Sitting at the foot of a dead man’s bed, cradling two different rifles across his lap, Cory Roane held a bullet in each hand. One of the bullets was long, pointy, and heavy, but it otherwise looked exactly like what he expected a bullet from the gun he used to kill Everett Hayes to look like. That gun was branded as a Barrett M107 on the stock--it was an old gun, and when Cory fired it he lost all hearing, having pulled the trigger in too small of a space. His ears were filled with a stinging ring, and he wondered if it would ever end.
The other bullet was something else entirely. It had fins that seemed to be connected to an engine inside the bullet and were adjustable, a razor sharp tip, and considerable weight for being about a fifth of the size of the conventional bullet. Cory wished he knew more about firearms--he owned several but everyone did, and few knew how to actually use them. The gun that likely fired the special bullet was heavy and technologically baffling--it looked nothing like the “status symbol” guns available at any shopping mall, and it certainly wasn’t a poor man’s weapon. It had a silenced barrel, a purely digital scope that offered information about what it was looking at (“chair” or “bookshelf” would be displayed if they were in the reticle) and could be adjusted by voice, a trigger that only loosened when the gun was pointed at a human head, and a strange button that didn’t seem to do anything to the gun but made the bullet’s fins move.
Thinking back, Cory could vaguely recall a trial for a guided bullet, but the bullet never hit the market. If this was a guided bullet, it would explain how Cory thought there were multiple shooters earlier that day when there was really only one. The bullet’s pathing would have tried to avoid structures, if possible, making the odd angles of wounds on people’s heads as they toppled to the ground more understandable. Still, how could Hayes have killed people who were inside the steel shells of shipping containers in New Magdalena? How could he have seen people who were outside his immediate view, hiding?
Cory realized then that Everett Hayes had intended to kill him with the M107. The loud report of the gun as Cory was running away didn’t mean that Hayes had run out of bullets for the more modern weapon--it meant he had chosen to switch. Cory couldn’t quite understand why that would be true, but he guessed that Hayes got tired of using the easy-kill method. The man’s wallet had a permanent hunting license in it as well as a card signifying travel clearance across the wall. The latter of those suggested what Cory had already guessed--someone had sponsored Hayes as an executioner for anyone arriving at New Magdalena. That “someone” likely issued him the gun and expected him to use it all the time.
It worked like this, then: people who had been either pinpointed by a government official for misbehavior or were contacted by relatives in New Magdalena were then, under the premise of outreach crimes, deported to the same place. Fresh groups of people arrived in New Magdalena every three days. They would send emails to family members explaining their innocence or the events using the oddly pre-established internet and lodging in the makeshift town. Once they’d had time to settle in, Hayes would drive from his house to his hill and take shots at the people in town until they were all dead. Hayes would switch from the fancy weapon to the older, trickier gun for the last shot, a decision that would save Cory’s life and doom Hayes.
A calendar in Hayes dishevelled bedroom had every third day circled, starting with yesterday. “That must be when you hunt,” Cory said to the dead man. “If Denise is next, I’ll save her too.”
Cory yawned so deeply then that he started to gag on air. Just two days ago, he finished walking to New Magdalena from the desert south of the wall at Nogales. The night after, he ran for about five hours straight to get to Hayes’ shack of a home. He still hadn’t slept, and the sun hovered half-way up from the horizon, blasting light through the slats of the shack’s blinds.
“I guess I have time to rest,” Cory said. First, I need to deal with the dead man, he realized. Cory’s initial thought was to load Hayes into the back of the car, drive to the site, and leave him where Cory might have died had Hayes used the easy-kill rifle.
As soon as he got to the hill, which was littered with beer cans and shell cartridges, and looked through the fancy scope into New Magdalena, Cory noticed that the bodies were gone. Someone must have collected them. Now, if Cory left Hayes there, it would be obvious. Instead, Cory drove off the road halfway to Hayes’ house on the way back and tossed Hayes’ body down a sharp embankment where a river once ran. While doing this, Cory failed to notice vibrations or a red, blinking indicator light inside the scope.
Once that was dealt with, and the bloody sheets were changed out on the bed, Cory slept quite soundly.
On the day of reckoning, Cory arrived when Hayes did. He brought both guns with him, dressed in Hayes’ spare clothes, and laid down in the dirt facing the site. He propped up the M107 on its mount and looked through the scope--he still didn’t trust the other, fancy gun enough to use it. It sat next to him in a bag.
Even from a distance, Cory could see people in New Magdalena.
“Let’s see if you’re there,” he muttered into the dust and the scope.
There were about twenty people in total. Denise was there, in a white button up and slacks as if she had gotten home from work and had not even had a chance to change before they took her. Still, seeing her auburn hair, even through a scope, was nearly enough to make Cory cry.
“I’ll do what I can, Denise,” he said.
He was still stuck in how to handle it. Even if he called out to her, he could never fit the whole group into Hayes’ car to drive away. Cory considered whether they would truly be safe if they fled, since someone else was clearly visiting the circle of storage containers that served for housing.
It was then that he felt the buzzing. The ground next to him seemed to tremble slightly. He looked down and saw the bag carrying the fancy gun shaking. He opened the bag quickly.
It was the scope. A red light flickered through the eyepiece. It stopped vibrating and flickering when Cory touched it, lifting it to his own eye.
AUTO DISTANCE DETECTED//CALIBRATION TIMEOUT//CANCEL VOIDED
The display inside the scope flickered with this message before switching to:
DRONE SUPPRESSION IN EFFECT
“No!” Cory gasped, looking down at the site. Even without the scope, people were already falling. A number inside the scope started to tick down to 0--does the gun know how many people there are down there?
“Zoom in, zoom in, zoom in” he told the gun, watching the digital zoom magnify nearly to a point where the slightest movement would send him a great distance away from the target.
They were nearly invisible, but they were everywhere. The drones attacking New Magdalena were no bigger than wasps and looked like insects themselves. Cory’s blood ran cold as he watched Denise start running and then abruptly stop when one landed on her neck and injected something into her. She did not scream, she just collapsed. They were there all along, he realized. This is how they took us from our homes, before we came here. They didn’t use gas… they used these drones.
He was helpless.
Then, looking through the scope, he saw twitching in the victims. Breathing. Fluttering eyelids. They’re not dead!
Cory was standing up to run from his post to the village to retrieve Denise when it clicked that, if the gun knew how many people were there and was communicating with the drones, he would likely become a target again if he tried to interfere.
I’ll wait for the cleanup and follow them in the truck. If people lay hands on her, I’ll kill them all, he decided.
It was less than two hours before two tan skinned men showed up in two different trucks. They started moving the bodies into the bed of the trucks, stacking them on top of each other. Mercifully, Denise was stacked against the side, snug enough to not fall out but not being suffocated either. Cory decided to stop them before they got where they were going, once they’d gotten far enough to be out of reach of the drones.
To Cory’s surprise, the drive took a couple of hours. He was mostly following dust contrails as he was keeping distance between his truck and their trucks so as not to be seen.
He saw the building long before the brake lights ahead were visible. It was a massive, grey, flat rectangle with a long, umbilical-like metal corridor stretching from one of its points into the concrete and steel border wall to the north. As Cory followed the the two trucks ahead of him, he crested the edge of a valley, looking towards the structure. The trucks were far ahead at this point. They were already there, already pulling into it.
Many things started to unravel within him. The gate to the complex was fortified. He used the fancy gun to shoot the guards--it was remarkably smooth even though, this time, it offered no count for their loss as they dropped to the ground.
I don’t know how long she’ll last when she’s inside, he thought, tearing down the bluff before pausing at each gate like he saw the cars before do. Luckily for him, each gate was still open. Luckily for him, when he reached the rectangular, windowless building, the metal door the trucks had previously proceeded through opened once more, as if there was no problem.
Of course, when he entered, he shot the attendant and a couple of other workers in white coats before he even thought to ask where did you take her?
The trucks were parked in front of him and the bodies were gone. Two directions were available to him: Compound East for Processing and Compound West for Operations. He chose “Operations,” walking briskly away from the loading dock as his adrenaline finally started to abate enough for him to see the orange safety rails and the sterile white doors and the long, silent hallway ahead.
At the end of the hallway, Cory found himself in a bitterly cold, dark room with a single computer monitor in front of him. The display on the machine activated as he stepped closer.
“Hello!” the computer said in a cheery female voice, as if it was going to try to sell him something. “Who do you need to help today?”
“Denise Roane,” Cory replied in a voice that was not his own. He sounded hoarse and dangerous, like a snarling wolf.
“I’m sorry, but Denise Roane is slated for destruction today. Do you want me to postpone her processing?”
“Yes! Where can I find her?”
“She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband Cory Roane. They have received four transplants. Do you want to view their information?” the computer asked.
“I want to know where she is right now!”
Lights clicked on deep within the room, each one illuminating a different subject. Four lights shined, in total. Three men and a woman laid horizontally in canisters with attachments that looked like IV drip bags hanging from the ceiling, feeding into them. The woman was closest. She was naked and light skinned and had stitches where Cory assumed breasts had once been.
In spite of his urgency, Cory stammered, “Who is that?”
“The woman is stasis-patient 2792145. Her name is Naomi. She was harvested twelve years ago for office insubordination. Susan Cowery received her liver, Margaret Randolph received her ovaries, Denise Roane received her breast matter. She is rated as a 3.9 for organ stability. She has given blood 32 times. The closest man is statis-patient 3615920. His name is Mark. He was harvested five years ago for outreach crimes. Harry Trammer received his right eye, Cory Roane received a skin graft. He is rated as a 4.2 for organ stability. He has given blood 53 times…”
The message went on. It all came together. A few years after the wall was built, health improved dramatically for surgical procedures involving transplants--the era of waiting lists came to an end seemingly magically. 3D printing technology was credited with easing the burden on the donor list. Eventually the option to volunteer as a donor all but vanished. Blood drives stopped happening. The burden of gathering these resources shifted to a single agency, which Cory could now recall he had seen as an emblem on the gate on the way into the building.
“Are these people alive?”
“Few stasis-patients are retained post-mortem.”
“How many people are there total?”
“Between 73 facilities, there are 921,042 active stasis-patients with an organ stability variance of as low as 3.0. There are over 15 million inactive stasis-patients in 257 holding facilities accounting for the transplanting needs of the entire nation.”
Cory sat down and looked at his right hand, where he had fallen off a bike on an asphalt road a year before. The skin was scraped away. He would have let it heal on its own, but instead he chose to go to a doctor because he had a presentation to give at work the next day and didn’t want to show up with an unsightly wound or a bandage. The procedure was fast. It apparently took only two hours to put Mark’s skin where his had been. It had always felt odd and looked a little different. Cory wanted to peel the other man’s skin from his hand.
It wasn’t hard to retrieve Denise. Cory sailed through the facility, barely lifting the scope on the gun to feel the trigger unlock as he pointed towards workers’ heads. He knew now that the shot wouldn’t kill them--the bullet went in and never came out. It was made to keep people alive enough to be used here. It stopped them, though, and that was sufficient.
Denise was lying on a table in her same clothes as two doctors prepared to cut them from her while a bulletin in the white tiled room read “Immediate: kidney replacement for Senator Tancy,” detailing the extraction procedure.
Neither of the doctors said a word to Cory before they fell to the floor. None of the other people Cory had put down had managed to get up since he shot them. None of gates stayed closed after Cory placed Denise in Hayes’ truck and drove away. None of the towns south of the wall were willing to offer any lodging to Cory or Denise until Cory had driven several days and was nearly starved.
When Denise woke up, she softly asked, “What happened?”
Cory replied, “Nothing.” He refused to speak of the facility or the services it had given them.
The two people in the truck pushed south until few people had any idea what the country north of the wall was doing. There, Cory and Denise hid, sleeplessly hoping that they would not find themselves awake once more one day, just south of Nogales and south of the wall, posted and processed.
A week later, a question was raised about what should be done about Cory Roane at a Special Senate Committee meeting. The fact that he hadn’t mentioned the incident or attempted to publicize it was discussed. Eventually, the decision to terminate him and his wife was tabled. It was decided that what he saw at the transplant facility must have changed his perspective enough to not make him a threat. Someone would eventually suggest using him as a replacement for Everett Hayes since he already knew how to use the tools of the job as evidenced by drone footage, but the damage to the usability of New Magdalena as a preparatory facility for processing was too profound. It was eventually closed along with the Nogales gateway.
Luckily for taxpayers, there were others.
This was part three of a three piece story. The first part was two weeks ago, titled New Magdalena. The second part was last week, titled Minuteman. Thank you for reading!