© Simon Totten
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2039: Dead Air
In his ten years in the police force, Detective Superintendent Ryan Mack had seen it all. Headless corpses, crucified dogs, mutilated genitals, baby heroin addicts. He’d been held at gunpoint by armed robbers, talked suicides down from high buildings, risked his life in high speed car chases. But this? This was something else.
Without stopping to think of the consequences he put his foot down, accelerating his patrol car to 110 mph up the motorway, siren blaring, lights flashing, turning the air blue. To Ryan getting to the scene of a crime wasn’t about the thrill of the chase, it was about getting there as fast as he could. Policing was more than just a job to him. He took his role as a pillar of society very seriously. It was his life.
Expertly handling his new state-of-the-art electric crime fighting vehicle, he was able to access a motorway reservation through a broken barrier. It was nothing more than an ugly, narrow strip of concrete, but it was a life saver - an oasis of safety from the constant stream of vehicles screaming past him on both sides of the motorway.
‘What the fuck… does she think she’s doing?’ he asked, drawing the car to a standstill and parking it.
‘Crazy bitch..’ replied his colleague WPC Kate Stockdale, undoing the catch on her seatbelt to get out.
‘Requesting backup for high risk situation…serious threat to life,’ he said, into the surveillance camera (SCIV) on his lapel.
Mack flung open the door.
‘I’ll be right behind you,’ said Kate, smiling reassuringly. The same smile she’d given him not four hours ago, when she had handcuffed him to his bed and rode him like the King’s Grand National jockey.
Mack ran along the reservation. Sudden rushes of wind from kamikaze vehicles, either side of him made him wobble. One false move and he’d be history.
With his gaze fixed steadfastly on her and driven on by dedication and a blindly stubborn disregarded for his own safety, his only desire was to help her.
‘Proceeding on foot… in pursuit of a young female, mid-twenties, blonde, medium height, on motorway heading south from junction 61 to 62,’ he said, breathlessly into his SCIV.
Well accustomed to running five miles a day, he turned on the burners, gaining on her, gradually closing the gap between them. When Mack made his mind up to do something he went for it. With a first class degree from Bournemouth University, he was a black belt in Judo. The captain of Herrington Rugby Club’s first XI. He’d worked for VSO in Africa and still found time to jilt two brides at the altar. Nothing and nobody would stop him climbing the ladder of life.
‘Hey!’ he screamed, trying to catch her attention ‘Wait…wait up…’ but the woman kept walking. Maybe she couldn’t hear him in the roar of traffic?
‘Stop… police,’ he shouted again, drawing the brand new regulation stun gun from his holster. It was the latest digital ‘Paralex 179’ model, which could be used at any range. It had replaced tasers years ago and was now the envy of police forces everywhere, especially in dealing with the increased threat from extreme religious fundamentalists. It was an innovative and daring market leader at the forefront of the global fight against crime and had enhanced Britain’s reputation as one of the safest countries in the world.
‘Stop… or I’ll shoot…’ he shouted but as he waved his weapon in the air, he suddenly realized that if he fired she could fall into the highway. A body in the road would trigger a crash. A major pile-up. Carnage.
With his younger, wilder days behind him - he was fast approaching 32, the time people would be expecting him to enrol as a fully fledged member of the grown ups club, drastic measures loomed on the near horizon, such as marriage, a mortgage, kids and maybe, at a push and a great deal of coercion, comfy slippers and a dog. It certainly wouldn’t look good on his previously exemplary record, two weeks before he was up for promotion. There was too much at stake and he just wasn’t prepared to take that sort of risk.
He lengthened his stride until she was within touching distance and placed his hand on her shoulder. She turned around. Up close her face was gaunt, older than he’d imagined. Her skin rougher, her blonde hair greasier. There wasn’t even a hint of fear in her eyes, only a reckless abandon that was downright scary.
‘I can’t allow you to continue, I’m afraid, it’s extremely dangerous’ said Mack, blowing hard, bending over, hands on knees and struggling to get his words out. The woman said nothing, stayed cool and glared through him as if he didn’t exist.
‘Madam… for your own safety and that of other road users, I would strongly advise you to come with me.’ No response. ‘You know you’re breaking the law don’t you? No response. ‘Where d’ya think you’re going?’ No response.
Then, she spoke in a language, Mack had never heard before. He may not have understood what she was saying to him but he could tell from her tone and expression, that she was seriously disturbed.
‘Where are you from?’ asked Mack, suddenly feeling sorry for her.
‘Yes… I Swedish woman,’ she said.
‘Ah… finally. So you do speak English?’
The woman took one step back, then two.
‘Help!’ she screamed. ‘Help… Police.’
‘Jeezus… what’s the matter with you? I am the police and I’m here to help.
The woman narrowed her eyes, grimacing as if someone were torturing her. She put her hands over her ears as if she could hear unwelcome voices. For the first time she looked vulnerable and frightened.
‘Come… come with me? Here take my hand…’ he pleaded, reaching out to her. ‘Please…. I need you to cooperate. Don’t you understand? This is really dangerous. We could both die and for what?’
As if butter wouldn’t melt, the woman brushed her hair out of her astonishingly blue eyes and making no sound or movement whatsoever she stood calmly in front of him. Mack took hold of her cold hand and grasped it tightly. Pulling gently, he tried to lead her to safety but her strength dragged him towards her and she remained rooted to the ground, as strong as a tree.
‘Go fuck yourself…’ she said, suddenly. Letting go of his hand she dodged away from him. Mack reached out to her but only succeeded in grabbing the sleeve of her denim jacket. She wriggled free and it fell to the ground.
She sprinted into the road, threw her arms into the air, reached for the sky and smiled at a bus that was hurtling towards her.
‘Watch out!’ shouted Mack.
Blaring its horn its rubber tyres skidded on the tarmac. It swerved out of the way into the other lane, cutting up another driver who turned off the road smashing one by one into a row of orange traffic bollards. Then it hit a crash barrier, crumpling the front end of the bonnet in two.
The seconds that followed seemed to last for an eternity. A white car’s brakes screeched. Wheels burned the road. Juddering wildly, it veered to the right. There was a thud. A sickening smack of metal on bone. The flash of a silver bumper knocked her flying into the air. The back of her skull bounced on the road with a crack.
As she lay still, staring at the sky with her arms and legs splayed like a starfish, another car ran over her legs, snapping her shins so that bone the colour of stained teeth burst out of her flesh.
‘Fffuuck…’ shouted Mack, vomit rising in his throat. The world span silently. He checked if the driver of the white car had been injured but the two front seats were empty. It was driverless. ‘Christ on a bike …’ he said, staring open mouthed at the words ‘Google AVOS (Automated Vehicle Operating System) Reducing road traffic fatalities since 2025,’ proudly displayed on the side.
He raced to the woman’s aid, knelt down and felt the pulse on her neck. ‘Requesting ambulance rescue… paramedic team immediately…potential fatality… ,’ he stuttered.
Finally able to catch up with her colleague, Kate raised her hand into the air to stop the traffic as drivers were still impatiently trying to pass. The woman’s body began twitching like it wasn’t her own. Involuntary spasms jerked and fitted all over her body.
‘Lie flat…. stay still…Please… please… you’re badly hurt…moving will make it worse,’ pleaded Mack. ‘Just hang in there… the ambulance will be here soon…’
A vacant bemused expression came over her, as she reached up to touch her ear. When she withdrew her hand it was dripping with a dark red liquid. Expecting her to give up her fight for life any second, Mack stared in disbelief as she raised her arms, placed her palms flat on the road, heaved herself up and opened them instead. They were no longer the perfect blue of a cloudless summer sky, they were black. An empty pit of soulless nothingness.
Mack stepped back in disbelief. ‘She’s off her face… high as a kite… must be on something,’ he shouted.
‘Maybe…’ agreed Kate. ‘Or it could be a serious head injury… I’ve seen it before, sometimes they behave like that.’
Instinctively, Kate approached her to prevent her from damaging herself further. The woman swung her fist, smacking her mouth, almost knocking her teeth into the back of her throat. And before she had finished reeling and rocking from the force of it, she hit her again. This time, shattering the bridge of her nose. Kate fell backwards, blood splashing her face and arms as she hit the ground.
Mack couldn’t believe his eyes and ran over to her. By now, curious to see what was going on and realizing the seriousness of the situation, drivers and passengers had left their own vehicles to help. They ran to the woman. Four men and two women gave chase and managed to wrestle her to the ground and restrain her. They held her arms and legs as she kicked and screamed.
‘Just hold her down… keep her there for now,’ said Mack. ‘Thank fuck…’ he said, helping Kate to her feet. ‘At last…’ he sighed. relieved the woman was finally under control.
An air ambulance finally came flying over the traffic jam. Hovering over them at first, it landed neatly in the space next to them to attend the emergency. A paramedic, resplendent in a green and yellow PVC uniform put her bag on the ground and knelt down next to her.
The woman was calm. She no longer needed to be restrained and everyone stood back to allow the paramedic to attend to the injured woman.
‘Is she going to make it?’ asked Mack.
There was no reply. Mack looked down at her. The woman didn’t appear to be moving at all.
‘Jesus what’s wrong with her? Why have her eyes turned black?’ asked Mack.
The paramedic looked him in the eye, said nothing, then ran as if blinded, her eyes as black as the Swedish woman’s, onto the other side of the road.
A green lorry with ‘Sunshine holidays’ written on the side in yellow italics hit her, knocking her flying. She was flung sideways like a rag doll, twisting over and over before landing in the ditch by the road.
A black vapour floated from her lifeless body. For a while it hung in the air before circling over Mack.
The second it disappeared into his ears and up his nose, he felt a sudden searing pain, like his insides had been ripped out and a knife was twisting in his brain.
The sounds of screeching brakes, cars smashing into each other and screams of terrified panic, faded to silence. The sight of people running for their lives in different directions, their eyes as black as coals, blurred, dimmed and faded to black. He staggered to his feet, took his gun from his holster and ran, firing blindly into the darkness.