In an alternate world, Elijah Anderson would have asked Connie Hooper out. But then, the lady headed the surveillance team which had been specially handpicked by the President to track down and eliminate people like him.
It was time to bolt.
Elijah looked at the unconscious figure of Connie one final time and exited his house.
1st May 2320
At 7AM sharp, Hoi buzzed. Elijah got up languorously and leaned back on his pillow, yawning. “Who’s the unlucky one this time”, he wondered?
Often referred to as the harbinger of ominous news, Hoi was a microchip which the President had deemed fit to implant in every house. The genius, in fact, had also come up its name. How thoughtful, his supporters had gushed. The entire world was going through an existential crisis and it was their country calling the shots. Surely the citizens can ignore such aberrations like intrusion of privacy. Also, everyone knew what happened to those souls who posed uncomfortable questions to the government.
Going back to sleep would be now impossible. “FILL”, Elijah ordered his droid assistant. WAGA immediately sprang into action. With the flick of a green button, she transmitted an infrared signal to the bathtub which had been pre-programmed to his preferred temperature. He groaned and started massaging his temple. It had been a fervent night of partying, and given a chance, he would have taken the day off. But Hoi played spoilsport.
By breaking the news of his father’s execution.
WAGA looked around. Her robotic eyes captured Elijah’s reactions and saved them in a local microchip hidden inside her. She then tapped an invisible key on her torso, and an encrypted copy was immediately transferred to a folder named ‘Foe EA’ on private Cloud.
“There should be ZERO dissenting voices in MY country. Got it?” The President had thundered at one of those confidential meetings. The fiercely patriotic Connie Hooper was given the charge of leading the prestigious OPERATION VACUUM, whose sole task was to suppress the dissenting voices, as he put it.
Connie’s ears were still reverberating with the President’s impassioned address to her team, when the screen of her mobile lit up. A folder titled FOES appeared. Another click, and Connie’s eyes were scanning a file named ‘Foe EA’. There were random screenshots of Elijah Anderson as he took in the news of his father’s execution. She peered at the pictures. Nothing amiss, she thought to herself. None of Elijah’s posts in social media gave away his political leanings. She was dealing with a clever man here.
The plush upholstery of the red sofa didn’t seem to impress Elijah one bit. He uncrossed his legs and leaned back. Connie Hooper’s IVR reply to his message had been brisk. Could he present himself in her office at 2PM?
The unmistakable sound of stilettos as they came into contact with the marble floor made Elijah sit up. Ah! Those airbrushed pictures in her social media profile had done absolutely no justice to her stunning beauty. Her wavy brown hair cascaded over her slender shoulders and she seemed to have carelessly thrown over a dress of leopard prints over her slim body. As their hands met in a firm handshake, Elijah’s heart skipped a beat.
“So, you are Elijah?”
“Yup, that I am!”
“What can I do for you? Oh, by the way, you can call me Connie.”
“What happened to him?”
“I thought Hoi’s message was loud and clear.”
“You are mistaken.”
“He was not the type to get mired in controversies.”
“That’s not the information we got from our source.”
“I am not at liberty to tell you that.”
“Oh.. really?! My dad has been murdered in cold blood and I don’t even have the right to know anything. Damn good.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Elijah? I am running out of time.”
“You will hear from me soon, Connie.”
“Take care, Elijah.”
Connie Hooper descended from the 100th floor of her office and got into her swanky car. “HOME”, she whispered. The automatic Chevy swerved into action. The President needed quick results. And she had promised him that Elijah would be ousted soon. Time was running out.
Almost as if on telepathy, her device buzzed. It was a notification from WAGA. Elijah Anderson was accessing LIBERTY, a site where citizens heaped praises on the President for his benevolence. Taking the help of bots, she had laid a trap for Elijah’s dad there. And now, It was the turn of the prodigal son.
Her countrymen were so privileged to have the great President amidst them. Dissents had broken out in neighbouring countries over depleting natural resources and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. So eradicating insurgents, or armchair traitors, as they were named perfunctorily, was the most logical thing to do. Connie’s eyes welled up with tears at the trust the President placed in her.
She had recommended placing a spy in Elijah Anderson’s house when his search trends indicated he was on the lookout for a droid assistant. Not only had the President given her the green signal, he had also come up with an apt name for it. WAGA. We Are Great Again. A stroke of brilliance, indeed.
Elijah read his dad’s final post on LIBERTY again. It looked seemingly innocuous to him. Was he missing something? Suddenly, an uneasy thought crossed his mind. Was he being stalked?
It was not uncommon for citizens to be under the government’s radar. He had always kept his emotions under check. And so far, he had succeeded. Unlike his friends. Many of them had jumped down to their death from skyrises, unable to keep up with the pretense. How long will his façade hold on, Elijah wasn’t sure. He leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. He knew he had to be persistent. To preserve his country’s democracy!
At that moment, WAGA came in with a steaming cup of coffee. Ah! She had sensed it. His supremely intelligent assistant. He took the glass and nodded in her direction. The droid turned back and wheeled herself out of Elijah’s room. She had just reached the door when she paused and the lights in her metallic body suddenly went off.
Elijah got up and took tiptoed towards WAGA. He pressed a small button above her nape. Two iron plates distanced themselves from each other. Elijah put his index finger inside. There it was! The microchip which contained the software. He gave it a gentle press and it protruded upwards. Elijah took it out with utmost caution. He was just about to turn around and insert it into his mobile when the semi-rugged end of another reddish chip caught his attention. He frowned. This wasn’t amongst the features provided to him by the seller. With ominous thoughts looming in his mind, he ejected the second microchip.
At that precise moment, an alarm notification went off in Connie Hooper’s device. She recognized it instantly. WAGA had been hacked. Or maybe, even neutralized.
The sensory lights in Elijah’s table lamp start blinking. Connie had parked her car near the electronic hoarding which flashed the achievements of the President regularly. Elijah sniggered at the irony. The eccentric would throw a fit if he found out that his nemesis had hidden a mini spycam hidden there to record the movements of his hunters. Talk of paying one back in one’s own coin, went a wise and ancient saying.
“What a privilege to meet you again, my sweetheart”! Elijah bowed in a dramatic fashion.
Connie looked around. WAGA had been reduced to a scrap.
Should she look around for the microchip? She had a copy of its contents in the private Cloud, though. And she had the exclusive access to Elijah’s folder. Better look for it later, she decided.
“The microchip is safe with me”, Elijah grinned at her. Was her mind so readable?
“Of course. My bad that I thought otherwise”, Connie retorted.
“Sweetheart. I must admit though, it’s a lovely feeling when a beautiful woman scans a man from head to toe.”
“Laugh by all means, Elijah Anderson. It’s your last day on this earth, I promise”.
“Oh really? Oh wait! You must be having a copy of the microchip’s contents stored away somewhere in your private space right? Who has the access to it? That fascist?”
BANG!! The sound of a gunshot reverberated through the room. Elijah winced as he saw Connie falling into an ignominious heap on his carpet. He went near, bent down and placed his index and middle finger near her nostrils. She was breathing. Good. It would be at least an hour before the effects of the tranquilizer wore off.
“I can’t believe it. I specifically chose you to lead this coveted operation. And now, you come back here, with that sullen face of yours!”
Connie stood before the President; eyes downcast. Her fair skin was flushed. For the first time in her life, she was lost for words. And to make it worse, her colleagues were enjoying her discomfiture.
“Just get out of here”, you useless piece of crap.
Connie Hooper gave a bow, tore off the President’s medal from her uniform, deposited it on the nearby table and left. She didn’t look back.
“So who will take the honour of….” the words of her hero trailed off as the door shut behind her.
It must be the effects of that damn tranquilizer. What an imbecile she had been! Elijah had provoked her by calling the President a fascist. And Connie Hooper! The intelligent commander of Operation Vacuum had effortlessly walked into his trap.
The dull ache in her temples refused to fade away. But she couldn’t afford to rest. The remnants of WAGA lay on her table. She had managed to collect them before leaving Elijah’s house. But….
What was it about the droid assistant that disturbed her?
On an impulse, she grabbed her device and activated the search engine. “WAGA”, she screamed.
Connie had to hold on to the chair to prevent herself from falling. WAGA had a copper and matte look. This one had a glaze. She had screwed up again!
Her device buzzed. Elijah had managed to hack into her private Cloud and delete all his details. And he had escaped right under her nose, cocking a snook at her.
Elijah Anderson heaved a sigh of relief. For now, he was safe. The battle had been won, but the war would continue. Travelling incognito in these times had been a foolhardy decision, but he had trusted his instincts. Being of a slightly smaller build helped.
He had been wanting to discard those glazed copper plates, but somehow procrastination had got in the way. Poor Connie Hooper. How shocked she would be! Elijah chuckled to himself.
It was time to undress. Elijah started peeling off the matte plates. Slowly. Deliberately. His friends had made fun of him. “You and WAGA are a match made in heaven.” “Look, you both have the same height.” If only they had seen him covering his body with WAGA’s metallic plates. As Connie lay on the floor, he had rolled himself out of his house. Nobody batted an eyelid. Robots going about their chores were normal.
Elijah put on a pair of jeans and a tee. He placed the matte plates inside a case. As he was about to shut it, he stroked what remained of WAGA affectionately. His mouth curved into a smile.
“What would I do without you, my love?”, he murmured.
He then shut the case, tossed it onto his bed and shouted, “WATER.” And then, he remembered. With a sheepish grin on his face, he went to the table and grabbed a bottle.
In an alternate world, he would have asked Connie Hooper out. But then, he belonged to the shrinking majority of the sane. Forever on the run. Hunted by the blind irrationals.
The future was daunting. But Elijah was ready for the challenges it posed. He owed it to his beloved country. And the glorious ideals it once stood for. It would be great again. In the truest sense of the word.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!