MB Davis stood at an angle to the intruder, tucked behind a doorway, out of sight. The man was well-built and tall, wearing a standard kevlar thinsuit. He could definitely pass as an Outsider, but something about him struck her as strange. Vaguely reminiscent. He stood there in the middle of the living room pointing his stunner at the Abolitionists. If he fired, the pulse would first strike Solomon, and then pass through to Judy, who stood defiantly behind him. Though there had been enough time to run and hide, Judy had chosen to stay.
“I know she’s in here,” the man said. His voice was clear and calm. “And as Abolitionists, you know how important it is for the integrity of the institutions you serve to be preserved. Ms. Davis stands accused of defecting, and it is my job to retrieve her and bring her into the EIU for questioning. That’s it. That's the job. Ms. Davis will not be harmed. And neither will you, as long as you cooperate.”
“By entering my home, you’ve violated a core tenet of the Abolitionist platform,” Solomon stated seriously. “Isolation.”
The intruder gave a clever smirk. “News travels fast, I’m afraid. And if we’re all being honest here, the three – sorry, four – of us know full well that isolation isn't the only ‘core tenet’ that's been violated here.” He nodded towards the newspaper on the table. “No news. Tenet 12.” Judy felt the bottom of her neck burn. This invader, a few quick steps into Solomon's home, now stared bare-faced at their darkest secrets, their innermost lives. How vulnerable she felt. Her palm tingled with the urge to swipe the newspaper onto the floor. The man nodded towards her and Solomon, ensconced in one another. “Strictly no cohabitation. #16. And no romantic relationships. Whatsoever. #17." He grinned the way one might grin at 3rd graders. "Assuming that's what this is, of course.” Judy took Solomon's hand in hers. They stood firm. The man ran the back of his hand across his mouth and cricked his neck to the side. “Lastly, no aiding and abetting a criminal. Which is what an EIU defector is categorized as. Which, I need not remind you, is what Ms. Monica Davis is. A defector."
At this, Judy raised her hand and gestured towards his stunner, still pointed in their direction. “If that’s what I think it is, you're also in violation of the law. Stunning an Abolitionist is one of the few remaining abolishments that come with the penalty of burning.”
"Ah, yes," the man's lips thinned to a wry smile. "The ultimate sin – ruining any one of your precious, infantile minds." A hot white light shot out his stunner and struck Solomon in the chest. Solomon dropped silently to the floor.
"Solomon!" Judy fell to the ground with him. Davis gripped her weapon – this man couldn’t possibly be from the EIU. Based on how quickly he'd dispensed of Solomon, Davis had to be his true target.
“Judy, Judy, Judy…" The man tsked. "Tenet 110. You're right. It's unlawful to stun an Abolitionist, but.... we both know that neither of you are Abolitionists anymore. Did you really think two Abolitionists could withdraw without anyone noticing? When was the last time you think a withdrawal happened? And now two in a row? You're fair game now, Judy. And with everything you know now, you're quite the target." He calmly regarded the stunner in his hand. "Besides, even if you were still Abolitionists, I don't operate under the auspices of the law. Under MAN. As you might have guessed.” He thumbed the dial on his stunner and turned it a few clicks to the right. “Now that was on its lowest setting. Just a little memory loss for your lover, not a lot. Maybe just enough for a chance at your second first kiss, how does that sound?" The man circled closer to her. "What I mean is… he’ll wake up again, and in mint condition, so long as…” He raised the stunner towards Solomon once more, “you cooperate.”
"I don’t know WHO or WHAT you’re talking about,” Judy spat bravely. Her lips and eyebrows trembled with anger. “Now get out of here before I call the…”
Another bright pulse shot into Solomon's body. Judy screamed – she could feel the heat from the pulse in the air.
"Call the who?” The man stepped over Judy's legs so he now stood behind her. He scanned the room to see if his demonstration so far was having any effect. Still no Davis. “You know as well as I do that there’s no one left to call," he went on. "Certainly not Collinsworth –"
Judy's head snapped up against her will. How could he possibly know about Collinsworth? “You…” she sputtered. "You know Collinsworth?"
" I know a lot more than you think, Judy. And I'm more powerful than I look. So as I'm sure you understand, I have important business to attend to, so if you don’t mind –"
“She went out the back door!" Judy shouted, "She ran that way!” Judy flung her arm out and pointed desperately towards the back door, opposite from where Davis stood. The man stepped forward and struck Judy's arm down with such force that a shriek of pain burst out from her. Judy kept her eyes turned down. She would not reveal Ms. Davis if it was the last thing she did. She was determined.
“Monica Davis!” the man declared at the top of his voice. “It’s time for me to communicate with you directly. I know you’re in here. Now this woman is an Abolitionist, or she used to be at least, and based on those lofty ideals of yours, she’s someone I assume you care something about protecting. I'm hoping, at least, that you care more about her than you did about him.” He gave a light kick to Solomon’s limp hand. “But I think my odds are good. Given your propensity for women.” He smiled at his own joke. “I’m not a bad man, Monica. But I can be made to do bad things.” He pulled at Judy’s hair to prop her up on her knees. “What I’m about to do to Miss Judy J here, is an exact demonstration of what I plan to do to Miss Grace Killingsly.”
Davis stopped breathing where she stood.
“Yes, I know about Grace. I mean, give me some credit here!" he said almost laughingly. "I'm the Inside Man. You know what I'm capable of.” Monica felt her pulse quicken. So it was Ros. Paltron’s right hand man, or modern day henchman. A complete abomination of what the cross-side reporter was ever meant to be.
“We’re not so different, you and I,” he went on. “I, too, know how to track people. I, too, know a scoop when I see one. And I, too, can sniff out someone so desperate to stay under the radar. Fake name, new address, a wig, really? She practically screams, ‘secret gay lover.’ It must be hard for her, not understanding why she still needs to hide, or live in fear, after you smuggled her Outside, where everything's supposed to be perfect. But I understand why you did it. It's better than Klammath, right? Better than hiding from gay-hating sneers or thugvillas from the bad part… people who might actually kill her. And still better than Portsby, where the social damage would've been… just unreal. Unmanageable, in such a small town. The two of you would've stuck out like a sore thumb." He was gaining confidence now. "But what I've always wondered, is about where you keep her. She doesn’t know that she’s different out here, does she? She thinks she’s hiding to somehow protect you. She doesn’t quite see that the wig, and the sunglasses… they're all to hide her, who she is. A Pure." Judy couldn't help starting, hearing the word. Ros smiled. "The fact that she’s gay is fine, peachy keen, but… the fact that she looks different… you don’t know how people would react to that, now do you? Just can't trust em. Now there I agree with you." Ros tugged the bottom of his thinsuit down. "You see, Monica, what I'm trying to tell you is that we share a whole lot in common. Like the same taste in women." He paused for dramatic relief. "I’ve been watching her at the cabin. The way she lazes on the lake, without a care in the world. Very unlike you, in that sense. Not such an uptight…bitch. She has that nice pin-striped suit, the one that bares her tan, golden skin. It's so rare to see skin like that. And when she goes swimming, and takes off that wig – did you know that? That she takes it off? Then she just wears a hat, a big floppy brown one that barely hides her black, shiny hair.” He curled the word black off his lips like it was dirty. “Truth be told, the way she lies there… she’s just begging to be taken.”
Ros ripped the scrunchie out of Judy’s hair and let her red curls cascade down. “Something like this.” He shoved Judy hard in the back so her hands fell to the floor, her body arched over Solomon’s head.
Davis could hear the blood in her temples pounding. She gripped the flame in her hand. She knew that was what it was now – a flame. Anyone struck by it would be permanently burned. She thought of Shruti’s face, blank as death as she lay there on the dark carpet of the EIU. Despite the kind of man Ros was and how evident he’d made his intentions, she had to be sure of this next move. She wasn’t a killer.
Suddenly there was a blast – it was the sound of a gun. Davis looked quickly to see an athletic young man, wearing full camo and holding an automatic rifle, jump into the house. Ros had flown back against the wall, a red spray of blood behind his left shoulder. He clutched at the wound with his right hand. His stunner hung limply in his left.
“Get the FUCK down!” the young man shouted. He was tan, dark. A Pure. “You sick fuck! Get down and stay down!” The Pure stepped quickly to where Ros stood half-slumped and gave him a targeted strike on the head with the butt of his gun. Ros collapsed.
Davis quickly emerged from behind the threshold, flame drawn. What the Pure held was a gun that could kill people – she couldn’t hold back on moral ground now.
For a moment the two trained Pures circled each other, weapons outstretched.
“Who are you?” Davis spoke first.
“William Carlos Williams, zero five seven four, ma’am.”
“Why are you addressing me as ma’am?”
“I was told you were a military officer, ma’am. Lieutenant Monica Davis, used to serve in the Klammath Infantry under General Wang Li. That infantry is now headed by General P.P. Gonzalez, who sent me on a Puritan House directive to take down Roscoe Black and aid a Miss Monica Davis in returning to Pureside. I presume that to be you. Ma'am.”
Judy J looked up, wide eyed and incredulous. “So what he said was true? You’re a Pure? You're…a spy?”
Monica lowered her weapon. Williams lowered his too. Together the two looked at the tremulous white woman, arched over her lover, a black man. Shock was shock.
“The Puritan House doesn’t know I’m here," Monica replied finally. "So who are your orders really from?”
The dumbfounded gape of Williams’ mouth told her all she needed to know. She couldn't help but smile. “The only person that knows I’m here,” she said, “is my employer. So he and your employer must be friends.” She crouched down next to Solomon and checked his pulse. “He’s gonna be in faze for two or three more hours. Seven four, check the man you just shot and make sure he’s still alive.”
Williams paused for a moment, then quickly moved to follow her orders.