(This story originally appeared in Atomjack Magazine)
Dave Jones and the Survivor
by J. M. McDermott
“I’m Dave Jones,” I said. I pulled out my ID.
“Me, too,” said the man, reaching for his own ID, “looks like we got the same seat and the same name.” He rolled his eyes. “Stupid error-checkers. This won’t be good. Play it cool.”
“What?” I said.
“Keep your cool,” he said, “We’ll sort this out.”
I nodded, confused.
I didn't know—right then—what had happened, but I knew what would happen because of this confusion. The Reconquista Vaqueros were going to catch me, and kill me.
I was in a small interrogation room, sitting at a plastic table in a cold, metal folding chair. One Vaquero sat on the other side of the table. Another Vaquero stood behind the first.
The Vaquero across from me dragged his jet black specs down his nose. He gave me the immortal cop stare. Cops did that in any language and any nation. Two thousand years ago Roman Centurions probably gave that look to Phoenician smugglers in Galilee. Today, Tejano Vaqueros gave that look to me, in an international airport in the Reconquista. Unlike the centurions, the vaqueros could read my vitals like a mood ring with their black specs when they were done. He gave me the evil eye to unnerve me. Then he pushed the goggles back over his eyes to read the results.
His partner, standing behind him, never moved. The partner just stood there like a yellow stone in a suit. That one was probably reading me the whole time for any fluctuations in my vitals.
The Vaquero across from me swiped my ID again. He scowled meaningfully at his monitors.
I don’t know what the other Dave Jones said to his Vaqueros, but I said, “So, can I go?”
The one sitting across from me looked up at the one pacing in the back of the room. The standing one shrugged.
I couldn’t really tell the two apart. They both had the same cowboy hat, and the same black handlebar moustache. They had their X-Ray specs on, like black swimmers' goggles, so I couldn’t see their eyes.
“You can go,” said the one behind me.
I reached across the table for my ID. The sitting one pulled it back and took another look at it. “The next flight to Pacifica leaves in three hours,” he said, “I’ll have a new boarding card printed for you in reception. Don’t leave the terminal. We’re still waiting for a picture clearance from Guadalajara. Our picture guy will get to it usually in about two hours. If you have a fake ID, it would be better for you to tell me now. Save us some trouble.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is that it?”
“For now, but don’t leave the international terminal until your next flight,” he said, “We’ll keep our hel-eyes on you.”
“Can I have my stuff, or do you need me to come get it later?”
The Tejano handed me my ID. “We’ve already completed our inspection,” he said.
“Where’s my briefcase?” I asked.
The Vaquero pointed at the door to reception.
At the reception desk, the other Dave Jones had his luggage out. He was going through it meticulously, like he was making mental notes about what was there and what the searchers had confiscated.
Reconquista Vaqueros had a reputation for sticky fingers. They rarely took money cards, or memory cards, but they might lift an iPen or a nice pair of pants. I watched the other Dave while the receptionist reached for my own briefcase. I figured if the other Dave was really missing something, I could expect some monkey business with mine, too.
He caught my eyes, shrugged, and zipped his bag shut. “At least our luggage is different,” he said.
He was older than I was by about ten years. He had a plain business suit like one of the business-class travelers from the old days. He had the salt and pepper hair and thick features of a new grandpa. He looked nothing like me.
My bag was on the reception desk, too. I opened it up and did a quick check. Paperback, check. Cellular bug, check. Change of clothes, check. A few iPens were missing, but it could’ve been worse. If they had lifted my cell bug, I’d have lost all the phone numbers that would save me in Pacifica.
Dave said to me, “They let you out, too?”
I zipped up my bag. “Yup. Did you get a new flight?”
“Reception had a boarding pass for me. I’m lifting off in about two hours. They want to check the picture somewhere.”
“Me, too,” I said, “I guess we aren’t terrorists.”
He laughed. “I could’ve told ‘em that.”
The receptionist didn’t speak a lick of English. She handed me a boarding card, and mumbled something in a very brusque Spanish. I noticed that my boarding card listed me as ‘David M Jones’, which, I assumed, was for my middle name.
Thank God the Tejano Vaqueros didn’t ask for my middle name. I had never thought to find out what it was.
Over our heads, hel-eyes transmitted to monitoring stations in Guadalajara. They looked like robot heads with flying beanies. They tumbled over the filtered air like gusts of winds were blowing them around, but it was just the cameras trying to stay focused on all the people moving around down below. I didn't know where the microphones were, but I know we shared our words with an eavesdropper.
David Jones and I had both arrived at D/FW airport at the same time, in two different taxis.
I stood ahead of him in line in the parking lot. We went through the first security check outside the terminal right next to each other. The same proboscis that sniffed me for radiation, also sniffed him. The same Vaquero patted us down with the same pair of x-ray gloves. Dave might have felt some of my body heat in the gloves, mixed with all the rest. We both tested undangerous, then.
In the terminal, I stopped to get a can of juice from a vendor before I got in line, and that gave the real Dave the edge to pull ahead. He stood ahead of me for twenty minutes while we waited for the ticketing counter. I nonchalantly studied the intricate weave on his suit jacket – looked like nano up close, to me -- so I could focus on staying calm and avoiding eye contact. I wanted to be unnoticeable.
I cleared my head and studied the nano-filters eating microscopic bacterials in the herringbone nano-weave. Not a lot of people wore nice suit jackets with nano in the Reconquista.
That Dave Jones was probably exactly what he looked like. He was a businessman from Pacifica that had come down for a meeting about something boring like fruits or textiles, and now he was flying home to his third wife and his two teenage step-kids.
More importantly, at the front of the line, two separate agents opened up at the same moment. We walked simultaneously from the line to our ticket counters. As soon as he bought his ticket, I did. We had the same destination. We had the same name. Neither one of us had a reservation.
And, when the two ticketing ladies pushed the button with near-simultaneous strokes, the computer system’s error-checker made an incorrect assumption.
We passed our luggage through the X-Ray. We stood in the men’s line for the IR full-body scan. We were in the same tunnel when the nanobots washed over us, eating any Fuego Flu that might be hidden in our clothes. Dave and I stepped into the terminal side by side, dusting the purple-white dust cloud of counterbugs out of our pockets and hair.
We picked up our carry-on at the same moment. He even helped me with a strap that had fallen on my shoulder. David Jones—the real one—reached out a hand, and pulled the strap up to my shoulder. A simple gesture of Pacifica helpfulness, and I thought nothing of it. I didn’t even say thanks, because I’m a rude bastard from New Mexico.
We waited at the terminal for an hour and a half while the plane unloaded. People walked swiftly out of the airlock. I wondered what we were doing at an airlock for a four hour 747 jaunt to Vancouver, but I figured the route was popular right now, and they needed to use the larger spacejets to get everyone northwest. The Fuego Flu scared every white person left out of the former Confederate States before the cold weather awakened the bad enzymes in the air. White people stayed indoors and kept themselves hot all winter if they planned on staying in the Reconquista. Most didn’t want to stay. The government had made it clear when they released the Fuego: the native blood will have revenge for the land stolen by all the wicked Anglos.
I was pureblooded Caucasoid. I had no pigment in my family history to protect me. The Fuego Flu would’ve killed me years ago if the UN Army hadn’t inoculated all of the soldiers that survived the first wave of infection.
Looking around, all the passengers on the plane were white. Some of them had nothing. Some of them had everything they owned in one tiny piece of luggage – like me. Some of them had oversized carryon with far too many things bursting at the seams.
Most of them would be lucky to get onto Pacifican soil for twenty minutes before asylum got denied, and they got a free injection for the Fuego Flu. Then, these desperate passengers’d get tagged in the system. They’d have six months to find a lawyer to take their case to court (which they can’t get, unless they’re rich or know the right people). Then, they’d best find a new nation before a warrant’s issued for their deportation back to the Reconquista, where being white can kill you.
And on my cellular bug, I had the number of a lawyer that was supposed to meet me in the terminal before I even got to customs, to get me asylum under a new name, with a new history that protected me forever from the lost war. I had a few friends’ numbers, too, who had fought with me since Juarez and were up in Pacifica now.
I had fought against the Reconquista ever since the UN drafted my college class in Albuquerque. I fought in pitched battles for three years until the Fuego ate any Caucasian skin and our ranks became a mess of blood one bad winter. I stayed alive because the tank I was in had a busted AC unit that had never gotten fixed. When the thermometer dropped below freezing, I was driving the tank to Flagstaff for repairs. I bitched and moaned about the AC problem for months, but when winter came that fried AC and the engine heat kept me alive when almost every other white soldier died. A few weeks later, I got an inoculation against the Fuego Flu, and what was left of our army did the best we could for a few more months until there wasn't a UN anymore.
Then, I spent four years underground, setting bombs in inconvenient places and tearing up rail lines and landing pads near the Llano Estacado. I planted bad signals on Mexican airwaves to subvert the masses.
After the resistance mostly folded, I wandered through Fuego lands. I hid from the Mexican resettlements, scavenging old tech and canned goods in the small towns that got the worst of the Fuego. I hunted through rotting corpses every day until I found an ID close enough to call my own.
The Tejano Vaqueros would shoot me against a wall if they knew my real name.
Dave Jones—the dead one—had been sitting on his bed when the Fuego turned his white skin into a bunch of bleeding gaps. I snagged his ID from a jacket pocket. The fellow had a Texas Instruments jacket, and electrical tools and wires all over the place. I figured he was an electrician before he died. This was in Buffalo, Texas, where everyone had died.
Vaqueros can track IDs back to the very printer and laminator that spit them out with just their black specs. They find fakes. With my limited resources, I needed a real ID, with a real name on it.
All a good fraud could accomplish these days, out in the empty cities, was to use a light writer to alter the picture beneath the lamination. And light writers weren’t cheap. Fortunately, many abandoned tattoo parlors had one for tough guys with prosthetics.
I borrowed a light writer from a black market contact. I cleaned up Dave Jones’s nose. I cleaned up the shadow in his eyes. I gathered up some old money cards and put my tech together to locate my old war buddies that had made it out of the Reconquista, to Pacifica.
They got me a lawyer’s number. They said he’d be there, in the terminal when I landed, waiting for my call, ready to take me underground.
I stole a motorbike and rode north to what was left of Dallas. I pretended I was exactly what I was: just another refugee looking for a new place to call home.
Dave Jones and I—now also Dave Jones—walked side-by-side down the tunnel to the spacejet. We walked down opposite sides of the twin-aisles to the same center seat. We almost ran into each other trying to get to the same seat.
“Excuse me,” I said, “this is my seat.”
He double-checked his own ticket. “That’s actually my seat,” he said. He showed me his boarding pass.
“Hey,” I said, “I think you picked up my boarding pass…” I reached for mine. I held it out to him.
“That’s mine. They must have accidentally copied mine or something. See the name? I’m Dave Jones.”
I cocked my head. “I’m Dave Jones,” I said. I pulled out my ID.
“Me, too,” said Dave, reaching for his own ID, “looks like we got the same seat and the same name.” He rolled his eyes. “Stupid error-checkers. This won’t be good. Play it cool.”
“What?” I said.
“Keep your cool,” he said, “We’ll sort this out.”
I nodded, confused.
A steward asked us if something was wrong. He had his hand on his taser. We showed our two boarding passes, and our two IDs. He asked us to step off the plane.
The Tejano Vaqueros knew most of the people on these planes were running away. Some of them were wanted criminals and former combatants that had slipped through the system after the war—like me. Everyone on this plane was going to ask for asylum in Pacifica. Fake IDs and fake passports were everywhere.
Security was tight.
We were taken off the plane fast and dragged elsewhere in the terminal. We assured the Vaqueros that our names were common, like Juan Rodriguez or Jose Garcia. They still wanted to check. They said that common names meant that a good counterfeiter would use a common name like that. They confiscated our carryon, and separated us into two different rooms for questions.
“Who are you?”
“Where are you going?”
“What will you do when you get there?”
“Who are you, again?”
I told them my name was Dave Jones, and I was going to Pacifica because the Fuego Flu was going to kill me in the wintertime if I didn’t get out of this awful place, and the sooner those Spics let me go, the sooner another white guy got out of their ancestral land for good.
My ID checked out, and I got a new boarding pass from the receptionist. They were going to check my ID with their picture specialist to see if the picture matched the records, or showed any sign of alteration.
The picture guy was going to catch me. He'd compare the pictures against the records and realize that the picture was wrong. He'd tag the ID. Then, when we swiped our IDs on the way onto the next spacejet, mine'd blip red, and I'd be clamped down by Tejano Vaqueros, and I'd be tortured until I confessed my heroic actions during the war, as well as my continued heroism during the resistance.
Then, I'd be driven out to a field. I'd dig a ditch. I'd be shot. They'd shove the dirt over me until they got tired. They’d leave me for the wild dogs and coyotes to dig out.
But, this other Dave’s ID would check out, because he’s a nice businessman from Pacifica, going home with his herringbone nano-jacket and his salt and pepper hair. He’d be on the plane and off the ground before the Vaqueros tore my teeth out with pliers.
I grabbed the real Dave Jones’s sleeve in the terminal. “Well, we got two hours to kill, Mr. Jones. You want a drink?” I said, “My treat.”
“Call me ‘Dave’,” he said. “I’ve been sober for twelve years. How about some coffee, instead? And I bet you’re a refugee, so I should pay for it.”
“I’ve been clean of repro for four years,” I said, “New Coffee’ll kill you.”
He nodded. “I couldn’t stand the headaches.”
“They pass after a few weeks, but the smell never stops getting to you. How about ice cream?”
He smirked. “I’m lactose intolerant,” he said, “But, they should have sorbet.”
I looked up and down the terminal, looking for ice cream. “I hope it’s not kiwi,” I said, “I’m allergic to kiwi.”
I saw an ice cream kiosk at a corner of the international terminal. I pointed. The two Dave Joneses walked side-by-side, no doubt causing our dedicated hel-eyes to bump into each other above our heads. No doubt, a microphone followed us and recorded our small talk and checked it against the public record.
The international terminal wrapped like a giant glass conch shell. Each layer packed with refugees in heaps and bundles. Broken chairs and blankets and pillows and too many shoes stuck out of the corners of every heap of luggage and carryon. Here we were in the mouth of the leviathan, and these were all the passengers living in its guts. Someone had opened a bar. Someone had opened a newsstand. Someone was selling Italian gelato while wearing a crisp paper hat.
In line for blood orange sorbet, I tried not to appear to be paying close attention to where Dave Jones’ hands moved, but I was.
When he reached for his wallet, it was in his back left pocket. His slacks had a Velcro clasp that made lots of noise.
I don’t know where he kept his boarding pass. His boarding pass could be in his bag. It could be in his jacket. It could be in some hidden place designed to prevent pickpockets.
I ordered my orange sorbet. I sat down next to Dave Jones at a small table. We were next to a small glass partition like a curved cubicle in the terminal.
“So,” I said, “How long have you been Dave Jones?”
He smiled. He had teeth like a white picket fence. “You sound like the Vaqueros.”
“I’ve been Dave Jones for thirty-six years. I’m not the only Dave Jones I’ve ever known. I was named after my uncle, David Jones. He died when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about him.”
“My dad was an only child. My family are all Canucks. My father was a Quebecois with an English last name. We've been in Vancouver since I was born.”
“My family’s from Pasadena. I don’t know what my father was. Nothing English about him. He had a big hat, a big truck, and he figured all music ended when Nashville burned.”
“Sounds like quite a character.”
“He was. Fuego.”
“Me and everybody else on that plane,” I said, “except you.” I leaned back. I looked into the people at the terminal shuffling off to their planes. Used to be international travel meant business suits, and vacations. Now it meant a sea of white people trying to get out before the Reconquista came up with something nastier than their Fuego Flu to avenge the Native Americans and the African slaves.
The real Dave Jones ate his blood orange sorbet quietly. He didn’t seem to enjoy it.
I took a bite of mine. It wasn’t bad. I took another bite. I put the spoon down.
“What was it like in Pacifica?” I asked him.
“Pacifica’s beautiful,” he said.
“No, I mean, during the bad soup. What was Pacifica like during the bad soup?”
“The same. It was beautiful. Our soldiers didn’t go to war. We went to work, went on vacation locally. Lots of refugees showed up.”
“Huh,” I said, “I wonder what that’s like, to watch a war in peace.”
“I came down now and then. I work for a pharmaceutical company. War means soldiers and nasty nano. Nasty, nasty nano. I was carrying antidote samples to both sides. I’d get off the plane in Kansas City for the Confederate Coalition, and then I’d land in Guadalajara for the Reconquista.”
“You helped those spic bastards?”
“For a while there, people wouldn’t go out if they saw a cloud because it could’ve been nano—didn’t matter what side you were on. First time in history El Paso prayed for no rain.”
I snorted. “It wasn’t your war,” I said, making peace with the man, “You weren’t selling weapons, right? You were selling cures.”
“For the record, our company lost millions giving our samples to the Confederate Coalition for UN war bonds.”
“Yeah, but if the Reconquista lost, you’d be saying the same thing about them.”
“Probably,” he said. He took another bite of his sorbet. “What did you do during the war?”
“I was an electrician in Buffalo, Texas. I kept the skygrid up, so I wasn’t called up to fight. When the Fuego hit bad, and the lights went out, I was able to build stuff to keep me warm until the dust settled. I didn’t have enough juice for the whole town, though. I didn’t have enough of anything.”
“That’s rough,” he said.
“That’s the way the ice cream melts,” I said. I took one more bite of my sorbet. I stood up, leaning over the table to keep my spoon over the sorbet.
I let the spoon slip from my hands, and land on the edge of my sorbet. My hands jumped after the spoon. I slammed the edge of my cup of sorbet, flinging melted sorbet at Dave. It splattered his herringbone jacket like a paintball.
I reached for him with my napkin. I apologized while I patted down his jacket. (I felt for a boarding pass hiding on the other side of the suit. I couldn't get the latch open. Nano-jackets meant tech latches. I only had a moment to make it happen, and I failed.)
He pushed back in his chair, holding his hands up.
“Oh, no!” he shouted.
I grabbed for a new napkin and went around the table to him. Nano burned out underneath the sorbet, struggling microscopic gears exploded trying to eat all that biological matter. I patted at the jacket to minimize the burn-out and keep the sorbet from spreading. He did the same, and he wasn't paying attention to where my hands moved.
I slipped my hand into his jacket pockets. No sign of a passport. All he had was a black iPen. Even in the brushing of my index finger, the iPen felt expensive, with layers of jagged microchip all over the tip. If he had left that in his luggage, the Vaqueros would have taken it, and who knows how much data was stored inside.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I was just…I’m sorry.”
He shrugged me off of him. He patted at himself with a napkin. “Well, that’ll need drycleaning and some repairs,” he said, “You don’t happen to have an address in Pacifica where I can send you the bill, do you? Of course you don’t.”
“You didn’t have any nano on that, did you?”
“I do,” he said, “Do you have any idea how expensive drycleaning nano is? Repairing it will cost almost as much as a new jacket.”
Those hel-eyes bounced around in the sky over the population. They seemed playful, until you figured what they were doing. They couldn’t monitor everything. I needed a shadow to fall between me and Dave. I needed us to be close. One of his pockets wasn't tech-latched. If I couldn't steal his ID, I'd have to give him mine.
I offered to get Dave some clean bottled water, and meet him in a bathroom.
He shrugged. “Let it stain. You know how dirty airport bathrooms are? If my bio-filter isn’t working, I don’t want to go in there.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, “I’ll get it drycleaned and repaired when I land. I bitch, but I can afford it. It’s nothing.”
“It must have been expensive,” I said.
“It’s the company’s suit,” he said, "It's not even mine."
“I’m really sorry.”
He shrugged. “Look, I’ll see you on the plane, Dave Jones,” he said, “In the meantime, I have to make some calls and let people know I’m being held back here. Crazy thing, wasn’t it, us with the same name? When you land, don’t go far. I’ll see what I can do to help you, okay? For all I know we’re cousins.”
“Yeah,” I said.
I stuck my hand out. He took it. I shook and reached a hand over to pat him on the shoulder. I pulled him in close, hard. I let desperation leak onto my face. I whispered to him as if I was just another refugee. "Anything you can do to help," I said, frantically, "Please." I used our proximity to slip my ID into his open lapel pocket next to the expensive iPen.
I threw my sorbet into a trash can. I hid my wallet under the used napkin. I tossed my wallet into the trash, too, with all my money cards.
I had to pray a hel-eye couldn’t make out the details of what I had done.
Dave Jones had his cell bug on in his ear when I left him. I don't know who he was calling, but it wasn't me.
I returned to the security office. I knocked on the door. The receptionist buzzed me in. I told her that I needed to speak with the Vaqueros. She seemed to speak English this time.
The Vaqueros put me back in the same room. They had their black specs on, reading my vitals while I spoke. With their specs on, they could read a lie with 65% accuracy. With my army training I could lower the odds about 20%, but that was still too close to fake it unnecessarily. I had to tell as much truth as I could, and save my lies as long as I could.
Just like last time, one Vaquero sat in a chair, and another Vaquero stood behind the first. They could have been clones with the same mirror glasses and the same handlebar moustache, and the same sculpted bodies in the same suits.
“What would you like to share with us, Senor Jones?” said the one in the chair. The guy in the chair is usually good cop. The one standing is usually bad cop. Today was going to be no different.
I said nothing. I leaned forward. I placed my hands on the table. I raised my eyebrows.
“What?” said the Vaquero.
“First, promise me immunity,” I said, "so I can get on that plane."
They both laughed.
“Immunity?” said the one in the chair, “Guano Gringos don’t get immunity in the Reconquista. You get Fuego Flu, not immunity. You get tagged in the system until the resettlement arrives this far north for your lands and your property. You gringos get on planes and go away forever if you’re smart.”
“I would like to get on a plane, but I want to make sure you’ll let me leave before I tell you anything. I want to know that I’m going to be allowed onto a plane. You’ve already checked my ID, and you’ve given me a boarding pass. I just want on that plane.”
“You have four seconds and then I’m going to break your nose,” said the standing Vaquero.
I put my hands up. “Break my nose?” I said, “I’ve done nothing, and I want to leave. I just want to make sure that after I tell you, you don’t keep me around. I’ll happily work through your embassy in Pacifica with any depositions.”
The one standing stepped across the room. He clenched his fist casually, his wrist loose. He moved behind me.
The sitting one raised a hand. “Wait,” he said, “Tell you what, Gringo,” he said, “If you are found blameless, we’ll allow you to leave in twenty-four hours.”
“24 hours?” I laughed, “If you had any idea what I’m about to give you, you’d be begging me to tell you. Tell you what,” I said, “I’m going to stand up and walk out of here, and you can kiss my white ass. If you don’t want to know, it’s not my problem. You can hold me for two hours or twenty-four hours, but if you don’t listen to me this hour, it won’t matter because what I’ve discovered will be on a spacejet. You can beat the hell out of me for an hour or two. After that, it won’t matter.”
The fist came down hard on the side of my neck. I groaned. I held my hands up. I tried to cover up, to protect my head. The Vaquero didn’t strike me again.
The one who had hit me leaned close to my ear. “So, Gringo,” he said, “you think you play tough with us?”
“Tell you what,” I said, “Why don’t you take a look back on everything I’ve done since I walked out on you last time, and you figure it out for yourselves. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll figure this one out in time.”
I looked up at the guy leaning into my ear. I stared right into his mirror eyes from centimeters away. “If you think you can break me in an hour, you give yourself too much credit. I’ve lived on Fuego grounds since before the bad soup.”
The one behind me stood up. I didn’t turn around to watch him. Instead, I turned around again to face the one across from me.
The one across from me shook his head at his partner. He took off his glasses. He had blue eyes. Not many pure-blooded Mixtecas had blue eyes, and you had to be pure Mixteca to be a Vaquero.
Then I looked closer, and saw the gears in the pupils like little cameras. He and I had probably glared down rifle barrels before, during the bad soup. Seeing the bastard badly wounded made me feel good. I hoped I was the one that had shot out his eyes.
“David Jones,” said the one with blue eyes, “Do not pretend to be what you are not.”
“You’ve got one hour. I want immunity, or else it won’t matter, and I’ll just leave when you let me go. You can’t blame me for looking out for my own ass.”
“No, Mr. Jones,” he said, “I cannot blame you for looking out for your own ass. If what you say is good enough, I will let you get on that plane even if your ID returns to us bad.”
Part of me wanted to laugh. My ID was going to be returning, and it was going to be all bad. And, I didn’t believe the Vaquero for a minute about letting me on with a bad ID. My only hope was giving them someone else to play with while I slipped through the cracks.
“The other Dave Jones,” I said, “his story’s full of holes.”
“Were you listening when we got ice cream?”
“Of course. And you got sorbet, not ice cream.”
“Well, put this one together for me, then. He’s wearing more nano in his jacket than you’ve got in this whole facility. How can he afford that?”
“I do not explain things to you, but I will tell you that his story checks out.”
“Seriously?” I said, “Just think about it a minute. He’s openly admitting that he ran big pharma and counter-nano from one side of the war to the other. Who does that? Companies don’t do that. Companies don’t give anything away. Nobody made a profit off that, because the losing side would’ve eaten the profit. And what’s he doing here now? What does a pharmaceutical rep do in a place like this where nobody has a peso unless they’re spending it on plane tickets? Your cops are here, and your armies aren’t far, but your resettlement hasn’t made it this far north, yet. This is dead ground. Nothing's here but empty buildings and refugees.”
“He was probably just talking politely to you, and hiding his true business.”
“Exactly, " I said, "He is hiding his true business. He stole my wallet. Did you see that happen? Did you hear that in your stupid bugs?”
The two vaqueros sat very still. The blue-eyed one blinked twice.
“Stand up,” said blue-eyes. I stood up. The standing one patted down my pockets. My luggage had been on the floor beside me. The blue-eyed vaquero picked it up, and walked to the door with it.
The one behind me grabbed my arm. He shoved it behind me, and threw me against the wall. “You did something!” he snarled.
I laughed. “I want to get on that plane,” I said, “I need my ID back. That’s the only reason I came to you at all. I don’t care if you catch him or not, but I want on that plane and I need my ID for that.”
I didn’t have to tell them anything special, or connect any dots. I just had to open the door. They’d do the rest. I’d sit here, and they’d be so busy enjoying their new target, they’d let me quietly slip away into the sky.
I did not feel remorse for David Jones right then, even though I knew I had just killed an innocent man. During the war, I had won no medals. I had done no great act of bravery. I had merely been drafted into combat with my sophomore class and survived the war. I had survived during the resistance. I had survived the end of the resistance. And, I was determined to survive now, too.
This was one more decision about surviving.
I'd try to tell that to my old war buddies, later on, in Pacifica, if any of them would stay on the line long enough to hear my side of the story. They had won medals, and performed acts of bravery, and a few had even volunteered for the fight. They’d never understand.
I sat alone in the room for about twenty minutes. The door behind me opened, and a Vaquero came back in, holding my ID in his hand. It was blue eyes. I could tell because he didn’t threaten me with his body language.
He placed my ID on the table in front of me. He sat down across from me.
“Dave Jones does not know how this came into his possession, and neither do we. We have found your ID, but we have not found your wallet. We are reviewing the tapes. You seem to know exactly when he picked your pocket.”
“It happened right after I paid for the ice cream. He seemed to bump me a little, and I felt his fingers in my pocket.”
“You didn’t say anything at the time?”
“He wasn’t running for it,” I said, “and I wondered what a white guy in a nano suit in the Reconquista was doing picking pockets.”
“You suggested that you figured something out that we didn’t.”
“Right, well I figure he was expecting to get on the plane, no trouble. But, if his picture was bad, he was going to need a new ID, fast. He wanted to swipe my ID, and use it to check in with my boarding pass.”
He smirked at me, pulling his black specs down his nose to look me in the eye. “Little does he know, your picture is also bad,” he said.
“If my ID was bad,” I said, “I wouldn’t come to you to get it back.”
“Wait here,” said the Vaquero. He stood up. He took my ID with him.
“Don’t forget our deal,” I said, “I’ve got a plane to catch, and soon.”
He didn’t say anything.
I sat in the room alone for twenty more minutes. I looked around, wondering if anyone had bled to death here. I looked into the crevices where tiles touched grout. Not even a good mop could get all the blood cleaned up, and the Vaqueros didn’t like to let people forget their techniques.
I’ve seen the videos on the wires.
When blue eyes came back in, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for the blood of people I might have known.
He laughed. He told me I’d see my own if I wasn’t careful.
He didn’t need to tell me that.
He handed me my ID. He told me the picture was bad. I told him that if I thought my picture was bad, I’d have stolen the other Dave Jones’s ID. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t me.
Blue eyes nodded. “You know,” he said, “if you knew your ID was bad, and believed his was good, and you couldn’t get his, you’d probably come here spouting that same line.”
I took a deep breath. I kept my vitals cool enough. Now was time to mix the truth with some lies, and see if I could escape alive. “Look, I just want out of your country,” I said, “That’s all I want. You ask me who did more to end your armies. Was it some guy like me—some nobody out on Fuego ground—or was it some guy who was selling counter-nano to your enemies for war bonds?”
He took off his glasses. He looked me in the eye with his blue prosthetics. He could probably read my vitals fine with those prosthetics. “Who are you?” he said.
“We entered the records of your cell bug into our databases, and got back some preliminary results. We know you have the phone number of a few war criminals that might actually get you permanent asylum in Pacifica. Who are you?”
“I am not your enemy,” I said, “If I was, once, I’m not your enemy anymore.”
“You should know that we are going to kill you, no matter what you tell us. You and the other Dave Jones are both doomed. The real question now is how quickly you will die. Do you wish to linger for days, until we break you? Do you wish to die quickly with one gunshot?”
“I’m the real Dave Jones,” I said, “and we made a deal. I gave you your enemy. What the heck is a pharma rep doing here in Dallas? If he was legit, he’d be in Guadalajara!”
Blue eyes gave me the cop stare again. I stared right back with the soldier’s thousand-yards. I didn't flinch. Blue eyes got up, walked out the door and disappeared. I never saw him again.
After a few very long minutes, a different Vaquero came in, one I had never seen before, his neck thick with fat and his body heavy and soft. He was older, probably the boss. This one yawned. He did not sit down. He picked up my ID off the table and looked at it carefully. Then, he looked at me. He tossed the ID at me. “Your luggage is at the reception desk,” he said, "along with your new boarding pass. You'd better hurry if you want to make your flight."
When I got off the plane in Pacifica, I planted the cell bug to call the lawyer that was supposed to be waiting for me here. The phone rang and rang. I stood there, looking at all these people getting off the plane, waiting for the cell to pick up.
I stood there, watching all the people pouring out of the plane, lining up for their shot, and begging customs to let them speak with someone who could help.
I was scared out of my mind when the cell kept ringing. If a Vaquero had been looking at me right then, he'd have read me like a book.
When the answering machine clicked, I heard a voice speak a name.
I recognized the voice, but not the name.
And right then, I knew that nobody would come to help me after what I had done. All of my former friends and allies would turn their backs on me after what I had done.
The line moved forward. I got my Fuego shot, but I didn’t need it. I waited for my turn at the counter.
I handed over my luggage. The stern woman with white gloves and a mask over her mouth said, “Business, pleasure, or asylum?”
I probably looked very pale.
“Sir?” she said, “please, just hand me your ID.”
I gave it to her.
“What is your name, please?”
“David Jones,” I said, “but the IDs a fake. Another fellow, a real citizen of yours, got stopped in the Reconquista. You have to call someone. Please, call someone. He was traveling with the name David Jones, but it’s not his real name. I have his cell number with me. They’re going to kill him!”
“Sir, please control yourself,” she said, “Business, pleasure, or asylum?”
I threw up on the counter. Pacifica police came for me, then. I was quarantined. I’d be there until a doctor cleared me. Then, I’d have six months to find a new country before they’d deport me back to the Reconquista.
I joined the rest of the refugees, shipwrecked between borders.
Monday, December 14, 2009
(This story originally appeared in Atomjack Magazine)