My knees burned as they skidded across the linoleum floor. My head nearly collided with a table as I came to a stop a few feet into the room. When I tried to move to relieve the burn on my knees, I lost my balance and toppled over. Hands still cuffed behind me, I struggled to get back up.
I could have cooperated. I could have just walked into the cinderblock interrogation room like they asked, but I couldn’t resist making them work for it.
The sentry grabbed me by my shirt, yanked me off the floor, and threw me down onto a nearby chair. Then he turned and slammed the door behind him.
There I waited.
It must have been three hours before I saw anyone, during which I got up, paced the room, and struggled with the cuffs—to no avail. And then, just when I thought they planned to leave me there to rot, the door opened.
Two sentries entered. One remained by the door; the other took a seat across from me. He was a large man with a uniform that may have once fit him, but now it bulged from the midsection, making each button look as if it was panicking, wanting to extricate itself from the bulk forcing it outward, but held in place by the shear will of the tiny threads looped beneath them. I sat and waited for something to happen as the sentry quietly stared at his H-tab—holographic tablet computer.
For several more minutes, the room was quiet. I knew better than to say anything. But in the silence it suddenly occurred to me: if they wanted to, these sentries could order my execution.
“Says here your name is Seth White. Is that right?”
“It also says you were a journalism major, editor of the school newsite, and maintained a perfect 4.0. And yet you sport a ridiculous Mohawk. Tells me you were looking for trouble.”
I swallowed, and my right leg began to bounce up and down nervously.
The sentry stood and began pacing the room as he spoke, avoiding eye contact. “A group of students protesting on behalf of the country saw you and your friend at the shooting. Everyone we talked to said the two of you are responsible for Mary’s death.”
I focused on the wall in front of me, afraid to give any indication of a response.
“Did you hear that kid? I said ‘Everyone’. What do you have to say about that?”
I took a few shallow breaths and tried to remember what I had seen.
Hours ago I left my hotel room and walked to the university I had been attending for the last three years. When I arrived, I found the place flooded with people, shouting and throwing their fists in the air to protest. I saw Jace Davis, who I knew by reputation; Jordan Flatell and his entourage of body guards; his daughter, Mary; thousands of Armageddonists dressed as cowboys—apparently meant to be a symbol of strength and tradition; and a clown on fourteen-foot black wooden poles.
And there was that man. The slender, bald man with bright white skin and multicolored business suit. He looked like a failed comedian with really poor taste. I swear I saw him shoot the girl. But could I tell them that? Would they believe me? The truth sounded like a lie no matter how I phrased it.
“Look, you stupid punk,” the sentry began, “If you don’t say something, I’m going to consider your silence a confession. Now talk!”
“Okay.” My voice quivered as I spoke. I took another breath and tried to look as sincere as I possibly could. “I was there to protest. I had only just arrived and was surveying the crowd. What I saw was—”
“Spit it out kid.” His impatience was growing.
“I heard a gun go off. Then to my left, I saw Jordan Flatell. At the sound of gunfire, his body guards surrounded him, creating a human barricade.”
“Okay. What else do you remember?”
“A clown on stilts.”
“Don’t play games with me. Tell me what you saw.”
“I’m not kidding. In the middle of this massive protest there was a clown. I think he was there as part of the Armageddonist celebration. It struck me as odd. That is, until I saw what most of the Armageddonists were wearing.”
“You mean the cowboy costumes?”
“Yeah. Cowboy costumes.”
“Okay, what you are telling me is that a group of cowboy-clad Armageddonists were arguing with a crowd of protestors as a clown on stilts walked through?”
My heart beat rapidly. I knew he wouldn’t believe it.
The sentry looked up from the notes he was making on his H-tab. “You’re in luck; I was there too. If I hadn’t seen most of this myself, I wouldn’t believe you. But I really don’t care about the ambiance. What I want to know is: how did you get a gun on campus?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t kill Mary Flatell.”
“Well, if you didn’t kill her, who did?”
“There was this man in a bizarre multicolored suit. I saw him tuck something into his jacket and walk away just after the shooting.”
“What? Like a pin-stripe suit?”
“No. The colors were triangular shaped, interconnecting patches. They were…um…blue, red, and yellowish…maybe goldish.”
The sentry rolled his eyes and shook his head. I could tell he didn’t believe me.
“Come on kid; tell me the truth. Did you shoot Mary Flatell?”
I didn’t say a word. He calmly walked back around the table and took a seat. Then he swiped over the H-tab a few times.
“I’m not surprised to see that you have a criminal record.”
“What? What are you talking about? I don’t have a criminal record. I’ve never . . .” But as I said it, I realized what he was referring to. My parents. It had to be the incident with my parents.
“Let me ask you one more time: did you shoot Mary Flatell?”
“I don’t have to answer that. I’m not saying another word until I have an attorney present.”
“You stupid kid. That was the old law. That was before the newly revised Constitution. Under the new law, if you commit a crime, you wave all your rights.”
“I didn’t commit a crime.”
“Let me rephrase the question. When you shot Mary, was it your intention to kill Reverend Jordan Flatell? Did you miss your actual target?”
“What? No. I didn’t kill or intend to kill anyone.”
“Don’t lie to me kid. We talked to Jace Davis. You know what he said? He said you killed her. He said you were aiming for her father, but you missed.”
“What?” My entire body was conflicted by a surge of adrenaline and the overwhelming shock of utter defeat. “I—I didn’t,” I said quietly, trying my best to hold back tears.
“You didn’t miss? So you intended to kill Mary after all?”
“No. I didn’t kill anyone.”
“So who did? And don’t give me this, ‘it must have been one of the circus freaks’ bullshit. As far as we can tell, the shot came from somewhere in your vicinity.”
“I told you what I saw.”
“You know what I think? I think you and Jace are in on this together. We both know Jace hates the Armageddonists; we both know his reputation. I think he shot her, and he’s paid you off to take the fall.”
“I only just met him.”
“Whatever.” The sentry looked disappointed. He stopped fiddling with his H-tab and looked up at me. “Here’s the deal: I’m going to be reassigned to the Washington Conversion Camp sometime in the next few days. When that happens, I won’t be getting back to your case for a very long time. But the deacons don’t like to hand off criminal cases to anyone other than the original sentry—that would be me—so you could be here a long while before we get back to this case.”
I sat there, speechless, so he continued. “I’m telling you, now’s your chance to confess. It will make things easier on the both of us. I mean, the earliest I could come back here to finish this job would be sometime next summer. That’s what? Seven, eight months?”
He was bluffing. I was sure of it. “You mean to tell me that a high profile killing like this one—where the public will want answers—will be put on hold for almost a year because of some deacon’s reassignment rule? Don’t insult me.”
“So suddenly you’re important. Sounds to me like you killed Mary Flatell to feed your pathetic ego. Or maybe it’s just for attention? Yeah, that’s probably it. Anyone who wears their hair like that when it ain’t Halloween is just begging for attention.” He stopped and got right in my face. “Or maybe, just maybe, you thought you were somehow doing the right thing? How many more did you want to take out before we stopped you? Huh? Ten, twenty? The lot of ‘em?”
I didn’t dare say a word.
“I guess we’ll find out in eight months.” He turned and took a few steps toward the door.
“I thought you guys were convinced the end of the world is coming? Doesn’t that change things?”
“Shut up, kid.”
“I thought you wanted me to talk.”
“Not anymore.” He turned and said something to the other sentry, then swiped a few things on his H-tab and glanced up at the security camera. The red light had gone off. He turned and smiled at me. “Have fun.” The door slammed behind him as he left the room.
The guard walked over to me slowly, balled up his fist, and the last thing I remember was the sudden shock of pain as it slammed into my face.
Want more? Read Chapter 3: The Triune Complex