Plot Synopsis by Rose C.

2023 is a work of fiction, set in a future Portland. All characters are composites. Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

This is a parable. It is about a young woman named Michelle who decides to organize a resistance after her girlfriend Lauren is taken in the middle of the night by a sinister government organization known as the Sentinels. They both live in Portland.

Michelle is short with spiky hair, bleached blond at the tips. She has a quick temper and wishes people would take her more seriously. Her girlfriend is a few years older. Lauren is medium height, with shoulder-length light brown hair. She is the grown-up of the couple — has the car and the office job. The lease is in her name.

Lauren works for a nonprofit, and Michelle works for Starbucks. Lauren’s only crime was going to one Antifa meeting and also participating in a bunch of marches, including Pride. Michelle feels mega guilt because she hid when the secret police came to their apartment, so she decides to organize a resistance to free her girlfriend.

The one other hacker Michelle knows in Portland won’t help her, so she writes her own game mod (for a first-person shooter, very primal and raw) as a recruiting tool. She attracts a fair number of followers, many of them ex-military. The kind of people who play paintball on the weekends.They decide to plan a raid.

They are successful at breaking into one of the three detention facilities at a camp outside Spokane and freeing prisoners, but it turns out not to be the one where Lauren is held. Michelle is even more guilt-ridden because the experienced soldiers would not let her lead the raid. They told her she was too green and also too valuable. She watches the action play out from a hilltop, with two guards for protection.

People died because of her. She has a movement on her hands and the Sentinels are on to her…

2023

Part One: “Taken”

I had insomnia that night. Got out of bed, left Lauren sleeping. Raided the fridge. Pistachios, gummy bears, and queso. Hit the boards, played the new Star Wars game past the point of idiocy, and was counting the hours until my shift began at the coffee shop when I heard a knock at the door.

No doorbell. Just loud, insistent knocking.

I checked my phone. It was 3:53 AM, exactly. That’s not a good time for anybody to be knocking at your door. Not that fall. I’d heard the rumors. I’d heard the stories.

I was going to run back to the bedroom and warn Lauren. I swear I was. But I just froze.

Then she came down the stairs, an angel in a blue bathrobe, and answered the door. WTF? Why would she do that?

And I am so ashamed of myself, but this is what I did. I hid.

Not any place fancy. We didn’t have any secret bunker. No safe rooms or go boxes. It was a $1200 / month Victorian walk-up off Alberta.  I hid in the coat closet. Shut the door behind me so fast. Would they hear the sound? There I was, trying to breathe through Polartec and GoreTex, while they took my baby away.

I couldn’t see at all. Even the words were muffled.

They asked her name. They asked her for identification. I remember her saying:

“Why are you taking my picture?” “Why won’t you read me my rights?” “Am I under arrest?”

They never identified themselves. Never said what agency or branch of government they were with. They wouldn’t answer her questions directly. They never asked about me. Queer invisibility is worth something, I guess.

They just said, “Come with us, ma’am. And there won’t be any trouble.”

Ma’am! Lauren is 27. She went quietly, I guess. I didn’t hear much of a struggle.

The last words I heard her say were, “I want to speak with my lawyer.”

A muffled shout. Feet shuffled out, and then the front door slammed.

I was shaking. My heart was racing. I could barely breathe I was so scared. I was crying and I think I thew up a little bit in my mouth but I was trying my best not to make any sound. I had my phone with me the whole time but I was too scared to use it. I mean, what if they could track that? I stayed inside that closet until I could see gray daylight filtering through the crack at the top of the closet door.

The apartment was empty. Lauren’s unmade bed. Her work clothes set out neatly for the next day. Jeans, black velvet top, brown ankle boots. Her lunch in the refrigerator. Her car in the driveway.

I felt so guilty, and so sad.

I wished I’d had a gun. I would have used it. Wouldn’t have made any difference in the long run, but we could have made it to the getaway car, gone out like Thelma and Louise, in a blaze of glory.

Maybe, I wished I’d just fucking gotten myself together and run up those stairs to warn her in time. Maybe we both could have hid. Maybe it would have been better if they’d taken us both.

I didn’t want to go home. Fuck, maybe they were waiting for me too.

Shit.

I had to tell her family.

Her mom. Her brothers.

But the only way I knew to reach them was Facebook. And that was a no-no. Just trust me on that one!

Did she have an address book hidden away somewhere? We’d only been going out seven months. Would I know if she had a written record of her contacts, apart from her phone? I started to look, rifle through drawers and bookshelves like the Sentinels hadn’t even bothered to, but then I realized it was all just fucking pointless.

They were coming for all of us, or they weren’t.

They had the power. They had the data. They had the money and the numbers. This wasn’t one of my games. There was no Rebel Alliance. I was on my own. Dragging anybody else in was too dangerous.

So I did what I had to do. I locked up, grabbed my bike from outside, and went to work.

Made it there on-time, with seconds to spare. I don’t know what it says about me that no one much noticed that anything was wrong. It’s true I was insomniac and/or hung over and/or stoned a good 70% of the time. How much effort does it really take to press a button that says “Espresso”? I never tried to make the little hearts with cappucinno foam. Mine always came out wobbly, or demented, or both.

And it’s so funny, nobody at work even noticed anything was wrong.

There was no, “Michelle, are you ok?” “Michelle, you look kind of out of sorts?” “Michelle, are you feeling all right?”

We all just went along our way. Happy robots as usual.

I could only think of one person to call.

I had to think really hard about this. I didn’t want to get anyone else involved. I had an inkling of where this was going. And the outlook didn’t look good for anyone.

Plus Mike’s girlfriend was always really, really jealous! Even though I was a dyke, with really short and spiky hair, and like 10 years younger than both of them. She hated my guts.

#cisgirls #whatever #workonyourownissues Except they never do that. They just pop out kids and pass on their insecurities to the next generation. I watch that slow-motion train wreck every day of my life.

So I pulled up Signal on my phone when no one was looking.

> What are you doing after work today?

We made plans to meet at the Bye & Bye, at 5 PM. At least Happy Hour wasn’t illegal yet.

No cocktails for me that night. Kind of wanted a beer to steady my nerves, but then I was like, what if the Sentinels came at that very moment and I had to snake my bike through traffic in the wrong direction (no helmet) and onto side streets to lose them? No way was I taking that chance.

We sat down. Mike got some bowl with rice and avocadoes. I had french fries. Lauren’s last lunch (untouched) had been dolmeh, hummus, and carrot sticks. In honor of her, I was thinking of turning vegan.

“They took her,” I told him.

“What?”

“The Sentinels took Lauren, in the middle of the night.”

“No fucking way!!! You’re shitting me.” Mike was incredulous.

“I wish I was. I was hiding in the coat closet. I didn’t see it, but I heard the whole thing.”

Mike lowered his voice. “Was Lauren into anything, you know, radical?”

I laughed and shook my head. “She went to an Antifa meeting once. And she marched in, I guess, six or seven protests. Climate change. Women’s equality. And of course, Pride.”

I gave him a long stare.

Mike backed up pretty quickly. “I didn’t mean to imply anything. It’s more just like…”

“You wanted to know, was she cooking up bombs in the pantry?”

“Pantry?”

“We–she–has–had a really nice pantry. And honestly, it would be really more my style to build a bomb. And think about what room of the house would be best for bomb making.”

“Uh huh?” Mike asked quietly.

“But I haven’t done that either! Puh…leaze. I don’t even visit your warez server.”

Mike broke in. “Michelle, this is serious. Are you sure this is the best place to talk about it?”

We’d all had the paranoia discussion, so many times online. In a sense we believed in it, but none of it seemed remotely real. All the ways *they* could be listening: the microphones on cell phones, video cameras on monitors, smart TV’s. I never “X’d” out the cameras on my monitor with tape. But that was because all I had in the way of hardware was a beat-up Sony Vaio laptop. And my phone. And the Xbox I bought Lauren. (That was a bowling ball named “Homer,” if ever there was one.)

“Can you think of a better place?” I replied.

“Fair enough.”

Mike sipped his beer, and paused before speaking again.

“So you think they were Sentinels?”

“I do. I didn’t see them, but it’s how they operate.”

“Michelle, how much do you know about the Sentinels?” he asked me.

“I know they were created after the quote-unquote Terrorist Dirty Bomb Attack of 2021. Created the very next day. And they aren’t answerable to anyone except the Oval Office.”

“Rump and Pants. Our President and Vice President.”

“Yes, them.”

“Their raids are nearly always in the middle of the night, and they target U.S. citizens suspected of quote-unquote terrorist activity,” Mike intoned, then stopped himself. “Am I mansplaining?”

“No, I’m interested. Keep talking.”

Mike continued. “What is interesting is that the Sentinels have no ties whatsoever to the criminal justice system. They do not charge individuals with a crime. They simple seize them and hold them.”

“America’s home-grown Gestapo,” I chimed in.

“I’m afraid you’re right. Nobody knows who they are. Nobody even knows what their budget is, or how many of them there are,” he said.

“What I want to know is where they took her,” I told him. “So I can break her out.”

“Michelle…”

“Don’t try to talk me out of this.”

“Ok, then. How are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know yet. But there’s got to be a way.”

“Michelle, these facilities are heavily guarded…”

“No system is uncrackable. How many discussions have we had about that?”

Mike looked flummoxed. “Sure, in theory. But do you know what the consequences would be if you got caught?”

“Do you know what the consequences were for Lauren? Who had done absolutely nothing?” I whispered in a hoarse stage whisper, since I couldn’t shout in the crowded bar. “Sooner or later they’re coming for all of us.”

Mike was shaking his head.

And this was where I lost my cool, I admit it. “Look Mike, I know you’ve got a good job. I know you’ve got a lot to lose. I know you’re a straight white male. But you’re not immune.”

Mike got really defensive, then. “Don’t play that victim card on me! You could get a job as a programmer too. You have the chops. I’ve seen your code. Just go back to school.”

“This isn’t about that, Mike. You are acting like we’re still living in 2019. We’re not. This is the new world. Nobody is safe.”

Mike’s face just froze up. He wouldn’t talk to me. At the Bye & Bye you pay at the counter, but I saw him glancing around as if maybe a waiter could rescue him.

“I’m sorry, Michelle. I don’t know what you’re looking for. But I can’t help you.”

I stared at him, incredulous.

“Look, Michelle. You should be more careful. Just try not to attract attention. You’ll be fine.”

“But. What. About. Lauren?”

Mike was talking faster now. I could tell he was nervous. “And you know, really do think about a coding bootcamp. You’re a very bright young woman! I hear there are some where you don’t even have to pay anything up front. They just take 30% of your salary until the tuition is paid off.”

Now was my moment to get up and push my half-empty water glass and plate of cold fries away.

“Mike. Don’t give me advice.”

And then I made my daring getaway by bike. I really did weave in and out of traffic, and get honked at twice, but it was mostly because I couldn’t see through the tears. The only person I had trusted to help had just let me down.


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