Imagining Liberty, Part 9: What You Don’t Get About Freedom

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This tech noir tale follows a gumshoe from the Free Zone as she explores the statist and brutal Old Towne.

From the streets of Cairo in the midst of the Arab Spring to rebellions on distant planets, and from a daring rescue on a seastead-studded ocean to the gallows and grimy streets of 17th century London, here are ten short stories of liberty and revolution.

Imagine…a world where independent seasteads and private airship companies keep the peace on the high seas.

Imagine…a dying planet ruled by a rigid caste system, but with one last chance to be free.

Imagine…a journalist investigating the fate of a government program to match individuals with their perfect mate.

These stories are the winners of the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association’s first short story contest, following the prompt, “Write a short story that illustrates the positive role of freedom in human life.” With 169 total submissions these ten (three winners and seven runners-up), stood out as the top entries from a very broad, and talented field.

These original works are as exhilarating as they are thoughtful and imaginative.

 

Tags: libertarian, libertarianism, anarchism, anarchy, libertarian short stories, libertarian science fiction, libertarian fiction, libertarian sf,  anarchocapitalism

 

Author J.P. Medved, Wendy Rodriguez
Edition Aarden Authors
ISBN n/a
Pages  n/a
Publication Date Jan. 30, 2016
Publisher J.P. Medved
Series  n/a
BCRS Rating  CA-13
 BCRS ratings?Learn more

 

J.P. Medved

J.P. Medved

J.P. Medved writes fun adventure stories and thoughtful thrillers, from Steampunk works like TO RESCUE GENERAL GORDON, QUEEN VICTORIA'S BALL and IN THE SHADE OF THE ISHTAR TREES to philosophical mysteries like SECOND OPINION. You can preview his other works and download free stories at www.jpmedved.com.

When not writing, J.P. can be found frying anything he can get his hands on in his deep fat fryer, shooting tons of guns and losing himself in a good book at the most inopportune times (around the dinner table, at baseball games, during heartfelt emotional conversations).
J.P. Medved


Imagining Liberty

Imagining Liberty

Volume 1 – Part 9

Geoffrey Allan Plauché, J.P. Medved, Matthew Alexander

Cover image courtesy of the Seasteading Institute, licensed under Creative Commons

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Books-For-Free.com Edition

From the Editors

This anthology is the result of a short story contest run as a collaboration between the Libertarian Fiction Authors association (LFA) and Students for Liberty (SFL). It couldn’t have happened without the hard work of our fellow editors, the generous donations of LFA members for prize money, and the promotion and organizational help of SFL. Additionally, a wide variety of other people and organizations helped promote the contest and bring in some great entries. From Jeffrey Tucker, to Freedomworks, to AFF, and Robert Murphy, we were fortunate in all the enthusiastic support and assistance we received.
The contest was conceived as an experiment in unapologetically libertarian fiction and was also run in as libertarian a way as possible (prize money was even paid out in Litecoin, in one instance). We hoped that such a contest would attract high-quality writers, with powerful stories to share, that also carried a strong explicit or implicit libertarian message.
In this it was an unqualified success.
The following prompt inspired over 169 authors to submit stories ranging across genre, style, and voice:

“Write a short story that illustrates the positive role of freedom in human life. Whether it’s a galaxy-spanning space epic or an introspective contemporary character piece, we want to see stories that paint the benefits and possibilities of human freedom in sharply compelling brush-strokes.”

From epistolary shorts made up of fictional news pieces, to tales of rebellion on distant planets, submissions were marvelously varied. In fact, the only thing they really held in common was a love of, and even yearning for, political liberty (and a high standard of writing quality).
What you’ll find in this collection are the ten winners (first, second, and third place, and the seven runners up) that managed to deftly combine the universal value of freedom with just plain good storytelling.
We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did editing and selecting them.

—The Editors


What You Don’t Get About Freedom.

By Wendy Rodriguez

  

The gangly kid nearly toppled off the bar stool as he blurted the joke’s punchline. “He walked through the door. His hot-and-cold running secretary lay, writhing on the couch. ‘Next time, open the door before you walk through it, Big Boy,’ she said.”

Laughter burst from the bar stools on either side of him. Instead of laughing at his own joke, the kid checked out my response.

I sat in a table by the bar with a full-court view of his face and a ‘come-hither-already’ smile on mine. I forced the smile wider and considered undoing one more button on my blouse. I’d been flashing my assets for an hour now – a long, long hour.  

What an idiot, I thought. You never draw attention to yourself in Old Towne. Never. And then I cut the kid some slack because that’s what he was…a kid, and so far out of his depth, he was drowning, even if he didn’t know it yet.

My eyes flicked across the laughers perched at either side of him. Nasty pieces of burly work. They’d arrived a few minutes after the kid did, and they’d marked him at a glance as an undiluted newbie. No one in the bar missed the pricey blue jeans, the toothpaste grin and the tentative darting of his baby blues. While I’d been working the angle, the laughers sat and chatted, plying the kid with liquor and feedback, waiting for a chance to roll him in the alley. The bartender picked up, too, I could tell, but he wouldn’t try to stop it. That’s the Old Towne way.

“Welcome tourists,” I muttered into a glass of watered-down scotch.  

  My name is Mac, short for MacKenzie. I’m a restitution gumshoe for the Property Dept. of the Blumenthal Recovery Agency in Free Zone 12, which used to be Santa Monica. It was the last Zone to break free of what used to be Los Angeles, and now is Old Towne – at least, that’s what freeziens like me call it. Old Towne is a sleazy armpit into which I crawl only when business drives me there, and the kid was my business tonight.

Fourteen hours ago, at first crack, I was in the kitchen with a breakfast of coffee and news when Blumenthal himself called me.

“Mac,” his face flashed onto my kitchen wall. The Brooklyn lilt of his squawky voice was as good as coffee to perk you. “T-R Corp. had a break-in last night, and they need fast service,” he declared without prelude.

“I’m your gal.” I’d been a Blumenthal gal for two years now and it was time to move up the chain and eat better. The Property Dept. returned stolen goods to victims and lassoed the perp to work off expenses, including agency fees.   But violent crime was what sizzled and really paid. I stowed the e-book of news headlines, downed the coffee, and gave Blumenthal my full.  

“Yah, yah. I’m putting you and Chang on the case.”  

It was SOP to double-up agents for cases with pressure-cook timing. But I didn’t like it. Whichever one got the redress would get the fee and a company leg-up; the loser got expenses. I didn’t like Chang either, and it was personal. Chang was bad news on a slow news day because he was so good, and dead unscrupulous. He was willing to do things I wouldn’t and that gave him advantage. But he lacked two things I lived on…instinct and big tits.

  “You’ll work separately, of course,” Blumenthal added. My rivalry with Chang was office gossip.

“So tell me about the case, Murray.” I walked from the kitchen into the parlor where his paunchy face filled another wall

“Grand Theft A-6,” he spoke quickly. “Its a gizmo to print chemicals via 3-D. I don’t have to tell you how commercial that baby is…hospitals, pharmacies…”

  “Not to mention drug users.” The addies…what a market. “But chemical printing is years away.”

  “Yah, yah. I mean, no, no. T-R’s almost ready to market but the prototype was snatched about nine hours ago. We need it back pronto before anyone can reverse engineer and cut into T-R’s marketing plans. They’re hoppin’ mad and they’ll want blood if they can’t cash in on the monopoly moment.”

The Free Zone’s only patent law was “keep it to yourself” or use a confidentiality contract. Good luck with the last one. The monopoly moment was the launch period before contracts broke down.

Blumenthal ran on, “Details of the case and the deal are on your computer right now. Tick, tick, Mac. I need this eight hours ago.” His face blinked off.  

  Thirty minutes later, I exited the elevator of my apartment building and hit the bright sunlight of Free Zone 12, not stopping to scan the ocean from the Pacific Palisades, like usual. The ocean’s one of the only things left that still impresses me. A kid who lived somewhere in the same high rise operated a java stand by the front door. I never remember his name but his best cup is the best for blocks so I grabbed an espresso on the run.

  “Thanks, Mac,” he grinned lopsidedly at the over-payment in his hand.

  Smart kid, remembering customers’ names. I hailed a passing jitney that sported the bumper sticker “An armed society is a polite society.” I jumped in and told the driver, “The L to Old Towne, please.”

He paused, using the rear view mirror to glance back at me. “Are you sure, miss?”

At 5’2″, with large brown eyes and short brown curls, people always take me for younger than 25. Sometimes they get protective; always they underestimate me. That was almost as valuable as big tits.

“I’m sure. It’s not my first time.”

The jitman shook his head in muted disapproval as he gunned the engine.

I used the backseat time to go over the info I’d downloaded onto my wristwatch. Some things were clear, some weren’t.

The clear ones? T-R Corp. had knock-down security which meant whoever got past it was better. There weren’t many who squeezed into that profile. Also clear: the perp was headed to Old Towne where stolens were fenced or openly sold on the white market with the cops bribed to be blind. There’d hardly be crime in the Free Zones if Old Towne didn’t open wide for bad traffic. This one’ll be fenced, I decided tentatively. I’ll have to double-up on careful.

Old Towne authorities stuck it to freeziens in any way they could. Even after a decade, Towners remembered the guerrilla warfare and corpses of secession. Old Towne had let the zones go only after bodies stacked high and no one surrendered. A lot of bodies belonged to Towner families, and I almost didn’t blame them for hating us. They hated Towner authorities, too, but freeziens didn’t arrest you for feelings and words. The authorities did, if they were the wrong words, the wrong feelings. And, so, it was easier to hate us. Especially since Old Towne authorities stoked the emot; freeziens were a valuable outlet for the hate.

But it was more than secession.   Townies hated the prosperity of the Free Zones. They’d bet we’d collapse into anarchy in the bad sense. Our smoothness slapped predictions out of every Towner mouth that’d tasted the sweet prospect of our collapse. That’s what Towners hated most. The Zones surged with wildfire energy and burst with goods that Towners only dreamed of as their streets decayed under their feet. If Old Towne authorities let people leave, the malice might end with a snap. But Towners were trapped behind massive walls and check-out points, patrolled by drones and armored guards who shot anything that moved in the neutral zone.

As the jitney dodged in and out of traffic, I pulled my mind back to the proto. The big question: did the perp still have it? Of course, there could be a direct buyer who contracted the theft, not a fence. Hmm…that’s about as likely. But who has the kind of spare c…  

“Tourism?” the jitman broke my thoughts.  

“What?…oh no, no.”

Tourism brought big bucks to Old Towne. Parents showed kids what the old days were like with taxes on meals, everyone watching, and I.D.-ing by cops; strange how a police state can become nostalgia. Businessmen went to Old Towne to sell goods and use cheap labor because, well, a market’s a market. College students slid in on a lark to slum it in dark bars where the air was dangerous. Others came to buy the few things made illegal in the Zones, like other human beings.

“Business then?” the jitman’s voice tightened. A lot of unpleasant businesses took place in Old Towne.

“Yep. Mine and not yours.”  

He dropped me off without another word at a stretch of asphalt with a huge white “L” painted in the center. The platform was open to the wind on all sides. To the East, the distant skyline of Old Towne sliced upward from the massive walls surrounding it. Between it and where I stood lay the neutral zone – a three mile stretch devastated from the fighting years ago. No one built there, no one went there except on the tram that ran in a constant loop between. What had been blocks of home and business were a flat extension filled with the trash, rats and broken stone that separated Old Towne from Free Zone 12. I turned my back on it.

A frequent-travel pass was in a cloth bag strung over my shoulder inside my   blouse where pickers wouldn’t find it.  

I walked to the only structure on the platform – a large booth cornered near the neutral zone.

“Good morning, Miss.” A young man with a ginger beard and the uniform of the Roget Defense Co. looked up at me from where he sat behind the booth. “Here for the L?” he asked needlessly.

    I nodded, and reached under my blouse into the hidden bag. His eyes opened as a bit of woman flesh showed. “Any reg changes since last month?” I asked casually.

“Nope. Old Towne’s supposed to issue a new list of prohibits in a few days, but none yet.”

I threw my I.D. on the booth’s counter and emptied my shoulder bag of prohibited items that I knew by heart. Along with my wristwatch, I put everything but the I.D. into the large envelope he offered. I labeled it with my name before sealing the top and handing it back to him.  

“You’ll need I.D. to claim this,” he said, turning away to put the envelope in a maze of slots behind him. When he turned back, I tapped my Blumenthal I.D. on the counter.

“I wonder if you can help me, I mean, as a professional courtesy,” I smiled with shoulders pulled back to emphasize my assets. He noticed the emphasis and remembered the flash of flesh. I grabbed the moment to retrieve a list of known hackers and their photos from the shoulder bag,   “Has one of these people taken the L today?” I asked.

  Ginger beard reluctantly looked down. “Yes, this one,” his forefinger landed on a photo. “Early.   And, from the questions he asked, he’s an Old Towne virgin, poor kid.”

“Thanks.” I memorized the tapped name and face.  

“Maybe I’ll be on duty when you get back,” ginger beard ventured with an inquiringly raised brow.

“I’ll look for you,” I lied.

An L-tram hovered in from the neutral zone and ended the need for more talk. I coyly declined his offer to escort me “on.”

Ten minutes to cross the zone and forty minutes to clear Old Towne customs was the time it took, even for frequent travelers. More if you weren’t. I settled into the grimy seat and scanned my ‘companions’ without real interest. Fewer and fewer people were traveling the loop these days, and I wondered how long it would be before travel restrictions were clamped down. Even tighter ones, I sighed.

The tram slid into motion. Blackened stone, rotting wood and weeds began to stream by the window. I’d grown up in the neutral zone…before it was that, of course. I’d played in streets that didn’t exist now and I lived in buildings that were crumbled to shards. I couldn’t recognize them now under the towering weeds. Hell, why did I even try? But I always did. I always had to pull eyes away from the nightmare landscape between Free Zone 12 and Old Towne. Memories stabbed my throat. I was a fool to scan the rubble for signs of anything familiar. It wasn’t there. I wasn’t there, anymore. I could travel the non streets now only by tram and only with Old Towne permission.    

  Customs. I’d dumped the list of possible perps with ginger beard and I was squeaky with compliance on everything else but no one slips past the grilling and groping of the OTA agents. No one enters without a blast of X-rays that show you down to dental fillings and underwire bras. Everyone gets tagged with a tracker I.D. that broadcasts every step you make in Old Towne. For all of that, the crossing was easy this time with no strip search or back room interro.

That had been two hours ago. Now I sat in a stinking bar, sipping watery alcohol. I endured the privilege of staking out a perp who was plopped among Old Towner alkies who wanted to forget they were trapped. A few of them still stared at the obvious freezien kid who’d invaded their turf; one glared at him with unmasked hatred; one sneered at me and licked his lips. Ignoring the lip-licker, I undid that other button on my blouse, made eye contact again with the kid, and waited for the inevitable.

The laughers on either side of him broke off as the perp got to his feet and turned toward me. One put a restraining hand on his arm but the perp shrugged it off and crossed over.

“You are almost done with your drink,” he stated the obvious.

He stood grinning at the booth’s opening with two double Scotches in his hands. Between nerves and the courage of the alcohol, his body swayed slightly in place. “I asked the bartender what you were drinking,” he was proud of his cleverness.   Sparkling blue eyes matched a thicket of blond hair, both of which belonged to a face that barely shaved.

I responded properly to the attempt at charm. “Well, aren’t you the gentleman?” Someday I’d mistress a Southern accent and really pull off lines like that.

  He set one glass in front of me, his hand trembling. How old is this guy? The date by his name on the list made him 19…but that couldn’t be right.

He inclined his head toward the booth’s empty side.”May I?”

“I thought you’d never ask. My name is Sharon Garcia,” I lied.

“Gordon Lake,” he told the truth.

“What exactly brings you to Old Town, Gordon?”

“Oh, curiosity.”

“It killed the cat,” I stated flatly.

He looked up from across the booth and locked my eyes. The smile and sparkle flickered off and on in surprise. It wasn’t a response he expected. Blood crept upward into his cheeks as he stuttered, “W…Why are you here?”

I dropped the lying. I needed to know about the 3-D chemical proto, and time, well, “tick, tick.”

“I’m here because of you, Gordon. I work for the Blumenthal Recovery Agency which works for T-R Corp. and we are anxious for the return of a certain item.”

Blood filled the rest of his beet-red face. “I’m listening,” he finally managed.

“T-R will waive financial restitution in exchange for reasonable but non-negotiable accommodations from you.”

“I’m listening,” his voice cracked on the answer.

“First, they want the proto back. They want all info on anyone who knows about the proto. Any money you’ve made, you hand over to T-R who hands it over to me as a fee.”

His right hand went up to a breast pocket on his leather jacket.

“Not now!” I said through gritted teeth, then smiled because the laughers at the bar were watching.

“As part of restitution,” I continued speaking and smiling, “T-R wants you to provide a detailed report on how you got past their security. They want you to walk them through it…and, I mean, step by step, repeatedly. Then you’ll sign a one-year contract to visit all their facilities, test their security, and correct any other snafus. They’ll pay you a living wage, which means a pittance above starvation. At the end of the year, you’re on your own. Are you clear on the terms as I’ve described them?” I waited. No response.

“I need you to confirm you understand the terms,” I insisted softly.

  He seemed frozen. One hand shot out abruptly, hoisted a glass of scotch and swallowed it in one gulp. I didn’t realize he could turn any redder. “They won’t prosecute?” he whispered hoarsely.

  “Agree to restitution, and there’s no need.”

    Lake signaled the bartender for another drink. When it was in his hands, he said, “I don’t have the prototype.” He downed the second scotch and choked on it.

    “Slow down, kid, it’s going to be a long night.” I was starting to feel sorry for him but business is business. “Where is it?”

    He raised a hand to signal the bartender again, and I grabbed the fingers midair. I slid my full glass across the tabletop, and repeated, “Where is it?”

“With the highest bidder,” he replied.

  “And the name would be?”

    “Don’t even try going to the Old Towne police,” he ignored the question. “They’re paid off to protect me, to protect him.”

  “I never go to Towner police,” I stated. “And if the deal’s complete, why are you still in Old Towne?” Even he can’t be that dumb.

“The man needed to check out the…” he glanced around the bar, “the package before paying me the second half. But…” another glance, “I have a bad feeling about the…the client,” he told the truth again. “I wouldn’t mind getting out while the getting’s good.”  

“Yah, well, that’s the thing about crime. You don’t move in the best circles.” The tone was more sarcastic than I intended so I switched back to a   professional one. “Tell me about the deal, and talk fast.”

  He did both.  

  I heaved a deep sigh and placed a reassuring hand over his cold one. This is one sorry excuse for a criminal. “Let me tell you what really happened,” I said.

  “No.” I raised a hand to cut off the protest gathering in his face. “I believe the words you spoke but they mean something different than what you think. First,” I curled down all but one finger, “you didn’t make a ‘killing’. The man paid half the money in advance because the whole price tag was bargain basement on discount day. Second,” another finger retreated, “If it checked out, then you’ll be dead as soon as the door closes behind you tomorrow morning.”

His jaw dropped open.

“The man won’t risk your talking. Third, you’re alive right now because, if the device doesn’t work, he needs to beat the information out of you.”

About half-way into the explanation, blood left Lake’s cheeks. “I’ve gotta get out of here,” the sound cracked in his throat.

“We will, we will,” I said soothingly. “But we’ll get the proto first.”

“I can’t go back there!”

That was loud enough for the bartender to hear. “Calm down, Gordon. Tell me where the proto is and everything will be fine.”

He swallowed the last of my drink. “Like I said, it’s with a businessman named Cal Alsace.” He slammed the glass down loudly and looked into my wincing face. “Oh, you mean the ‘where’ where.   He’s in a hotel on the strip but he’ll be flying out tomorrow morning after our…meeting.”

He gulped. “After he kills me.”

The strip was Sunset Blvd., the only street on which cops slammed real crime because tourists and the rich needed to party and swindle away their evenings in safety.

“When does he expect you?”

  “After dawn.”

  “You and I are going to be rudely early,” I stood up in the booth.

  “You mean now?”

    “Tick, tick. We know where the proto is and you know how to crack security. We go, you grab, we leave.”

    He shook his head to clear it, and stood up.

  “Oh, one last thing,” I paused before moving toward the door. “The guys on each side of you at the bar? They’re going to follow us to the street and try to jump you. Let me handle it. And don’t look at them as you leave.”

    Lake blinked, and headed straight for the door.   Outside, away from the front window, he collapsed in panic against the wall of the neighboring building and vomited.

“Collect yourself,” I ordered. “We’ll get this done and we’re outta here. I’m very good at what I do, and you are too.”

  I hauled him by the elbow down the garbage-lined block and started to cross the street. The two laughers were on the other side. There must be a back door. There’s always a back door.

  “Let me handle it,” I stressed each syllable, turning my head to confirm he’d heard.  

  A flash of pain at the back of my scalp hurled me to the pavement and into unconsciousness. Before slipping under, I heard a familiar voice say one word.

 

***

 

I woke up on bags of trash in a side-alley with a sharp pain bringing the stink of the place into focus. A rat with shining red eyes bit into the flesh of my left hand as his encouraged companions scurried closer. It wasn’t his first bite. My blood was pooling on the filthy alley surface. The rats halted in place, then scattered as I lurched my torso into sitting. The burst of agony in my skull drove me back down. I glanced around but the alley was lit only by a glow from the street I’d tried to cross. I couldn’t see through the shadows but I heard claws against cement. I couldn’t stay, and I couldn’t move.

I patted my side and groaned in relief. The shoulder bag was there. I fumbled through it until fingers hit the hard, square box with adrenalin, antiseptics, antibiotics, pain killers…all the medical necessities. I groped out the syringe of adrenalin and one of antibiotics and shot up as best I could with shaking hands. The pain needed to take care of itself; the morphine-mix would make a bad cocktail in my veins. Energy slammed me awake and sitting up almost worked this time, except for the dizziness that sent the alley on a circus ride. I sat up slowly.

None too soon. More rats had gathered, red-eyed and edging close to my feet. I kicked out, and they spilled into darkness. I hoisted myself carefully and baby-stepped it to the yellow glow of the street lamp, testing my legs and shoulders as I went. Nothing broken or painful beyond use. As for tomorrow? Another matter.

I leaned against the street lamp and remembered the last word I’d heard before passing out. “Loser!” I knew the voice.

“Damn you, Chang.” Son of a bitch of pervie asshole. I had to think. Chang had Lake. I checked my cell phone for the time. He also had a twenty minute lead. “Damn you, Chang,” There was no space to play catch-up. “There’s only one card left to play.” God, I hate doing this! I’ll get back at you for making me do this, Chang.

I punched another number, spoke into the phone, and hung up. Then I retreated to the same stinking bar for another watered-down scotch. After wiping it off, I   settled on a stool near the front door to wait. Chang is lousy news on steroids. I couldn’t predict if he’d do the straight redress or take the proto himself, killing the kid in the process, of course. Probably do whatever the odds   favor, I concluded.

“Idiot!” I said out loud, and the bartender glanced over with a spark of interest that quickly died. I repeated the word to myself, directed at myself. It came from realizing that, The laughers were there for the kid and for me.

Eight minutes later my trump card arrived. The bartender stiffened in jerk reaction when the overweight cop tossed open the door with a bang. The bartender relaxed when the packed uniform stopped at me.

  “MacKenzie Jones,” the cop stated. It wasn’t a feat of deduction. I was the only woman left in the place.

“I.D.” he demanded.

The cop held my driver’s license close to his florid face to read it through the dim light, then threw the card on the bar counter with a snort of disgust. “We’ll talk in the squad car.”

Outside, he pushed me abruptly down on the car’s hood and ripped the bag off my shoulder.

“Don’t move.”

I heard the bag’s contents hit the pavement. There wasn’t much to hear: a change of clothes, the depleted medical kit, a cell phone, some credits, a set of duplicate keys. Two metallic clicks came as he opened and closed the kit.

“I didn’t peg you for an addie,” he said with another snort.

Ah…the syringes of morphine, I realized. Then all thought stopped cold as his ham hands slid the length of my body, patting each inch, feeling each crevice. For all of that, the frisk was quick and impersonal.

The shoulder bag landed on the hood by my head. “Get in, and start talking,” he said, crossing in front of the car to the driver’s side.

I slid into the front passenger’s and checked out my bag. All there.

      “Start talking,” he repeated brusquely as the car doors locked with a snap.

“Cal Alsace paid the police to protect Gordon Lake and he’s been kidnapped on your watch,” I repeated the phone call of fifteen minutes ago. Interestingly, I’d been put through to the ‘right’ cop in a flash.

He blew a heavy breath out through his cop teeth. “I drop the kid on a bar stool, set my monitor to track,” he muttered to himself. “I leave for 10 minutes…”

I’d been in the bar for close to an hour, watching Lake, and there’d been no sign of a boy in blue. But I thought it best not to mention that fact. Besides which, the cop was rehearsing a story, not talking to me.

A question crossed his face. “What’s this to you?” he demanded suspiciously. “What do you know, and why do you care?”

Most of what I told him was true with the lies being omissions. No mention of Blumenthal, though. My type aren’t popular with his sort.  

“I care,” I finished, “because I’m Gordon’s girlfriend.”

The cop snorted again. “I was with Lake, remember; you’re way out of his class. Try again.”

“He’s come into a lot of money.”

That motive he believed. He switched topics, “Daniel Chang’s the dick from Blumenthal’s?”

Yah, in both senses of the word. I nodded.

“I hate those restie dicks,” his eyes narrowed. “I love to arrest them…just in custody for an hour, that’s all I need. One hour.”

He thought a moment, his punched-in nose wrinkling with effort. “Why? Why’s Chang after the kid and why were we paid to protect him? How come he’s so special?”

Ah…so Alsace muted up about the proto. Smart move. I shrugged. “All I know is you were supposed to protect Gordon until there was some ‘done deal’, and now he’s gone.”

“Not for long. Describe this Chang.”

I described the asshole down to a mole by the mouth and a fire tattoo on his left wrist.

The cop fished a cell phone out of his pocket. “Mike, it’s me. I need you to do a solid. Yeah, a track and retrieve that you do yourself…no going through channels. You need to find this son-of-a-bitch fast ‘cuz, I bet you snake-eyes, he’s headed for customs…” The cop read off the description, spelled out the name, and listened for a moment as Mike spoke.

“Yeah, well, he won’t be alone so pick up the right asshole, and don’t hurt either one until we’re sure,” the cop paused for Mike’s response.

His eyes darted at me, and away. “Okay,” he said, ending the call.

“Alsace wants you, too,” he gunned the motor to kill conversation. We headed toward the strip…fast.

I knew the meaning. Alsace wanted no loose ends, no loose lips. Once again, I’d become a liability.

The second call came as we pulled into disabled parking in front of the Strip Hilton. “Yeah…okay, okay.” The cop hung up.

The car doors clicked open. I sat in place until a ham hand grabbed my upper arm – grabbed it rough – and tightened as it yanked me out me out onto my feet   on the pavement.

“Inside. Move,” he ordered, maintaining a blood-stopping grip.

Cal Alsace’s suite was on the 15th floor.   A hulking man opened the door as soon as the cop rapped it with his knuckles. A hand on my back thrust me through and I fell down to thick carpet. From my knees I could see three rooms – a sitting room, a bedroom and bathroom. I raised my head and a sprawling view of the Hollywood Hills came at me through a sliding window that opened on a wrap-around balcony.   In front of the window, a diminutive man leaned back against a large metal and glass table. The gigantic man closed and locked the front door behind us, then stood in the entrance hallway with his arms folded over a massive chest.

  Cal Alsace stood straight up at the same time I did. Time to give him a once over: a tiny man in an immaculate suit with a pinched face made longer by his receding hairline. The mouse that roared.

Alsace jutted his chin and asked the cop, “The girlfriend?”

The cop nodded and said, “I frisked her…the bag, too. She’s clean.”

Alsace’s narrow eyes sized me up, too. They went up and down again, pausing at my half-buttoned blouse, before he shook his head. “That’s a damn shame,” he said, smiling almost wistfully. The smile died, “Where’s Lake?”

He cop talked, “On his way here, with an escort. We found him ten minutes ago.”

Relief sagged Alsace’s shoulders. “Excellent…at long last.” He tensed again. “And the Chang asshole?”

“Waiting for me in a holding cell” It was the cop’s turn to smile.

“Good.” Alsace’s eyes lingered on the curves in my blouse. “Wait for Lake down stairs and bring him up immediately. Get that: immediately. Then, get lost.”

“What?” the cop blurted. The hulking man took a step in his direction.

“You heard me. You were a babysitter, a goddamn babysitter, that’s all. And you managed to screw it up!” Alsace crossed over to the cop, tilting his head up to glare in his face. The hulker stood directly behind Alsace, glaring into the cop’s eyes. “I won’t be seeing your face again, and you’ll never get a private assignment in this town, again. I’ll see to that. Get used to living on your piss-ant salary.”

The cop’s jaw moved like he was chewing food.

“Now get out of here, get Lake, and get lost.” Alsace spit out. “And if you hurt him…” he let the meaning dangle.

  After the cop left, Alsace turned to the hulk. “When the kid comes…,” he began.

  The hulk cut Alsace off with a quick shake of his head. He pointed his chin in my direction.

  “You’re too easy to forget,” Alsace stated. He grabbed my arm and dragged me to a chair by the metal and glass table. “Stay put,” he ordered, and retreated deep into the hall by the door, where the two men hunched together in whispers.

  My heart stopped. On the table to one side of me was the proto, sitting out in the open. I gawked then shut my mouth, and checked if they’d noticed. They were lost in talk.   Apparently I am easy to forget. I leaned back and peeked around the back of the proto. It’s still there. With eyes glued on the whisperers, without moving the rest of my body, I slid one hand behind the proto, searching the surface with my fingertips until… That’s it!

    Alsace glanced in my direction but saw nothing.  

  It was the hulk whose head jerked up as he demanded from the hallway, “What are you doing there?”

  “Nothing,” I spread my hands innocently in front of me.

  “Sit over there,” Alsace pointed to a chair across the room.

  I obeyed. A minute later, the hotel door burst open, Lake was thrown inside, and the door slammed shut as fast as it’d opened.

  “The machine doesn’t work,” Alsace said without preliminaries. “The prototype doesn’t work. Make it.”    

  “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” Lake’s voice cracked.

  “Not if it works,” Alsace lied.

  Lake looked at me with deer-and-headlight eyes.

  I stood up and crossed to him. The hulk moved to block my approach before I could reach Alsace who glowered at Lake’s side.

  “Now or nothing,” I called loudly, hoping the kid would pick up the meaning.

  He did. Lake drove his fist into Alsace’s face with a stunning force that had to come from desperation. The kid just didn’t have the muscle otherwise.

  The hulk’s head snapped in their direction, and I sprang. I drove three syringes of morphine-mix as deep as I could into the thick neck. I thumbed the plungers down. He grabbed my arm with a violence that would break bone but it was too late. With a roll of white eyes, he collapsed to his knees from the motion. An instant later, he was out cold, lying on the carpet beside Alsace.

  I stopped Lake from crossing to the prototype.

  “No need,” I opened my shoulder bag and flashed the contents. “We’re outta here.”

  “Spare no speed,” he agreed.

  I shook my head. “We are walking slowly, hand in hand, like we’re young love on a date. When we’re off the strip, then and only then do we spare nothing.”

    The cop wouldn’t be checking Lake’s tracker, I knew that. And, as long as Alsace and the hulk were down for the count, we stood a chance of slipping through customs in about one hour from now.

    “How’d you….”

    “Wait ’til we’re off the strip,” I cautioned.

    Twenty minutes later, we were. Words gushed out of Lake as I waved down a cab. “How’d you know what to take from the prototype?” he finished with the question.

“The diagram was in the case papers. All T-R ever wanted was the control module. I mean, without its brains, the proto is just a hunk of scrap metal worth about 20 credits.” A cab pulled a U-Turn and headed to the curb where we stood. “Say nothing else until we are in the neutral zone,” I ordered. “Answer every question customs asks with one-syllable. Volunteer nothing. Try to play as dumb as you are.”

    “Where to lady?” The cabbie looked like everyone’s bored grandfather.

    “The L. How long will it take?”

    “This hour? About 30 minutes,” he replied.

    “Make it 20 and I’ll double the meter.”

    We made it in twenty. Customs was almost deserted and an easy go again. Lake’s stuttering worked to his advantage.

    I paid for private seating at the barred ticket booth that was guarded by an armed OSA agent. A few minutes later, we boarded the tram. Other than an old woman sprawled and sleeping, the L was empty. We settled into a screened off section at one end.

    “I have to ask you…” Lake began.

      “Neutral,” I reminded, and gazed pointedly out the window, ignoring him. A few minutes later, the overhead lights blinked yellow for ‘neutral’.   I switched on the white noise generator and punched a number into my cell phone. “On board,” I said before hanging up.

      I turned toward Lake. “OK. Now…”

      I interrupted his opened mouth “…but I want an answer first. Why doesn’t the machine work.”

    “It does.”

    I shook my head. “I know when people lie. Alsace wasn’t. Why doesn’t it work.”

  “The activator is not obvious.”

  I blinked. “You’re telling me they didn’t turn it on.”

  Lake shrugged. “It’s the most common mistake people make.”  

  I never laugh but I made an exception. “Ok,” I said after it’d passed. “What do you have to say?”

    Taken aback, he searched the palms of his hands for words before stating simply, “I’m afraid.”

    Reassurance wasn’t my long suit. After a long pause, I reluctantly asked, “Of what?”

“I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”

Is that all? “No one’s going to jail,” I assured him. “T-R wants the proto back and a pound of your flesh besides. You’ll work ’round the clock for a year at janitor’s wages and, at the end of it all, it’s 50/50 whether they’ll offer you a job at what you’re worth. It’ll depend on how much competition there is for your…talent.” I returned to staring pointedly out the window.

He ran a tongue over his dry lips, “I want to believe you,” he croaked. But Chang said I had to leave with him because the Townie police would throw me in a work camp. That is, if Alsace didn’t kill me first.”

Chang. A pleasant thought. I bet he is being whipped to puree right now by a certain cop who’s taking out his humiliation. They couldn’t hold Chang for much more than an hour because bringing real charges meant explaining too much. And no one wanted that. But the cop’d been right about one thing. An hour should do it

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Lake was still talking, “but it’s hard to believe T-R won’t, you know…I’m afraid.”

He leaned toward me from the opposite seat, his face lit up by the overhead bulb. For the first time, I saw how black the smudges were under his eyes. His hair sprawled across his forehead, making him look even younger than in the bar.

I sighed and leaned back in my seat. “Don’t be. I am telling the truth. Your work environ will be something short of hell for the next year and, then, you’re a free man. With a record. But the record’ll show you came back to make restitution. I’ll be sure it says you came voluntarily.”

“I don’t get it. In Old Towne, I’d be in work camp. Chang said…”

In for a credit, in for a pound. “Chang told the truth for a change. The system would’ve stuck you in a hole and drained everything you were for years. When there wasn’t much left, it would’ve spit you out on the streets with branded hands and a paper trail that told everyone you were second-class. For life.

“That’s something no one gets about freedom,” I said. “People get to make mistakes and not be destroyed. In the Free Zones, you make good your mistakes and you get a clean slate. Or close to it. Freedom doesn’t destroy people for their flaws. It lets flawed people recover, make amends and do better next time. That’s what no one gets. The perfect don’t need freedom as much as the flawed do because we’re the ones who are trying to figure it out. We stumble over the system, whatever the system is, because we need to find where the limits are. But freedom doesn’t kill its rebels…what it does is teach them about consequences.”

I sighed. I don’t like opening up, but too late now. “That’s what freedom means. You can fall on your face over and over, and as long as you pay the price of standing up, you get to be on two feet. That’s restitution. It’s not just for victims. It’s for the perps as well. No one gets that. Restitution teaches consequences.” I added in low tone, “And it can be a type of redemption.”

Lake thought for a long moment. “I’ll have a record?” he asked.

I blew out a breath that resembled a laugh. “In your case, it’ll be a credential. You’re the guy who got past T-R security and stole the unstealable. I’d like to have your salary three years from now.”

“But a record for life?”

“A lot of us have one. That’s part of consequences.”

“You?”

“Why d’you think I’m a restitution gumshoe?”

“So you…?”

I cut the question off by raising my hand. The sharing was over. “MYOB,” I said.

“What?”

“Mind your own business.”

Silence. For the remaining two minutes of the trip.

The tram glided quietly to a stop at the Free Zone 12’s L platform.  

“I’m still afraid,” he said, reluctant to unbuckle the seat belt.

“You should be. The next year of your life isn’t yours anymore…not like it was before, and that’s frightening. But even you know that’s fair.” I unbuckled and stood up, tired of talking.

The tram door slid open and revealed two men suited for business, wearing dark sunglasses and grim expressions. A T-R escort for the valued ’employee’.

I exited first and handed the proto module to one of the suits. He slipped it into a pouch in the lining of his jacket, and I glimpsed a Colt automatic strapped to his shoulder. Nothing unusual. Most freeziens carried.

“Will I see you again?”

Lake was behind me. I gave him an encouraging wink, “Stranger things have happened. And I’m not hard to find.”

The two suits parted to make a space that Lake filled. As he walked away, I said, “Good luck, Gordon” but I don’t know if he heard.

Time to go home.

The End.


About the Author

My name is Mac. I’m a restitution gumshoe who’s made mistakes and paid for them. I know what freedom means because I needed it once. I needed the second chance that comes from paying off a debt. I’m standing on two feet and no one messes with my life because I’m a free woman and decent human being.

Afterword: The Importance of Libertarian Fiction

By J.P. Medved

“Politics,” Andrew Brietbart famously said, “is downstream from culture.”

Libertarians all want to live in a more free world, where the life, property and unique dreams of the individual are respected and inviolable. But to get from here to there, far too many libertarians focus on making political arguments. They write position papers, explain statistics in economics essays, and argue the nuances of gun control online.

And this political focus, while necessary to make our societies more free, is not sufficient. It may not even be all that effective.

Study after study has shown the most effective way to convince people of your position is not through argument or detailed, logical explication, but through stories. Through connecting with people’s belief systems directly, on an emotional level.

When presented with a sympathetic main character on the screen or the page, we more easily accept their beliefs as plausible and understandable, because we tend to project ourselves into the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings as we experience the story. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the seminal business book Made to Stick, reference a study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and conclude that “attitudes formed by direct experiences are more powerful, and stories give us the feeling of real experience.” There’s a reason accomplished businessmen and politicians pepper their speeches with anecdotes.

But for a movement that owes so many converts to a single story (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), libertarians have been remarkably slow to adopt fiction as a technology for spreading their message.

There’s no reason this should remain the case.

And, thankfully, there are signs it’s changing. With organizations like LFA, Liberty Island, and the Agorist Writer’s Workshop popping up, and with the growing success of self publishing as a method for circumventing the statist cultural gatekeepers of the traditional publishing houses, a genuine ecosystem of libertarian fiction is starting to develop.

Through new works like LFA member Matthew Alexander’s Withur We, Mike DiBaggio’s Ascension Epoch series, or my own Granite Republic, we’re not only inspiring existing libertarians to envision and work for the freer world of the future but also, hopefully, reaching new readers with a message of liberty that resonates with them on a visceral, emotional level.

For libertarians to have success politically, they first need to engage with the deeper values and beliefs individuals have culturally. Stories and fiction are our own first step into that wider conversation. We hope you’ll join us.

Join the LFA for free.

http://libertarianfictionauthors.com/join-the-association/

More Great Libertarian Fiction from LFA Members

Withur We by Matthew Alexander

Salamander Six by Michael DiBaggio

Defiant, She Advanced edited by George Donnelly

Indivisible by Troy J. Grice

Higher Cause by John Hunt, MD

Granite Republic by J.P. Medved

Homecoming by Jaylan Phoenix

High Desert Barbecue by J.D. Tuccille

Seamus Tripp & the Empire City by Richard Walsh

For even more see the full list of libertarian fiction at:

http://libertarianfictionauthors.com/books/books-by-supporting-members/

Acknowledgments

 A great many thanks go to everyone who helped us throughout the process of promoting the contest, selecting, editing, and finally publishing these stories. A special thanks to Geoffrey Allan Plauché for his creation of the LFA with all the wonderful collaboration that has made possible. Thank you as well to the members who donated for the contest’s prize money, and to our SFL counterparts who were so involved in promoting and managing the contest and entries, David Deerson, Monica Lucas, Nicole Lough, and Kara LaRose.

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About

J.P. Medved writes fun adventure stories and thoughtful thrillers, from Steampunk works like TO RESCUE GENERAL GORDON, QUEEN VICTORIA'S BALL and IN THE SHADE OF THE ISHTAR TREES to philosophical mysteries like SECOND OPINION. You can preview his other works and download free stories at www.jpmedved.com. When not writing, J.P. can be found frying anything he can get his hands on in his deep fat fryer, shooting tons of guns and losing himself in a good book at the most inopportune times (around the dinner table, at baseball games, during heartfelt emotional conversations).
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