The pocket knife Allison Squibb had carried since she was thirteen was dull, and she strained as she cut into her arm to remove the small ident device lodged in the musculature, pressed tight against the skin on the underside of her elbow. Allison carved around the zit-sized bump and pulled out a small blinking light with her thumb and forefinger, squeezing until it flickered out. She tore the sleeve off her phosphorescent-blue shirt. Blood soaked through the free-trade fibers. She tied the strip around her arm, trying to catch her breath.
A CCTV camera’s mechanical whirr caught her attention, and she could see it dilate, zooming in on her defiant middle finger.
A beam of light hit Allison’s eyes and she squinted at the six tall men in flak jackets pointing their guns at her. A raspy voice told her what to do with her hands. An Aryan stereotype in a painfully-gray suit and a painfully-gray hat zip-tied her wrists. He kicked the back of her knee, and she fell. Someone threw a black canvas bag over her head and clocked her in the jaw with the butt of a rifle before walking her to a car. Her mouth filled with blood as she slid around in the backseat. The pain in her arm went from sting to burn to insatiable itch.
Allison watched her man-on-the-street interviews on the monitor in the edit bay:
“—spends nearly seven-hundred billion every single year in defense,” Allison said. “Do you feel you’re getting seven-hundred billion dollars’ worth of security?”
The man replied, “All I know is that I’m still alive. Our servicemen are still alive. This government has put a stop to terrorist attacks.”
“Sir, your chances of getting killed by a terrorist are twenty-million to one. And what if I told you that more soldiers commit suicide after their tours than die during them?”
“I’d say it’s ’cause we keep our citizens safe.”
“But the last time anyone could get a governmental body to publicly admit anything, the NSA themselves confessed that their initiatives haven’t prevented a single terrorist attack.”
Allison drew a circle with her finger on the AVID’s track-pad, fast-forwarding the footage.
“—what about the ident trackers they’re putting in kids, huh? GPS, ID, a line of credit when they’re old enough. All wrapped in test tube protein so it grows with the child. That bi-partisan bullshit is third generation, and we’ve yet to see any results from their tagging—”
Allison paused the video and craned her neck. A man obsessively fiddled with his phone on the couch. Allison asked, “So?”
“It doesn’t have an ending,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But besides that.”
“It needs an ending.”
“No, you’re not. This is documentary. You’re not allowed ambiguity; this isn’t… art. It needs an ending. And this thing’s ending is the difference between making change or Loose Change.”
“Did you just compare my—”
“I said it could be. Make sure it’s not. Text me when it’s done.”
The man got up and left. Allison remained seated for a few minutes before getting up and walking down the street for a cup of coffee. “Corporate blend,” she ordered under her breath. \When she returned there was a muscular blond in an uncannily-plain suit and syrupy Beat sunglasses posted stoically at the door. He looked on at the world, standing out in the screen-obsessed crowd of passersby. Allison paused a second before crossing the street and pulling out her iOS-powered camouflage.
The summer sun took hours to set. Allison watched her unfinished exposé in a newly-expensive apartment, situated in a neighborhood that recently lost its decade-long war against gentrification. She watched herself more closely than her subject, ignoring the rectangle that would buzz occasionally, shining through her denim pocket. As she watched, she fingered the bump in the crook of her arm, the subcutaneous ident signal that some lab tech tuned to her bio-signature seconds after birth to forever prove her Allison-ness. Zoning in and out, she rewound and watched the footage three times before she heard a hard, clanging knock. A look through the peephole showed a warped hallway full of boys playing at manhood, wearing armor and carrying big, loud guns.
Without missing a beat, Allison took off toward the window. She heard the knocking a second time before crashing through the glass and bloodying her face. The door knob exploded inwards. Allison hit the fire escape.
She rabbited down the steps, taking them three at a time, many as she could before she caught flashlights peer out windows and beam down at her. With the slightest hesitation, she rolled awkwardly off the fire escape.
An echoed thud later and her feet stung, but she didn’t have the luxury of attending to them. She killed five blocks in three minutes, but side stitches began radiating under her ribs and she slowed into an alley.
She leaned against the rough bricks to her left and slid to the ground. Still out of breath, she pulled the key ring from her pocket, fumbling with her keys and her unfortunate tools—single-serving mace, whistle, throat slitter.
And before Allison knew it she was walked into a cold room and thrown into a hardback chair that screeched across the institutional-gray floor. Her interrogator’s cold hands yanked off the bag. Everything looked more real under the fluorescent lights. Allison got halfway to lawyering up before:
“Terrorists don’t get lawyers.” He was the same man who had zip-tied Allison.
“The fuck you mean, ‘terrorist’?”
“You’re smart. Figure it out.”
“What gives you—”
“And what gives him—”
A tink-tink came from the two-way mirror, catching the man off guard. Two men, like clones of the first, came in and walked him out. A fourth man, indistinguishable from the first three, entered.
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
His smile looked rehearsed. Allison gagged at the sight, and his eyes tightened.
“I’m sure you’d like to know why you’re here.”
“I’d like to know why any of us are here.” Her eyes went big and puppy dog; she faked a quivering pout. “Are you there God? It’s me, Allison.”
“Hmmm. I’d prefer cooperation. This whole thing will go a lot smoother if—”
Allison hocked a dark red gob onto the floor that landed with a faint splat. She sucked air through bloody teeth like a Fury. An unremarkable man in a room down the hall, hunched over his monitor, watched the increasingly-entertaining interrogation. Further down the hall, a second, equally unremarkable man watched the first bask in the glow of a CCTV monitor…
Shea Hennum is a Texas-based writer who currently serves as the lead writer about comics for This Is Infamous. His work has also been featured at The Comics Alternative, eFantasy, The Fringe Magazine, and Schlock. Essays of his will be included as backmatter in upcoming issues of Shutter from Image Comics, and he can found as sheahisself on both Twitter and Tumblr.