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Fight or flight

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Fight or flight
 Telegraph Media Group

 

Fight or flight

Yau Yuk Ki, Katy; The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


PreludeIn a world where perfection is everything, it was hard for someone imperfect to fit in.

 Before Sam woke up in a hospital (with the worst hangover in his life), his carefully crafted world was flawless. He had a promising career in the police, was just taking over his first national case, and a shiny new house. His past life of living in the sewer seemed to be light years away.

 But now, with nothing but a pair of borrowed boots and an old jacket, he must solve a murder he didn’t commit, while a bulldog is hot on his trail…


 

Everything was so bright and out of focus.

Shapes and colours flying around him at dazzling speed, making his head spin, making him feel nauseous.

Distorted sounds deafening him, he staggered under the sheer force of it, threatening to swallow him whole.

“…you ready?”

Snapping his head around, he could see a bright spot starting to take shape, he let out a strangled yelp when it reached out to him.

Suddenly he felt himself dropped into a dark room, with damp and dirty tiled walls pressing down on him from all directions.

Once again, he found himself bound in that blasted chair, looking at the faceless black-market surgeon who operated on his eyes.

With head fixed by all these straps, he could only look when his body failed to obey his commands, just like a deer caught in the headlights, allowing the man to tower over him, poking and pressing around his eyes.

The next event happened so abruptly that he had no idea which came first: the suffocating darkness, or the exploding pain where his eyes were meant to be.

Chief Inspector Sam Allen Clarkson woke to total darkness, gasping for air. For a terrifying moment, he was in absolute panic that he had finally gone blind. Slowly realisation dawned on him that he had clutched his face so tightly that he had blocked out the light himself. Lowering his hands, he immediately covered them again when even the dim light in the room sent fires along his optic nerves, mercilessly assaulting his throbbing brain.

Taking a deep breath, he tentatively removed his hands and blinked to adjust to the dim light in the room. While massaging his temple in a vain attempt to ease the awful headache, he started to take in his surroundings for the first time. When his senses had finally caught up with him and the terrible conclusion been dragged out from his foggy memory, he sat bolt upright in his bed out of sheer panic but immediately curled up when his stabbing headache protested against his sudden movement. When the dark spots and stars started to dissipate from his vision, he slowly, with great care, pushed himself up to survey the room one more time, which only confirmed his earlier conclusion.

Damn.

Millions of questions ran through his head but none found any answer from his slow brain; however one idea pushed through all the other crowding thoughts and questions, successfully demanded his full attention.

Can’t stay; must leave NOW, before anyone discovers I am a non-modified.

Shuffling off the bed slowly, Sam took a deep breath before he stood up while maintaining a deathly grip on the bedside rail just in case. Luckily, although he swayed a bit and felt like lasers were bouncing off the inside of his skull, his legs were stronger than he felt.

Wasting no time, he dug through the small bedside cabinet, hoping his personal belongings would be kept in there. There was no way he could escape in this dreadful hospital gown.

“Leaving so soon?”

Nearly jumping out his skin, Sam spun around to see who was talking, but in the rush, he lost his balance and tumbled onto the floor. Looking up, he realised his day was going to get much worse than he had expected.

“Isn’t it a bit cliché?”

Sam shot back, trying to pick himself up from the floor as dignifiedly as possible, but he knew it was impossible judging how he was already out of breath and by the slight tremor in the hand with which he was maintaining a firm grip on the bed rail as a leverage to pull himself up.

“Not as cliché as you, Clarkson.” Detective Inspector Martel smirked. Not only did he not make any attempt to help his superior officer up, but he also kept both of his hands behind his back, seemingly enjoying it.

“That should be Chief Inspector to you, Detective.” Lacking anything better to say, Sam resorted to a clearly useless move – pulling his rank. And evidently Martel was not taking any bait since his smirk only grew bigger.

“Well, sorry, my bad. Chief Inspector.” The ending of the words rolled off his tongue in a clear sense of mockery. “Would you mind telling me where you were last night? Sir.”

Last night?

Sam frowned. Although he still needed to lean heavily on the bedside rail to keep himself upright, he already felt his head was a lot clearer than before. But still, when he racked his brain to try to find an answer to that question, Sam noticed one horrifying fact – that he had absolutely no memory of last night.

“No idea? Maybe this can jog your memory, Sir.”

If Martel had noticed any signs that indicated the panic that was running wild in Sam’s head, he didn’t say anything. Instead he only held a display unit in front of Sam, the smiling girl’s face displayed on the virtual screen was one that he was familiar with; it was a young waitress from Terry’s, a small diner that he frequently visited.

“Recognise her?” Before Sam could say anything, Martel slightly shook his wrist and the photo changed to something that Sam was even more familiar with. “Maybe this photo is better.” He could hear Martel all but sneer these words out.

It was clearly an official autopsy photo, showing the face of a young woman.

But what made Sam feel faint was the woman in both photos was the same.

The only difference was now the smile had gone and there was a clean hole in the middle of the forehead.

“You knew her, didn’t you? Oh, I bet you did, Sir.”

Visibly trying to pull himself together and willing his vision to stay focused, Sam opened his mouth, only to realise how dry his mouth was. He asked dumbly after licking his lips, “What?”

“Gunshot wound to the head. Murder weapon found on scene.”Martel returned the device to his pocket before dropping the bombshell, “It’s your service weapon, Sir. I really thought you would have known better.”

When realisation dawned, Sam felt he had fallen into a frozen ocean and everything around them became unreal.

They suspect I killed her.

Feeling physically sick, Sam bent down and tried to take deep breaths: he could feel his vision tunnelling to a pin point and just when he felt he was going to pass out, he stamped down all his feelings and forced himself to focus.

Show no weakness to your enemy, it will get you killed.

Now it was Sam’s turn to smirk when that old quote, from the past that was so, so far away, suddenly surfaced.

Show no weakness.

He straightened up, feeling able to see clearly for the first time since he woke up feeling disoriented.

He leaned back on the rail for support, still reeling, but ready to fight.

“Am I under arrest?” He said calmly, though the voice was still cracklier that he expected.

“Not at this minute.”

“So you have no evidence.”

Sam knew this was probably not the truth given how confidant Martel was; they would at least have some really nice evidence, but lack the killing punch. But still, he needed to know what evidence they have now.

“You’re thinking we don’t have enough evidence to charge you with murder? You are wrong, Sir.”

Again with that irritating smirk on Martel’s face that Sam would love to wipe off with a punch. The Detective shook his head as if emphasising his point, “The only reason that you are still in this room instead of a holding cell is because you,” Martel leaned in and stabbed a finger to Sam’s chest, “are the poster boy for that serial killing case.”

Showing no emotion to Martel’s violation to his personal space, Sam replied calmly, despite a thin sheet of perspiration starting to condense on his forehead, “I didn’t kill her.”

“You know, it’s funny how they all say that.”

Stepping back, Martel took out the device again, this time showing Sam a video.

The screen was blurry and sometimes interrupted with noise. It showed a dark room and the view point was so low it was almost as if the camera was on the floor. Suddenly the camera span around and Sam’s attention was immediately drawn to the rectangular shape that obscured two-thirds of the screen; he could even make out the glowing lines that ran from the centre up to the side of the block before it curved down to the handle and disappeared underneath the gloved hand that was holding the gun. Even from this view point, it was unmistakably a standard issue sidearm for the Criminal Investigation Division in the Bureau.

After a blinding flash, the screen filled with noise then went completely black.

So shocked, Sam could only look at the black screen with wide eyes and his knuckles turned white as he was griping onto the bedside rail so tightly to support himself.

Pushed down the acid that was rolling in his stomach, threatening to break through, he shouted, “What was that?!”

Slightly taken aback by the sudden outburst, which was totally out of character from what Martel had known of Clarkson for almost five years, he said, “The recording of the crime. We got it from the victim’s Ocular chip’s temporary memory.”

Unconsciously Sam reached for his eyes when he felt a stabbing pain ran through the back of his eyes.

“I remember you got it too? It’s surprising what the kids down in the loony lab can come up with. Who would have guessed that creepy display chip could become the most unexpected source of answers?”

“Also,” Martel added, as if he didn’t say enough already, “with the staggering number of fibre exchanges between your and her clothes, it’s hard to believe that you didn’t at least hug her. Let alone we found you next to her, Sir.”

“I never laid a finger on her!”

Sam knew he was losing it, a tiny part of his brain told him to calm down, shouting would solve nothing, it only made him look more suspicious. But the major part that was on fire right now only wanted to jump up and punch that bastard in the face, and gave him a good kicking.

Unaware of all the violent undercurrents that ran through Sam’s head, Martel added the last straw to break the camel’s back. He held up the display again, taking a snapshot of the video, he enlarged the killer’s face and something in Sam’s head snapped.

It was his face on the screen.

Sam was not very sure what happened next.

He vaguely remembered someone, a Doctor, he presumed, busting in and yanking Martel out, battering him about with words like uncivilized, need rest, confused and drugged, without permission, bully his nurse, and bugger off.

The man then turned to Sam, he remembered lights, many questions, although he couldn’t remember what he had answered, and then a pat on the shoulder.

The next thing he remembered clearly was he already sitting on his bed, a blanket covering his feet and an empty paper cup in his hands.

Sam looked up and noticed he was alone again.

He shivered when the video played again in his head, then tried to organise his thoughts; from what he heard from Martel, this was quite a solid case, physical evidence, the video, and his face.

He did not remember doing such things.

But the problem was, he didn’t remember last night either. Even the day time was a bit blurry for him; he remembered meetings and paper work, but he was not sure if it was just his normal daily life seeping in to fill the void that was yesterday.

But first, he needed to get away before they discovered he was a non-modified, which was already a criminal offence in its own right, let alone the murder charges. With his memory a void and his face in the video… he started to wonder if he had really committed the crime.

Can’t go down that road now, he thought to himself.

And he started to formulate a way to escape.

***

“Then what happened last night?” Danny asked.

“I don’t know, OK?” Sam exclaimed, and then he remembered who he was talking to and slumped back in the small area that separated the driver’s seat and the back of the car.

It was almost too easy getting out, Sam thought: fake a panic attack; steal some clothes from a sleeping patient; sneak around till he reached the ground floor. It only left transport, since he surly couldn’t get far with no money and a pair of plastic slippers on his feet.

So that was why he was seated on the floor, squeezed between two compartments, next to an oxygen cylinder, in an ambulance.

“Sorry for getting you into this, Danny.”

“It is a bit late for that, don’t you think? I was originally only planning to get my bag before heading home, and now I’m playing taxi to a fugitive. I should never have agreed to that double shift. ”

Sam could see a hint of annoyance in Danny’s face in the rear mirror. Danny caught him looking at him and his eyes soften, “Don’t worry Sam. If it makes you feel better, I don’t believe you are a killer.”

Good old Danny, he sure does view the world in a painfully naïve way.

Sam was surprised that Danny had taken the whole situation rather well, given that they were not even close friends but only shared the same running route and few drinks afterward, although he did had to threaten him with a pair of scissors before he agreed to drive, to be honest.

“I understand why you have to run, Sam.”

Sam snapped up from his spot.

“You are a nom,” It was not a question, it was a statement.

“Dan and I were the ones that pick you up from the scene; I changed your DNA scan.”

He knew the medical emergency service and correctional services were the only government services that could legally use DNA scans for identification purpose, and he did wonder how come his status hadn’t been picked up last night.

“Thank you.” He said it from the bottom of his heart. If wasn’t for Danny, then he would definitely be in jail already, for fraud alone it would mean lifelong imprisonment, not to mention the murder.

He wanted to ask why he did it, but he didn’t dare to. Instead he asked, “So you saw the scene?”

“Yeah, but just the outside.”

“I thought I was next to the body?” Confused, he wondered if he remembered what Martel said correctly.

“What? No, you were in the corridor. The woman was in the room.”

Frowning, Sam thought, did I mention the victim was a woman?

***

“So, what exactly, are we doing here?”

“I got to meet someone to get something for me. Wait here, don’t go away.” With that, Sam rushed away and slipped into another dark alley just like the one they were standing in for over thirty minutes.

Danny rubbed his arms; they were in the rim sector now, where the non-modified lived.

Gone were the clean, dry streets, tall glass and steel structures; here were wet pavements littered with potholes and portals, buildings grim and covered with broken posters and graffiti. Hot air billowed out from buildings, making the street foggy and mixed with the thick smell that Danny strongly suspected was cheap fuel for cars. The whole experience was highly unpleasant to say the least.

Suddenly Sam was next to him, wiping the back of his hand off on a dirty rag before he chucked it away.

“Come on, let’s go.”

Danny didn’t move; the change in Sam had been subtle when they arrived in this sector, but now he almost didn’t recognise him. From the polite and mild mannered middle-aged police officer, he now looked exactly like the sort of criminal he was after.

He point to a spot on Sam’s face, said, “Is that blood?”

Sam wiped it off casually.

“Don’t mind that.”

Sam shifted nervously in pair of spare boots they had dug out from the ambulance.

Danny sighed, “So now what?”

“We wait. Do you have any money on you? I’m starving.”

***

Martel looked at the map projected on the far wall, trying to determine where that cunning old fox was hiding. He had been missing for over twelve hours now and they still had no clue. He had never liked Clarkson, too polite, too perfect, too fake. You could never guess what the guy was calculating under that mask and it just made him want to retch.

“Detective Martel?”

He sighed dramatically; making sure the voice at other end could hear him perfectly. “Yes? Wilson?”

“We noticed something unusual with the video. We are still awaiting the more detailed analysis on the facial area of the killer, but the preliminary findings detected that the video showed some signs of tampering and not matching certain…”

Losing patience listening to the forensic scientist’s monologue, he said, “Video. Faked, or what?”

“We believe it may not show the actual crime. It is possible the video was planted into the chips; it is in fact surprisingly easy to do if you know how. You must have heard of the security breach in the Ocular chips in the past? Where a hacker can insert a live feed from a nearby chip via intercepting the signal?”

With no reply, Wilson went on nonetheless, since he was pretty used to it anyway, “So we believe the killer did it by reversing the process, or reversing the polarity, you could say.”

Martel waited for Wilson to stop snickering from some unknown reference before he continued, “Video. Killer, Clarkson?”

“We are still waiting for…”

“Call me back when you have something solid then, will you? Stop wasting my time.”

When Constable Mark swung open his office door, Martel snapped at him before he could say a word.

“What now?”

“Sir, we had a positive sighting at coordinate seven-three in sector thirty-five, it was ten minutes ago!”

Mark could feel his skin crawling when Martel’s famous predatory smirk spread on his face.

“Detective, I must insist…”  Martel almost forgot Wilson was still on the line.

“Wilson, go back to playing with your toys.” He added before he cut off the line, “I have a fox to catch.”

***

A splashing noise echoed through the long and dark corridor as a lone figure ran deeper and deeper into an abandoned tunnel. After almost slipping, Sam slowed and leaned a hand on the wall for support and gulped for air. He knew he should be safe since the enclosed narrow space and all the puddles and moisture on the wall would wreak havoc on the scout drone’s navigation system, let alone the fact that this was underground. Without backup, police wouldn’t rush in, even for someone as bold as Martel. These tunnels were for the rats and criminals only, and they were less than forgiving for unwelcome guests. Sam himself didn’t worry about it though. After all, this was a place he had called home for as long as he can remember before he bought that new identity from old ‘spare’ Jones.

Patting his breast pocket, he was relieved that the data device was still there. He had gone to an old informant for this – the surveillance recording from the scene. It was a well-kept secret among the non-modified that they had their own system, since the officials, namely the modified, couldn’t care less. Just like the serial killing case he was on, they only took notice when the body count had reached thirty, and that was just the official numbers. At least for these people, they looked like they were at peace, unlike Beth who had a hole on her head.

Or Danny. He really hoped he was okay. He had to leave him on the road after the crash, since he couldn’t move. The police shouldn’t be too harsh on him, since he was a “kidnap victim”. It was just unlucky that they were spotted when they had gone for the video pickup, and suddenly they were swarmed by police.

Finding a relatively dry spot, Sam huddled in a corner before going through the video Reek had given him. The quality was bad and grainy but he was just able to make out people’s faces, luckily it also had some primitive heat sensing options. The viewpoint was typical, at an angle above the main hall of the building.

He soon hit on something when he fast-forwarded through the video: a hooded man dressed exactly like him pushing a hover trolley into the hall and up the stairs, the heat sensor showing there was a body in the box on the trolley.

No, it couldn’t be…

Sam forced himself to take a deep breath to calm down; the mixture of mouldy and decaying smells filled his sinuses and made his eyes water, but oddly, the familiar smell calmed him down.

When he tried to rewind the video to see if he could make out of the face under the hood, he noticed an even more shocking thing.

The woman who just walked into the hall was the victim, Beth, he remembered her name now.  Calm and collected, she walked up the stairs with no hesitation.

She came voluntarily?

Further fast-forwarding the video had showed him another turn of events. Two hours after Beth entered the building, Danny left with a small messenger bag.

Sam rewound the video but couldn’t find when it was Danny had entered the building, except later in the morning when he was rushing in with full paramedic gear and his partner.

He could guess the rest, but still smiled grimly when he saw himself on a gurney, being pushed out of the hall. And soon the hall was filled with police.

He rewound the video to where the hooded man pushed the trolley in and carefully studied it frame by frame. And confirmed the answer that he already knew.

***

“Danny.”

“Geez, you gave me a fright! What are you doing here, Sam?”Danny said as he shuffled up the bed, dragging his cast-wrapped right arm with him. Still eyes beady from sleep, Sam almost doubted the man sitting in front of him was the one that set him up.

“Did you kill Beth?”

Danny blinked.

“Yes. I did.”

In the light of the over headlamp, Sam could see Danny smiling sadly at him.

As if he was not confessing a crime, but merely telling a sad truth to a stubborn kid.

“Just like that? You admit it just like that?”

It was Sam that was dumbfounded; he had never expected Danny to confess it like that.

“What else do you expect me to say?” Danny said and turning his left palm upward, “I did what I did, and I need to take responsibility. For the record, I did both Beth’s case and the serial case. If you need to, I can give you a name list of the victims.”

Shaking off his shock, Sam exclaimed, louder then he thought, “It is human life you are talking about!”

“Yes, I know. Admitting what I did and respecting the dead is the least I can do for them.” Danny said and stared at Sam, whose tone was so calm that it sent shivers down Sam’s spine.

“How about by not killing them?” Lacking a suitable response, Sam resorted to sarcasm.  “Why, Danny? Why them? Why Beth?”

“I am sure you noticed Beth’s problem. But you did nothing.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Sam said, but he couldn’t bring himself to return Danny’s stare.  It felt like a nail, burrowing into him with each word.

“Beth had Huntington’s disease; it would affect her brain progressively, removing her control of muscle coordination and, in the end, cognitive decline and behaviour problems. It’s a genetic disorder and there’s no cure.”

When society perfected the gene modification technique on embryos, which lead to the birth of the modified, research on genetic disorders had been reduced to almost none.

If they already knew how to remove it, why need a cure?

Sam did notice the signs, the cuts and bruises on the hands and arms, and later on her head, how she had dropped things more and more often, how she no longer wore heels or boots, and how she forced herself to smile.

And yes, he had done nothing. Not even showed a single hint of compassion, or a small “Are you okay?”

He was a bastard.

“She came to me, and I agreed to help her.”

“Just like the other people? Who do you think you are, Doctor Death? Euthanasia is illegal!”

“Why does everyone have to stand on such moral high ground? Do you people ever look down from that tower of yours to see the people living down there on the ground? What’s wrong with being able to choose when to leave with dignity intact?”

“You are insane.”

“What is insane is this world. Some say this is natural selection in progress, where the weaker non-modified are suppressed by the stronger, better modified. But I can surely tell you this is the most un-natural selection that can ever be. You being…” Danny stopped and cast his glance at Sam’s chest. And immediately Sam knew Danny knew he was wearing a wire.

Danny said instead, “I know you would understand what I mean.”

Sam did, of course, understand.

The unfairness, discrimination toward the non-modified was unbearable and this was one of the reasons that had driven him to seek another life, even by illegal means.

What he couldn’t understand, and couldn’t agree on, was the method Danny used in response to this twisted society.

“This is still wrong.”

“I am not asking you to agree with me. I am doing what I believed to be correct and helping them in my way. So what’s your way?” Danny said when he eased off his bed to stand next to the window, looking out.

Sam, snapped out of his trance by his action, stepped closer to him and spat out, “If you were so noble, why set me up?”

“I know you, Sam. Even though you always said you were just making a living and don’t want any trouble, I know you wouldn’t rest until you found the answer you are after. Which is good, it really is. It means you are a good copper, but it just makes my work a bit more difficult, so I had to resort to undesired action. Sorry.”

 He gave Sam another sad smile and Sam wanted nothing more than to punch him.

 Who did he think he was, a character in a medical tragedy?

 In a rage, Sam stepped forward and grabbed Danny’s collar.

 “Didn’t you ever think about hope? Life is harsh, it’s terrible, but I cannot accept going without a fight!”

 With that he lowered Danny, realising for the first time what he had done, he hadn’t lost his temper like that for a long time now, not since he started his new life as Clarkson.

 “Turn yourself in, Danny, Please.”

 Danny was wide-eyed in stupor, with his good hand on his chest. Slowly he blinked, and whispered,

 “No, sorry, Sam.”

 Before Sam could react, Danny already pulled a small cylinder from his sling and sprayed its content into Sam’s face.

Feeling like his face was on fire, Sam knelt to the ground howling. By the time he recovered enough to open his eyes, Danny was nowhere to be seen.

***

At the end, it all settled down rather nicely; Sam was reinstated to his original position as Chief Inspector in the division after his name was cleared by the recording; the serial killing case had also wrapped up hastily as a random killing by a delusional and mentally unstable man who was now presumably dead after resisting arrest, and they even came up with a body. And Martel still hated his guts, so all things considered, things had pretty much returned to normal.

 Except they hadn’t.

 Danny’s words still danced in his head, “You noticed. But you did nothing.” 

What could he have done? Or more precisely, what could he do now?

 He could no longer turn a blind eye to what was happening around him, unlike before when he only wanted to keep his head down. Sometimes he envied the sort of policemen like Martel, who would laugh at Danny’s face for his ‘mumbo-jumbo nonsense’ and get right on with the job at hand and arrest the man already, with a few cracked ribs as a side dish.

Sadly he couldn’t take the easy route now.

***

“Mr. Clarkson? Mr. D’Douza is ready for you now.”

Sam turned from the poster he was reading to flash a polite smile at the elderly helper, mutter a brief word of thanks to her before stepping into the chairman’s office of the Association of Non-Modified and Modified Citizens.

“What a surprise, Mr. Clarkson. Congratulations on making the Chief Superintendant.”

“Thank you.”

Sam shook  D’Douza’s outstretched hand and couldn’t help but smile. After all these years being an anonymous donor and shadowy helper to the association ever since the “Danny incident”, he had finally reached the required position necessary for the next step in his plan.

He looked at the poster on the wall, which was the same as the one he had been looking at earlier.

It read, “We may not have been born equal. But we can live as equals.”

“So, how can I be of assistance?”

“Tell me, Mr. D’Douza, what do you think about my running for the next election for the Council of the Public?”

PROFILE PICTURE

BIO

Katy is year two Radiography student from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She enjoys reading fantasy, crime, and science fiction novels; her favourite author is Terry Pratchett; and she is also a Doctor Who and Disc World fan.

REFLECTION

This short story was both an assignment for the CAR subject, Science Fiction as a Reflection on Humanity, and a chance to think about the ethics of euthanasia. I hope the reader can reflect on how a twisted society can push its people to the edges.

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