Zinny did not go to school the next day. He was allowed to leave the hospital that morning, but he was still bruised and emotionally drained, so his mother took him straight home. When he returned to the familiar setting of his living room, he grabbed his notebook, slumped down on the sofa, and began lazily doodling.
He had talked with his mother the entire ride home. She seemed unnecessarily anxious. Zinny promised her that he would walk home on the main roads from now on. Nevertheless, Saria insisted on driving him to and from school for the next few months. In addition, he was required to call her whenever he moved from one location to another, and to avoid being alone at all costs. Zinny wondered for a moment if all this meant something. He thought back to the day before, and his mother’s suspicious behavior. In the end, though, he decided it was just a natural motherly reaction. Safety first.
Zinny had homework to do, but he wasn’t in much of a mood to do anything other than draw and sleep. He figured his teachers would surely understand. The case was all over the news, and the hot topic throughout the city. The reports claimed that a student was kidnapped by two violent criminals, whose plans were foiled by a convenient blackout. There was no mention of the Banished or the Day of Promise. As far as anyone else knew, they were trying to make some cash.
Just as Zinny was contemplating an attempt at homework, the door bell rang. His mother hastened to the door, shouting, “Be right there! Be right there!” Zinny stood up slowly, stretched his aching muscles, and shuffled to the door behind his mother.
Standing on the front porch was a PDF soldier, in full uniform.
“Is this the Rolle residence?”
“Yes sir, can I help you?”
“I am looking for Zinian Rolle.”
Zinny took a few steps towards the door and said, “This about the incident right?”
“Precisely,” replied the soldier. His tone was gruff, and it was evident that he took his job seriously. “Now that you are in a capable state, we need to ask some questions about what occurred two nights ago.”
Two nights ago? Zinny couldn’t believe it had been that long already. The events were still so vivid, so immediate…
Saria looked at Zinny. “Do you feel up to this?”
“Yeah, mom. I’m fine.”
“Okay, get your shoes on. I’ll start the car.”
The soldier interrupted, “I’m afraid you cannot join us. Commander Dulface has asked that Zinny to be focused and unbiased. As soon as he is settled we will call you to come and wait for him.”
Saria was caught off guard by the unusual request. She argued with the soldier for a few minutes, to no avail; Zinny would be going alone to the station.
Well, thought Zinny, I guess this means I can’t do my homework.
The PDF Station was an intimidating structure. A strange mixture of modern, futuristic design and the Roman style of architecture of ancient Earth, the giant chrome front doors slid open from underneath a circular, marble-like awning supported by four large pillars. The building itself stood menacingly surrounded by metallic black walls. The building had no shortage of sharp corners, reached four stories high, and extended who knows how many tens of meters back. As the cruiser pulled up to the front, Zinny felt both incredibly safe and inexplicably doomed.
The PDF, or Public Defense Force, was in charge of protecting the citizens of Topia from all internal dangers, human or inanimate. They dealt with theft, assault, and homicide, as well as accidental injuries, fires, mechanical dangers, and other potential threats to the health and security of the cities inhabitants. The first three dangers were extremely rare in Topia, but the PDF kept themselves busy on recon and intelligence missions throughout the city. The station to which Zinny was being taken served as a local center; the Headquarters was located deep within the military sector.
The soldier exited the car, walked over to Zinny’s door, and let him out. He urged Zinny towards the front doors, which slowly but smoothly slid apart to reveal the cold, stern interior of the building. It was evident by the dark grey walls and geometric furnishings that comfort was a secondary concern for the PDF. Zinny allowed the soldier to guide him from behind, and observed his surroundings. To his surprise, there were no hardened criminals in sight, at least to his knowledge. In fact, there was scarcely a citizen anywhere in the compound; just about everyone he saw wore a PDF badge of some design or another pined precisely on the left side of his or her chest.
After passing through the main foyer, down a long hallway, up a flight of stairs, and halfway down a second hallway, the soldier stopped Zinny at a large brown door. The soldier removed a white identification card and slid it swiftly through the black box beside the door handle. A loud “Click!” resonated in the empty hallway, and the door opened.
Zinny was no expert in criminal justice, but this was almost certainly an interrogation room. Blank white walls, a desk on the right, and a cabinet with files were the only notable aspects of this room. The exception was a large, wide-backed grey chair implanted in the dead-center of the room. To Zinny’s partial relief, the arms of the chair had no bindings, and there were no straps to be seen. These facts, although reassuring, hardly eased Zinny’s nerves. He could not help but think of the room in the abandoned building where his kidnappers had held prisoner all to recently.
The soldier nudged Zinny into the room and said, “The Commander will be with you in a moment.”
Ten minutes later, Zinny was still standing alone in the confines of the white cube. He could hardly call it a room, since other than the door it resembled a container: more fit to hold objects than people. Only fear kept him from opening the door to call for someone. He sat down in the chair—it was remarkably comfortable, despite lacking any sort of padding. The back of the chair curved perfectly along Zinny’s spine, allowing him to relax a bit. He couldn’t help wonder whether this sense of security was intentionally designed. As he was adjusting himself in the chair, the door opened.
In stepped a frightening man and two assistant officers. The man wore the standard blue and brown officer uniform, but also wore what appeared to be a lightweight armored pad that covered his chest and extended out straight off of his shoulders. His helmet rested behind his neck; the armor design included a one-touch device which raised the helmet onto the wearer’s head. His face was just as Zinny expected: rough, well-defined, and cold.
“Hello, Zinian Rolle,” announced the frightening man, “I am Commander Dulface of the Public Defense Force.”
Zinny said nothing; he could only nod sheepishly. He looked at the commander’s pin. The man pronounced his name “dool-fas;” Zinny would have thought it was “dull-face.”
“Welcome to one the most secure locations in all of Topia: The PDF Headquarters. Every action of every branch of our organization is controlled here.” The commander paused. “I have questions for you, regarding the recent kidnapping you suffered. First, describe the appearance of your captors.”
Zinny described every detail of the two men: the quiet, long-haired, lean man and his large, scary partner, their black robes—intentionally frayed—and their strange-sounding names. Commander Dulface did not react.
“Did they have any identifying insignia?”
“No, not that I saw.”
“Did they talk to you?”
Zinny froze. He had told his mother everything they said, and she didn’t seem to overreact. He may as well continue his honest approach to the situation.
“They said they were members of the Banished…” Zinny faded out, looking for a reaction. The commander did not move, but it certainly seemed like the word “Banished” had sent his thoughts turning. Zinny went on, “They mentioned a Day of Promise, and defeating Topia. And somehow I was going to help them. It was really confusing—”
“What else did they say?” Commander Dulface swiftly asked.
“Nothing. They told me their plan to kidnap me and that I had better follow along.”
“Do not move. I will be back.” The commander left, but the two assistants remained in the room. They stood stiff and silent on either side of the door, and did not offer so much as a glance in Zinny’s direction. They simply stared from under the visors of their helmets at the wall behind Zinny. Their focus was so great Zinny was tempted to turn around to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.
The commander returned in under two minutes. In his hands were several strange cables. Zinny had not left the chair. After closing the door, the commander handed the cables to one of the assistants, who approached Zinny and began to attach on to his right arm. Zinny pulled his arm away and looked with anger at the commander.
“What is this?”
“This is a test. The purpose must remain confidential until we have completed it in order for it to be successful, but I can promise that you will not be permanently harmed.”
Sweat started to drip from Zinny’s head. “Permanently harmed? Is this even legal?”
“This is necessary for your safety, Zinny. It will only be a few minutes.”
Reluctantly, Zinny allowed the cables to be hooked up to his wrists and ankles. Once this was finished, the commander and the assistants left the room. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, Zinny began to feel a tingling sensation where the cables had been tightly fastened to his skin. At first it was practically imperceptible, but the feeling was quickly growing in magnitude. It was also becoming less like a vibration and more like a sting. Zinny’s hands and feet began to shake. He tried to raise them, but found he could not. He leaned over on of his wrists to inspect the cable, and took a panic-stricken breath. He was bound to the chair. He had not even noticed until now, but the cable ends that wrapped around his extremities had also been attached to the chair. The pain began to build, and Zinny’s whole body began to shake. As the pain grew, Zinny began to hear a humming sound. He also traced the cables to the wall behind him. They were plugged into a strange port; it looked kind of like…an outlet.
Zinny was being electrocuted.
Zinny’s body shook violently now. His teeth were clenched. He had no idea how much longer he would be able to bear this without going insane. The pain had spread all throughout him, inside and out. He twisted and wrenched his limbs desperately, to no avail. His knuckled had turned white. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Zinny threw back his head and screamed.
The pain stopped. Not only that, but the lights went out. Zinny knew that could mean only one thing; another blackout. What luck! Zinny tempered his excitement, however; he was still fastened to the chair, and trapped in this building, with no hope of escape. All he could do was take several deep breaths and shake his head to flick off the beads of sweat dripping down his face into his eyes. He then leaned his head up against the back of the chair and sighed.
The emergency power soon kicked on, and the lights in Zinny’s room flicked at half power. A few minutes passed before the lights came back to full strength. In normal circumstances, Zinny might have become bored from waiting, but at the moment his head was spinning.
Commander Dulface and his wingmen entered the room soon after. Zinny was exhausted, but not enough to restrain his fury with the lifeless commander.
“What. The hell. Was that!”
“A stress test,” answered the Commander, “And you failed.”
“Failed! How many volts did you put through me! It felt like hundreds!” Zinny’s chest and shoulders were rising and falling dramatically.
“Your mental tolerance for pain was quite high, actually. Physically, your body displayed an erratic response far too quickly. You need to be monitored over the next few days.” Dulface nodded at one of his assistants, who walked over to Zinny and detached the cables from his arms and legs, then pulled out a strange contraption.
“This device,” the commander said, “Is a vitality tracker. It will measure your blood pressure, heartbeat, pulse, and other devices while sending us live updates here in the headquarters.”
“Why do I need to be monitored? That shock test didn’t prove anything.”
The commander stared strait at Zinny with an intimidating glare.
“You know nothing about the science and medicine we employ. You will wear this on your arm for the next week, and meet with us after that to discuss it further.”
Left without an alternative, Zinny allowed the device to be placed around his neck. To his relief, it was lightweight and did not bother his neck too much. Nevertheless, Zinny could not help but feel like he was wearing a dog collar. This mild fear turned to panic when the commander pulled out a small remote capped by a brick-red button. To his surprise, however, the commander instantly handed the remote to Zinny.
“Zinny, the device you are wearing has a small dose of a relaxant built in. Due to our observations in the test, we believe you may be prone to bouts of severe anxiety over the next few days. If you have such an attack, simply pull out this remote, pull the two grey safety triggers on the side, and then press down on the red button. When you release the button, the relaxant will be injected into your bloodstream and, I assure you, you will feel much better.”
Zinny’s suspicions were rising, but he was far too relieved at having some small measure of control over the situation to object. Not to mention, he was still flustered from the “test” he had just suffered through. In fact, he felt ready to use the drug right that moment.
Apparently the commander read his mind. “Before you leave, why don’t you try the mechanism? You seem quite nervous for some reason.”
As if he didn’t know, Zinny thought. Zinny wrapped two twitching fingers around the safeties, and then slowly pushed his thumb over the large red button. It slid down smoothly and easily. When he released the button, nothing happened.
Actually, many things happened at once, although Zinny did not feel the prick on his neck that he was expecting. He did, however, find that his eyes had been blinded by a whitish powder, which was also entering his lungs through his nose and mouth. After shutting his eyes, Zinny realized that he had not released the button at all; rather, a hand larger than his had wrapped around it and prevented his thumb from rising. Next, another arm passed behind his back, grabbed him by his left side, and jerked him off the chair, into the air. After a few bounces forward, Zinny heard the click of a doorknob. He felt a rush of wind as the powder rushed past him and his captor out the opening. Zinny rubbed his eyes with his free hand and opened them to find that he was rushing down the hall towards the window at the end. From behind him, the voice of Commander Dulface was bellowing into a walkie-talkie. Zinny tried to shake his remote-clasping hand free of his captor, but he could not. Then he heard a new voice, presumably that of his captor, speak:
“Don’t let go of that button if you want to live.”
It was hard to argue with that logic. Zinny stopped resisting and instead focused on the large glass window that they were plunging toward. The only option they had would be to turn left down the stairs, which meant facing several floors’ worth of armed PDF soldiers and staff members. Then again, Zinny thought, this might be a good thing, since the man or woman who had broken Zinny out was probably a member of the Banished.
The window was getting closer and closer. In addition, Zinny thought he heard the thud of soldiers’ boots coming up the stairs. It was at this point that Zinny saw a small black spherical object fly towards the window and adhere to it. The ball looked as though it had shot out from his captor’s arm, but was likely fired from a gun of some sort. The ball hit the window, stuck to it for a moment, and then promptly exploded with a shocking force. This force, however, did nothing to slow the violent pace of Zinny’s captor, who reached the window in a full sprint. He (or she) then put both arms around Zinny’s waist, and yelled, “Don’t release that button,” before tossing him strait out the now-open window. Zinny closed his eyes, turned over in the air, and fell for a good half-second before landing in a remarkably comfortable spot. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a strange airbag contraption.
An engine started, and the cushion began to move, taking Zinny along with it. All Zinny could think to do was wrap both hands tightly around the remote to make sure he did not release it. The airbag deflated gradually, and Zinny realized he was in the back of a convertible. His captor was in the driver’s seat, and through the rear-view mirror Zinny could finally get a view. When he saw the face of the man behind the wheel, he could not believe his eyes.
He was looking at a PDF soldier—the very soldier who had placed the device on his wrist.