Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Childhood Never Ends, episode 2: "Swift Action"

2: Swift Action

Chaos ensued when the woman on the transcontinental line from Chicago to Denver began screaming. The bullet train was near its destination in Denver, and Gavin was ripped from his trance-like boredom as the well dressed, though haggard looking woman leaped up and began howling hysterically. She was middle aged, with stringy and unkempt black hair. Harsh lines cut through her forehead and jutted from the corners of her mouth and eyes like thorns on a rosebush. Dark bags hung under her wild eyes and she looked like she hadn't slept in over a week. Tension vibrated throughout her entire body like ripples in a pool of water whose calm had been broken by the drop of a pebble. Presently, she was shouting a barely coherent diatribe, and making all of her co-passengers varying degrees of uncomfortable, annoyed, and terrified.
“Don't make me disappear!” she cried in the shrill voice of the insane. “You can't take away my existence! I won't do it! No more! NOOOOOOO!!!!!”
What followed was truly shocking and the woman's behavior paled in comparison. “Ms. Wheeler, please return to your seat and stop disrupting this passenger transport. You have 5 seconds to comply,” boomed an authoritative sounding synthesized male voice over the train's loudspeakers. She screamed in frustration at the warning, began to dart her wild green eyes about randomly, and twisted her torso, desperately looking for path of escape.
The response that followed was swift, brutal, and took place only three seconds after the audible warning. A door at the rear of the passenger cabin burst open, and into the aisle sprinted about a dozen police in full riot gear, carrying fully automatic machine guns and a wide array of “less than lethal” weapons. The officer at the head of the squad pointed what looked like a child's toy ray gun at Ms. Wheeler, and Gavin recognized the device as a stun gun. The news networks often showed footage of police using these devices on criminals, and they were incredibly effective. In fact, Gavin remembered seeing a documentary where one of these stun guns stopped a charging bull in its tracks, but the beast awoke unharmed moments later. Gavin was about to learn that the so-called documentary he had watched was less than accurate.
“Lay face down on the ground! NOW!” shouted the officer at the head of the strike squad, his voice muffled by his gas mask. The woman was given maybe two seconds to comply, and the officer fired his stun gun. A bright blue arc of electricity arced from the tip of his stun gun and struck Ms. Wheeler directly in the center of her chest. The arc of electricity crackled like a bolt of lightning, and the woman violently arched her back and flailed her arms about wildly. She then hit the floor, convulsing. Her wild eyes rolled back into her head, and foam began to seep out of the corner of her mouth. The stench of ozone, burnt fabric, and charred flesh filled the passenger cabin. The women and children on the train broke into a cacophony of screaming, whimpering, and sobbing. Most men stayed silent, except for a few patriotic individuals who cheered on the police squad. “Let her have it!” one man grunted, displaying his machismo.
An officer in a chrome silver helmet emblazoned with the black and gold emblem of the T.A.F. stepped forward. Though he was clad in carbon fiber body armor, black and gray combat fatigues, and an insect-like gas mask (with bulbous portholes for the eyes and a pair of air filters by the mouth which resembled a menacing pair of mandibles) like all the other officers, his helmet insignia and the word “COMMANDER” embroidered on his flak jacket signified that he was the squad leader. “Medic!” he ordered. “Check this suspect's vitals.”
Another officer rushed forward, clad in identical body armor, fatigues, and gas mask, except his entire garb was colored a sterile, blinding shade of white. The ancient Hippocratic symbol of the intertwined snakes was prominently displayed on his flak jacket, along with the word “MEDIC”, as if to beat the obvious into one's memory. He quickly holstered his firearm, and drew out a device which resembled a 20th century era cattle prod, with a large LED display screen. He jabbed the probe into the woman's neck. “She has a pulse... barely. No brain activity is registering, sir.” reported the medic.
“Euthanize her,” ordered the commander, in an oddly matter-of-fact tone. Three more officers stepped forward, two of them wrapping a translucent plastic cowl around the woman's head. The third extracted a sleeve from the hood, and rolled it over his gun barrel like a sheath. There was a “PINK!” sound from the silenced weapon, like that of a hail stone hitting a tin roof, and a burst of blood covered the inside of the bag, faintly visible through the semi-clear plastic. Through the hood it looked a sickly grayish-red, like the color of faded paint on a park bench. Ms. Wheeler fell limp, and was, if nothing else put out of the misery of her madness. Two more officers stepped forward with a gurney and, with the help of the previous pair of police who had cowled the woman's head, lifted her body upon it. The legs were extended and the squad exited quickly and quietly through the door at the front of the passenger car. Almost simultaneously, six more people swiftly entered the cabin, two of them in police uniforms, complete with peaked caps, black slacks, shirts, and ties. Their chests were adorned with medals, badges, and patches. The other four were various professional looking people, one gaunt middle-aged bald man with horn-rimmed eye glasses, a lab coat, and doctor's scrubs; a woman in her late twenties or early thirties with a bun in her hair, a charcoal-colored pencil dress, and a stern look; another older gentleman in a three piece suit with gray hair and a beard, who eerily resembled Sigmund Freud; and a non-threatening looking young woman, with wiry curls, a rounded face, and a form fitting yet conservative floral printed dress. A gentle smile crossed her lips, and her eyes looked moist with sympathy.
Immediately the team began to go to work. The pair of the police officers stepped to the front of the train car, and the taller and more muscular looking one announced: “Please, everyone remain calm. The situation is under control. Officer Steinberg and I will be taking statements from all of you, and we can assure your safety thanks to the Peace Keeping Unit. We will not be releasing any information to you at this point, or answering any of your questions until the investigation is complete. My name is Sergeant Colby, at your service.”
“We have a team of health professionals here to assist you, thanks in advance to all of you for your cooperation,” added Officer Steinberg.
The train rolled to a halt at the Denver station, and a pleasant sounding female voice informed the passengers that they had arrived at their destination, and instructed them to remove their safety belts. “At this point,” explained Sgt. Colby, “I will ask each of you who do not require medical and/or psychological aide to please line up single file in front of us so that we may record your statements. I apologize for any inconvenience.”
“Great,” Gavin thought to himself, “I'm never getting off this train.”
Gavin looked around the train car, and saw the young woman with curly hair embracing and cooing a young girl no older than eight, whose body heaved with great sobs. She freed one of her hands and gently stroked the cheek of the girl's mother, reassuring her. The mother grasped a baby in her arms, who oblivious to the weight of the situation, stared blankly about the passenger cabin. The man who was a dead ringer for Freud crouched down next to a frail elderly gentleman, his wrinkled face wracked with confusion. The two of them conversed in muted tones. The man in medical garb used a stethoscope and examined a distraught old woman, her fat face flushed red, and her massive bosom heaving as she hyperventilated from terror. He told her to calm herself, in a tone of mock sympathy. The other young woman with the bun in her hair was closely observing everyone in the train car marking notes on her tablet computer.
Obediently, most of the other passengers began to line up in front of Sgt. Coby and Officer Steinberg. Both of the policemen had hand held computers like the young lady with the bun in her hair, and began interviewing the passengers one by one, taking notes as they asked questions. Gavin stood in the middle of the line, crossing his arms across his thin torso. Gavin was 35 years old, and blended well into a crowd. He was a pretty typical American1, about six feet tall, with pale skin, short brown hair, and blue eyes. He was clad in the casual fashion of the day, a pair of slim fitting khaki pants and a crew necked t-shirt made out of synthetic material that changed color from a deep navy blue to a sea foam green, depending on the lighting. The train car was brightly lit, so his shirt had changed to a muted tone of forest green. Gavin's only real distinguishing physical feature was that he had unusually large feet and hands for his height. He was slightly ashamed of this, and received merciless ridicule because of it from elementary school all the way to university. He had roomed with a basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh, where he had received his bachelor's in informational architecture, who towered over him and most other students at six feet ten inches, and wore a size 15 shoe. Gavin's old roommate, teasing him about the size of his feet, challenged him to try on his shoes, which nearly fit him. The ribbing that ensued was almost intolerable, but at least Gavin could look back now and laugh about it.
In front of Gavin was a young woman – a girl, really – who was at most 20 years old. Like most young people in his day's society, she was clad in the attire of one of many outrageous fashion trends. She was wearing a pair of thigh high vinyl high-heeled boots, colored an obnoxious shade of neon green. A pair of matching briefs covered her pelvis, and a comically small lavender jacket covered in long spikes of rubber barely covered the top of her torso. Her hair was teased high in the air, bleached white with random rainbow hued streaks. Her makeup made her look like a week-old corpse, and she was oblivious to the world around her, enraptured by her network connected sunglasses. From behind the lenses, one could see her empty eyes darting about, watching videos, looking at images. She murmured into the microphone on her earpiece as she chatted online with people she considered friends, though she had never met them in person.
“Unbelievable!” groaned the man behind Gavin. He did his best to ignore him, but the man needed to vent upon someone, and unfortunately for Gavin, the man decided it would be him. “I'm supposed to be at a meeting a Lincoln Park in an hour and now I'll never make it. Can you believe that lady!” Gavin turned slightly to acknowledge the man, who was a stout man about the same age as him. He was dressed in a cheap business suit and his auburn hair was encrusted with an excessive amount of styling gel. A pencil thin mustache and a pair of rimless eyeglasses completed his repugnant appearance. The line moved forward ever so slightly and Gavin felt relief as he looked forward and saw only the girl in front of him and a dark skinned man in a dashiki ahead of the girl as his only obstacles between him and getting off this horrible train.
The dark skinned man spoke politely to the police men, who nodded as they took his statement, jotting notes down on their tablet computers with a metal stylus. The officers nodded towards the exit, satisfied with the man's account, and motioned for the girl to move forward. Wrapped up in her online world, she did not initially respond. Sergeant Colby ordered her to step forward once again in an exasperated tone. “Ma'am, I'll need you to remove your netglasses and come give us a statement – now.” Ever vigilant, Officer Steinberg hovered his hand over his side arm.
Oh em gee!” she sighed. “Kay, sup?” Gavin wanted to cringe at her spurious slang. The woman shuffled toward the officers, acting as a child might when forced to go to bed. She removed her “netglasses” and as her black painted lips pouted, she placed her hands on her hips.
Officer Steinberg began asking her a battery of questions. He began: “Where was your point of origin?”
The girl responded, “Minneapolis.”
“This train only travels from Chicago to Denver.”
“I mean I took the Minneapolis to Miami train and transferred onto this one in Chicago.”
“OK, please keep your answers simple from now on”, ordered Steinberg, who looked momentarily at his tablet computer, “Miss Tsoukolis”. There was no longer any need to check identification in this day in age, with RF chip implants, retinal scanners everywhere, and facial recognition cameras prevalent. Steinberg continued: “Are you currently menstruating?”
She looked slightly uncomfortable. Everyone knew the probing nature of these police interrogations, but no one got completely used to the highly personal nature of the questions. “No.” she answered.
“Have you eaten any shellfish in the past 24 hours?”
“Um, yes. I had shrimp for din-”
Steinberg cut her off. “Simple answers please!” he quipped.
The girl looked at the floor, remorseful. “Sorry.”
“That's fine. Let's continue. How many sexual partners do you currently have?”
She gulped. “Three.”
“What are their genders?”
“Two males, one female.”
“Have you taken any recreational drugs in the past 36 hours?”
“How long ago?”
“Um... about 18 hours ago, I guess?”
“Well, was it 18 hours ago or not?”
“I'm pretty sure...”
“Good enough. What were the names of Chancellor Golan's parents?”
“Ari and Sara.”
“What is today's date?”
“May 17th.”
“Did you notice anything unusual boarding the train?”
“Um... no.”
“And during the ride?”
“Well, no, nothing. Not until that woman…“
“I'm getting to that. Did you speak to the woman at all during your ride?”
“Did you notice any odd behavior from her before security entered the passenger cabin?”
“Well, when she started to scream, I did.”
Officer Steinberg tapped the screen of his tablet a few times, looked up at the girl, and said “You're free to go Miss Tsoukolis.” A noticeable look of relief passed her face, and she quickly strode out the door onto the platform. Steinberg then looked at Gavin and said, “You're next Mr. Huntsman. Please step forward.”
Gavin could not help but feel a twinge of fear crawl up his spine. It was very normal to fear police in the T.A.F. for one slip of the tongue could make things turn ugly very quickly. Gavin took a deep breath and stepped forward for his interrogation.

1All citizens of the Trans-Atlantic Federation continue to identify themselves by their “nation” of origin, although the T.A.F. is ruled by one central government.

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