SCREENS

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Chapter 9 - Inspire

Chapter 9

With our guns drawn, we began to move in. And as I expected them to, they scattered. I had a shot, but I couldn’t fire, we couldn’t afford to give ourselves away to Sasha, then that phone of hers would make sure we wouldn’t be able to catch up to them.

Luckily we took them by surprise, and one of them dropped their bag in the panic.

“Shit!”

“Arnold? You read me?” Harry and I began to chase after them; I swooped up the duffel bag and threw my walkie to Harry.

“Yeah hey, Quinn, something’s happening down here.”

“Arnold this is Harry, they’re coming for ya! Be ready you have my permission to open fire.”

“Yes, sir.”

We darted around the corner and bashed in the door to the stairwell. These guys were fast. Well-trained they were only 50 feet ahead of us, now they were three flights of stairs below us. There was no way we were going to catch them on foot now. Arnold had to come through for us, and I have never put a lot of faith in him.

On a side note to whoever is reading my report – the person who invented stairs should be shot. I fucking hate stairs.

*****

I heard some rustling in the hallway when Trevor and I got back to the roof access door. I could only assume Courtney and Floyd were wreaking havoc. That’s a lot of liquor for anyone to drink. Trevor felt the same way when he heard the frantic footsteps, but when we peeked into the hallway, there was nothing.

“Cleaning lady maybe?” Trevor assumed.

“Nope” I sighed when I saw the door to our room open up and Courtney stumbled out, slurring her words.

“Are you two causing a ruckus out here? Were you doing the knocking?”

“Nobody is knocking on anything! It’s probably that bass beating against the walls in there. You’re the ruckus!” I knew I never should’ve let Floyd bring his giant boom box with him on this trip.

“I’m not Rufus. I’m Courtney.”

“Is Floyd alive in there? And will you turn that down, I can hear it from outside the hallway.” Trevor and I moved Courtney aside who was struggling to stand with every step she took.

“We’re just jamming man! Sasha, please don’t kill my vibe!” I shook my head at the drunk idiot and her Kendrick reference and walked into our hotel room. Somehow in less than 30 minutes, it was already trashed. I looked in disbelief as Floyd was head banging to a very bass-heavy track and in each of his hands, he was holding two drumsticks, but not real drumsticks, chicken drumsticks.

“Whoa! They have a late-night kitchen?”

Floyd nodded and smiled as he took a bite out of one of his drumsticks, and Courtney stumbled across the floor to us. She ran up to Floyd and threw her arm over his shoulder and began to bob to the beat with him.

“Please tell me there’s still chicken left. I will die if I don’t shove something down my throat.”

“Whoa, gay jokes! Sasha, I’m sorry I totally mis-ju-mis. Your cousin is the shit! I love this guy! He knows how to have a good time.”

I laughed a little. I wasn’t mad; I just wasn’t used to this, having a good time. It was far out of the ordinary for me; I don’t think Floyd has ever had this much fun. We have all grown a little closer since we were forced together, but I still held some caution towards Courtney. Trevor found the chicken plate and began devouring it, and Courtney pulled me in so we could move to the rhythm of Floyd’s music. At least he had exquisite taste.

I was just wondering and even hoping that this happiness could last. Now that people knew who I was, there was no telling what could happen. Either everyone at the gas station kept their mouths shut, or there would be a crowd of people waiting for us in that hotel lobby when we woke up in the morning.

*****

Special Agent Andrew Quinn

In Pursuit of Suspected Kidnappers

12:55 A.M.

We were jumping down flights of stairs, but we were still losing space between us and our suspects. They had the advantage on the stairs, had there not been 14 flights of them, we probably could’ve got them before they left the building.

We did catch a break though. Arnold heard our warning and blocked the door to the maintenance access where they came in the first place.

“Go! Go! We got em!”

“F.B.I.! Don’t move!”

The three were unable to break through the door, but they weren’t out of options. One of them drew his pistol and began firing at us. Harry and I dove for cover against the wall of the stairwell and returned fire. We each fired about 4 or 5 shots, while the man below us had emptied his whole clip. He had successfully covered his team, and they sprinted down the hall towards the laundry room.

I helped Harry to his feet and immediately hailed Arnold on the walkie. “Arnold!? You still there!”

“Quinn something is going on in the hotel!”

“No shit! We’re under fire here!”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, just listen-“

“I don’t have time to listen! Go around to the laundry room and cut them off! There’s only one way to get out now! Don’t fuck this up!”

Harry and I jumped vaulted over the remaining flight of stairs and sprinted down the hall. These guys were like acrobats; they would slip by us at any opportunity. We couldn’t give them another inch. We neared the door to the exit, and I expected to hear gunfire from Arnold, but I shouldn’t have put that much confidence in him. We flung the exit door open, and I saw him lying on the ground with taser stickers in his leg.

“Arnold? You were supposed to cover the door!”

“Sorry, Harry! I had to get a better angle; I can’t see too well out here.” He said as he was groaning and wiping off his glasses. I shouldn’t have expected too much from a desk clerk; they didn’t have the training we did or the regular check-ups. Thankfully they were still in our line of sight, running down the main street, I could see them clear as day.

“Stay here!”

“No problem,” Arnold said weakly as he pulled the taser’s stickers out.

“It’s okay Arnold. Call this in!” Harry threw Arnold the radio, and we began our pursuit. I was closing in on them; I had the advantage this time. I ran varsity track, and nobody could beat me in the 100-meter sprint. Harry was tailing behind me; I just needed to catch one of them.

Inch by inch, stride by stride I caught up to them and Harry was far behind me. I had this one, I was touching his shoulder. I reached into my pants to pull out my gun, I just about caught him, but their extraction team had me beat.

I had him until that cleaner van swung around the corner. I saw the side door slide open and felt the stickers of the taser hit my back. I was so close that I pulled out a lock of his hair when I collapsed on the ground. Harry knew he couldn’t catch up, so he ran up to me and rolled me on my side, and we both watched as the three men jumped into the unmarked van and sped away.

And just like that, they were gone. Another lead disappeared in this already impossible case.

“We were so close Harry.”

“Never would’ve caught them, Quinn, they were organized. That’s military discipline right there.”

“Maybe we would’ve caught them if this idiot would’ve covered the door!” I threw a rock beside me at Arnold as he was limping towards us. Arnold frowned and slowed his pace towards Harry and I. I knew he felt guilty about letting us down, but I wasn’t ready to forgive him. Not just yet.

“I’m sorry, I never got the training. My knees are..”

“Yeah, your knees hurt, your heart hurts. You’re 100 pounds soaking wet. You would’ve never survived that training. How the hell does a guy like you get a girl like Rachel? Huh? Answer me!”

“Quinn! Shut up! That’s enough! This isn’t helping anybody!”

I agreed, the frustrations only seemed to climb as we delved deeper into this investigation. The fact I had gone over 48 hours without any sleep wasn’t helping my psyche either. We had to stay focused, but I wasn’t about to apologize to Arnold. I saw that he had carried over the duffel bag. We needed to see how bad the damage was first.

I slowly got up and moved over to him. “Open the bag.”

I wiped my nose, and my eyes bulged as we began rummaging through the contents.

“Jesus.”

“They were going to torture her.”

Duck tape, binding wire, a set of torture instruments, and a sheet of plastic. It was a disposal bag; my worst fears realized when Harry pulled out a concealed weapon.

“It’s a .45 standard army issue.”

“It’s Gable.”

I slapped my face, woke up slightly and zipped up the bag. Time is such a bitch, with this job more than any other. With every second that passed more and more people would uncover Sasha’s identity, and it was dramatically decreasing our odds of ever catching up to her.

“Alright, boys! Let’s get moving! Back to Plan A, we nab the girl, and we do it quickly.”

Arnold then broke his silence as we quickly walked back towards the hotel in the twilight. “Quinn!”

I turned my head and nodded, I remembered. “What did you want to tell me earlier before you let our suspects escape?”

“Just look ahead of you.” One o’clock in the morning and the hotel plaza was mobbed with people; news vans were parked all around the surrounding block, we were no longer in 1st place of catching the girl. The people knew, and now it would be nearly impossible to get her out unseen.

“It’s no matter. Let’s try to head around back. We have to get Sasha before anyone else can lay a hand on her. We have to make sure she is safe!”

*****

My attention finally broke from the entertaining drunken actions of Courtney and Floyd. I saw flashes of light invade the corner of my eye when I turned around to look out the window.

“Hey! Everyone!”

The three rushed over towards me and pushed up against the glass.

“There’s thousands of them.”

“What are they saying?”

I couldn’t crack the window, but I could see how they were reacting. They weren’t mad, or we would’ve been dragged out of our hotel room by now. Even a hundred feet below us I could sense their worry, their curiosity.

During the spike in our surprise, I heard a loud knock on the door. We all darted our attention towards the knock. None of us had any intention of answering the door. We wanted to escape.

“We run at the door. Whoever is knocking can’t hold all of us!”

“Hold on.”

“Sasha, don’t.”

“It will be alright Courtney.”

The knocking persisted as I lowered my hand and turned the knob. I opened the door slowly, and I saw the Hotel manager and two security guards standing next to him. “I’m sorry for the interruption. But we need you downstairs.”

“Are they asking for me?”

The manager nodded in response. “Do you feel threatened at all? As a guest here I can make sure you leave this hotel unseen.”

I didn’t feel threatened; I knew what these people were here for, clarity. I sensed we were being followed not long after we left that gas station outside Springfield. Even though the network was down, word had not failed to travel fast.

“What do they want from you?” The manager asked.

“They same thing they want from the media, from the authorities, from the people who protect our way of life. They want answers.” Except I can give them. I nodded back to my troupe, and they began to pack up.

“But I’m still drunk!”

“Come on, let’s go do this and maybe we can find another hotel.”

They threw their backpacks on, and we headed towards the elevator with the manager and the two security guards. I won’t lie I was very nervous, but I didn’t feel like running away from this one. I wanted to confront these people, it was now my duty, and I couldn’t very well back down from it.

The others started breathing heavily as we made our descent to the ground. It felt like finally giving a speech after dreading it all week. We all stood there in silence, all equally anxious, and then elevator doors opened to a choppy sea of people. They all began to shout and pushed towards the gated elevator when they saw my face.

*****

Special Agent Quinn

1:11 A.M

Grand Hotel Lobby

Our original plan of going through the back failed horribly. The media and hundreds of other people beat us to it. I’m sure the security flipped the fuck out after our gunfight too. It was a lockdown, every single entrance was securely isolated, except for the front door of the lobby. Even knowing there would be no reaching her in that crowd, we had to try and track her someway. She was on her way out.

It was like a Metallica concert in there. People were vaulting over each other to reach the elevator which was completely blocked off by hotel security. No one was getting in those elevators, and in lockdown, there was only one working.

“This is madness!”

“Reminds me of the 90’s Harry!”

With much effort and dedication, we pushed our way through to the front desk; I remember envying Arnold for getting a bite to eat. It wasn’t an effective punishment for his neglect earlier. He should’ve been in my place. We were about to make our push towards the elevator when the double doors opened.

I finally saw her there. But that was the problem, so did everyone else and they began to push up, almost all of them holding their dead cell phones up in the air, and begging for answers.

“Please help us!”

“We just need to know!”

I thought we were about to be trampled. It had been almost a minute since the doors opened and I was wondering if Sasha was going to say anything at all. At the climax of this chaos, we heard a thunderous cry come from over the P.A.

It was her, and she shouted: “STOP THIS!”

All of the televisions began to flicker, the lights and everything with a screen began to light up. Everyone became silent when they saw the warning on their phone disappear, only to be replaced with a blank white screen. Time finally stood still for us, at that moment where Sasha would give the world hope.

*****

They were all silent; I didn’t even need to ask my phone for help. It knew what I needed to do, and it provided them with the perfect distraction and helped amplify my voice. I just had to make sure I spoke the right words.

“Everyone.”

They all diverted their eyes away from their now blank screens and willingly gave me their undivided attention.

“I know you’re scared. There is nothing more terrifying than feeling helpless and clueless at the same time. I’m here to tell you that there is still hope. This is a virus that has taken your screens, and what I hold is the cure. I wish I could give you more answers, but I’m still figuring it out.”

“Just one question!” A man right behind the gate of elevator looked like he had been through hell to ask me this question. The most willing of the bunch, it was his mission to know. “Are you here to help us,” he asked.

“I am here to reconnect the world. Now read your phones.”

I had written it earlier. In the event I would ever have to take a mass picture, my phone would help.

Instructions for Reconnection:

Hold up your phone.

Make sure Sasha can see you.

Every person in the lobby followed the instruction and raised their phones up in the air. Thousands of phones and thousands of desperate people, wanting hope over all things. Whoever thought I would be the one to give people hope, especially after I had lost every single shred of my own.

I raised my phone, and I heard it process, clicking and analyzing every device as I scanned the room with a panoramic shot. Silent awes, and expressive faces containing blooming happiness filled the room as I put down my phone.

“It’s all here!”

“I’m back!”

“Just like the woman on the radio said!”

They began flipping through their devices and celebrated. I’d never seen anything like it. I took a step back as everyone in the lobby began to chant my name and fawn over me.

“We love you, Sasha!”

“We will never forget this!”

“If you need anything! We will be there!”

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw them rejoice. When I used to write, I always veered towards giving others hope. This was a quiet satisfaction for me. I still felt that veil of guilt and regret, but not present as it normally was. Is this what happiness feels like? It’s been so long I’ve forgotten. I felt the veil lift the more they shouted. I wanted to stay so bad, rejoice with them, make some friends, but I know we couldn’t.

“Can you get us out of here?” Courtney shouted to the manager over the rabble of the hysterical people in the lobby.

“We have a hidden passage!”

The manager smacked the button on the elevator, and we left their eyesight. I clawed at the gate slightly, for a moment I felt another layer peel away, even though the moment had ended so soon. I knew that staying there any longer left us vulnerable to exposure. People were taking this far more seriously than I ever could’ve imagined and that means it wouldn’t be long before the dangers would close in.

The elevator doors opened to a dark, damp basement. We left through the door on our left which led to an even darker and damper access tunnel. Lights flickered along the path, and I felt a little uneasy staring at our new path.

“This access tunnel will lead to a maintenance office, once you enter the office you’ll emerge from the back of a building in an alleyway one linear block away.”

I looked at the manager suspiciously. “You’re not leading us to our death are you?”

“Ha. You think you’re the first person to cause chaos in our lobby like that? This is where we ensure any valued guests get back to the street safely. This passage is a closely guarded secret. I don’t even care that you trashed that room, you are doing something more meaningful than anyone else, I included, I want to help you.”

I shook his hand, and the others did too. “Good luck Sasha Taylor. And be careful.” He locked the door behind him and vanished. And just like that, we were back on the path. But then I was struck with a painful realization.

“How do we get back to my car from here guys?”

Trevor sighed and put his hand on my shoulder. “Sasha we can’t go back to your car. Didn’t you see all of those people back there?”

“No! We have to! I can’t leave my car!”

“It’s just a car Sasha,” Courtney said as she let out a burp.

“It’s not just a car it was a gift! It’s… It’s the only thing left after I killed them. I can’t leave it.”

I dropped to my knees, I had always convinced myself that I hated that car, but really, I needed it. It was a reminder of the pain I feel every time I wake up, every time I go anywhere, I’m reminded of what altered my life. I couldn’t let it go.

Floyd then kneeled beside me as I began to sob, he looked me in my sorrow filled eyes and signed to me to open my palm. Feeling the tears fade away I unclenched my fist and held it out to him. In my palm, he placed the gift I got that day, the same day as my car. How could I have forgotten it? The black velvet box.

“You dropped it in the car. I knew how important it was to you. I’m sorry about the car Sasha, but you need to let it go. It will only make it harder for you to accept a new life.”

I still wanted to head back, until I remembered what Trevor told me. “You don’t get over things like that, you just survive.” That car is my survival, but I know that is the problem.

“You okay Sasha?”

“I want to do more than survive Trevor. I want to live.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“Living is good! Let’s go buy a new car from someone on the street!” I never thought Courtney’s drunken mind could ever form a good idea, once again I was perplexed. We made our way to the surface, and during that trek, I took a moment of silence to bid farewell to my car, as I did to my room.

I would have to sacrifice a lot for this journey, but with every sacrifice, I felt my spirit strengthen. I felt more hopeful, more alive. With every sacrifice I made and every person I helped I began to feel a little more complete. That emptiness was fading away; this journey was starting to change me, the feeling was pure bliss, just a little bit more and maybe, just maybe I can find the profound courage to live and not just survive.

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