Breaking news. Jury selection for Texas v. Sanchez started today. The trial has attracted national attention for the state attorney’s controversial decision to subpoena private information in a menstrual cycle tracking app used by Sanchez from the tech giant Omega.
Jax let the screams flow through her. Screams of anguish. She looked around at the ad hoc stations where protestors sat with zombie eyes and wet-sticky faces as volunteers washed off pepper spray with milk. There was something aesthetic about the contrast of cool white and hot red on bruised flesh. An elegant appetizer served on silver trays at a political fundraiser. Crispy skin marinated in spiced cream, paired with this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau.
Jax shuddered. Am I really going to do this? She could still turn around and go home, forget this insanity. Would it really make any difference?Then the memory came to her. The woman in the basement of the doctor’s home. Julia. Still wearing her work uniform. Her daughter upstairs with the doctor’s husband, coloring in a book on the kitchen table because she couldn’t afford a babysitter. Julia’s wet-sticky face. Julia’s zombie eyes. There was no forgetting. No more. Not one more.
Jax forced herself forward through the stations toward the center of the protest. Bans Off Our Bodies! I’m Not Your Incubator! Justice for Julia Sanchez! Screams of rage. Hundreds of bodies crammed together, swaying from the heat. She pressed on step by step, moving into the empty spaces opened by protestors as they fainted, some carrying them away, others picking up their signs and pushing forward.
Jax paused just before the front, where the protestors stared down a line of security guards. Screams of defiance. The Riot Tactical Response Team hadn’t come yet. Good. Since the protests intensified this summer, the new police units formed to suppress them had brought an unprecedented level of violence to the government’s response. Once they arrived with their body armor and guns shooting rubber bullets, the whole thing would spiral into complete chaos. On the other hand, Jax almost felt sympathy for these private guards in their ill-fitting polyester uniforms with their pretend badges. Wannabe kids with video-game fantasies of combat heroics. Middle-aged men just trying to draw a paycheck so they could go home to a microwave dinner and cheap whiskey straight from the bottle. Fear emanated from them like the heat rising off the concrete.
She scanned them, looking for her mark. There. She zeroed in on a guard with greying temples and week-old white stubble on his chin. Oakley sunglasses and black laced-up boots like a commando costume. Betrayed by the belt that struggled to hold his pants from collapsing under the weight of his sagging belly. A steel chain holding his keys and security fob had fallen out of his pocket and dangled loose off a belt hook. Despite the tension coursing through her, Jax’s lips curved into a wicked grin. She positioned herself opposite him, gathered all the fury seething around her deep into the bottom of her lungs, and howled.
“Justice for Julia!”
The protestors took up the chant and surged forward, shoving Jax into the guard. His belly pressed against her, compressing the air out of her chest in a groan. His greasy lunchmeat sweat stained her shirt and coated her skin. She smelled stale tobacco on his breath. Her hand groped for the chain, fingertips following the links up to the clip by which it was attached to his belt hook. His eyes moved down. The crowd swelled behind her, pushing her into his face, and instinctively she kissed him, forcing his eyes to meet hers, lips crushed against his yellow teeth. They stared at each other, equally shocked. Her fingers found the clip and unhooked it. Before he could do anything, she disappeared behind the protestors.
Jax headed for the back of the crowd, but before she maneuvered through more than a few rows a hiss sliced the air beside her ear. Then reality shifted, and everything happened in slow motion. An older man turned to his daughter standing next to him: his head snapped back, and he crumpled to the ground. His daughter threw herself over him protectively. More hisses, more people falling. Screams of terror. The RTRT. The protestors still standing scrambled to pick up the injured and run away as best they could. Jax wanted to help, but there was no time. This could still work, but the slightest hesitation and it would all be over.
Jax extricated herself from the crowd and made her way around the building to the loading dock. All the guards were drawn away by the protest; the only security was a locked door. Amateurs. She waved the fob over the magnetic panel beside the door, and like Aladdin she was inside. But the hallway in which she found herself was hardly a Cave of Wonders. It was neatly finished with drywall painted a cheery light yellow, white ceiling tiles with recessed fluorescent lighting, and industrial carpeting decorated with a tasteful flower pattern. The very embodiment of corporate psychosis. Jax almost expected a receptionist in a crisply pressed suit to welcome her with a cappuccino and then stab her with a letter opener. Soft music played over hidden speakers at the exact volume and frequency scientifically determined to generate the most productivity. Screams of quiet desperation. Creepy AF.
Jax made her way down the hallway to a door marked “Server Room.” Could they make this any easier? She waved her magic wand once again and slipped inside. The room was cold and dark, lined with aluminum shelves upon which hundreds of glossy black servers blinked colored lights, white and green, yellow and red. It was more overtly ominous than the hallway; its brutal utility felt wholesome by comparison. She opened one of the servers and inserted a tiny chip, smaller than a grain of rice, into the motherboard. Virus was an apt word. Like Ebola, this chip would spread its fever from server to server, causing their synapses to overfire in confusion until their organs liquified. There was no cure. In a matter of hours, all the hosts would be dead.
Jax cracked the door and peered out into the hallway. Still empty. She started back toward the loading dock, but before she had gone ten steps, a guard came around the corner. He froze. At first his acned face was blank as he processed what was in front of him, then panic crept into his eyes, through his nostrils and down his quivering mouth. He fumbled to free the taser from its holster on his belt. Without thinking, Jax sprinted directly at him and locked both her hands on his. She had no idea what she intended to do; she only knew she had to protect herself from electrocution, whatever the cost. Her eyes challenged his in a struggle of determination from which there could emerge no winner. Two pieces of plastic rapped against her knuckles as the taser blast doors released and the probes deployed, shooting into the guard’s thigh. The determination in his eyes changed to raw terror and his entire body seized; he slumped against her with a whimper. She smelled his urine, sensed it dribble onto her shoes as she cradled him gently against the cheery yellow wall.
Her peripheral vision glimpsed indigo body armor coming around the corner. There was nowhere to run. She stepped back from the guard and knelt on the flowered carpet, interlacing her fingers behind her head. The RTRT surrounded her. The first blow came from behind, to her kidneys; then to her abdomen; then a baton to her head brought merciful unconsciousness.
Jax awoke to the pleasant sensation of warm sunlight on her closed eyes. Then the pain came. The headache scratching metal nails across the inside of her skull; her bladder pressing desperately against the lining of her abdomen. She would gladly have soiled herself to relieve it. But there was no relief. She opened her eyes and looked down to find a hospital gown covering her. Livid bruises discolored her arms; she could feel them extending to all the places she couldn’t see. She moved to touch her face and realized that her hands were zip-tied to the metal bedframe. Her eyes scanned the room: sage green walls provided a soothing background for the array of aluminum and plastic machines connected to her. She became aware of a television mounted to the wall.
Breaking news. Tech giant Omega’s stocks plummeted yesterday after a service outage that remains unresolved. In related news, the state attorney’s office called for an independent investigation of Omega’s assertion that information subpoenaed from one of its subsidiaries in the case of Texas v. Sanchez was lost due to a server error. Omega has so far declined to comment.
Despite the metal wires holding her broken jaw shut, Jax’s lips curved into a wicked grin.
Totally worth it.