A Second Opinion, Chapter Nine: Lysandra Fremont
This is the ninth and final chapter of a serialized libertarian novella appearing free on Art For Liberty. Read from the beginning here.
Chapter Nine: Lysandra Fremont
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” –Albert Camus
She didn’t hate them. Not anymore. She had once, but that was years ago, before she’d really understood. Most people were not conscious actors making their own choices, they were running on autopilot, reacting to whatever system they happened to be born into. Society says, ‘pay your taxes,’ so they pay. The professor says, ‘work for the government,’ so they apply as a public servant. The police captain says, ‘kick down that door,’ so they do, guns drawn. It made as much sense to hate them for what they did as to hate a mindless forest fire for the destruction and death it wrought.
Though it had taken her a while, she’d finally come to see that truth: most people weren’t moral agents, they were environmental hazards. They were a natural and inevitable side effect of a system they neither understood nor cared to. Not worth hating. Only worth defeating for the sake of the few who still retained some spark of rebellion and independence.
Which she still had every intention of doing.
Lysandra Fremont grunted as she lifted the suitcase. Almost time to go.
Thomas King had never been on a stakeout before. His heart thundered and he wiped his palms on his pant legs, again. The bulletproof Kevlar vest was uncomfortable in a sitting position, it dug into his hips and he had to keep shifting his weight on the passenger seat of the car to prevent it from pinching the flab on his stomach.
Enoch Boyle seemed to be undergoing no such discomfort. He was speaking into the radio in an even, moderated tone, and the rest of him was perfectly still, betraying no nervous energy or untoward excitement.
Thomas tried to calm himself down, but his thoughts got the better of him. Terrorists! Once they bagged these antisocials he’d have enough to put John Morales behind bars for years. All the doctor’s accumulated sleights, his furtive rebellions and, above all, his self-assured superiority, would be repaid in spades.
Sure, the surgeon treated him with due deference, when he had to, but there was always that air of coldness; an indifference to Thomas King’s station and power that had been infuriating. Thomas controlled him, Thomas owned him, but the man never seemed cognizant of that fact. All King wanted was some recognition of his authority.
But now, with the evidence they’d be able to collect from capturing this extremist and her offspring, the doctor, rotting in his holding cell, would have to acknowledge King’s power over him. A plea bargain would break the man. When he saw just how much he stood to lose unless he cooperated with prosecutors, John Morales would finally know who was superior to whom.
“Alyyy! Time to goOoo!” Lysandra shouldered a duffel bag as she called her daughter.
“Coming mom!” The 10 year old rounded the corner with her blue backpack and rolling suitcase.
“Do you have your Whisper?”
The child held out a palm-sized cell phone.
“And you’ve packed the mesh card and encryption box?”
Alyssa Fremont nodded.
“How about the power cord?”
“MooOom!” The girl was impatient.
Lysandra smiled, “Ok sweetie, let’s go get loaded up.”
The girl’s eyes suddenly widened, “Wait!” she turned and ran back around the corner. She was breathing slightly when she returned, holding a small device triumphantly aloft in her hand. “Almost forgot the mounted OS!”
Outside Thomas King watched as the SWAT team moved into position. Ten men in black uniforms, face masks obscuring their features, assault rifles held at the ready, arrayed themselves swiftly to either side of the apartment door.
Enoch Boyle spoke one word into his radio and sat back. Thomas almost thought he could see a ghost of a smile on Boyle’s pinched face, but it was gone before he could tell if he was imagining it or not.
The SWAT captain raised his hand.
Lysandra grabbed the door handle. “Ok Aly, I need you to–“
The door exploded inwards, showering splinters in time with the falling of the SWAT captain’s hand. In quick succession all ten heavily armed, armored government agents were through the shattered doorframe and into the small apartment.
Enoch Boyle was listening intently to the radio in his hand. His eyes narrowed. He frowned. Something was wrong. He threw open the driver-side door, “Come on!”
Thomas did as he was told and got out of the squad car to follow the DCS officer as he ran up the stairs, around the building’s wraparound balcony, and through the open door. King fingered a clasp on his bulletproof vest nervously.
Usually a no-knock raid like this left an apartment’s interior in total disarray; tables upended, lamps thrown hastily to the ground, dogs shot as a safety precaution. But the scene that greeted Thomas as he followed Boyle through the door was surprisingly serene. No clutter and debris on the floor, no crying or terrified shouting, no deliberately destroyed furniture. It looked clean, perhaps, because there was so little furniture to begin with; a couch, a coffee table and, in the corner, a large, empty bookshelf.
Something else was missing, Thomas saw, something important: the suspects.
” –carry this to car.” Lysandra Fremont finished. The motel room was almost put back together, and she’d gone through one last time to remove any prints and vacuum up any stray hairs that had survived the first and second run-throughs.
Alyssa grabbed the bag from her hands and skipped out to the parking lot.
He was being moved again. Two broad shouldered police officers with military-style crew cuts had unlocked the barred door of his cell, handcuffed and hooded him once more, and shoved him along into what felt like another SUV.
After a short ride he was yanked out, marched into an elevator, and told to stand still as it rose skyward. The door opened and he was pushed forward and marched a short distance before being ordered to stop.
He stood awkwardly still, unsure what to do next and straining to hear something that would give him a clue to his location. After some shuffling behind him his hood was roughly pulled off. He blinked several times against the sudden light and it was several moments before he could take in his immediate surroundings. What he saw surprised him. He was in a plushly furnished hotel room. A small couch and two bright chairs with deep cushions framed a wide bed near the floor-to-ceiling windows. The view was of downtown Denver. The windows had no handles, and there was no telephone anywhere in the room. There was a television.
One of his captors walked around to his rear and John Morales felt the handcuffs loosen, and then fall off his wrists. He brought his hands up to his eyes. The cuffs hadn’t been put on too tight, his hands were not damaged. They must have known he was a surgeon.
“Please, have a seat.” The familiar voice of Thomas King sounded strained, as if the bureaucrat hadn’t been getting much sleep.
Morales picked the nearer of the two chairs, turning as he lowered himself to see Thomas and the two crew cuts standing at the door behind him. The soft bureaucrat was, for once, not smiling. He joined Morales in the center of the room and chose the couch opposite John’s chair.
There was a moment of silence as the two men eyed each other. King blinked and looked down, then back up, and there was a peevish tone in his voice as he spoke, “We have your friends in custody.” John’s heart sank, but he managed to keep his face expressionless.
When Morales didn’t react Thomas went on, savagely, “Lysandra and Alyssa Fremont are being held by the Department of Citizen Security on terrorism related charges. We have everything we need to lock up those two for a long time.” He smiled and leaned forward as John’s eyes widened slightly. “You could make it easier, you know, for both of us.”
“What do you mean?” Morales had to clear his throat; he hadn’t talked to anyone in two days.
“What I mean is, if you cooperate in court and act as a witness to help us wrap this all up a little faster, I won’t press for jail time for you. I may even let you keep your medical license and continue practicing in Colorado, after community service and a fine, of course, and a lower salary cap for the rest of your career.” King sat back, running his hand through his slight, gelled hair and turning up the corner of his mouth in a predatory sneer. He was the one in control now, and they both knew it.
“I don’t think I understand what’s happening here. How can a 10 year old girl be a terrorist?”
“What’s happening here is you cooperate or you lose your license to practice medicine and get locked up in a federal prison. Not even daddy can protect you against domestic terrorism charges.” Thomas was leaning forward again, his hands gripping his knees.
There was a cough from the direction of the hotel room’s door. King abruptly closed his mouth and sat back.
“Will you leave us alone for a moment please, Thomas?”
The bureaucrat stood, “I didn’t realize you’d been briefed yet on the situation.”
“I haven’t, but I don’t need a DCS briefing about my own son.”
Thomas nodded, shot one last look at John, and stalked out the open door, waving for the two crew cuts to follow him.
When the door closed behind them Aguinaldo Morales sighed. John’s father, the Mayor of Denver, was not a tall man, and he seemed to deflate now that he and his son were alone in the room. The grey at his temples, which had helped to project a dignified wisdom for his reelection campaign, was starting to encroach on the rest of his face. John noticed wrinkles in the man’s forehead that had not been there the last time the two met for lunch, almost three months ago. He came over and sat down heavily in the chair next to John.
“Is it true, mijo? Have you been helping terrorists?” The elder Morales was slowly rubbing the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.
“No, of course not. I have been helping a little girl and her mother who couldn’t get healthcare any other way.”
“But you broke the Patient Care Laws.”
“Son, this is a serious situation. The head of the DCS wants to put you behind bars, he wants to make an example of you to show that not even the Mayor’s son is above the law. And those people, that little girl, do you know what they’ve done?”
John raised a questioning eyebrow.
“They broke into the hospital’s computer network and hacked the whole security system. We think they’re members of a dangerous domestic terrorist cell that the DCS has been tracking for some time.”
“I just don’t see how that’s possible father; I know enough about these people to know they’re not terrorists. In fact-” John caught himself. If he revealed the Fremont’s purpose here, if he let his father in on the secret of their hidden society, their “Shangri-La,” the DCS and the rest of the government would upend heaven and earth to find it. His own abduction and indefinite detention was proof of just how seriously they took this threat.
His father seemed not to notice the surgeon’s abrupt self-censorship. “Son, I need you to listen very carefully to me.” He was looking at John with a solemn sincerity, his hands folded in front of him. This was the posture the younger Morales had learned to associate with pre-punishment lectures; the type of stern talking-to that his father had considered good parenting even as he prepared to leave John and his mother for another month on the campaign trail. “You need to cooperate fully with the DCS and the Health Board investigators. It’s the only way I can help you. I’ve been talking to a few people. If you accept their plea bargain I’ve been told they’ll let you off with a slap on the wrist. The real catch for them are these two terrorists, and putting them behind bars, with minimum fuss in the court and the media, would be a real coup for the DCS and for the state. It could mean more federal money for local security programs, which could really help shut up those nuts down south in Colorado Springs.” The Mayor had always been good at relating his family’s personal issues to his own wider political ambitions.
“But, dad, these two people are innocent of what they’re being accused of. It would be wrong to-“
Aguinaldo’s cell phone began ringing in his pocket and he cut off John as he pulled it out, “It doesn’t matter, son” he looked at the screen, “I need to go now, simply do as they say and you’ll be fine.” The Mayor stood abruptly, already putting the phone to his ear as he gave John what he must have thought was a fatherly pat of reassurance and walked out the door.
The next four hours were a series of visits from faceless cogs of the state internal security apparatus, each one more polished than the last, each one with questions, and the final two with instructions. Morales was told what to say in court, was told how to act, when to speak, and how to appear appropriately contrite before the jury. The bureaucrats had the whole process mapped out, they knew the script for everyone, including the judge and the handpicked jury. Nothing would be left to chance.
Finally, Morales was visited by one last person. The man was slight, a little taller than John, but he stooped. His hair was a dark grey, combed to look distinguished and to match his expensive suit. He did not sit down. When he spoke, his voice was dry, like rubbing sandstone with pumice. “Hello doctor.”
The man looked familiar to John, but in his fatigue he couldn’t place him. “My name is Enoch Boyle, and I’ve come with a request for you.” John’s brow furrowed. During the course of the day he had been threatened, cajoled, ordered, and demanded; he had not been requested.
The man spoke, and as he did so he walked slowly across the thick carpeting to one of the long windows, both hands in his pockets. Denver was dark and subdued in the winter night below. “We need some additional information about your ah, compatriots.”
Morales had already been thoroughly questioned on the Fremonts, on their visits to the hospital, dates, times, modes of transport, on their apartment, the types of computers they used, their accents. He had shared everything except what he deemed the most important; their purpose and their origin. He had maintained, instead, that they had simply been seeking medical care from him because of a glitch in the Health Department records, and nothing more. He didn’t know what other information this man could possibly want.
Enoch Boyle turned back from the window, and his hand now held a cell phone, John’s cell phone, he saw, “Specifically, we need you to tell us where they are.”
Morales felt a jolt in his stomach, “But Thomas said-“
“Thomas says what I tell him to. We thought this would be finished by now but…” his voice trailed off as he held the phone expectantly out to the doctor.
Morales tried to hide his excitement as he took it, thrilled to learn mother and daughter had escaped the Department’s clutches. There were two text messages on the phone, both from an unknown number. The first read, “You are in danger, text back when you get this.” Someone had responded for him, “Where are you?” and the second text from the unknown number said, “Prove you’re who I think you are; what’s the name of the city with streets of gold that we’ve talked about?”
“Answer it.” said the dry voice. It was not a request.
Shangri-La John thought. Into the phone he typed “El Dorado.”
The texted response was immediate, “OK, sit tight. We’ll let you know what to do next.”
Morales handed the phone back to Boyle, who allowed a twitch of his mouth where a smile might have been. “Very good, doctor. I’ll be back should we need your further assistance. ‘Sit tight’ for now.” With that, the man was gone, and Morales was alone in the hotel jail cell for the first time that day.
Alyssa Fremont was not an adult. Her mother had to remind herself of that, sometimes. The precocious 10 year old talked like someone twice her age, but if it hadn’t been for her prodigious skill with computers Lysandra would never have allowed the girl to come on this dangerous trip with her into the crumbling American republic. As it was, she worried almost constantly about her safety. When Alyssa told her mother, still distraught from Doctor Morales’ abrupt departure, that someone had tripped an alert by trying to tamper with the bot she’d installed in the Sky Ridge medical network, and that the apartment had been lased by a micro-millimeter eavesdropping device, Lysandra wasted no time.
They had an evacuation plan ready, and the pair had practiced it numerous times, despite Alyssa’s complaints. The girl reported no other attempted intrusions, so Lysandra decided to opt for their more thorough plan. Inside of an hour the car was packed, floors and surfaces were given a once-over for prints and hair, and the apartment was emptied.
They’d gone to a prearranged motel, one of a shrinking number that took payment in forms other than trackable government credit, and set up shop. The rest of the night had been spent going over their equipment with a fine-toothed comb. Somehow they’d been compromised, and it was entirely possible someone had bugged their hardware or software, or somehow infiltrated the encrypted mesh net.
It wasn’t until the next morning, when Lysandra was satisfied they had not been betrayed by their electronics, that she felt secure in sending a warning to John. When he didn’t respond immediately she feared the worst. Her fears were confirmed by Aly later that day.
“Mom, come look!”
Lysandra was reassembling a mean looking little black pistol, its parts and springs spread out on the motel room’s floor for cleaning. The child’s voice came from the small desk by the window, where she was surrounded by electronic paraphernalia.
Her mother set down the tiny barrel and the solvent-soaked cleaning pad and joined Alyssa. None of the information on the laptop’s screen made any sense to Lysandra at first, and she had to concentrate to parse out the meaning in the jumbled lines of code. When she did, a pit of fear opened up in her stomach. In between two <encrypt=”govmail”> tags were the words, “Criminal Morales apprehended. Awaiting questioning, HC 15.” She suspected HC stood for ‘holding cell’ but there was no way to tell just which of the myriad state detention centers this email snippet was referring to.
It was then that her cell phone beeped cheerily.
“Where are you?” the text message from not-John-Morales read.
She was tempted to merely ignore the ham-handed attempt to entrap her, she wasn’t going to waste time playing games with meathead security agents, but then Lysandra had an idea, “Aly, can you find out where doctor Morales’ cell phone is located?”
“Obviously, mom. The cell companies’ GPS records all have backdoor passwords for the government to use, and those were leaked on the mesh like, months ago.”
Her mother smiled, and even her grey eyes were twinkling. “Ok, then we have some work to do.”
The ceiling of the hotel room jail cell had an intricate network of cracks, bumps and ridges created by the artfully applied spackle. If one squinted, shapes could be made out, like finding images in clouds. So far John Morales had identified two different dogs (one sitting, one running), a dinosaur, an airplane, and a smiling man with a very large chin. He had been staring at the ceiling for an hour. Despite feeling bone-tired, he could not sleep.
He lay in the room’s bed, fully clothed, his eyes wide open. Every time he tried to will them shut his mind would begin racing and they would snap open again of their own accord. Had the Fremonts escaped? Where were they now? Had they been telling the truth about a secret society living under the radar of the federal government?
He was beginning to regret not having seen Lysandra one last time. There was still a lingering anger when he thought of her, and more than a little hurt, but he found it hard to reconcile those feelings with the picture of her in his mind’s eye. Somehow, he always imagined her smiling.
Morales shifted his legs and laced his fingers behind his head. He wondered if there really was a “Shangri-La.” There was a slight click and he glanced over, thinking it was someone unlocking his door for more questioning. But the door remained stubbornly shut. He propped himself up on his elbows to see the room.
Everything else seemed normal; the windows were closed, the heater nearby softly humming. He almost missed it, but as his eyes completed another pass his subconscious noticed that something was different, and when he looked again he saw the TV was on. It wasn’t showing anything, but its screen was a lighter black than before. It was the kind of black that signified the individual pixels were charged with energy and ready to be press-ganged into service displaying an image.
He stared at the live screen for a long minute. There was no remote anywhere in the room as far as he could tell, and none of the government flunkies questioning him before had mentioned the thing. He was about to stand up to turn it off, reasoning he’d sleep better that way, when something appeared amidst the dark pixels.
It was text, white against the black background, that read, “John, if you can see this, please don’t react. They’re watching.” He blinked, but lay back down, his hands behind his head, angling with his wrists so he could still see the TV. He wondered if this was some elaborate plot by the DCS to collect more evidence they could use in court against him.
The text on the screen changed, “We’ll be there in 30 minutes. You can choose to come with us to “Shangri-La,” then or not.” He tried to remain calm, but some flutterings of nervousness disrupted his stomach. It was the Fremonts, and they were coming for him. He’d get a chance to see Lysandra again after all. The white text disappeared and the TV switched off.
Now that it was past the point of pure speculation he felt hesitant, like a lottery winner suddenly confronted the day after with what to do with his winnings. They were coming to take him to some new, strange place, away from his family, from his friends, and the from life he’d built in Denver. They were coming to make him into more of an outlaw than he already was; a full blown, anti-government revolutionary. He smiled: maybe they’d make him wear one of those red berets. Then he thought of Lysandra Fremont and his smile faded.
He didn’t know what bothered him more: that she had lied to him for so long, or that she had been the individual making those lies. It seemed to him that the act was made worse by the apparent character of the person committing it. He didn’t care when a moral degenerate committed an act of moral degeneracy, but when that same act was committed by someone he had come to respect, it was worse, somehow.
He passed the 30 minutes in grim reflection, not moving from the bed. There was a sudden knock on the door, and he jumped involuntarily. The knock came again, more insistent. He rose cautiously and went to open it. The door was unlocked.
The hallway was devoid of government flunkies or crew cuts. There was only one figure in front of John, slight, dressed in an ill-fitting pantsuit, and wearing a tight-lipped expression.
It was Lysandra.
John fumbled for words, “How did you-“
“I didn’t, but Aly’s very good at faking personnel schedule changes in secure government databases, and at obfuscating them enough that no one will realize this door is completely unguarded or that the cameras in the room are looping old footage for at least the next 10 minutes.” She smiled slightly, almost nervously, it seemed to Morales. “It’s good to see you, John.”
He started to speak, but stopped. This woman had lied to him, gotten him arrested, and likely ended his medical career for good. Still. He had wanted to see her again.
She broke in before he could continue, “I owe you an apology.”
She took a breath and paused, searching his eyes, “I’m sorry.” The rest came out in a rushed jumble, “I was afraid you wouldn’t even give me the time of day if I didn’t have some excuse to be talking to you. I know now that I should have respected you enough to trust you with the truth. You deserved- you deserve” she corrected herself, “better.”
“Why did you come back for me? It’s dangerous for you to be here.”
“Because we need you, and you need the freedom of a Shangri-La.”
“That’s not it.”
“No.” She looked into his eyes and her gaze was steady, “That’s part of it, but not all.”
“What’s the rest?”
She didn’t answer, but she stepped forward tentatively, gingerly placing each foot in the deep carpet of the hallway, until she was close enough for him to smell the hint of jasmine from her shampoo. She slowly took both of his hands, interlocking fingers at their sides.
Suddenly his lips were on hers. It was impulsive, like the night he had agreed to help the mysterious pair. After a shocked pause, her mouth responded eagerly, her hands left his and began to search his arms, his neck, the hair on the back of his head. Without thinking he grabbed her lower back and pressed her towards him. They were both breathless when she finally broke the kiss, her hand on his cheek and her forehead touching his.
Her voice was almost a whisper, “We need to go, we don’t have much time.” The words were serious, but she smiled.
He smiled too, “Lead on” and released her.
Lysandra pulled out a cell phone, a model Morales had never seen before, and spoke urgently into it, “We’ll be outside in 5 minutes, pull up to the side door in 3.” With that they were off, Lysandra in the lead, walking purposefully down the elegant hallway, turning into a side branch and opening the stairwell access door there. 17 flights later and they were on the ground floor.
They turned the corner, away from the main lobby, walking now on sleek, marble tile. A door down the hall ahead of them opened, and Lysandra stopped immediately, causing Morales to walk several steps ahead of her before coming to a halt himself. Out of the open portal strode a short, slightly pudgy figure with long, dark hair and too-tight suit pants. It was Shelly Reyes.
She recognized her surgeon ex-boyfriend immediately. Her eyes registered a flash of shock, followed by a beam of anger. “John? What are you-?”
Out of the corner of his eye Morales saw Lysandra move forward. A gun suddenly appeared in her hand; a small, mean-looking black pistol that shone dully in the fluorescent light. But it wasn’t pointed at Shelly, it was pointed at him. Lysandra spoke, and to the doctor her voice seemed deeper; husky, “Keep movin’ pal. You’ll have plenty of time to chat in prison.”
Shelly’s eyes shifted to the slim woman at Morales’ side, and narrowed in suspicion. Lysandra returned the regulator’s gaze evenly, her grip on the pistol never wavering. Finally Shelly looked away. Her eyes found John’s again and she spat. “Lock him up for a long time.”
Lysandra prodded Morales in the side and he moved forward again, braving the gauntlet of his ex-girlfriend’s stare. He felt the heat of her gaze between his shoulder blades until they turned a corner and she was gone.
He sighed. Lysandra glanced at him but didn’t say anything, holstering her vicious looking sidearm instead.
He was suddenly curious, “Are you even allowed to have that?”
“Only slaves ask permission, John.” Her smile was more carefree than it had a right to be.
They came finally to a side door leading out of the building. Lysandra opened it cautiously, peering out before beckoning for Morales to follow her into the alleyway. A car John had never seen before was idling in the cold, exhaust steam wreathing it in gray and white.
John went to the passenger side door while Lysandra opened the driver’s door and waited patiently for her daughter to exit and get in the back.
“Your 10 year old can drive?”
“Better than most of the adults in this city” was her only reply.
They exchanged their car at a rough looking chop shop for one less conspicuous and, importantly, free of the ubiquitous government mandated tracking and remote disabling devices. Lysandra knew the shop owner by name, and had clearly arranged the transfer in advance. She slipped him several of her curious gold coins before getting in the driver’s seat next to Morales.
An hour or so later they stopped at a lonely gas station on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The young girl went inside to relieve herself, and the adults got out to get gas and stretch their legs. Morales found himself leaning against the car hood as Lyse unscrewed the gas cap.
“You can go back, you know. If you claim we threatened and kidnapped you I’m sure your father will make sure this is all forgotten.” She did not smile or look his way as she said it. Morales knew she was serious. He also knew she was right; the mayor was never above pulling strings for his son. His chest tightened at the tantalizing thought of returning to a normal life.
As he pondered, the wind blew a newspaper against his leg, where it clung stubbornly, flapping in panic. He reached down and pried it from its frantic embrace with his calf. As he moved to throw it away, he glanced at the headline, “Congress found in violation of Executive Emergency Powers Act, dozens of lawmakers arrested.” The subhead read, “President temporarily suspends legislative sessions.” He paused. His eyes came up and immediately locked onto the striking gray irises of Lysandra Fremont. She was looking at him directly, her eyebrows drawn together in appraisal, her short, ash blonde hair swirling about her head. Morales glanced back down. Slowly, he crumpled up the pitiable broadsheet and dropped it deliberately into the nearby trash can. The woman with the ash blonde hair smiled.
Snow began to fall. Big flakes littered the ground like slain soldiers, and overhead the icy battalions marched earthward with a grim inevitability. But those that fell on the speeding car, the only one headed west at that hour, quickly melted and ran off the windshield in hastily retreating rivulets. Outside it was growing darker and colder, but inside the little bubble of the car’s metal skin it was warm, and John Morales sighed contentedly as he sped away from the impotent storm and its frozen henchmen.
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