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As We Know It – Pt.2

As We Know It – Pt.2
© 2014 Jodi Lee & Caitlin McColl, all rights reserved
Written for Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge
Cooperative Cliffhanger, Part Two

This is a very, very late second part to an exercise posted to Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. Caitlin McColl wrote the first part; a fantastic piece that immediately grabbed me by the hair on the nape of my neck, shook me, and demanded I attempt to follow Lia Ashdown to see what happens next. I hope (read pray) that I’ve done Caitlin’s vision justice. You can read the first part of the story, here:
As We Know It – Pt.1

“Hey, I asked you a question.” I kicked at the partition again. Still, silence. He didn’t even glance in the rear-view mirror.

I could tell we were passing people on the street, barely making out vague shapes through the glass. Why would anyone need glass like this? What were they protecting themselves from? I kicked the back of the seat this time, five or six times, trying to get a reaction.

Finally, the man in the passenger seat turned, pulling the visor from his face as he did so. His eyes were icy cold, penetrating. “Ms. Ashdown, you will be given the information you need when we reach our destination, not before. Please refrain from exerting yourself. You could… be hurt.”

“Is that a threat? I know my rights! I should have been Mirandized before you even put the cuffs on me-”

“Those rights no longer apply, Ms. Ashdown. We’re under martial law.”

Martial law… the words rang in my ears. I’d grown up with stories of riots and protests, and how once martial law was enacted, the few ruled the many with fear, violence and death. “Fine. I have no rights, whatever. The decent thing to do would be tell me where I’m going to be detained though, wouldn’t it.”

He laughed, wrinkles forming at his eyes when he smiled. “You’re not being detained, Ms. Ashdown. This is for your own safety.”

I was stunned. My safety? What about the safety of the hundreds of thousands of other people? “I don’t get it.”

“That’s why we’re not telling you anything. You can get all the answers you’ll ever need when you see our CO. In the meantime, sit back, quit bitching and enjoy the ride.”

Easier said than done, of course. Not only is sitting with your hands cuffed behind you uncomfortable, it’s strains the muscles along the upper arms and shoulders, right into the neck. I was about to cramp right up. “Look, can you at least uncuff me?”

The one who’d been speaking looked like he might consider it, but the thug behind the wheel put the kybosh on that. “No. Protocol.”

“Look bud, fuck your protocol. I need to get out of these cuffs or you’re going to have a pretzel that won’t be any good to anyone. I’m cramping up. There’s too much strain on…”

Suddenly the tint to the windows faded away, and the outside world was exposed. I craned my already straining neck to look in every direction, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Devastation everywhere, looting, rioters, fights, gunfire. Wrecked cars lined the streets, pushed out of the way by the military vehicles in front of the car that I was in. My eyes settled on a woman, covered in blood, cradling a child as we slowed to a crawl near her. She held her hand out as we passed, and I felt tears prick the corners of my eyes.

The child was dead.

“You’ve got to help her!” I cried, ignored again by the authority figures in the front of the vehicle. “She needs your help!”

“Ms. Ashdown, the child is obviously dead. She’ll have to find her own way now.” The smile that had lightened his features earlier, now turned to a scowl. I could see it, all over his face. He was disgusted with himself.

I remained silent, twisted and in pain, for the rest of the trip. Thankfully it wasn’t long; I figured another twenty minutes had passed when we pulled to a stop in front of the state capital.

They hauled me out of the back, carrying me by my under arms. I couldn’t straighten my legs out properly and my head felt like it was about to explode from the pressure on my shoulders. Still, I was happy enough to be out of that vehicle that I didn’t complain. Their ‘CO’ was going to be in for an earful though.

Or so I thought. After they dumped me unceremoniously on the floor of the senator’s office, in the custody of yet another black-clad and visored soldier, I couldn’t think of anything to say. At his desk, the senator looked more surreal than ever, a man I’d lived my entire youth with. My step-father.

“Ophelia. It is always a pleasure to see you.” He stood, and came around to the front of the desk, leaning against it as he glared down at me. “Can I have the officer remove the hand cuffs now, or will you continue to cause trouble?”

“Continue? I didn’t ask for this! They came to my door, and slapped them on me without any provocation, without any reason, with-”

“Shut up, Ophelia. It’s your turn to listen to me for a change, and you can start putting that expensive college education of yours to work.”

The soldier removed the handcuffs, and helped me to my feet. “I don’t understand. Why did you need to send a bunch of thugs to pick me up if all you want is help?”

“You wouldn’t have come if I had asked. You wouldn’t even have come if it was your mother asking. You’ve thrown away your education and your life in some misguided… Well, that’s neither here nor there. As you have to have noticed, we’re in a global state of panic. Our worst fears, an ELE, has caused most of the planet to crumble into the oceans. Instead of the western seaboard sliding off as the perennial joke goes, it was the rest of the country. The rest of the continent, and others as well.

“Communication with other cities and Washington is lost. Dr. Andreiovitch and his team were already here for the conference, and he specifically requested you.”

Of course he would. I was his star pupil, the best PA he had. If it hadn’t have been for me, his new way of detecting even the subtlest of seismic activity would never have launched. In truth, most of the research and work that went into the Yellowstone Project was mine.

It had been my thesis, after all. Six months after turning it in, I was told to start again, with another focus, another mentor, and another year of study. No explanation, nothing. A year after that – Andreiovitch was making quite a name for himself.

“You know I want nothing to do with him. Nothing. I don’t care if we are on the edge of extinction, I refuse.”

My step-father levelled the gaze that had tormented me for years right into my right eye, right into my soul. “You will work with him, and you will be gracious and above all, you will perform to your absolute best abilities. Is that understood?”

I had to think about that. I was, is and am terrified of my step-father. For no real reason, just an abject, lingering crawly feeling. He’s never been horrible to me, it’s just something. There.

But I hated Andreiovitch more than I feared Stephen.

I opened my mouth to reply, but nothing came out.