It shouldn’t have mattered that Ryan spun out on the rain-slick curve. No one should have even noticed him out here in the boonies where the amount of traffic hardly rated even the occasional presence of a police patroller. Everything should have been fine…would have been fine…except for the other car doing the same thing at the same time on the same curve from the opposite direction. But even that was survivable. Hell, practically any collision was survivable in this fifth decade of the twenty-first century. Modern technology had improved restraint and cushioning systems to the point that serious injuries pretty much had to be deliberate. The proximity sensor had functioned as designed even with their closing speed so high, and so the contact was nothing more than a non-contact bump—it felt like trying to touch the positive pole on a strong magnet with another one—that plopped them both into the muddy fields on opposite sides of the road with nothing worse than mud marring the bodywork. Everything would have been fine if only the other car were not being monitored by a patroller at the time. That pretty much screwed up everything.
By the time Ryan slogged through the muck back to solid footing, a tall woman with a badge on a gold-piped, black uniform was there to meet him. As his foot touched the pavement, her hand clenched about his right arm just above the elbow, and it was firm enough to let him know that she would be controlling any actions or movements he would make.
Just that quick, any reasonable chance of making a successful run for it evaporated. She was younger than his forty years by probably a decade, and her trim body certainly appeared to be in better shape than his. If nothing else, she would have two lungs. Of course, she probably wouldn’t even bother to run after him; she’d just shoot him before he got out of range.
The second officer from the patroller had gone to the other car. Ryan watched him high-step back through the mud with the other driver, a young lady that was probably not more than nineteen or twenty. She was attractive in her form-fitting torso glove, transparent except where it feathered into areas of strategically placed translucence. In the manner of young folks all through the ages, she wore her hair in a style that was calculated to shock and outrage her elders, or at least cause them to shake their heads in dismay at what the world is coming to. Twin ponytails sprouted just above and behind each ear and flowed over each shoulder in loose, unbridled abandon. Retro, they called it. Ridiculous looking, their elders called it. Ryan sort of liked it.
No one seemed concerned with her radical hairstyle at the moment.
The officer with her, a young man not much older than the girl, held her arm in a grasp matching that of his partner on Ryan. Her fear-widened eyes darted from one officer to the other. She hardly seemed to notice Ryan at all.
How could she not at least look him in the eye after what she had done to him?
But, then, with the tolerance of his maturity, Ryan supposed her own problem was probably uppermost in her mind. He wondered briefly why they were monitoring her. Probably tried to straighten out some other curves.
“Your card, please,” said the younger officer.
Even as she reached into her abdomen pocket, the girl began pleading. “Oh, please, give me a break. I didn’t hurt anyone. See, he’s fine. Not even a scratch.” With a nod in Ryan’s direction, she finally acknowledged that he existed. “I was just going home. Really. I was with friends all day, and we just had a very nice lunch and then I left and I didn’t have more than one glass of wine. Honest!”
The officer at her side said nothing. His expressionless gaze remained on her face, and his hand remained outstretched and open.
“It was that new, reduced alcohol stuff. You know, the kind that tastes like diluted water? Not bad with food, though. And, you know, food absorbs what little bit of alcohol there is, so it’s really more like drinking non-alcoholic...”
The officer with his hand extended curled his fingers twice, but otherwise showed no impatience.
The quiver in her voice became more pronounced the longer she talked, and the pitch went higher and tighter.
“It was my father’s car and he gave it to me when he got a new one a couple of months ago—one of the new gyros. You ever drive one? You can’t believe how stable they are with only one wheel. You can take a curve like that one without so much as a chirp.” Too late, the realization glistened in her eyes that she had erred by bringing their attention back to the curve she had just failed to negotiate—as if the officers had actually been distracted.
Again, the officer’s fingers twitched.
“Please.” It was a drawnout whisper as her shaking fingers withdrew a single card from the pocket just beneath her left breast.
The officer took the card and perused it for a moment. After a single, slow shake of his head, he withdrew the scanner from the pocket on his upper-arm. He swiped the pencil-shaped object across the card then raised it up to the girl’s eyes, which she immediately shut.
“That doesn’t work, you know,” he said as he passed the tip about six inches from both eyelids. “It just reads through the lids, so you might as well open your eyes.” His eyes went back to her card. “Your identity has been confirmed by the Sheffield Iris Scale and by DNA as Adrienne Landers, a one-striker. Your blood-alcohol level has just been tested and established as point zero one two five percent. As a one-striker, anything above point zero one must be counted as strike two.”
He flipped the card over and read aloud from the reverse side, “You don’t have a right to withdraw consent previously given. You don’t have the right to your own surgeon. You don’t have the right to designate a recipient of your lung. Your case may be appealed at any time within the next ten calendar days. You are ordered to report for donation before the end of the tenth day. Failure to comply, or failure to pay for the surgery as billed within the ten subsequent days, will result in a third strike. Do you understand each of these admonitions and instructions as I have explained them to you?”
She nodded her head twice as her white-ringed irises glistened with welling tears.
“You must make a verbal response. Speak clearly and concisely into my scanner.”
“Ye...yes, I understand.”
“Okay,” the officer said as he handed the card back to her. Shaking his head, he peered into her eyes and said, “I would have thought the first one, the kidney, would have gotten through to you.” When she made no response other than a soft sob, he went on, “You may summon someone to come here and pick you up. Tomorrow you will receive the bill for the removal, dismantling and recycling of your vehicle. It must be paid prior to your donation to avoid a third strike.”
Even though Ryan expected both officers to turn their attention on him as soon as the sobbing girl wilted to the ground, he still almost cried out when the grip on his arm turned him to face his own captor.
“Your card, please.”
Ryan looked down at the open hand extended toward him with its curling fingers. He looked back up into the officer’s eyes. Did she know? How could she? She hadn’t even scanned him yet. Once she did, though, things would probably happen pretty fast. Any chance of getting away then would be forever lost. So…now or never.
Ryan slammed his heel down on her instep and rammed his fist into her crotch.
With a gasp, the officer curled to one side and fell back on one foot, drawing the other knee upward as though to fend off further assault. Her face twisted from open-mouthed shock to a grimace. Gripping her agony with both hands, she toppled over backwards.
Ryan spun toward the acres of muddy field surrounding his car. The dark wall of rain-soaked forest just a couple hundred feet beyond it beckoned to him with a promise of life, or at least a chance of it. Why the hell didn’t he go that way when he got out of his car instead of out to the road? The mud should hamper his pursuers as much as him, although he doubted that either of the officers would be hampered by only one lung like he was. Still, he might make it, yet. The lady cop probably wouldn’t be running any time soon, or even shooting very straight, for that matter. All he had to do was outrun her partner once Ryan disarmed him.
The youth and inexperience of the other officer gave Ryan’s surprise attack just enough of an edge to make it work. As the young man’s eyes opened wide to match his gaping mouth, Ryan slammed into him hard enough to knock him sprawling backwards. Ryan had but to reach down and snatch the officer’s stunner as he ran past, something with which he hoped to deter any pursuers from getting too close too fast. It probably would have worked just that way, too, if the officer had sprawled backwards several feet onto the ground like he should have done. But he didn’t.
He and Ryan both tripped and stumbled over the hunched figure of the girl whose lousy driving had wrought this entire situation. The cop’s arms flailed about then wrapped around Ryan, who still pressed against him as he drove them on.
The three wound up in a pile, the girl screaming on the bottom, the cop grasping with both hands for holds on Ryan’s clothing and appendages as they became accessible, and Ryan driving his legs to launch himself beyond the grasp of the law. Ryan and the officer rolled a few feet past the girl, coming to rest with Ryan holding the cop from behind, but with the cop pinning Ryan’s legs with the weight of his body.
A growing knot of fear in his gut told Ryan that his desperate dash for freedom was over, but he still couldn’t bring himself to surrender to his fate. He snatched the officer’s stunner from its holster, but the man grabbed Ryan’s hand and wrist before he could bring the weapon up to bear.
When Ryan saw the officer’s partner rise to an unsteady stance and glare at him with eyes blazing her wrath, he gave up his struggle for control of the stunner. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the weapon beyond the reach of either one of them. At the same time, he grabbed the officer’s scanner from its pocket. Holding the slim and pointed thing like a dagger, he held its tip just at the entrance to the officer’s right ear canal.
“Be still or I’ll ram this through your head!”
The young officer froze, but his body remained tense, like he was a cocked weapon ready to go off at the slightest touch. Still, Ryan was in control...sort of. He just couldn’t get up.
“Let him go,” the man’s partner said. She had stopped several feet away with her own stunner drawn and aimed at Ryan’s head.
“Drop it,” Ryan ordered. “Drop it and back away or I’ll kill him. I swear, I’ll do it!”
It was common knowledge that a stunner hit, even on the lowest setting, would cause a brief spasm of any number of muscles. He was pretty sure she wouldn’t risk a shot, not with the pointed probe barely more than an inch from her partner’s brain.
“You know won’t. I can’t,” she answered. “You’re a two-striker, aren’t you? This is number three.”
Just like that, she pronounced his doom. She couldn’t have known before. But now she said it like it was already published. And, why not? What else would push a person to such desperate measures at the scene of a simple road accident?
“I’ll kill him!”
“Why?” she asked. “Why do that? It won’t change anything. You know that. You signed your card; you knew the consequences.”
“But...it was just one drink, one lousy cocktail at the end of a really shitty day. Not even a double. Just one small, watered-down drink. And,” Ryan jabbed his chin at the girl who was no longer sobbing but staring at him in rapt fascination. “...she was the one that bumped me. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was driving fine until I spun out a little back there. But I didn’t cross over and hit her. She hit me!”
“It doesn’t matter,” the officer said.
“You want him dead?” Ryan brought up his elbow to a better position for driving the rod through the ear canal and into the officer’s brain. “Huh? Do you?”
“No, of course not. But you know I can’t let you go. It simply isn’t going to happen.”
She pressed a place on her collar and spoke too softly for Ryan to understand her words. Then to Ryan she said, “Other units will be here within minutes. Let him go. You have no possibility of escape.”
Ryan felt his shoulders slump as he accepted the truth of her words. There was no possibility. None. His eyes burned from tears he couldn’t hold back much longer. It was all coming to an end so fast. His voice began to break with his next words, “Then this is a free one, isn’t it?”
It was like she could read his mind. Or maybe the situation wasn’t as unique to her as it was to Ryan. Her eyes got a sad droop as she said, “Don’t,” she said. “Please. Don’t.”
Her partner must have understood the meaning of Ryan’s words, too, because his tense body suddenly began to react. Ryan felt the man’s initial movements, minute flexing of muscles already primed. But Ryan didn’t allow the young officer’s move toward freedom and life to progress any further than those first quiverings.
A quick, hard flex of Ryan’s arm was all it took. The officer’s body jerked for a moment, then, as crimson coated the side of his head and neck along with Ryan’s hand, he slumped to lifelessness. In the next moment, Ryan felt the jarring, numbing effects of the other officer’s stunner. He remained fully conscious, but his body would not respond to his commands. He slumped beside the dead officer.
While his eyes peered straight ahead, his peripheral vision picked up her approach. She bent over her partner’s body and felt for the pulse she had to know wouldn’t be there. After a moment, she squatted beside Ryan and reached toward his throat and chest. He could feel her fingers brush against his chest, open his pocket, withdraw. Although he couldn’t follow it with his eyes, her scanner passed across the front of his face, then across his donor card that she now held in her other hand.
When she spoke, he could hear every word, clear and precise and as cold as a glacier’s breath. “You are identified by the Sheffield Iris Scale and by DNA as Ryan Johnson, a two striker. Your blood-alcohol level has just been tested and established as point zero one four percent. As a two-striker, anything above point zero one is strike three. I know you’ve already heard all this twice before, but I’m required to do it again, so listen up. I know you can hear me.”
She flipped his card over and read aloud, “Number one: you don’t have the right to withdraw consent previously given. You sure tried, though, didn’t you? You didn’t have to get in the card program, you know. It’s strictly voluntary.”
Her eyes found their place on the card again and read, “Number two: you don’t have the right to your own surgeon. I guess you know a couple by now, huh?”
After a short pause, she continued, “Number three: you don’t have the right to designate a recipient of your donated organs. Oh, yeah, it will be organs, all right, as in plural, won’t it?
“I guess we can skip numbers four and five. They’re just stuff about strikes one and two. You remember one and two, don’t you? The ones where you give up a kidney and then a lung?” After a long pause while she looked at her dead partner’s body, she shook her head and said, “You know, you could have just served your time whenever you decided to drink and drive, and a lot of bad things could have been avoided. But, your type apparently thinks fifteen years for each bust is too stiff. You just want a free ride, don’t you? Get busted for DUI and get a free pass, like you are some kind of special person or something, like it was only the first part of the card you signed that counted, the part that you would have to serve no jail time for driving-while-snockered, and that was the entire agreement. Well, it wasn’t. But you figured you were just too smart to be caught three times doing the same, stupid thing, huh? Oh, but two weren’t enough, were they? No, you had to take one more…just one more.”
She moved out of her squat to a kneeling position that put less strain on her still-throbbing groin. “Okay, number six: you don’t have a right to appeal the sentence. You already had plenty of chances to see that it didn’t happen. Well, you blew it, didn’t you? At least, since the program started, we sure have improved our organ donation stats.”
She moved the card over in front of his eyes for a moment and said, “Well, now, will you just look at this. You finally made it all the way to good old number seven,” before pulling it back to where she could slowly read and savor every word, putting her own stress on words she chose. “You shall be taken immediately into custody and transported to the nearest anatomical extraction clinic. Your organs, limbs, and tissues and any other item and/or portion of your body deemed to be useful shall be maintained in your living body until needed. The harvesting of such parts, organs and tissues shall continue for as long as any usable items remain, even to the extent of keeping your diminishing body alive by various artificial means.” She dropped her hand holding the card and added, “which, by the way, are considerable these days.”
Again, she glanced over at her dead partner and back at Ryan. She reached out, patted Ryan softly on the cheek a couple of times. A grin curled up the corners of her tight lips without touching her eyes. “Have a nice day.”
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