Males were not given the obvious feeling of being caged and more importantly, it gave the Officers a clear view of everything inside without being obscured by walls. It was a clever solution that served both sides. For this evening’s operation, the barriers had been extended higher and a wider path had been created by dynamically moving the force shields inwards creating more space for the Officers.
As her team walked deeper into Fringe Town, Antonia got a nagging feeling that something was off. The fence was lined by Males who were watching the Squad with interest. Such a large Squad presence had never been seen before in Fringe Town and it created a buzz. Antonia looked around thinking to herself, if all the Males were standing looking at them, who was The Caller talking to? Surely these Males would all be gathered to listen to him, right? Unless…
Antonia felt a pit in her stomach and hoped what she was thinking was not true. Maybe she was just being paranoid because this was her first mission. Yes, that’s what it was, just sheer…Her thoughts we disturbed by murmurs among the Males. They were all pointing to the sky behind Antonia as they moved away from the fence to look at something. Antonia turned around to see what all the fuss was about, and she felt her her mouth run dry.
Smoke billowed from somewhere inside the Society. It was a massive explosion she could tell without even being able to see it. That amount of smoke could not come from a small building.
“The Monument” her headset screamed. “Someone has hit The Monument!”
Antonia didn’t waste a minute.
“Fuck! Retreat! Retreat! Support van, head back to the Monument now. Everybody else, seal the exit as soon as we are out and then all but four units head to The Monument. I want four units covering this entrance till we find out what’s going on. Fuck!” Antonia was screaming into her mouthpiece as she ran. She didn’t really have to scream because the mouthpiece picked up vibrations and she could whisper her instructions and still be heard crystal clear over the network. But she didn’t have time to think about it. The Monument had just been hit!
As she got back to the car Office Mallory ran up beside her screaming, “What the hell is going on?”
“I’m not sure,” Antonia said absent mindedly as she put the car into auto pilot back to The Monument and played through the situation in her head trying to work out what was happening.
Officer Mallory looked out the window as the car sped towards the smoke and then turned to look at Antonia with some words of comfort “You did all the right things Antonia. You led the operation exactly as per protocol. We had him cornered. This must be a…”
“You’re right,” Antonia mumbled almost indistinctively.
“Pardon?” Officer Mallory asked, looking a little confused.
“You’re right,” Antonia said, this time with more purpose. “We did everything as per protocol. The Caller anticipated our actions and went after the Monument instead.”
They sat in silence letting the realisation sweep over them.
“But the Males,” Officer Mallory continued almost as an afterthought as she played with her weapon holster, “they didn’t seem to know what was going on.”
“Do they ever?” Antonia sniggered
“Well, but if The Caller had sent them all the transmission, shouldn’t they have been…more clued in. They just seemed genuinely surprised by everything. The CS presence, the smoke, everything.” Officer Mallory was almost speaking to herself by the time she completed her thought.
“Yes, I know what you mean. It’s bothering me too.” Antonia agreed and smiled at the older woman, grateful for her support. This was her first big operation, and it was going downhill. Fast.
“I think The Caller had planned this out. Once we get to The Monument, we can re-group…” Antonia stopped talking when she saw Officer Mallory looking nervously down at her shoes, then fiddle with her wrist receiver. Her mouth opened a few times to form words, but she didn’t say anything. “What?” demanded Antonia. “Spit it out, if it’s something that will help us Jade!”
Office Mallory shifted in her seat and looked out the window again, almost as if she was willing the car to get to the destination faster to spare her the conversation.
“Jade!” Antonia was never one for patience.
“We all received the message from The Caller right?” Officer Mallory started slowly.
“Yes” Antonia replied.
“And we got it as a normal alert, the way we always do?” Officer Mallory continued.
“Correct. Because the transmitter I placed in my brother’s….” Antonia trailed off as she slammed her fist on the car window repeatedly. “Mother Fucker!!” she screamed at the window as if it had personally wronged her.
“He played us Antonia. We didn’t hack him. He hacked us” Officer Mallory said. “You couldn’t have known.”
But none of that made Antonia feel any better. The Caller had outsmarted her and used her own plan against her.
“How many of us went out there today?” Antonia asked meekly. She felt responsible.
“Look Antonia, it’s not…”
“Jade, just answer the question. How many?”
“All the units. This was the biggest break we had. We were all there” Officer Mallory said calmly. “But the support van would have taken only 30 minutes to get back to The Monument. They’ll get him there”
The support van! Angie was in the support van! Antonia’s spirits lifted immediately. If there’s anyone who she would have wanted to be the first person to get there it would have been Angie. If The Caller wanted to take down The Monument, he was going to go down as well.
Antonia jumped forward in her seat surprising Officer Mallory as she reached for the radio. “Angie! Angie! Support van come in!” Antonia waited but didn’t hear anything back, except the tell-tale artificial crackle to signal that the message had been transmitted. She was about to scream into the radio again, when the car took a sharp right and The Monument came into view. There it was in all its glory rising towards the heavens, the spire on top glistening with a bluish hue from a combination of the evening sun and the heavy smoke billowing from the building next to it.
“What. The. Fuck” Antonia muttered as she turned to Officer Mallory to see her looking just as confused. If The Caller hadn’t done all this to hit The Monument, what was he doing?
“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Officer Mallory was saying “where’s that smoke coming from?”
Antonia was trying to put the pieces together as the car sped forward on the special lanes reserved for emergency crews. They were still five minutes out and Antonia needed to know what was going on.
“Angie, Angie, do you copy?” she pleaded into the radio again but was greeted with silence. “Fuck! Support Van 1, do you copy?”
“Maybe they’re resolving the situation?” Office Mallory offered as way of an explanation.
“And left no-one in the support van? No. Unlikely. They know the protocol…” Antonia paused even as she said it and when her eyes met Officer Mallory’s she knew they were thinking the same thing.
“We should assume all our protocols are compromised.” Antonia went back to resuming command as the car started slowing down to park. “Officer Mallory, we need to…”
“But why?” Officer Mallory interrupted. She was sitting back in her seat, almost reclining and shaking her head from side to side as if trying to dislodge a thought. “What was his end game? Something isn’t right here. The Caller clearly knows our play book, brought us all out to Fringe Town, had The Monument completely unguarded and then…doesn’t attack it?” she narrowed her eyes and tilted her head slightly towards Antonia quizzically.
The car had almost stopped now and both Antoni and Officer Mallory could see the smoke outside, but that seemed a distance away now, as they both got that nagging feeling of having a thought that was just out of grasp.
“What was his end game? What was he trying to do? Was he trying to clear the building? What did he stand to gain from…” Officer Mallory kept throwing out questions.
“What if this was a dry run?” Antonia blurted out urgently as her eyes widened, eyebrows shot up and her mouth opened to let out a little gasp of air. Antonia looked away from Officer Mallory and down to her left, as she continued speaking with extravagant hand gestures. “Set up the City Squad to be out of the Society and launch a false attack near The Monument to create panic. That gave him the perfect opportunity to see how the City Squad responded and what actions The Council took. With response times and escape routes easily mapped out, he could launch the real attack at a later date.” she completed, moving her right hand in a fist over her mouth and blowing into it.
“That’s a carefully calculated move.” Officer Mallory agreed “He had never got it wrong before. He had always been one step ahead of us.”
Antonia knew things were bad, but she still had a small feeling of victory. She had figured it out and she was going to beat The Caller at his game. She had to warn everybody now! Antonia jumped out of the car and broke into a sprint towards the large double doors of The Monument. Under the cover of thick smoke and the persistent rain, the mighty façade of The Monument looked down at her like an angry giant. She felt she was running into the mouth of the enemy. But she had to do this. She had to warn the Council. She had to warn the Squad. She had to warn…Angie?
Antonia almost tripped herself up as she tried to slow down when she caught sight of her friend running out of The Monument looking from side to side.
“Angie! Angie! This is just a ruse. There is no attack,” she started shouting. Antonia was about to say something else, when she noticed her friend bleeding from the right hip. Taking a quick glance past Angie into the doorway, Antonia could see bodies sprawled on the foyer floor of The Monument surrounded by broken pillars and shattered glass. But she didn’t have time to think about that now. Angie was stumbling, as her legs gave way under her. Antonia could see the edges of a laser burn just above Angie’s holster, where it seemed a shot had hit her. Blood had stained her uniform and was running down her leg. Angie had just reached the small flight of steps leading away from The Monument and her left foot slipped over the edge of the first step to send her pitching forward in a twisting motion.
Antonia fell into a graceful slide on her knees and caught her friend just before she hit the ground. “What happened Ange? You’ve been shot! Was it The Caller?” she said.
“What…do you…mean?” Angie was gasping for breath.
“What happened?” Antonia repeated.
Angie gripped her arm tightly as she said again, more clearly this time “What do you mean, ‘ruse’?”
“I thought there wasn’t an explosion at The Monument. The smoke is from the building next door. I thought this was a ploy to get us all out of The Monument and to test response times. But clearly…” Antonia paused glancing up into the foyer of The Monument and the carnage inside. “...I was wrong. What happened here?” she repeated for a third time, as Angie tried to sit up.
“Look Ange, you need to lie down and stay still. Let me call this in. The rest of the Squad are at the scene of the smoke or on their way. This should never have…” and Antonia never finished her sentence. She felt a sharp pain in her chest as if someone had reached in and squeezed her heart. Blood spurted from Antonia’s mouth and the last thing she saw was Angie’s flabbergasted face as she collapsed lifeless on top of her.
Angie was pinned to the ground now. She tried to stand up, but her legs buckled, and her eyes got hazy, as she hit the pavement and passed out. The doctor would later tell her it was out of exhaustion and shock.
“She’s coming around now” the doctor said as Angie’s eyes slowly fluttered open. She felt groggy and tried turning her head to clear the haze.
“Easy there Angie, easy…” the doctor said in a calm but firm voice. “Your neck is immobilised. Do you understand? Blink if you do.”
Still groggy, Angie managed to blink once in confirmation.
“Good. Do you know where you are?” the doctor asked.
Angie racked her brain as her eyes darted around to take in the surroundings. The smoke, the rain, The Monument towering over her. Her ears started to pick up the commotion of noises including the Squad sirens, the Society alarm and the horns of vehicles.
“Toni!” she screamed as she tried to sit up. A sharp burning pain in her back meant she didn’t get very far.
The doctor held her down as she struggled to get up. “Angie, you need to stay put. You are injured. You’re lucky to be alive.”
But all Angie could think of was her friend, her partner. “What happened to Toni?” she asked urgently with panic in her voice, because she already knew the answer.
“She didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
Memories came flooding back. Tears escaped down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and sobbed silently, her body shaking with sorrow.
The doctor tried to ask her some questions, as did some of the other Squad officers. They were still trying to piece together what happened. But Angie stared silently at The Monument.
“She’s in shock” the doctor explained to the rest of the officers. “I’d like to move her to the hospital for recovery now and she’ll be released as soon as we’ve run some tests.”
Angie followed instructions in a haze not really understanding anything. Getting into the medical van, she lay down on the single medical table inside it as the doctor attached an IV and signalled to the driver “We’re ready to go”
Angie shut her eyes. This was just the start, she promised herself. She would fix this. She would make sure it ended. She would end it for Toni.
(A week after the attack on The Monument)
“Officer Ranko was closest to the door and you saw her being hit as you ran out?”
Wearing an oversized sweatshirt, track pants and comfortable trainers Angie didn’t look a City Squad Officer. She looked more like an average citizen. The dark bags under her eyes, the hair held together with a simple clip and the lack of any make up made her look distinctively tired. She cupped her coffee mug with both hands, staring into it without seeing the coffee or the mug. Occasionally she would shake her head and look out the window of the debriefing room at the bright day outside. The room itself was friendly and welcoming, painted with bright colours. But it still had an official feel to it and Angie longed to be outside.
“Officer Burke? Was Officer Ranko closest to the door as you ran out?”
The question jarred Angie out of her thoughts. She turned to look at Officer Carol Murphy and nodded slowly. “Yes, Officer Ranko was the last Officer to go down. Her covering fire is probably what gave me the chance to run out The Monument to get help.”
“I know this is difficult Angie,” Officer Murphy walked up next to her and squeezed her shoulder “thanks for talking to us again.”
Angie smiled weakly. “Anything to help track down the attackers”
Officer Murphy walked back to the other side of the table and shuffled some papers. She picked one of them up, adjusted her glasses to read it and put it back down. “We still can’t figure out why they didn’t take anything. Nothing was missing, nothing was stolen. Just the shootout in the foyer of The Monument. Do you have any thoughts Angie?”
Angie picked up on the fact that Officer Murphy had switched to calling her ‘Angie’ and not ‘Officer Burke’. Whenever you’re interviewing someone, put them as ease. Gain their trust. Even if it’s the victim. Remember: your job as an Officer is to get to the truth. She’d been through this training and had to smile at how skilful Officer Murphy was.
“Maybe we surprised them by how soon we got there?” Angie offered
“How many of them did you see?” Officer Murphy followed up
“It was all crazy and so sudden. All I recall were the laser flashes from all sides.” Angie answered
“You didn’t see anyone?” Officer Murphy asked again
Angie shook her head. There was a pause as Officer Murphy waited expecting Angie to continue. “Did I not mention this in the first interview? I thought I did. But they talked to me so soon after…”
“Yes, yes. I see here that you did say you didn’t see anyone. My mistake.” Officer Murphy said looking down at the papers in front of her.
Confirm the story. Ask the same question in different ways. See if the story changes. You’re not trying to trick them; you’re simply making sure you get to the truth. Angie knew the drill.
“I heard someone shout ‘the roof’. At least that’s what it sounded like.”
Officer Murphy perked up immediately. “Did you mention this in the first interview?”
“I think so.” Angie shrugged
“OK. Give me a minute. I’ll be right back” and with that Officer Murphy walked out of the room with purpose.
Angie knew she had to be careful. Officer Murphy and her partner Officer Calhoun, who were now interviewing her were part of the Council Guard – a special branch of City Squad dedicated to protecting the Council Women. They were the sharpest minds in City Squad. And the most experienced.
Outside the room, Angie was being closely observed by a woman in her early fifties with grey hair tied in a neat bun. With her arms crossed, stiff stance and stern expression she could be mistaken for a head mistress looking over a class of naughty young girls.
“So, she just thought of new information. Just like that…” Officer Murphy was saying “What do you think Agatha?”
The woman turned away from observing Angie and uncrossed her arms to reveal a small but elegant gold clip with her name, just above the left jacket pocket. Officer Agatha Calhoun was not just a member of the Council Guard, she was also its head.
“Could be that she forgot. She did lose her best friend. That kind of shock can do strange things to the best.” Officer Calhoun said.
“But…?” Officer Murphy pressed “I know that look Agatha.”
“But, it is convenient that she’s the only one who survived. We can’t verify her story.” Officer Calhoun said stroking her chin with her left hand, almost like she was thinking out loud.
Officer Murphy continued “Maybe we should go over the radio messages from the time of the attack. If someone said anything to do with ‘the roof’, maybe one of the radios picked it up. The technicians have already transcribed all the messages. We can have it sent to our devices immediately”
Officer Calhoun nodded “Make it happen.”
Officer Murphy’s tapped a few keys and a second later both their handheld devices buzzed to signal that a new message had been received. It was the transcribed radio messages neatly catalogued by name of the Officer, time of message and location from which the transmission was picked up.
“‘Where are they?’, ‘Can you see anything?’, some jumbled words the techs couldn’t make out, ‘Can’t get through’, ‘Stop!’” Officer Murphy pursed her lips as she continued scanning through the messages. “It’s mainly just a lot of confusion and scrambled words.”
“Did she mistake ‘through’ for the ‘the roof’ perhaps?” Officer Calhoun said.
“Hmm…Maybe…” Officer Murphy mumbled.
“Like I said, convenient.” Officer Calhoun sighed as she picked up a glass of water from the table. “We have the audio files of the radio messages as well, right?” she asked Officer Murphy. Getting a nod in the affirmative she walked to the door to the debriefing room and paused for a second. Straightening her posture, she put on a warm smile and pushed the handle down to swing open the door.
Officer Calhoun? Wow! They must really not trust my story. Angie swallowed and looked up at Officer Calhoun nervously. She allowed herself a weak smile. She’d been in that room for three straight hours now and was starting to feel really tired.
“I’m so sorry for all the time it’s taking Officer Burke” Officer Calhoun said as she slid the glass of water towards Angie.
It was Officer Burke again.
“…just clearing up a few more details before we can confidently shut this case.”
And you think I’m hiding something? “Of course, Officer Calhoun. Anything I can do to help.” Angie replied. She did really want to help.
“Let me start off by saying I’m sorry about Officer Viali. She was a tremendous asset.” Officer Calhoun said.
Angie felt a twinge of deep sadness at the sound of Toni’s name. She mustered a nod.
“You two were close?” Officer Calhoun asked leaning forward, placing her elbows on the table and clasping her hands.
Show the subject that you care about them. Build a connection. Let them know that they can trust you. There was a reason Officer Calhoun was the best. Angie had done this herself a number of times, but here she was watching a master at work. She needed to tread carefully.
“Yes. Were had been working together for nearly ten years. Toni was a friend more than a partner” Angie said sincerely. It was true. Toni had become such a large part of her life that Angie sometimes wondered whether they knew too much about each other!
Officer Calhoun nodded understandingly. “Did you trust her?”
Where are you going with this? Angie ensured she kept her shoulders relaxed as she answered “With my life. Toni believed in everything the Society stands for. More than anyone else I know.”
“Yes. That’s what I hear. Very impressive young woman. And very thorough reports as well. Some of the best I have read actually!” Officer Calhoun was now scrolling through her handheld device. She stopped at a message. Tapped it to open it. And started reading out. “‘Officer Burke’s opinion on the Males is more tolerant. She is reluctant to engage in decisive actions.’” Looking up at Angie she continued “That’s from Officer Viali’s last report. Did you know your partner had her doubts about how you operated?”
“She didn’t have doubts. She was expressing opinions. Valid opinions. Opinions she also expressed to me. I knew Toni had filed those reports. I knew what she’d said. We were partners and I didn’t feel the need to lie to her.” Angie said a little too firmly.
“But you’d lie to us?” Officer Calhoun jumped on it.
Well played. Angie took a breath to calm herself “I haven’t lied to you about anything.”
“Well Agent Burke, we can’t verify anything you have told us.” Officer Calhoun kept pressing
I just have to keep my answers short and to the point. Don’t give her anything else to work with. “OK. How else can I help you then?” Angie threw her right hand up in frustration and set it back on the table.
“How about we listen to the radio messages and you can talk us through your version of events.” Officer Calhoun set her handheld device on the table, folded her arms and looked at Angie with a challenging look.
“Sure.” Angie shrugged. Let’s go. If that’s what it takes.
Officer Calhoun held up her left hand and gestured at the camera with her index finger in the universal sign asking someone to come into the room. Officer Murphy immediately entered the room and took a seat.
“I always find it better to have a second pair of ears to verify things” Officer Calhoun said.
Don’t take the bait. Short answers. To the point. Angie simply nodded.
“Right, let’s start then, shall we?” Officer Murphy said
Yes. Let’s. Angie was ready. She’d prepared for this.
“‘We need backu…’, ‘…shooters’, ‘Where are they?’, ‘Officer Burke!’”
“Yes, that sounds about right. Like I said, it all started suddenly. It was very confusing. We were trying to figure out what was happening.” Angie interrupted the replay of the radio messages.
“That last transmission was Officer Ranko shouting out your name. Is that right?” Officer Calhoun was leading the interview.
“And why was she panicking?”
“Because we were getting shot at from all sides.”
“Like an ambush?”
“Hard to say. I couldn’t see anything. I don’t know how many shooters there were.”
“And when did this happen?”
“Yes, when during the fight would you say Officer Ranko called out to you?”
“I would say towards the end. Just before…”
“Did you say the end of the fight?” Officer Calhoun stepped in to pause the to and fro.
“Yes. It was towards the end that Officer Ranko shouted at me to find my way out The Monument.” Angie answered
“In that case Officer Burke, why don’t we start from the beginning.” Officer Calhoun put down the handheld device and sat back in her chair like she was settling down to hear a story.
Keep it simple. Use the facts as the basis. Every good story is based on truth. Angie repeated the mantra to herself as she drew in a deep breath.
“We were at the Fringe Town when we saw the smoke from The Monument” Angie started
“You thought the smoke was from The Monument” Officer Murphy added helpfully
So, you’re good cop and Officer Calhoun is the bad cop. OK. Got it. “That’s right. We then got the radio message about the attack on The Monu…sorry…the apparent attack on The Monument” Angie corrected herself and smiled at Officer Murphy. “We immediately left Fringe Town to get here.” Angie gestured out the window to the plaza where The Monument stood.
“This was you and Officer Ranko?” Officer Calhoun asked
“Why wasn’t anyone else in the support van?”
“With The Caller thought to be at the Fringe Town, most of the force was distributed there. Only Officer Ranko and I were in the support van.”
“And this was normal for you? To be in the support van in an operation of this magnitude?”
“So, why then were you in the support van…with a rookie?”
Angie took a minute to stare straight at Officer Calhoun. She swallowed to clear her throat. “Because that’s the decision Toni…Officer Viali made”
“Any particular reason your partner would not want you by her side?”
You’re good Officer Calhoun. I’ll give you that. “We had a dis-agreement on the handling of the situation.”
“What did you want to do?”
I see what you’re doing Officer Calhoun. I’m not falling for it. “Council Woman Arietta issued a shoot to kill order. It caught me by surprise.”
“You thought it was excessive?”
“I thought we’d be better off taking The Caller alive to find out what his plans were.”
“Did you discuss this with Toni?” Officer Murphy jumped in again.
Build trust. You get more from the interviewee by getting them to trust you. Officer Murphy was playing the good cop perfectly. These two work well as a team. “I did.”
“She still wanted you in the support van?” Officer Murphy was now leading
“Officer Viali felt that because I had conflicting feelings about the kill order, I should stay in the support van.” Build a good story from the truth. Besides, this was all exactly as it played out. Angie had nothing to hide.
Both Officer Murphy and Officer Calhoun were taken aback a little by the blunt honesty. They recovered quickly.
Officer Murphy continued. “And you were OK with it?”
“Absolutely. In that operation Office Viali was the commanding Officer and I was following instructions.”
Officer Calhoun looked at the handheld device in front of her where the whole interview was being transcribed in real time. She picked up the device and read through the last few lines. She then scrolled back up to read some of the earlier answers.
“You said you heard the radio message from the Officers at The Monument and headed back.” Officer Calhoun asked, putting the handheld device down. “What did you see when you arrived?”
The mantra again. Keep it simple. Use the facts as the basis. Every good story is based on truth. Angie looked out the window reliving those moments all over again.
The support van pulled up to The Monument and Officer Ranko was the first out of the car. “Officer Burke, the scene looks clear. No hostiles.”
Angie stepped out and had to smile. The exuberance of youth. “Officer Ranko, what do we do now?”
“What do we do now?” Angie repeated
“Officer Ranko. There’s no training like on the job training. Focus. What do we do now?” Angie needed the young rookie to step up.
“Check the target of the attack. Move out all civilians.” Officer Ranko said confidently
“Other way round. Civilians come first.” Angie corrected her
Officer Ranko nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll go move the civilians out and check with the other Officers on the scene as well.”
Angie tapped her on the helmet and gave her a quick nod. Officer Dani Ranko was the youngest member of City Squad. At a mere twenty-two years of age, she was fresh out of the academy.
With Officer Ranko busy, Angie could do what she was here to do.
“Officer Ranko was the first out of the car.” Angie was recounting the events of the past week to Officer Murphy and Officer Calhoun. “We started moving the civilians away from The Monument.”
“Was it just the two of you at the scene from City Squad?” Officer Calhoun asked
“No. There were three other Officers at the plaza as part of regular patrol.” Angie pointed towards the papers on the table “I think their names will be in the original report”.
“Yes. They are.”
Angie nodded and carried on “We cleared the plaza and then made our way to The Monument.”
“Is that when the shooting started?”
“No. That came later.”
“Clear on the approach roads to the right and left. Main exit road blocked by barriers to stop anyone leaving. Air support incoming, but at least twenty minutes to target. Three Officers on regular patrol.” Angie was narrating into her personal recorder. So far, so good.
“Officer Burke…” Officer Ranko was running towards her “…civilians are all clear. The patrol Officers are also here now.”
“Good.” Angie was impressed by the rookie so far. “Let’s head in slowly. Clear the foyer and then we head upstairs. OK?”
The other Officers all nodded, and they set off towards The Monument in a close group in case of any hostile fire. They encountered no resistance and entered The Monument quietly. The foyer of The Monument was a large circular chamber. There was one main entrance, where the Officers were all now standing, and a smaller side entrance halfway round the left-hand wall. This led to the stairs to the upper floors and the adjoining storage building. From their position at the entrance, the room curled off to both sides with pillars intermittently as the only cover in case they took any fire.
Angie held up her left hand in a fist. The group immediately stopped. They listened for sounds, but all they heard was the echo of their own breathing and the cacophony of the noises outside as everyone was reacting to the attack. Angie held up two fingers on her left hand and then four fingers stretched out close together with the thumb tucked in pointing to the left. She repeated the gesture pointing to the right. Immediately two of the patrol Officers broke off and headed to the left side of the foyer. Officer Ranko and the other patrol officer took the right. Both groups would carefully circle round the room looking for any signs of intruders and meet in the centre on the other side.
Angie was left covering the entrance. She stepped outside, then away from the entrance…and relaxed as she dropped her weapon to her side.
“Both approach roads still clear. Entrance road starting to fill up with first response vehicles which have all stopped 2 kilometres away to establish a perimeter. Air support still incoming, only one support helicopter has landed so far. Time since attack: 35 mins” Angie dictated into her personal recorder again. This was going very smoothly indeed.
Officer Murphy had leaned forward in her chair now. Officer Calhoun was still sitting back.
“We walked into the foyer and there was no disturbance that we could see.” Angie continued her interview. “We split into groups to clear the room.”
“No sign of any hostiles?” Officer Murphy asked
Angie shook her head.
“And no indication that anything had been taken or disturbed in any way?”
Angie shook her head again.
“Anything suspicious at all?”
“Could I get some more water please?”
Officer Murphy opened her mouth to say something, then reached over to pick up the glass and walked out the door.
“Why didn’t you radio in immediately?” Officer Calhoun asked
Angie cleared her throat before saying “We were radio silent in case there were any hostiles. We were still clearing the foyer and at this time we all still thought The Monument had been attacked.”
“Did you see anything at all when the room was being cleared?”
“Officer Ranko and I were working our way on the right side. Two of the patrol Officers were working the left. The third Officer covered the entrance. Thank you.” Angie said reaching for the glass of water Officer Murphy had just brought in. “We converged at the far side of the room satisfied that nothing had been touched.”
“Not that there was anything of value in the foyer of The Monument.” Officer Calhoun said.
“Exactly.” Angie nodded in agreement. “We were about to head to the side entrance to move upstairs when we heard the first shot and one of the patrol Officers was hit and killed. And then all hell broke loose.”
With the latest response times noted, Angie headed back in. The two teams were just finishing up their sweep and had met in the middle on the far side. They turned around and headed back to the entrance.
Easy peasey, lemon squeezy. Angie was pleased by how well this was all going.
“Nothing.” Officer Ranko said as she walked over “This all look suspicious to you Officer Burke?”
“What do you mean?” Angie asked, playing along for now.
“Well, with the amount of smoke outside I expected a fire in here.” Officer Ranko said
“The upper floors still need to be cleared.” Angie replied
“Isn’t that the air vent?” Officer Ranko was pointing to the ceiling on the left.
Angie slowly moved her hand towards her secondary weapon, the stun stick. It shot a quick high voltage pulse to incapacitate the victim. Very effective to subdue someone without firing a shot.
“If there was a fire upstairs…” Officer Ranko continued. Angie took a step to her right trying to position herself behind Officer Ranko.
“…we’d see some smoke from that vent.” Officer Ranko moved closer to the vent to take a look.
Angie was behind Officer Ranko now. The other patrol Officers had moved towards the side entrance to go upstairs. They had their backs to Angie.
“No, I don’t think there’s a fire upsta…” Officer Ranko turned around suddenly.
Angie had pulled out her stun stick. Officer Ranko stared at her for a second, her eyes jumping from Angie to the stun stick. Then her eyes widened as her confusion turned to shock. She quickly flipped her weapon up towards Angie.
“Office Burke! What are you doing?” Officer Ranko said
Angie plunged forward to hit her quickly, but Officer Ranko was ready. She deftly took a step back and Angie’s stun stick missed. Officer Ranko pulled her trigger at the same time and a blue laser shot out of her weapon straight towards Angie.
Angie felt a searing pain on her right side, as she rolled behind the nearest pillar. Officer Ranko took cover behind the pillar next to it. The other patrol Officers reacted to the shots and were running for cover trying to discern what was happening.
This is not what she wanted to do, but she didn’t have a choice. The Resistance comes first. You’ve trained for this. This is your mission.
One of the patrol officers attempted to make a radio call before taking cover “Where are they?”
Angie took aim and pulled the trigger. The Officer fell to the floor immediately.
Blue lasers flashed back and forth as the two remaining patrol Officers fired randomly towards the entrances. Marble crashed to the floor as the walls and pillars were shattered. Paintings ripped apart. Urgent radio messages added to the confusion.
“How many shooters?”
“We need backup!”
“It’s Officer Burke!” Officer Ranko’s voice trying to cut through the noise.
Angie took advantage of the commotion “Help! I’m hit”
One of the patrol Officers stepped out from behind a pillar and Angie took her shot again. It hit the Officer in her neck right above her breast plate. She went down with her finger still pressing the trigger of her weapon spraying the foyer with more shots.
Zing. A shot whizzed past Angie’s pillar. It was Officer Ranko.
Zing. Zing. Two more shots peppered the pillar.
Angie pointed her weapon around the pillar and squeezed off a few shots. They were met with return fire immediately. I have to end this quickly before the rest of the Squad gets here.
Angie acted quickly. She slid her stun stick out towards the pillar Officer Ranko was taking cover behind. At the same time, she also pressed the button to activate the radio.
Officer Ranko saw the stun stick come towards her. She knew Angie would be out in the open now. She had been standing with her back to the pillar firing round the corner, but she now turned around to face forward. Crackle. Officer Ranko started to look down at her radio and her heart skipped a beat. She realised too late what had happened and looked up just as the laser hit her.
Angie rolled back behind the pillar and closed her eyes. Officer Ranko was a talented Officer and she took no pleasure in killing her. It had to be done.
Angie looked around the foyer of The Monument trying to locate the third patrol Officer. She couldn’t see anything and there was no more firing. It was eerily quiet. Angie fired off a few rounds towards the other side of the room to get a reaction. All she got was silence. Scrambling to her feet, Angie slowly moved behind the next pillar still seeking cover as she continued to scan the room. Did the Officer make it out? If she did, it was all over.
As Angie made her way round the room, she saw the body of the third Officer with multiple shots on her arms, legs and neck. She lay just a few feet from the Officer Angie had shot in the neck, who had then fired off a few more rounds before she died. The stray shots must have killed the third Officer.
“Three, maybe four” Angie said
“You saw these four shooters?” Officer Murphy asked
“Maybe four. And no. I didn’t”
“The patrol Officer was the first to get hit?”
“And the rest of you returned fire?”
“We took cover and tried to assess the situation.”
“How many of the attackers did you hit?” Officer Calhoun asked
“I don’t know.”
“Most of the foyer was destroyed…”
“Yes. There were a lot of shots fired.”
“And yet, you didn’t hit any of the attackers?”
“Like I said, I don’t know.”
Officer Calhoun locked eyes with Angie till Angie looked away.
“Officer Ranko was closest to the door?” Officer Murphy asked
“Yes. She held off the attackers as I ran out.”
“Yet, nobody saw anyone else come out The Monument. Can you explain that?” Officer Calhoun asked
“I can’t.” Angie said truthfully
“Officer Viali was the first person you saw?” Officer Calhoun asked
“We know this is hard Officer Burke. We’re all still hurting.” Officer Murphy added
The interview had moved to the events after Angie exited The Monument. It was the part Angie was anxious about.
Just stick to the truth as closely as possible.
“Yes.” Angie said
“And did you see who shot her?”
Angie slumped down and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Angie! Angie! This is just a ruse. There is no attack.” Antonia was shouting as she came running towards her.
Ruse? How much had Toni figured out?
Angie had one more thing to do, but it would have to wait. Her wound was bleeding giving her a good excuse. Angie intentionally stumbled towards the steps and let her left foot catch the edge. This made her pitch forwards and she braced herself for impact. Instead, she felt Antonia’s arms grabbing her just before she hit the ground.
“What happened Ange? You’ve been shot! Was it The Caller?” Antonia asked concerned
“What…do you…mean?” Angie said slowly. She needed to know what Toni knew.
“What happened?” Antonia repeated.
Angie wanted to scream at her “Just tell me what you know dammit!”. Instead she gripped Antonia’s arm tightly and said again “What do you mean, ‘ruse’?”
“I thought there wasn’t an explosion at The Monument.” Antonia started saying “The smoke is from the building next door. I thought this was a ploy to get us all out of The Monument and to test response times. But clearly I was wrong.”
Oh Toni. Why did you have to figure it out!
“What happened here?” Antonia asked for a third time
Angie sat up. Or at least tried to. Antonia held her down.
“Look Ange, you need to lie down and stay still.” Antonia said.
Angie was hoping she could distract Toni long enough to get them both out of there. She could then sit her down and explain everything. Toni would understand…right?
“Let me call this in…”
No! No Toni! Don’t!
“The rest of the Squad are at the scene of the smoke or on their way…”
Toni! Just stop! Don’t do it!
“This should never have…” Antonia stopped mid-sentence. Blood started filling her mouth and she looked down at Angie in complete shock.
Angie’s weapon let out a dull hum as it cooled down after firing a round. The laser round had gone straight through Toni’s neck just above her armour.
The few seconds just before Toni’s body collapsed to the pavement seemed to take forever. Angie’s mind filled with thoughts. What choice did I have? Toni would never have let it go. She would have alerted the whole Squad? All this work would have been for nothing. The Resistance is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Toni. I had to do this. It was the only way. I didn’t have a choice! Did I?
Most of all, Angie felt an unbearable weight on her chest. She tried to undo her vest so she could breathe, but she couldn’t find the strap. She was gasping for air. She was drowning. She wanted to scream.
“No!!!!” Angie finally let out a scream as she tried to stand up. The sight of Toni’s body was too much. Her legs buckled, and her eyes got hazy, as she hit the pavement. Her last thought before she passed out was “Did I have a choice?”
“Losing a partner is tough.” Officer Calhoun said meeting Angie’s eyes with an understanding look. “It gets easier.”
“Does it?” Angie asked
Officer Calhoun adjusted her collar and sighed. “No.”
Angie nodded. She didn’t think so.
“Let’s take a break.” Officer Calhoun said. “Would you like some coffee Officer Burke?”
“No thank you. How much longer do you think this will take?” Angie asked
“Just a few more questions.” Officer Calhoun answered heading for the door. Officer Murphy followed her out.
“The grief was genuine.” Officer Murphy said as soon as the door to the interview room was shut.
“She’s still not telling us something.” Officer Calhoun answered. “About the attack on The Monument anyway. Officer Viali’s death…that she’s honest about.”
Both women looked at Angie through the window as she sipped her water.
“Has anyone asked her about the painting?” Officer Calhoun asked
“We just found out earlier today.” Officer Murphy said.
“Good.” Officer Calhoun said. Picking up a glass of water, she turned and headed back to the interview room. “Let’s see if she knows more than we do. Oh. And anything on the radio message about ‘the roof’?”
“No. The techs tried cleaning it up the best they could. No mention of the roof.” Officer Murphy said
“Hmm. Send a unit to check out the roof of The Monument anyway.”
Officer Murphy typed a quick message on her handheld and looked up. “Done.”
Both women entered the interview room. Officer Calhoun placed the glass of water on the table, sat down and took a sip. Clearing her throat, she looked at Angie and said “Officer Burke, I’ll get straight to the point. Some parts of your story can’t be verified.”
“Because everyone else who was there is dead.” Angie said.
“You see how this is a problem for us?” Officer Calhoun asked
“How can I…”
“Why were they trying to steal the painting Officer Burke?” Officer Calhoun cut in
“What painting?” Angie replied. Ah! They did notice the painting.
“The painting celebrating the day the Society was officially set-up.” Officer Calhoun said
“The canvas near the entrance?” Angie asked
“Yes. Why did they try to steal it?” Officer Calhoun asked again
“I didn’t see anyone try to steal it.” Angie answered.
“We can track it using the tracking chip in the canvas.” Officer Calhoun said
“That may give us some answers.” Angie answered
Both Officers on the other side of the table nodded their heads. Office Calhoun then looked at Officer Murphy and back at Angie.
“That’s all for now Officer Burke. We may need you to answer some more questions as we continue looking into this.” Officer Calhoun said
“Of course.” Angie replied “Something like this needs to be resolved. The Caller cannot be allowed to get away with it.”
“You’ll continue to be on leave till we have concluded the investigation.” Officer Murphy added.
“We’re still calling it that?” Angie asked
“You lost a partner and a friend…”
“But you want me off the Squad because you still don’t believe me.” Angie added before Officer Murphy could finish.
“You need to take all the time you need.” Officer Murphy simply smiled and said.
Angie smiled back. This was the story the rest of the Squad was going to hear. Can’t have the Officer who was the only survivor being victimised now, can they?
Officer Calhoun extended her hand to shake Angie’s. Officer Murphy did the same. Angie got up from her chair and walked out the room to the escalator leading to the lobby of the City Squad Headquarters.
As Angie descended out of sight Officer Murphy turned to her superior with a quizzical look “You said we could find the painting using the tracker, but it wasn’t stolen. Only partially cut out of the frame.”
“And Officer Burke didn’t know that.” Officer Calhoun answered
“If she did, she would have mentioned that the painting was not actually stolen!” Officer Murphy’s eyes lit up as she understood the reasoning “You were testing her.”
“A little…yes. But I still think she’s holding something back.” Officer Calhoun said.
“Upstairs then?” Officer Murphy asked pointing to the escalator going up “Council Woman Arietta did ask for an immediate update.”
“In a bit. I need to collect my thoughts first.” Officer Calhoun said with a sigh. She wasn’t looking forward to face the Council Woman without having all the answers.
Angie walked into her silent apartment locking her door carefully behind her. It had been a long day, and she still felt nervous.
“Damn, that was intense.” Angie said to the empty room. Angie sat down on her bed and rubbed her forehead.
Angie looked up towards her bookshelf.
She got up, walked over and pulled out the ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and opened it.
The book was hollow. Only a box, masquerading as a book. It had been Angie’s chosen hiding place for the old-fashioned mobile phone.
“Hello.” Angie answered the phone
“You know who this is.” It was The Caller. That’s how he started every call.
“Yes. Yes of course.” Angie replied
“Great work. I hear everything went well today.” He always knew everything immediately. Angie didn’t know how he did it. And she never asked.
“Yes. It was OK. Officer Calhoun still doesn’t believe me, but I think I can manage her.” Angie said
“Do they have something to chase?” The Caller asked
“I mentioned that I heard a radio message about ‘the roof’. That should keep them busy for a few days.” Angie replied before quickly adding “I’m sorry to ask you this, but are you sure this mobile phone is secure? They can’t tap into it?”
“Don’t worry.” The Caller was calm as always “Nobody monitors the remaining ground cell towers anymore. This phone is completely separate from the satellite communications relay. We’re secure.”
“Old is gold, right?” Angie joked
The Caller remained silent
“They…they know about the painting.” Angie said
“Do they?” The Caller replied
“Well, they know that someone tried to steal it. I don’t think they know why. If I knew why you wanted it, I cou…”
“It’s better if you don’t know.” The Caller said “We all have a role to play.”
“Of course. Of course. I understand.” Angie quickly answered
“You should get some rest. There’ll be more to do soon.” The Caller said
“I’ll be awaiting any instructions.” Angie answered and ended the call. She replaced the mobile phone in the book and placed it back in the shelf. The Caller was right. She needed to get some rest.
Angie stood up and walked to the full-length mirror. She looked at herself for a long time and then slowly undressed. Turning to her left, she moved closer to the mirror to get a better look at her hip. Carefully she peeled away a layer of false skin to reveal a tiny rectangular device with a flickering green light. She had created it herself. She ironically called it XY. With a flick of a switch, the light changed from green to red. It was a ritual she had to do every night to ensure that the exposure didn’t get too much. There were side effects. As the light changed from green to red, Angie’s hips narrowed, her muscles grew, and her breasts shrank. The camouflage began to drop away as her real self was slowly revealed.
When it was done, Rob turned to the mirror to look at himself. It felt good to be Male again. He returned to the bed, laid down and pulled the sheets over himself. He’d have to do it all again tomorrow.
Officer Calhoun always felt like she was about to get a telling off when she stood on the escalators climbing up towards the chambers of the Council Women in The Monument. She could never quite understand why. She’d done it a million times since she joined the City Squad twenty-five years back. She’d even been personally chosen by the head of the Council to head up the Council Guard. But today, she felt she had a reason to feel nervous. The biggest attack in the history of the Society was still not solved. The Council would look to her for answers and she had none.
“C’est la vie” Officer Calhoun said out loud to herself as she stepped off the escalator and headed towards the double doors to the Council chambers.
“Officer Calhoun?” it was one of the attendants who served the Council Women
“Not now please. I have a meeting with..” Officer Calhoun started
“Yes, precisely Officer. The Council Woman is wating for you in her Office.” the attendant said
“Oh? Aren’t we doing this in the Council chambers?” Officer Calhoun asked
“The Council Woman thought it would be better to meet in her Office.” the attendant said walking away down the corridor.
Officer Calhoun hesitated for a second in front of the chamber doors and then spun round to follow the attendant. They walked down past a row of offices with the names of the Council Women displayed on placards.
They came across a group of rookie Officers walking towards them, being taken on their first tour of The Monument and the Council offices. The attendant guiding them was explaining the layout of the floor. Something all Officers had to learn for evacuation protocols.
“As we move towards the Council chambers, you can see the offices of the Council Women to your right and left.” the attendant gestured to both sides as some of the Officers made notes “The longest serving Council Women are at the end we just came from. This is to ensure they are closest to the evacuation route in times of emergency.”
“Salute!” the lead Officer called as the group approached Officer Calhoun and her attendant.
“That’s quite OK Officer…?”
“Diego. Officer Diego.” The young Officer said with pride
“Officer Diego. You don’t have to salute me every time you see me. We’re colleagues now.” Officer Calhoun said. She saw the young Officer’s eyes widen and cheeks blush as she took in the moment. Officer Diego was proud and excited to be viewed as a colleague by the head of the Council Guard.
Officer Calhoun gave her a smile and a quick wave as she walked past her. She’d just made that young Officer’s day.
Her attendant had stopped to take in the interaction with the rookie Officers and now turned to continue down the corridor. They walked past Council Woman Jones, Council Woman Zichenski and Council Woman Frei. They eventually stopped at the fourth door for Council Woman Arietta.
“The Council Woman will be just a minute. If you could wait here please?” the attendant gestured to a chair by the door.
“Thanks.” Officer Calhoun said as the attendant nodded and walked away. She was just about to sit down when the door opened and a woman with white hair, dressed in the green gown of a Council woman opened the door.
“Officer Calhoun!” she said with a warm smile
“Council Woman Arietta. It has been a while, hasn’t it?” Officer Calhoun said as the women shook hands.
“Indeed. Much as I like you Agatha, I prefer not seeing you. It means everything is as it is supposed to be.” Council Woman Arietta said dropping the official titles.
“Are you saying I’m the harbinger of doom Valentina?” Officer Calhoun did the same
“Ha! Ha!” Council Woman Arietta threw her head back and laughed. “No such thing. Just wish we met more often under better circumstances.”
“I work right downstairs. You could always pop by for a quick chat you know?” Officer Calhoun said
“We all have our parts to play Agatha.”
“And as you’re now a Council Woman, I’m no longer the same friend you played darts with?”
“I play chess now.”
“It’s far less active.”
“It’s far more intellectual.”
Both women laughed and hugged.
“You’d think that for two people who have known each other for twenty years we’d be more alike.” Officer Calhoun said
“Opposites attract.” Council Woman Arietta replied
Officer Calhoun sat down on one of the plush chairs in the office. The Council Woman remained standing. “I find it easier to think on my feet.” she always said.
“Much as I’d like to catch up Agatha, we both know why we’re here.” Council Woman Arietta wasted no time in getting to the point.
“Yes indeed.” Officer Calhoun said. “I’m sure you read the report summary. I can fill in any gaps.”
“It’s not what’s in the report I’m interested in.” Council Woman Arietta walked round to the other side of the table “I’m interested in what’s not in the report.”
“I can tell you, but you can’t use any of it Valentina.” Officer Calhoun said
“I don’t want to use it. I just want to get the full picture.” Council Woman Arietta answered
“She didn’t plan it.” Officer Calhoun said
“But she could have been a part of it?”
“Officer Burke is hiding something. I’m not sure what.”
“Is she under surveillance?”
“Satellite phone tapped. Her badge is also tagged for location tracking.”
“What do you expect to find?”
“I don’t know. Nothing. Everything.”
Council Woman Arietta walked back to the front of the desk to stand besides Officer Calhoun. “Where does this leave us?”
“You want me to close the case, don’t you?” Officer Calhoun said
“Where would you take it Agatha? How do you see this ending?”
“You can’t answer a question with a question. Or two questions.”
“That’s still a question Valentina.”
Council Woman Arietta smiled. “If there’s something we could get out of this, then we should absolutely pursue it.”
“But because there isn’t, we should drop it?” Officer Calhoun said.
“Now who’s asking the questions?”
“Valentina. I know there’s more to this.”
“And I have always trusted your instincts Agatha. But the reality is that this is the biggest threat the Society has faced, and we need answers. The longer the questions remain, the more people will feel unsafe.” Council Woman Arietta had sat down now.
“And the Council can’t afford to have questions, can they?” Officer Calhoun said
“Agatha. Even you can understand the gravity of the situation we’re in now. This isn’t a typical case.” Council Woman Arietta said
Officer Calhoun shifted in her seat and nodded her head.
“If you think we can get somewhere, by all means chase it. You’ll have my full support and I’ll hold the other Council Women off.” Council Woman Arietta said
“Yes. I know that Valentina. There’s just something about this whole thing that doesn’t sit right with me.” Officer Calhoun replied
“A week.” Council Woman Arietta said standing up again.
“What?” Officer Calhoun asked confused
“I can hold the rest of the Council off for a week. That’s the time you have to find your answers Agatha. After than you will have to shut it down.”
“That’s more than I thought I’d get. I’ll take it. Thanks Valentina.” Officer Calhoun said getting up. “And if a week is all I have; I’d better get to it than sitting here reminiscing with you.”
Council Woman Arietta pretended to catch an arrow in her chest “Ouch! You know how to hurt me.”
Both women laughed and hugged again before Officer Calhoun left the room.
Council Woman Arietta walked her friend to the door. Turning back inside, she walked over and sat down behind her desk. Officer Agatha Calhoun was a good Officer. Probably the best and would find answers within the week. Some at least, if not all. But enough to keep this conversation going and Council Woman Arietta needed this to go away. Quickly.
She knew what she had to do.
Taking a key from her robe, she unlocked her bookshelf and removed a book with a well-worn cover which said ‘The Three Musketeers’. Opening it she removed a small square device from the hollow within the false book. The device had a wire dangling from it, which was connected to a mobile phone, also in the hollow book. Switching on the square device, Council Woman Arietta tested it.
“Hello” she said into it.
“Hello” the device dropped the bass in her voice morphing it into a male voice.
Satisfied, she pressed a few buttons on the mobile phone to make a call. It was answered within the first few rings.
“You know who this is” she said as she started the call.
The Caller had work to do.