Robin Enger dumped a pile of outdated Skandstin tech into a metal chest, eyes on the door. For the people of this world, or even Kaka, it was a collection of garbage—last decade’s models, thrown into the waste bin without a second glance. But to Enger and his wife, these devices were their lifeline. He closed the chest with a snap and went over to his desk in the corner of the room, hastily pulling out cords from the wall and stuffing them in a second chest. The last of the computer—the collapsible monitors and storage tower, went in more delicately, but Enger winced anyway as the hard drive clattered against the metal walls of the container. His life’s work was on that hard drive. Or, at least, the parts of it he could fit on a pedabyte of space. He had destroyed the rest, the part that had been stored on the mainframe of the building, but he wasn’t sure he had done a good enough job in the short time he had to do a thorough wipe. They’d probably still find pieces. And that meant they might guess where he was going.
He closed the second chest and looked around the room. It was empty, now, of anything important besides a single energy pistol gracing the desk with the existential heaviness of its potential destruction. Glancing about at the office where he had done most of his work on Skandstin, he realized now just how bare it looked. Like a man without a soul behind his retinas.
Enger almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of a woman’s voice at the door. He jerked his gaze up towards the door and was relieved to find that it was his wife. Laila’s face was hard, her expression unwavering. Enger calmed himself with a shuddering breath and met her eyes. He nodded, and the sturdy confidence behind his wife’s face made him involuntarily straighten his back.
I don’t think I could have lasted this long without her by my side, he thought, smiling slightly. Laila smiled back, and for a singular moment, everything was right with the world. Then a resounding bang, bang, bang came from the front door of the apartment, and husband and wife both glanced back towards the sound.
Enger took another deep breath and scooped the energy pistol off the desk with the minute scrape of metal on wood. He held it close to his side, finger next to the trigger, pointed down at the metallic floor of the office.
“Take the boxes down to the garage if you can, Laila,” Enger said, surprised for a moment by the evenness of his own voice. He thought he would be terrified when this day finally came. Instead there was a wave of relief. Finally, no more hiding in the shadows, no more faking niceties with tyrants, no more compromise. He would look evil men in the face and pull the trigger, if he had to. For Laila. For himself. For their son.
Now, of all the times to have a child, he thought as Laila lifted the smaller chest with the old gear and made her way towards the back stairs. She wasn’t far enough long yet for it to show, but Enger could tell that she had been feeling dreadfully sick lately. She hadn’t mentioned it, of course, had even tried to hide it, but you didn’t last ten years of marriage without picking up a few tricks on reading people. He still had doubts about the wisdom of their decision—they would be on the run for months yet, if everything went according to plan. But he had still agreed, and even now the thought of their unborn son gave him determination to fight at all costs to leave Skandstin.
Enger made his way to the door. Another bang, bang, bang, this time more urgent, came before he reached it. He gave a half-hearted, “I’m coming,” as he reached the kitchen and stepped past a small cleaning robot that was busy scrubbing the floor. Finally, he stood in front of the door, and took one last deep breath.
He heard an electronic crackle. “Vanguard Security,” a muffled voice came from the other side. “Open the door, please.”
Enger held his pistol behind his back and pushed down on the button that made the door slide open. He let it stop halfway, which let him see the helmeted and armored visages of two security officers.
“Can I help you, friends?” Enger asked, trying to keep his voice neutral and nonthreatening. Through the crack he had allowed in the door, he heard the hiss of a helmet’s voice modulator.
“Mr. Enger, we request that you open the door,” a harsh male voice came from the foremost helmet.
Enger swallowed, his tongue feeling like a lump of lead in his mouth. “What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I can give you a warrant, Mr. Enger. Do you need proof that the Vanguard requests submission?”
Enger hesitated. A traitorous bead of sweat dripped down his forehead, despite his earlier confidence. He heard a noise behind him and glanced back just briefly to see his wife peering over from the kitchen. She mouthed the words “what should we do?”
Enger didn’t know. He was positive that if he opened the door now, the soldiers outside would discover everything, if they didn’t know already. And he would have nothing more between him and his family and the high-velocity pretech weaponry at the Vanguard’s disposal. The drop of salty perspiration flowed down the tip of his nose and fell to the floor. He made his decision.
Before he could second-guess himself, Enger took his energy pistol from behind his back, flipped the power setting the highest it would go, and aimed the barrel through the crack in the door. The soulless visors of the Vanguard soldiers showed him nothing of the expression on his enemies’ face as he pulled the trigger and an incredible blast of heat, light, and sound exploded from the pistol. Enger closed his eyes against the blinding fire and gritted his teeth at the ringing in his ears, but somehow managed to keep hold on the pistol even as he was thrown backward into the wall of the entrance room.
Enger opened his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. There was a singular moment of deafening silence before he heard a hiss, a crackle, and an electronic groan from outside the apartment door. Enger almost jumped to his feet and started stumbling into the kitchen. He didn’t where his wife was—she wasn’t in sight anymore.
“Here,” the response came from towards the back stairs. “Let’s go.”
Enger was sprinting past the kitchen and towards the back of the apartment.
“Drop your weapon and stand down, Mr. Enger,” a Vanguard soldier said from somewhere near the front door. He heard the door splinter and an energy weapon begin to power up. “Do not run, Mr. Enger. Think of your family.”
Enger was thinking of his family. And so he ran.