31 – One Possible Solution

Previous Chapter

I stared at my blank computer screen. I had spent months working on a proper algorithm, one that would be able to guess passwords, given some time. Yet, I have nothing. My whole process was shut down, and now I just have an empty computer. I put my hand into my pocket.

Hassan’s business card was still in there. I pulled it out, and looked at it more closely than I had last night.

HASSAN IKRAM

C.E.O. OF IKRAM CORPORATIONS

WWW.IKRAMCORPS.COM

The backside listed his contact information. It gave his company’s address and his office phone number, along with a company cell phone.

I turned it back over and read his name again. HASSAN IKRAM. Personally, I was surprised that someone who wasn’t fair skinned had even managed to become a CEO. Even if he inherited it, one of his parents wasn’t white, at the very least. It was perplexing.

Feel free to discuss whatever you may need to with me. Hassan’s words return to my mind. Discuss whatever I may need?, I thought to myself, I believe I shall.

 

I locked my basement behind me, and then went outside. There was a small gas station only around 7 minutes away. There was a payphone outside of there, and I would call Hassan there.

I walked to the gas station, and stepped in front of the payphone. It was an outdoor payphone, so I didn’t have to waste time talking to anyone inside. I dialed his phone number, then put eight quarters into the machine.

The dial rang for a few minutes before anyone picked. “Hassan speaking,” the phone told me.

“Hello Hassan. This is Renegade. Or Fifteen, depending on my crowd,” I said.

“Perfect. What have you decided?” He asked.

“I’ve decided that I need to use your website to test a hacking algorithm. I was using a different website previously, but they caught on and blocked me out.”

“Ah, that’ll be fine, Ren. So long as you start within the next fifteen minutes, we’ll be sure to leave your IP address alone. What does your algorithm do, if you don’t mind me asking?” Hassan sounded legitimately intrigued.

So, I told him. “It tests for passwords. I discover potential usernames by various means, then this algorithm tests for passwords within certain parameters.”

“I like that,” Hassan informed me, “That way, it looks like you’re just a regular person using the service, instead of some no-good hacker. Well, for the most part.” I couldn’t see his face, but I was certain that Hassan was smiling.

“Hell,” he continued, “I’ll tell you a username, if you only need passwords. Just give me one moment.” I heard Hassan typing before he spoke again. “Use the username D-O-C-I-E-4-5-2-9. All caps, no spaces. She was recently fired, so the account hasn’t been deleted yet.”

“Thanks, Hassan. I’ll let you know when I’ve succeeded. That, or you’ll see for yourself.”

“That I will,” he responded. “Have a good day, Ren.”

“You as well,” I replied. I hung up the payphone, and walked back home.

I went back downstairs, opened all of my locks, and turned my computer on. It booted up with the same speed it usually did, and I logged in.

I typed in the URL for Ikram Corporations’ website, found the login page, punched in DOCIE4529 as a username, then started up my algorithm. It furiously worked away at testing passwords, one after another. Given that I didn’t even have to cover up any of my tracks, this would be even easier than anything before. I pushed myself away from the computer, and watched it. It would fail many times over, again and again, before it would succeed. I decided it was time to just let it run it’s course, and handle some other things first.

I got up, locked my basement, and went outside. I needed to talk to the other three horsemen about what had transpired between Hassan and I. Death and I.

I took the walk to Famine’s house at a brisk pace. I didn’t need to rush, and I wanted to enjoy myself for a while before Famine knocked that away.

When I arrived at her house, I knocked on her door. She opened the door, hardly dressed and with her hair in mess. “Famine, hello. I don’t mean to intrude,” I said.

Famine pulled me into her house, still in her underwear. “Whatever, Ren. What do you want?”

“I spoke to Death last night,” I informed her. She stood up straight at hearing that.

“You did what?”

“You heard me.”

Famine turned around, and gave me a look of confusion. “So what does that mean?”

“That means that we need to organise a meeting between us and the other horsemen. You act as a group, and I need to discuss with you what I shall do with Death.”

Famine shook her head at me. “Look, how do I even know you actually spoke with the big guy himself? You have no-”

“Hassan Ikram. Here’s his business card,” I interjected. “We need to meet with Pestilence and War. They also have a say in this.”

Famine sat upon her couch. “Even after what happened two nights ago, you still…” She stopped to think for a moment. “You still came back to me.”

“I’m not the one with a leadership position. At least, not an official one. You are. You four are the reasons this movement got organised at all. I can’t just take your place and undermine you out of spite. That isn’t leadership, and that isn’t how you get things done.” I still stood near the door.

“God, when did you grow a pair of morals? Alright, fine. I’ll plan a meeting tonight. Be back here in two days, at seven, alright?” She stood up, and motioned for me to go.

“I’ll be here,” I said before leaving.

I walked back home, faster then I left. I still had an algorithm going on at home, and I needed to check its progress.

Once I got home and into my basement, I saw the still-awake computer screen. It was no longer testing passwords. In the top right corner, it said “Welcome, DOCIE.”

My algorithm finally worked. I was logged in.

Next Chapter

30 – Late Night Joyride

Previous Chapter

“Finally, you’ve arrived.” I didn’t recognise the young woman’s voice. This must have meant that this was a different eye than the ones that I had talked with before.

“Alright. Where will we be meeting him?” I asked.

The eye shook her head. “Not me. Just you will be meeting him. Either way, we’re going to go to his office.”

“The business district? Do you understand how far away it is? How do you intend for us to get there?” I looked out on the street, looking for some sort of car.

“We’re going to bike there. If I was informed properly, you were gifted a bicycle previously. Use it.”

I sighed. “Hold on. I left it at my home. It’ll take around ten minutes to get back.” Of course. I had forgotten that bike was even there, and now I needed it. Figures.

So, I went home and got my bike. The eye followed me the whole way. Once I got that gift, we biked for what had to have been an hour before we finally got to the place we were supposed to be. A large, rather nondescript, glass tower. Death’s eye motioned for me to enter, then turned away from me.

“Wait a moment, Eye. What’s your story?” The eye shook her head and hopped onto her bicycle seat. “My story doesn’t matter. Death is waiting for you at the top floor. He likes the height. Take your time speaking with him.”

I shook my head. “Thank you. Not you as an eye of Death, but you as a person. Clearly you are sacrificing something to be here now. Take care of yourself.”

The eye looked at the ground. She put her hand up to her mask and held it there. “I’m finished here. Just go see Death.”

With that, I entered Death’s building. The lobby was dark, and primarily empty. There were only a few chairs and tables lining the walls, and one receptionist’s desk at the end. None of them were filled. The only light that was on loomed over the receptionist’s desk. There was a large analog clock behind the desk that said 12:47.

I hurried to the source of light, and looked for the ways up. There were two elevators on either side of the desk, but I wanted stairs. Death might have some monitor for his elevators, but I knew for a fact that he didn’t have one for his stairs. I didn’t want to be tracked going up or down.

The trek upstairs took me about five minutes, and I jogged up at least ten stories. I didn’t keep particular track.

Once I got to the top floor, I chose to take a few breaths before going on. I was slightly worn from the stairs and I wanted to be composed once I got in.

I entered the doorway from the stairwell, and found myself in a hallway lined with offices. All of the lights were off in every office except for the one straight across from the stairs. Death liked to make it very clearly where I should be heading.

I pushed open the door to the office and saw a dark skinned man, cleanly shaven, typing away at a computer desk.

“I presume you are Death?” I asked from the doorway.

“You presume correctly. That means you are Renegade or Fifteen, depending on the crowd you are with. Welcome. My name is Hassan Ikram, and I am Death.” Death stopped typing, looked at me, then pushed himself away from his desk. He stood up and walked in front of his desk, holding out one hand for me to shake. I approached him and did as such.

“As you can see, this is why I kept my identity a secret all this while. I can’t trust every member of our revolution to not rat me out. They would be paid way too handsomely. However, what’s an army without a fund?” Hassan patted my shoulder, and motioned for me to sit in one of the two chairs in front of his desk.

“Alright, Death. Why have you asked me here?” I took a seat, and Death sat opposite of me.

“It’s just as my eye told you: My eyes have been paying close attention to you, seeing as how you were our second police member to join, and they reported to me. You made many actions that I greatly approved of, as they made my life much easier. Would you like a drink? Perhaps wine?” Death stood up and moved over to some cupboards. He took out two glasses and a bottle. He poured one glass, then looked back to me.

“I’ll pass on the offer. No offense,” I replied.

“None taken,” he said. He put away the second glass and the bottle, and took the seat next to me, rather than across the desk. “So you’ve been something of a great resource to the resistance, and that’s absolutely wonderful.”

“I’ve been a resource to you,” I interjected.

Hassan laughed. “Yes, that’s true. I already said that. However, you can be a resource to more than one person or group.” His eyes had a certain glint in them. I didn’t trust them.

“So what do you want from me?” I asked.

“Straight to the point, I see. That’s respectable.” Hassan took a drink from his glass before continuing, “I want to offer you a partnership in Ikram Corporations. You gain a certain amount of stocks from the company, and you get to be employed under me. Don’t worry, I won’t ask for you to work for too much more than your day-job requires.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Alright. So what do you want from me?”

Hassan leaned a little forward some more. “That’s all. You have some lovely talents that my business could use. I believe this would also be a good choice for you to continue pursuing the various things you want to pursue. We both have plenty to offer each other.” Hassan smiled at me.

“I don’t believe this is something that I should commit to,” I said, “There is a lot I need to consider here, such as various conflicts of interest. I also would need to consider the ramifications of receiving resources that an individual in my neighborhood should not have, such as a vehicle. I will deny this offer.” I stood up from the chair.

“I suppose I did make it sound as if you needed to decided tonight. That was not made very clear. You have as much time as you need to decide, within reason. Here’s my card,” Hassan handed me a small business card, “All of my contact information is on that. Feel free to discuss whatever you may need to with me. Have a good night.” He handed me his business card, and I placed it in my pocket.

With that, Hassan stood, and guided me out of his office. “I’ll look forward to working with you,” Hassan said before shutting the door behind me. I took the stairs back down, and left the dim building.

Outside, my bicycle was exactly where I left it. However, hanging from the handlebars was a circular shape. I pulled it off of the handlebars and examined it.

It was a mask. It was the exact same one that the last eye had been wearing. I looked around some more, either for the eye or for a note. Neither were to be found, just an empty mask.

I stepped onto the bike, and pushed off. I pedaled for just a short while. The mask hung from my handlebars once more.

“There was a person behind this mask,” I told myself, “and now I’ll never know.”

Next Chapter

29 – Who Let This Happen?

Previous Chapter

I sat at my table for what was at least another hour. I eventually got around to eating what I had made, but it was cold and my appetite was not what it had been previously. I ended up throwing away at least half of the meal.

I returned to my living room, and sat upon my sofa. There was nothing else to do that day, and I had no intention of finding something to do. I just wanted to sit and rest, without anything to interrupt me. I had a lot of thoughts on my mind, and I needed to ignore them.

Despite that, only another hour later, there was a knock on the door. I got up from the couch, and went to see who it was.

“Hello, Renegade. How are you?” It was Claire.

“I’m exhausted. What do you need?” I replied.

“We’re going to be taking down another home tonight. It was kind of a last minute decision by Famine. We haven’t seen any sort of media attention for a while, and she decided it was time to change that.” She stepped away from the door, and motioned for me to follow her.

“I’m feeling a bit antsy,” She continued, “I haven’t picked a lock since the last time you saw me do it. I haven’t needed to steal anything for a while, or break into anywhere.”

“Looks like that’s changing tonight,” I replied.

She laughed, “Yeah. This will be a refreshing change.”

“I haven’t seen you in a while either, Ren. What have you been up to?” She asked.

“I don’t know. Mostly just work. We haven’t had any horsemen related tasks in a while.” I wasn’t going to tell her that I was having an existential crisis over the idea of people enjoying me.

“Fair point. I guess I’m just glad we’re doing something tonight,” She finished.

We didn’t talk about much else as we walked. I think Claire could tell I was purposefully being distant, and she gave me space. This was another incident of people caring about me.

Eventually, we made it to the area where we were supposed to be. Everyone who was there was preparing for things. Well, except for Vince, Claire, Famine, and myself.

“Famine,” I greeted the woman.

“Ren. Good to see you here. You know your job. Everyone else is already doing theirs,” Famine said.

“Good, then let’s get this done.” I replied.

“We have to wait for a few more people to show up,” Famine informed me. “We don’t need you to take shots in the dark and give us away before we even get a chance to do anything.”

Vince approached me. “Ren. It’s been a while,” he said. I nodded in return. “Not long enough,” he finished.

“At least Claire is happy to see me,” I replied. Claire smiled up at me.

“Hmph,” Vince replied. “It doesn’t matter.”

We waited for just a little while, before eventually everyone arrived and finished their preparations. Once they did, Famine motioned for us to go.

“Let’s just make sure the place is clear,” Vince said.

At that, I hopped over the backyard fence. This yard was huge. This mansion was certainly secluded in comparison with everywhere else we had burned so far. When I thought about it, it took Claire and I an hour to walk to the location. I was glad I had the next day off.

Claire and Vince followed me over the fence. Vince helped Claire down, since she was shorter than either of us. We snuck through the empty yard, and up to the nearest backdoor.

“You know,” Claire whispered, “I never understood why these rich types use solid white fences. All it does is hide potential burglars better. Chain link is much better, especially topped with razor wire.”

“Whoever lives here obviously isn’t concerned about security, otherwise they would have dogs and such to keep us at bay. There is nothing out here,” I replied, also whispering.

We got to the backdoor, and Claire began to work on opening it. “This is a bit of a complex lock. It’s going to take me a second longer than normal.”

“That’s fine,” Vince said.

I took my gun out of its holster. “Draw your weapon,” I told Vince. He glared at me, but did as such.

Vince and I waited for a few minutes while Claire picked at the door. Sometimes she would sing of hum parts of songs to herself. Vince and I stayed silent.

“There. I think I’ve got it.” Claire stood up, twisted the knob, and pushed. The door opened. Vince clapped her on the back. “Good going, kid. Let’s go.” Vince turned to walk in. I put my hand on his shoulder.

“I hear something. A high pitched ringing,” I whispered to him. He cocked his head. “It might be an alarm, Vince.”

At that moment, I heard footsteps rushing, likely to our location. “Run!” I exclaimed in hushed tones.

Vince took off. Claire and I were behind him. Vince leapt over the fence before Claire and I got there. I tossed Claire over the fence to Vince, then hopped over it myself. The door was still open after we fled.

“What happened?” Famine asked us.

“Go!” Vince made panicked motions to flee..

Famine told everyone to get going, and waited for us to catch up.

“What. Happened.” Famine demanded.

“Alarm. Door opened, went off,” I said.

“Fuck!” Famine exclaimed, running with us.

We ran for a long while. I was actually worn out by the time that we stopped. I didn’t think anyone had been caught, as the only people who had gone over the fence were Vince, Claire, and I. Nobody else even had the chance of being seen.

As I caught my breath, I noticed that the only people who were still with me were Claire and Famine. It looks as if everyone had separated when we left.

“Famine, why didn’t we know about those alarms?” I demanded, after catching my breath.

Once Famine had caught hers, she answered. “The family was out of town for the night. I had just found out from a scout.” She still panted after speaking.

I clenched my fists. “So why didn’t someone do a more thorough scouting mission before we came here to set up?”

“Because they would only be gone for tonight! It was now or never, Ren!” Famine screamed at me.

“Yes, and because of your rash and uninformed decision, you could’ve had people killed, and who knows how many arrested!”

“They know the risks involved, and so do you!” She took a step toward me, her brow furrowed.

“We shouldn’t be taking risks when we don’t know what those risks consist of!” I followed suit.

“Okay, so then let’s just sit on our asses and let these rich assholes keep stepping on us!” Famine took another step forward.

“If we have to stall before we can make a stronger decision, then we should!” I took one more step, and closed the distance

“Yeah? And who appointed you as honorary horsemen of the month?” Famine shouted.

“You and everyone else did when you decided that I was going to figure out what the fuck Death is up to!” I shouted back.

Famine’s face showed nothing but pure anger. I’m assuming mine was similar, because I was shaking everywhere imaginable. We stared at each other, both panting. I could see Famine’s shoulder’s bouncing

“Hey guys, sorry to interrupt, but we’re still out in public. Someone’s going to notice us,” Claire said, breaking the tense silence between Famine and me.

“I’m going home. Don’t make any poor choices,” I told Famine.

“Fuck off. Claire, you need someone to walk with you?” Famine asked her.

I left before hearing the rest of the conversation. It didn’t matter at that point. This night had been a waste and an utter failure.

Next Chapter

28 – Unwanted, Unsolicited, Undeserved

Previous Chapter

Work hadn’t started yet, but that didn’t stop me from showing up twenty minutes before anything was supposed to get done. I didn’t have anything to do, so I practiced shooting. After about ten minutes, there were multiple targets with holes where their faces would be.

I fired a few more time at one target’s chest before my trigger greeted me with the sound of clicks. I took that as a sign to be done.

I put the gun where it was supposed to be in the firing range, away in its case, then onto a shelf. I left and went back into the small conference room.

I took my normal seat, and waited. There were still five minutes before routes were to be issued.

“Hey, Fifteen,” Zoe said while taking a seat next to me. “Any big plans for today?”

I shook my head without looking at her. “I’m attending work, and that’s all. I’ll go home after this and rest.” I looked toward Zoe after saying that.

She rolled her eyes. “Okay, yeah. No secret plans to sleep with Commander.”

I rubbed my forehead. “No, Zoe. She hasn’t asked me over. Besides, it’s likely that she’s busy today. Superior has hardly given her a break, and I’m surprised that Commander even sets time aside to be with me.”

Zoe looked away. “Yeah, that’s what worries me. She either works, sits alone, or is with you. I hardly see her anymore.”

“Well, to be fair, you also have responsibilities now. You took in a child.”

Zoe looked back and smiled. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Do you think Commander would like her?” I looked toward Shelby’s office.

“Perhaps. I don’t know much about her opinion on children.”

Then, Commander and Superior left the office. Commander looked absolutely exhausted. Zoe sighed at the sight. Superior looked stern and stiff, like she often forced herself to be.

“Alright, everyone. Let’s go to our routes.” Shelby then listed off all of the routes without taking a pause, or waiting for a response.

Zoe and I left after our names had been said. We were going to patrol the larger business district nearby. The one that I had gone to only five days earlier. Zoe drove us there, and I gave her proper directions.

“I didn’t know that you knew the route to the business district so well,” Zoe said.

“I know all of the routes as well as I need to. There are very few routes that I haven’t had to patrol. It’s what happens when you are the best on the squad. You don’t get defined roles. You do everything and then some.” I rolled down my window, and leaned out of it. The wind whipped my hair in every direction before I pulled back in.

“The best at everything my ass. You don’t ever bother to bandage the people you shoot!” Zoe shook her head.

“That’s because when I shoot, I don’t intend for the victim to need any sort of bandages.” I looked toward Zoe. She didn’t return the gesture.

“So Annabelle said she wanted to see you a couple of days ago. Well, not exactly like that, but you get my drift. She asked when she could see you next,” Zoe changed the subject.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah. She thinks you really nice. And, I mean, you are something of the only parental figure she had before me. She’s young.”

“You’re serious. She’s serious.” I sighed.

“You- You do intend to see her, right? Not just hide away?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I really couldn’t tell you.”

Zoe put her hand on my shoulder. “You’d better visit her. It doesn’t matter what I think of you, or anyone else. This is a child, and she doesn’t understand.”

“Yes, but why do people keep finding themselves wanting me? I don’t understand.” I really didn’t. Shelby, Annabelle, even Death. Three people who, previously, I wouldn’t give the light of day to now want to earn my favor. Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

“You don’t need to understand. Just do it. Annabelle likes you, and I don’t see any reason for you to not see her at least. It won’t do you any harm. Hell, maybe it’ll do something good for you.”

It doesn’t make any sense. Why do these people want me around? I’m feared in the police force, because I’m ruthless. I don’t care about any of them, and that scares them. Why would they want to be near me?

“Um, hey. Are you thinking about something? You look awfully, uh, perplexed,” Zoe said

“I was just thinking. I’ll visit you and Annabelle sometime. Don’t worry.”

A few more hours passed, and our patrol was done. Commander still looked worn out, even after I debriefed. I didn’t know what to do for her.

I went home after that, and had time to think. Why would anyone want to be around? I’m cruel, and I treat everyone as less than myself. Somehow, people still think more of me. This has to be recent, I don’t ever remember this happening before I joined the Horsemen’s protest group.

No, I’m wrong. There was one person before everyone today. Jade.

I put down my fork and pushed my plate away from me. I held my head in my hands. Jade liked me. She cared about me. Maybe not enough, but she didn’t want to see me dead.

I killed her. Without a thought in my mind about her life and who she, I shot her down. Without a thought about why I was doing that, I shot her down. Without a damned thought about what she thought about me, I shot her down. She cared about me, legitimately, before I even had a notion of what caring was.

What did I do for her to deserve her care? What did I do for her to deserve anything from her? She was my old partner, and I saw her as a nuisance. Yet, she still kept me around.

No, no, this couldn’t really be what I felt. She didn’t care for me that much. She spent most of her time with Smith. Didn’t she?

For the first time in what felt like my entire life, I didn’t trust my memories. I didn’t really know who Jade was, and I didn’t remember who she was, either. I killed her, and I knew now that something about that action was inherently wrong.

What was it, though? Why was I wrong.

A droplet of water hit the table, and my face felt moist.

Next Chapter

27 – Authority Issues

Previous Chapter

Work had ended for Zoe and I just a short while ago. Commander’s shift had ended before ours, so we had to report to Superior when we left.

“Alright, Fifteen, I’ll see you some other time,” Zoe said before she left Commander’s office.

“Goodbye, Zoe.” Before I had the chance to leave after Zoe, Superior asked me to stay.

“What do you need, Superior?” Hearing that, Superior sighed.

“I already told you my name. You can call me by that when the other Officers aren’t around.”

“Alright, Miranda. What else do you need from me?”

Miranda leaned back in her seat, and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. She wasn’t sweating, so I think it was just a motion she made from habit.

“Fifteen, is there anything that happened on your shift that you didn’t file in your report?”

“We didn’t break any laws in particular, if that’s what you mean.”

“Don’t avoid my question, Fifteen. I’m too old for this.” Miranda tapped her finger on the desk. Slowly. She looked as if she was directly controlling every body in her muscle, including her heartbeat. She was calm and lax, and held herself with a calming air. If she were talking to anyone else, she would get whatever information she pleased.

“At most, we didn’t arrest an orphan.” I stood straight and stiff, holding my ground. Zoe had a right to privacy, and I wasn’t going to give her in.

“I heard about that the first time you gave mercy to the child. You seem to still run into her.”

“She lives near one of our patrol points, and stops by. We humor her and send her on her way before we leave.”

Superior leaned forward. Her eyes put pressure on me. I closed mine, and rolled on my feet. If I did it well, it made me look just a slight bit impatient.

“Fifteen, I have Controllers who are trying to get me discharged for one reason or another. They think I’m getting soft in my old age, and I need to keep up executions. What is Zoe hiding from me?”

I opened my eyes and stood still. Miranda was leaning forward even more. She was trying to crack me, but I wasn’t going to have it.

“Miranda, if this rebellion works out, you won’t have to worry about your job. Likely, we’ll both end up unemployed for a while anyway. I shouldn’t be so concerned,” I consoled her.

Miranda laid both of her palms flatly on the desk. “What was Zoe hiding from me?”

“Zoe was hiding nothing from you, Superior. She told you what had happened, and I stand by her. She got nervous because you started laying pressure on her to give information she didn’t have. That is not her fault, but yours.

“Perhaps instead of grasping at straws, you should do some actual investigation work in order to weed out the members of this task force who are doing actual illegal activity. Such as Amanda, who takes home some police issue guns then sells them outside of the force. Or myself. Or Marty, who resells confiscated drugs. Or Commander. Or Sandy, who uses the internet access here to download porn on his old phone when he’s off of his shifts.

“Perhaps you could do an investigation upon yourself, if you’re truly that desperate.”

Miranda had lost her composure. Her fingers were tapping at a different tempo, and she was leaning towards me once again, but this time her face betrayed her hunger for what I had just said.

“Zoe is innocent in everyone’s matters. We are not. Remember that, Commander. If you don’t tread carefully, you will be at a greater risk than anyone else.”

I turned, and walked away from Miranda, but I stopped in her doorframe. “One more thing, Superior. Sandy hides in the locker room for a few minutes after his shifts to download the videos he wants. He would not be hard to discover.”

With that, I left the office, the police station, and went home. Despite the new things I was being faced with, Superior wasn’t at nearly the same amount of risk as she would like to think she was. She wasn’t ever really going to get dismissed or executed, because her controllers didn’t really care. If they had, she would have been fired long ago.

Once I got to my house, I was greeted with another mask I recognise; an eye of Death was awaiting me at my home.

“I’m glad you’ve arrived. Death has summoned you.” The older man was moving something in his hand in the same repetitive motion. He was toying with something. Likely a pen or or pencil.

“Perfect. Come inside, then.” I walked up to my porch, and unlocked my door.

“I’d rather not. Besides, Death would like to see you in person.”

“Does he, now? What brought this about?” I looked at the eye expectantly. I was certain I knew the answer, but I wanted to be sure.

“You’ve taken initiative in various times when no one else would. This has benefitted Death greatly.” The eye leaned against my house, still playing with whatever he had.

I turned the key in the lock, relocking it. “I see. Where is his home?”

“We aren’t going anywhere just yet. It would very unprofessional if we just threw you into this without warning. You’ll need to be at Rockford Park three days from now, three A.M. That is where you will be guided to Death’s location. I hope you’ll be there.” He got up from his leaning position and walked off of my porch. “Luckily, Rockford is a small park, so you should be able to find your guide easily.”

The eye left me and my home alone after telling his message. Now, I had another time restraint to wait for. Every day was becoming oh-so much more exciting than the last.

Next Chapter

26 – Night Shift

Previous Chapter

Zoe was driving more hastily than she normally would. She was about 10 MPH above the speed limit. She didn’t look as if she was chasing anything down, though. She looked like she had just found some sort of joy.

“It isn’t every day I get to hear you admit you were wrong, Fifteen,” Zoe smiled and laughed.

“I suppose you’ll just relish this while you can.” I crossed my arms, and looked out of the window.

“I told you that I was going to tell her if you wouldn’t. Honestly, I don’t know why she still gravitates towards you. That doesn’t matter, you finally realised you’re capable of making a mistake!” Zoe took a quick turn at one of our stations, and we waited there for anyone who might do anything illegal.

“Yes, I’m aware. What I wasn’t aware of was the time restraint you were going to give me. You gave me less than a day.”

“I’m not a very patient person, pal. At least, not with issues like this. Someone had to put you in your place.” Zoe tapped the steering wheel with her fingers. It looked like she was tapping out the beat to some song.

“It doesn’t matter. I was going to tell her that same night anyway. There’s just something that eludes me.” I looked back toward Zoe. She continued tapping the upbeat beat.

“What would that be, little one?” She looked over toward me at this point, but her facial expression didn’t change.

“Shelby wasn’t angry. She just accepted what it was and moved along. I would have been furious if I had found that I had been lied to in such a grandiose manner.” I scratched the bottom of my jaw, right where it connects with the throat.

“I’ve already told you, Fifteen. She’s better than you are,” Zoe said.

“I’ll have to concede that. She is better than me. I suppose it was a good thing that she became Commander over me.”

Zoe didn’t say anything. Instead, she stopped tapping and looked out of the front windshield.

“Is something bothering you now, Zoe?” I leaned toward her a little bit.

“This doesn’t seem right. This is nothing like you at all. You never admit flaws like that. What’s gotten into you, Fifteen?”

I stared intently at the side of her face. She was right. Something was affecting me, but I couldn’t tell what.

“I don’t know, Zoe.” I shook my head.

“There you go again. Saying things that you don’t say.” Zoe wriggled her fingers, then gripped the steering wheel tightly.

“I’m not sure what it is, Zoe. I’ve already said that.”

Zoe shook her head. “Let’s just not talk for a little while. I think we’re both too weirded out for it.”

So we didn’t. The two of us sat in silence, waiting until it was time for us to move to our next patrol point. Once the time was there, Zoe started the car and drove us away.

Once we got to that next point, Zoe got out of the car. I followed her, if only because I didn’t know what she was doing.

However, I realised why she had gotten out once I saw the surrounding land. There was a small forest nearby, and it was the same one that had housed Annabelle. She was probably there, waiting for us.

“Annabelle! Are you out here?” Zoe called out.

It took a while, but Annabelle did appear from the forest. She rushed up to Zoe and I, and hugged my legs. I was surprised, so I only patted her head. Zoe got onto a knee, and gave her a proper hug.

“I didn’t know you guys would be coming back!” Annabelle exclaimed.

“Well, we have to patrol here pretty often, kiddo. You’ll see us more often than you think.” Zoe stood up, and opened the backdoor of the car.

“I would like that,” Annabelle said.

“Then you seem pretty lucky,” I told her. Annabelle smiled at me. She was missing a few teeth. On the bright side, they were likely teeth which were destined to fall out anyway.

“Are you hungry?” Zoe asked. She crouched down in front of Annabelle and offered her part of a sandwich.

“Oh, thank you, miss.” Annabelle took the sandwich, and scarfed it down. The child likely hadn’t eaten much that day.

“Annabelle, I don’t like seeing you out here and alone in these woods.” Zoe looked past the child, and into the forest beyond. Annabelle shrugged.

“Aren’t you getting colder every night?” I asked.

Annabelle shook her head. “It isn’t that bad.” She was acting like some sort of child hard-ass.

“I still don’t like it. You should come stay with me.” Zoe reached her hand out to Annabelle. Annabelle took a small step back.

“What?” Annabelle’s eyes darted back and forth.

“You heard me. Stay at my house, with me.” Zoe reached her hand out farther.

Annabelle looked around, and tucked her hands behind her back.

“You don’t have to accept if you don’t want to, Annabelle,” I interjected. Annabelle did have the right to choose this, whether Zoe like it or not.

“Will you be there, too, Fifteen?” Annabelle looked up at me. Once more, I was faced with someone who was attached to me, but I say why.

“I don’t live with Zoe, but I could help pay for your food, and visit sometimes.”

Zoe gave me another look. It wasn’t exactly one of anger, and not one of joy, and not one of shock, but it held every one of those emotions.

“I will, then.” Annabelle stood forward, and took Zoe’s still outstretched hand. Zoe looked back at Annabelle before pulling Annabelle into her embrace.

“Let’s get you to our home, kiddo.” Zoe let Annabelle into the backseat, and we took our proper spots up front.

I looked at Annabelle from the rearview mirror. She was still, and reminded me somewhat of another still body I had seen in the backseat of a car.

When we got to Zoe’s home, Zoe took Annabelle inside and came back out after a few minutes.

“I don’t know what Annabelle does for fun, so I told her to explore the house, but to try not to make a big mess,” Zoe told me after she got into the car. She started the car, then started driving away.

“That’s reasonable.”

“I have a question for you, Fifteen.” Zoe looked very solemn. “Did you heart grow three sizes since I last saw you?”

I looked at my palms. “I’m not sure, truly. At first, I did nice things to appease other people. Now I just feel somewhat compelled.”

Zoe pulled the car over, and laid her head on the steering wheel. “Are you really going to help pay for everything?”

I put my hand on Zoe’s shoulder. She was slightly startled, but made eye contact.

“I will.”

Zoe reached her hand up and grabbed my arm.

Zoe smiled at me. “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?”

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25 – Too Late

Previous Chapter

I woke up before Shelby had. Thus, I got out of bed and let myself out of her house. I really wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but perhaps she got it.

Swiftly, I let myself back into my home. I had this day off, but I was rather unsure of what to do with it. I had spent more than my fair share of time out and about, and I had really lost track of what projects I had at home, for days where I’m not so busy.

I decided I could think about this over breakfast, and so I made myself one. The ration that I pulled out of my cupboard had a somewhat fresh orange in it. Surprising, considering the fact that I was never told to refrigerate these rations. Perhaps the organisers of this ration thought that the oncoming winter would be enough to keep it cold. I had been getting cooler and cooler as every day went by.

I sat at my table to eat. I was halfway done with my breakfast when I remembered that I had an algorithm that I was working on. I needed to go and check on that after I finished eating.

I threw away my trash, but threw my orange peels outside. I’d heard about compost or something like that. Either way, I went downstairs, and opened all of my locks, one by one.

Inside, my computer was still off, and waiting for me to give it life. I did as such, and it powered up with the same haste that it always used. I typed in my password, and it logged on for me.

First, I opened a web browser and went to the site that I most frequently used to test my algorithm. I opened the application that held my algorithm for password testing, and turned its attention toward the site in front of me. I normally found usernames by knowing the number ID of various police members. If I were to hack another site, I would need to find the username through other means.

It worked furiously. Immediately, it began to place letters and numbers in both the username and password section. The problem was still there, because I wasn’t able to work on the code for a while. On the brightside, I had put in a bit of work a while ago, and wouldn’t have to work so hard to fix this.

I kept changing and tweaking the code, just testing the waters. I worked as fast as I possibly could, typing away furiously while the code took in the tiniest changes every time.

After a while, I got a small notification in the corner of my screen. “Someone is attempting to find your location.”

The site was trying to hunt down my IP address! I was behind a VPN, but there was still the chance that they would steal my encrypted data and then try to decrypt it. That was not a risk I was willing to take, and it was not one I could afford. I needed to get these guys off of my tail, and fast!

I reached down to the computer tower and held the power button. Three seconds passed, and my computer screen went black. That was it. The work that I had just put into that code for hours was gone. I wasn’t even able to save my progress before I was put into jeopardy.

I closed my eyes, and pounded one fist against my desk. I sighed, and left my basement. I had work that evening anyway.

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