Appears in: Sci-Fi & Scary
Release Date: May 10/2020
Summary: A tongueless punk rocker and an AWOL nurse revolt against a tyrannical government.
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i am no threat to you
The room had high walls – bare, blinding white plaster, with a row of windows at the very top. The sky above us was chalk.
I imagined the windows shattering when the bombs fell.
It had once been a lecture hall, but this room hadn’t seen a lecture in years. The desks, reduced to rubble by weeks of bombing, had been cleared out and replaced with cots. The cots had filled up a few days after the bombing campaign had moved on, and most of the people here were sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
I ran my stub of a tongue across the roof of my mouth, and bit back a pang of bitterness. What do you need with a tongue, anyway? I thought. What is there to say anymore?
Ever since my mutilation, I’ve carried around a notebook and pen – several pens, actually, in case one dies. At the top of each page, I have pre-emptively scrawled:
my name is johnny. i am mute. i am no threat to you.
Irate and looking to make myself useful, I wrote a quick note on the first blank page and limped up to one of the volunteer nurses.
anything i can do to help out?
She frowned. “Nothing right now. It’s been quiet today.” She glanced over her shoulder at the other nurse, busy tending to an infected wound, and whispered, “Do you have a lighter, by any chance?”
I used to be a big talker. Verbose. Nowadays, the closest I get to a conversation is sneaking a cigarette with an AWOL nurse outside of a bombed-out lecture hall-turned-hospital.
The nurse stared at the sky most of the sky, eyes trained on the smoke in the distance. Occasionally she would glance at me, divided over whether it was appropriate to make conversation when I couldn’t talk back. I wondered if I should initiate, but couldn’t think of anything to ask her. Her name – Nancy – was written in Sharpie on her left arm (in the absence of Hello My Name Is Stickers, we will maintain our identities!) and any small-talk felt irrelevant.
Finally, eyes still riveted on the horizon, she spoke. “So, what did you do before the revolution?”
I grimaced. I’ve always disliked people referring to the war as a “revolution,” because it was not. Revolutions are successful. This was the massacre following an attempted revolution.
Hiding my distaste, I opened my notebook again and wrote,
She cringed as she read it. I grinned wryly, looked down again and added:
it didn’t really work out in the long-term.
“A shame,” she replied. “We would use some entertainment around here.”
I had to laugh.
we weren’t really the type of band called upon to entertain people in hospitals.
She smiled now. “Heavy metal?”
“I was more of a metal fan,” she said. “Punkers can’t play.
I raised my eyebrows and passed her another note.
the government didn’t like punk either.
She looked alarmed, so I hurriedly added:
A smirk appeared at the corners of her mouth. “Then maybe they’re not all bad.”
I started to write a reply when I saw her eyes fix on something down the road. I followed her gaze and observed the black van rolling up.
I was never a revolutionary. I’d talked a big game, done my fair share of antagonizing the government through rock-and-roll. Dumb, in retrospect. My sole accomplishment was getting an example made of myself.
By the time the revolution kicked off, I was six months tongueless and firmly convinced that the government was not playing around. So, when the skirmishes started in my own municipality, I sliced out my government ID chip, burned my documents, and took off from my halfway house. It was a wise decision; they bombed the city a few days later.
The vehicle that now faced us was your standard secret police armoured van, the same kind that had pulled up to my house with some frequency back in the day. The government man who hopped out of the passenger side was an exact doppelganger of the goons who had worked me over – not exactly noteworthy, since their uniform consisted of a knife-proof latex bodysuit, body armour, and a black gas mask.
This agent, though, had a heatgun. Handy piece of technology; its existence has never been officially confirmed.
I leaned on my cane to appear fragile and prepared to pull out one of my i am no threat to you sheets. The agent ignored me and addressed Nancy. “Identify yourself and move aside.”
She was a good foot-and-a-half shorter than the agent, and had to crane her neck to look him straight in the goggled face. “This is a shelter for displaced citizens. These are non-combatants.”
“We have reason to believe you’re harbouring individuals who have tried to lead an insurgency against this government. We are here to take them in for questioning. Move aside.” Nancy eyed the heatgun and complied.
Keeping one eye on us, the agent pulled the heatgun from his holster and pointed it at the lock. For a moment, it looked like nothing was happening, but after thirty seconds the locking mechanism began to dissolve.
Nancy gritted her teeth. Under the muzzle of the gun, the lock continued to slowly melt. This went on for another thirty seconds, until she finally snapped. “I know you’re eager to show off your souped-up hairdryer, but the door was unlocked.”
The agent’s head swivelled, and the gun also shifted in our direction. He seemed to weigh his options before shutting off the heat ray and leaning over to try the knob. The door swung open.
“You two – stay here. If you move, you’ll regret it.” He gestured towards the driver. We nodded, and the agent proceeded into the hall, weapon ready. The door fell shut behind him.
Cognizant of the second agent watching us, Nancy angled herself in my direction and rolled her eyes. “Fascists.” She acted flippant but I could tell she was seething. “Just here to intimidate us.”
Through the wall, I vaguely heard the agent say something. Nancy stiffened. “He’s making an announcement to the room,” she murmured, more to herself than to me. She cocked an ear towards the door and lifted up index finger to quiet me – as if I could have said anything.
I only caught snatches of his announcement – my hearing’s pretty much shot from years of gigs –but Nancy was able to get most of it.
“He’s looking for wanted insurgents. Wants to scan everyone’s ID chips.”
My hand instinctively went to my scarred left arm.
“You’re not the only one who cut yours out,” she replied. “Half the people in there survived bombings – what do they think this is?”
The second guard yelled at us from the car. “Shut up, both of you!”
I barely had time to appreciate the irony of the order before there was a clamour from inside.
“Tampering with your government-issued identification chip is a federal offense, young man! If you can’t produce identification, we’ll be forced to detain you…” The sound of a blow. A child started to cry.
At this point the situation began to escalate.
Scowling, Nancy spun around and darted into the hall. The driver took several seconds to process what had just happened, then jumped out of the van to follow her.
What followed next was an old trick from my bar-fight days, with some alterations.
The driver pushed by me without much regard, but as he passed, I tapped his shoulder and moved to hand him one of my not-a-threat sheets. He paused, and with my other arm I sent the top of my cane towards the back of his skull.
With that, he was down. As intimidating as body armour and gas masks are, a blow to the head is a blow to the head.
A cry of pain from within the room. Dropping the cane, I knelt beside the unconscious driver and started to feel him up.
Like his companion, the driver carried a heatgun, but I didn’t know how to operate it, so I took the extra seconds to rifle around for a more user-friendly weapon. There was a handgun at his hip, and I quickly pulled it from its holster, flicked the safety off, and darted towards the door. The lock being deactivated (thank you, heatgun!), I was able to slip in without much disturbance.
The inside of the hall reminded me, oddly enough, of a mosh pit. The nearby crowd had scattered, abandoning their beds and forming a circle around the action. A woman was sitting on one of the outermost beds, nursing a bleeding nose and comforting her kid. Nancy was in the middle of the whole mess, facedown on the ground. The agent was on top of her, his knee resting on her back, his hands busy cuffing hers.
Had I been able to speak, I would have shouted something witty to get the agent’s attention. Instead, I just went for the headshot. I missed. The agent stood up with a start, and my second shot got him in the chest.
Nancy staggered to her feet and wasted no time delivering the incapacitating blow.
Like I said earlier, I’ve never been a revolutionary. After the two agents had been dealt with, my first instinct was to get the heck out of town and find somewhere remote to hole up.
As luck would have it, Nancy was a revolutionary, and had other plans for an armoured van stocked with military-grade weapons.
this seems like suicide to me, I wrote.
“Johnny,” she said. “You’re an ex-punk singer. While I understand you have extensive combat experience in the bars of northern Ontario, I suspect I have the better grasp of military tactics.”
And there was really nothing I could say to that.