Three hard knocks on the front door jolted Nathan awake.
He jerked upright in bed and glanced at the clock on the nightstand: 3:35 a.m.
He shook his wife. “It’s them, Sarah. They’ve come for Ian.”
“What?” she said, her voice groggy. “At this hour?”
Nathan reached for the baseball bat he kept under the bed, adrenaline surging through his body. “I wouldn’t put it past Barrier Admin to show up in the middle of the night to do their dirty work.”
“Calm down, Nathan. You’ll get us arrested.”
His heart pounded as he threw on his robe. “They might order other law-abiding citizens to roll over and keep quiet, but not me, Sarah. No one comes into my house and takes our son without a fight.”
Sarah scrambled out of bed and grabbed at his arm. “I mean it, Nathan. You can’t fight these people. Not with a baseball bat, at least.”
He darted to Ian’s room down the hall and stuck his head in the doorway. His son was awake in bed. “Dad, what’s happening? Who’s at the door?”
“Stay quiet, Ian. Don’t worry.” Nathan closed his door and made sure it was locked, then he dashed to the living room. Sarah joined him, trembling in her nightgown.
More pounding on the front door.
He gripped the baseball bat, his knuckles white. Looking through the peephole, he saw two large law enforcers in grey uniforms and a short bald man wearing a tie.
“Get off my property. All of you,” Nathan shouted.
“Open the door, Mr. Gallagher,” the bald man said, holding up a badge.
Nathan couldn’t make out his full name, but he clearly saw the words “Relocation Representative” and “Barrier Administration.” Not good. Just as he suspected.
“We just ran a LifeTracker scan and we know everyone is home,” the bald man went on. “Don’t make me have to use force to enter your home.”
“You’re not coming in.”
“Do as they ask, Nathan,” Sarah pleaded, tears in her eyes. “We’ll find a way to get Ian back. Just do as they say.”
“Mr. Gallagher, if we need to use force, you will be arrested, and you and your wife can kiss your son’s visitation rights goodbye. I’ll give you one more chance to open the door.”
Sarah looked at Nathan with desperate eyes. She did have a point—Barrier Admin had real weapons. He hung his head, then he threw the baseball bat across the room. He disarmed the security system and opened the door.
The men entered, both law enforcers aiming their guns at Nathan and Sarah.
“A wise decision, Mr. Gallagher,” the bald man said, pulling a SyncSheet from his pocket and scrolling with his pupils. “And now for the legalese.”
Nathan pulled Sarah close as the man rattled off a calloused court order that they both had read several days ago. Next, he skimmed through a letter Barrier Admin had emailed them a month ago. “As you are aware,” the bald man went on, clearing his throat, “only healthy, natural-born Barrier residents with high economic earning potential are permitted to remain in the Barrier system, and thus share in its benefits. We regret to inform you that Ian—”
“I’ve read the letter,” Nathan interrupted, his voice tense. “You’re not taking my son. I don’t care what the court says. He might be a quadriplegic, but he’s a healthy kid with plenty of income earning potential. How can I convince you of that?”
The man folded up the SyncSheet and slipped it back into his pocket. “You’ll have to file your grievances with Barrier Administration, Mr. Gallagher. My job is to relocate non-compliant Barrier residents to appropriate Sanctuaries, and I intend to do so. Any efforts to obstruct the law will result in prosecution. Am I clear, Mr. Gallagher?”
Nathan swallowed hard, glaring at both law enforcers. They looked back with cold stares, guns still aimed at him and his wife.
“I’m coming with Ian,” Nathan said. “It’s dangerous out there. They’re predicting another solar flare any day. My son needs to be with his father.”
The man shook his head. “I can’t allow that, sir. You’ll be notified when visitation rights are granted.”
Nathan was ready to lunge. Sarah struggled to hold him back.
“May I remind you, sir, Ian’s visitation rights will be revoked if you or your wife attempt to obstruct the law,” the man said, straightening his tie. “Now, would you please escort your son from his bedroom, or do we need to do that?”
“Stay out of my son’s bedroom,” Nathan spat. He turned and went to Ian’s room and flipped on the light. A law enforcer followed and waited at the door.
“Who’s here, dad? What’s happening?” Ian’s voice quivered.
Nathan lifted his son’s limp body from his bed and strapped him into his wheelchair. “Nobody’s going to hurt you, Ian. Okay? This is just temporary. Your mother and I will come for you. I promise.”
Nathan put his hands gently on his son’s shoulders. “Do you trust me, Ian?”
Nathan kissed his cheek, trying to hold back tears.
He wheeled him into the living room as the law enforcer followed. “How can I trust that my son will receive the level of care he requires?”
The bald man grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and headed for the door before Sarah had a chance to kiss Ian goodbye. “We’ll take it from here. Sanctuary Administration will see to his care.”
Ian craned his head to look back, screaming, “Mom…dad…don’t let them take me! Please stop them…please!”
Sarah collapsed in a heap on the floor, her hand over her mouth to muffle her sobs.
Nathan clenched his fists, feeling helpless as they ripped his son from their home.