Episode 23- Steve Bradford
Residential District, Sacramento
6:45 p.m., April 20th, 2070
Steve Bradford got up from the couch and headed towards his front door, hearing a second burst of quick, forceful knocks on the wood. Abbie nestled further into the white sofa, watching him as he went. Neither of them could imagine who would be knocking—showing up in that weather without even calling first. Rare, much-needed heavy rain poured on Sacramento; the bay windows along the living room wall showed only gloomy twilight outside. Sheets of water drummed on the roof, audible now that Abbie picked up the remote and paused their movie. They were watching Casablanca: a copy made from the digital movie archives in Sacramento Library—a veritable time capsule of the old world, where close to 5,000 films from before the Darkness were collected and preserved. Casablanca was now over 130 years old.
“You know, when they shot this film, the second World War was just getting into gear,” Steve had said to Abbie, as she leaned against him, his arm wrapped around her neck, draped over her shoulder and chest.
“So these people had no idea how the war was going to end,” Abbie said, looking at the actors on the screen thoughtfully. “That scene when they’re singing La Marseillaise, and you see the actress with tears in her eyes? I bet those are real tears. They didn’t know what was going to happen to them. They had no idea if their whole world was about to fall apart or not.” Steve nodded, and they watched in silence. The knock on the door came not long after.
Steve opened the front door, and saw two faces he recognized; or rather eyes he recognized. The faces were covered by gas masks. There were uniformed Bag Men on his doorstep in the pouring rain. He assumed there was a vector risk reported nearby, and he was for some immiserating reason being brought in to join the response team—despite the fact he was supposed to be enjoying his hard, hard earned time off. They both had M4 rifles—one, holding the weapon across his chest in bent arms, the other, wearing it slung over her shoulder on a strap.
“The other day when I said ‘You’ll know where I am if you need me,’ I was assuming that you wouldn’t need me.” Steve said, addressing the Bag Man with messy strands of blonde hair plastered across his wet forehead over the top edge of his mask. The blonde, blue-eyed man was named Tucker Montgomery, but his irrevocable nickname was ‘the Mormon.’ Usually he and Steve had reasonably good rapport, but tonight the Mormon stared in silence, deadpan.
“Agent Bradford,” the other Bag Man said. Steve recognized the brown eyes, and her voice. It was Bindu Gupta: one of his colleagues that he tried his damnedest not to run into more than necessary. She was ordinarily all smiles and jokes, but underneath that sunny exterior she was a disingenuous, manipulative, conniving asshole. Tonight, there was none of her wonted posturing. She didn’t even try to seem nice. Her voice was not muffled by her gas mask, thanks to the electronic speaker embedded near the filtration cartridge which made her slightly louder than a person should be in ordinary conversation.
“We are here on official business,” she went on. “The BPH asks for and expects your compliance. We are here to collect Abbie Bonaventura, whom we believe is here with you.”
“Okay, what the fuck is this,” Steve said, all patience and cordiality draining out of his voice and face. He gave the pair a look that could have seared the patina off a bronze statue. The Mormon blinked and shrank back an inch. His partner didn’t budge. Abbie had stood from the couch in the other room, moved towards the front door, and stood in the hallway watching the exchange. She was caught off guard by this—her throat was dry and the muscles in her thighs were tingling—her body already physically preparing for fight or flight.
“Agent Gupta, Agent Montgomery,” Steve said, voice firm and formal, “it’s time for you to explain what is going on.”
Bindu Gupta and the Mormon exchanged glances. Neither of them seemed to want to field the question, and after a pause where each was obviously hoping the other would speak, the Mormon started to quietly, timidly explain.
“We have intelligence that Abbie was in close contact with Armorer knights during the insurrection,” he said. “Because the Armorers were confirmed as vectors of VHV, Director Broderick has ordered that anyone who came into close contact with them be brought to HQ…”
Steve fixed the Mormon in a steady gaze, not speaking for several moments as he thought through what he was hearing. Of course, he thought. They learned about Abbie’s run in with those knights who tried to rape her. The agency learns everything, sooner or later. We all know she probably isn’t infected with VHV because she killed one rapist and escaped from the other before any fluids could be exchanged. But this is a procedural precaution.
“I get it,” Steve said, his voice softening a little now that he thought he understood the situation. “You’re just following orders, but leave it. Abbie can stay here with me. I am fully qualified to observe her during her standard quarantine period, which she can wait out in isolation right here. Release her under my recognizance. If Director Broderick takes issue with this, tell him to contact me directly. I’m taking responsibility, and you don’t have to worry about yourselves being reprimanded.” Steve realized this was the first time he had spoken the name “Director Broderick” out loud. Since Director Lorne Hooker had been killed by the Armorers, the Deputy Director had moved up a station and taken full control of the agency. But it felt weird to say his name. Steve wasn’t used to it, and didn’t feel like he wanted to get used to it.
The two Agents on the doorstep exchanged glances a second time. Steve watched them silently, wondering what was going on that they weren’t saying. He was the senior Agent, here—he had more experience in his little finger than both of them had in their entire bodies, combined. In the normal order of things, they should have been leaving already.
All at once, the two Agents nodded to each other. Bindu Gupta unslung her M4 rifle from her shoulder and moved across the threshold, aiming for Abbie, standing a few paces back behind Steve.
“Secure the target,” Gupta barked, prodding the Mormon to move. He was hesitating on the doorstep. Seeing aggression from them, and seeing a rifle aimed at Abbie, Steve responded without a thought. He threw a crescent kick, knocking Gupta’s rifle to the side; in the same fluid motion, he lunged forward and seized the muzzle of the Mormon’s rifle, jerking it down; simultaneously he thrust his other hand out, bringing his thumb inside the trigger guard and pressing the trigger. A burst of shots fired into Agent Gupta’s legs, standing at the Mormon’s side; her left thigh and right knee exploded and she fell to the entryway tiles with a crackling, electronic scream—the decibels overwhelming the mic in her headset.
Kicking the Mormon squarely in the chest, Steve sent him tumbling backwards down the front steps, rolling out of sight into the darkness and the pouring rain. He slammed the front door, turning back to Agent Gupta on the floor in time to see her unholstering her sidearm. She was about to bring the pistol up to fire at Steve from the floor, but he reached over her, to the small table against the wall beside the door—where a marble bust of Bach greeted visitors. Swiping the bust off the table, he slammed it down on Bindu Gupta’s head with a dull thwacking sound. The body spasmed briefly, then was still—blood already pooling under the shot legs, and now under the crushed head. The white tiles of the entryway were splattered and smeared in gore.
Steve turned to Abbie, seeing the pale, abysmal horror on her face as she stared at him and at the carnage in the foyer.
“What the fuck is happening?” she screamed. Steve couldn’t answer. He didn’t have an explanation. BPH Agents had just tried to take Abbie by force, apparently fully prepared to kill Steve when he got in the way. It was as if all logic in the world had just been utterly destroyed in one fell swoop. Moving back towards Abbie, grabbing her in his arms, Steve felt as though he had just witnessed some inexplicable breakdown of the laws of physics, and he no longer had any bearings in judging what could or couldn’t happen.
But they didn’t linger in the hallway for long. They knew there was another armed Agent outside, where Steve had hastily kicked him. Steering Abbie by the arm, Steve led the way back into the living room, through another doorway and towards the bedroom.
“Get in the bedroom and lock the door,” he said as they hurried forward. “I’m going for weapons.” They parted outside the bedroom—Abbie ducking inside and slamming the door behind her, Steve heading for the small closet off of the living room where his BPH uniform and various guns, weapons and equipment were locked.
As Steve stepped back into his living room, one of the bay windows that lined the side of the large room exploded. Agent Montgomery flew forward and somersaulted across the carpet, coming to his feet at the end of the roll and instantly rising—his rifle in his hands, muzzle aimed at Steve’s head at eye-level. Steve flexed his legs and dropped his center of gravity, coming underneath the muzzle of the rifle, as he brought his hands up and seized the front end of the weapon. Montgomery fired a burst of shots—they punched through the ceiling, streaking off harmlessly into the cloudy sky, Steve securely controlling the front end of the gun and keeping the aim off of his body. With his left hand, Steve reached forward and slapped down on the stock of the rifle, breaking Montgomery’s firing grip and, with a push-pull motion, levered the rifle out of the Mormon’s hands and slammed the muzzle and front sight into his face.
He staggered back, and Steve, turning the rifle over in his hands, opened fire. The Mormon went down flailing wildly, a dozen shots to his center body mass tearing apart his tactical vest. The body thudded to the ground, and for a moment the only sound was the rain drumming on the roof overhead and on the stone patio outside; much louder now that one window was smashed open.
“It’s okay,” Steve called to Abbie. “I’m fine. We’re fine.”