Invisible – The First Three Chapters

In the year 2034, all crime is punishable by one sentence: Invisibility, a cruel punishment where criminals can still be seen and heard, but are shunned by society and cease to exist until their sentence is complete.

Framed for a murder he did not commit, seventeen year old Nathan Yorke is about to lose his identity. Shunned by society and left with nothing, Nathan’s only hope is to make contact with a group hunting the criminal mastermind known only as ‘The Manager.’ But, in a society that has little regard for human life, Nathan’s first priority is survival.

 

INVISIBLE

BY

P M CUMMINGS

 

PROLOGUE

High Court of Justice

Friday 1 December 2034

I’m scared. No, scared isn’t the word. I’m absolutely terrified. What seventeen-year-old boy wouldn’t be in this situation? The courtroom is full, a sea of faces staring back like they are disgusted to be in the same room as me. I don’t know any of them or vice versa, but their hatred is obvious and is etched across their angry faces. To the left of my cage, the judge glares at me with venomous eyes, like he’s ready to pass his judgement. He looks like he’s heard enough to have already decided my fate. Through the bars I see my defence, the only person willing to risk their reputation to defend my hopeless situation, and even she thinks I’m guilty as hell. I sincerely hope she has a trick up her sleeve, an ace to play to get me out of this mess I’ve found myself in.

But I know whatever she hits back with won’t even be half as effective as the attack from the prosecution lawyers, who have succeeded in painting a picture that is the very opposite of the person I am. I knew I was doomed before I entered the courtroom, before I even arrived here. Maybe from the moment the police charged through the house twenty-four hours ago to arrest me. By the end of the day I will cease to exist, I know that now. But if there is even the slightest chance in my mind that I will be found not guilty, it evaporates the moment they call their final witness.

My legs buckle as I hear her name. Emily Thornton, my girlfriend. My heart races as the adrenaline pumps through me. Only yesterday I was desperate to see her, just to be with her, hear her voice and feel her touch. But the moment she enters the courtroom, she becomes the last person I want to see. Her battered and bruised body tells its own story. She is about to betray me.

 CHAPTER ONE

 Lime Oak High School

Twenty-four hours earlier

I hate school assemblies. There’s really no point to them other than to hone the skill of feigning interest, which will no doubt be of use later in life. Usually, we only have house assemblies, but once a year on this day, the whole school is involved. That’s because today is a special day. Sorry, the Special Day. It marks the fifth year since Britain’s second civil war ended, and as standard on this day we are ‘treated’ to a film that shows the history of our country over the last twenty years, pre, during and post war. It’s a sleep-inducing propaganda film, created by the government to remind us of the mistakes of the past, and all schools are required to show this film today. I’m sure they only play it at the end of the day so they can discipline anyone who starts to drop off, but despite it being a visual sedative, I’m grateful for the film as it gives me the chance to drift off and think about other things, like the weekend. I know we’ve still got another day to go, but I need something to take my mind off the pile of dross that’s booming out across the hall. On the downside, I’ve had to stare aimlessly at the screen for the last twenty minutes, pretending I’m interested while some government sycophant drones on endlessly about the war that decimated Britain and claimed over eight million lives. I was six when it started and remember only too well what it was like; bombs exploding, missiles flying overhead and the constant fear of whether your family were going to live or die, so I don’t really need reminding of it. I want to think of more interesting things, like Emily my girlfriend and our upcoming weekend together. Her father will be away, but seems to have agreed to allow me to stay over. Don’t ask how that happened, I just know it did and that’s good enough for me.

Emily’s seated on the row in front and a little to the left, sitting upright which conforms to government standard and wearing the regulatory educational image. Grey and white uniform – which is standard for every school across the country – with the only identification being the school crest and logo emblazoned on every bit of clothing. Even the shoes worn have to be of the same make and design. Boys must have their hair cut to a short length, while girls must extend no lower than the shoulders and kept in a neatly contained ponytail. It’s almost like we’re clones of each other. I take a quick look around to make sure no teachers are watching me, before I blow gently in her direction. A few wisps of loose hair move and she turns her head slightly towards me, yet not taking her eyes from the screen. I blow again and I see her cheek rise as she smiles, before she readjusts herself in her seat and nods towards the screen, which is an indication for me to do the same before I’m caught and punished.

Because I’ve not been paying attention, I’ve missed most of the spiel about our illustrious government. That is if you can call a bunch of power hungry, control obsessed dictators a government. Well it’s not like I haven’t heard it all before and we are now at the part where they proclaim themselves as guardians of this ‘great country,’ and we should be thankful they are here to protect and look over us. We are then reminded of our duties as citizens; to uphold the law and not interact with the ‘forbidden ones who blight our society,’ in other words, criminals and anarchists who live in the areas outside the cities, creating disorder wherever possible. I smile at the words as I look around the hall; by government rules, everyone here is breaking the law by interacting with me. The only difference is that they don’t know it and I’ve not been caught. Not yet, anyway. I don’t like being a criminal and didn’t ask to be one. It’s not like I approached the careers officer and said ‘hey I want to work for a criminal gang. Which one do you recommend?’ I had no choice.

Finally, the film ends with the new national anthem; the old one could no longer be used as the Royal Family had been wiped out near the end of the war, which effectively turned Britain into a republic. We all dutifully stand, arms by our sides like we’re standing to attention, as the song plays out. When it has finished, the windows revert from black to clear and we shield our eyes from the bright sunshine outside. The head teacher then gives his usual speech before we are allowed to leave. As we file out of the hall – in an orderly fashion of course – I feel a sudden tug on my arm and I’m pulled to the side away from the other students. Staring wildly at me are the eyes of the head of history Mr Marton, who is glaring viciously like he wants to kill me on the spot.

“You’d better start showing a little more appreciation, Yorke,” he hisses in a deadly serious tone, with a hint of malice mixed with his words. “Or you’ll go the same way as your father.”

“What do you know about my father?” I snap.

Marton smiles smugly. “Enough to know that you’re heading in the same direction. He never had any respect either and look what’s happened to him.”

“I don’t know,” I retort. “What has happened to him?”

He doesn’t answer the question but instead just stares at me, like he’s trying to burn his way through my eyes and into my brain to read the thoughts that are racing through it. He looks like he’s enjoying the conflicting emotions of confusion and anger that are visible on my face.

“I’m sure you’ll find out one day,” he sneers. “Now get lost before I have you expelled.”

He releases my arm and he shoves me away. I want to say more but daren’t; disobeying a teacher’s instruction is a certain way to get kicked out of school and end up in a strict government educational facility, where corporal punishment is a way of life, and I don’t need any more trouble than I am already in. Trying to control my anger, I walk quickly from the hall where Emily is waiting for me. She instantly sees my annoyance and struggles to keep up as I charge past her, knocking a few younger kids out of the way.

 “Are you okay?” She asks as she manages to catch up with me. I continue to walk angrily but Emily grabs my arm and forces me to slow down. “Nathan?”

 “Yeah,” I lie, desperate to admit how much I really want to go back and wipe that smug, arrogant look off Marton’s face.

“What happened? What did Marton want?”

I can feel tears forming in my eyes. I don’t usually get emotional like this, but when people start making comments about my father or my situation, I can’t help it. I turn away from her and stare through the window of a darkened, unoccupied classroom, catching a glimpse of my reflection. I stand and gaze at the image looking back at me as I run my hands through my own short hair, then clasp my fingers together behind my head, forcing the muscles in my biceps to expand.

 “I just don’t understand why Marton hates me so much,” I reply, letting my arms fall, before thumping a clenched fist against the wall as I fight to control my rage. “It must be something to do with my dad. He’s always making comments about him. I just wish…” I don’t know what I wish, but Emily finishes the sentence for me.

“Wish you knew what happened to him?”

I nod. Dad’s been missing for three months. He went out one night and didn’t come home. No one has seen or heard from him since, and to be honest, nobody but me cares anymore. The police said they’d contact me if they had any information, but I’ve heard nothing and when I call them, they just fob me off. It’s almost like a missing person is the least of their worries. Because he is my only parent and I’m under eighteen, I had to be assigned a legal guardian, which could have meant living with another family until I turn eighteen in August. Fortunately my Aunt Carolyn took me in and I’ve been living with her ever since. But to make things worse, before he disappeared, dad ran up a huge gambling debt and since he’s not around, the gang he owed it to have kindly passed it on to me. I had no way to pay it off so they gave me a choice; find the money or work for them, hence my criminal activities. Needless to say, Aunt Carolyn knows nothing about this, and it’s been a hell of a struggle to keep it from her. I hate deceiving her, since she has done so much for me, but it’s either that or find forty grand from somewhere to pay them off, and I’m pretty certain she doesn’t have that kind of money.

Emily takes my hand and holds it tight, her touch bringing me away from my thoughts. “We’ll find him,” she says gently in an attempt to reassure me. “You know, I could always take a look inside the Justice Department’s database and see if I can find anything. Only if you want me to though.”

I don’t doubt she could. Emily’s a genius when it comes to IT, and I firmly believe she could break into any system on the planet if she wanted to.

“And how are you going to do that without your father knowing?” I ask. “He seems to know everything, seeing as he’s the Deputy Justice Minster.” I don’t mean to, but I spit the last three words out. It seems like everyone has got a perfect family, where as I have a missing father and a deceased mother. Then again, Emily’s family life isn’t perfect; her mother walked out on them when Emily was five, so she’s grown up with just her father, which makes me feel slightly guilty for my comment. Emily either didn’t notice or she has disregarded it completely. Instead she just smiles as we walk down the stairs towards the exit.

“He doesn’t know everything,” she replies. “For example, he doesn’t know you’re coming to spend the weekend with me while he’s in Germany. He thinks we’ve split up and the girls are coming round to console me.”

“Why would you say we’ve split up?” I ask, slightly concerned about this latest twist.

“He wasn’t going to go, so I had to think of something to get him out of the way,” she replies.

“And what’s going to happen when he finds out we haven’t split up?” I ask dubiously. “Or is there something else you’re not telling me?”

“After my weekend with the girls, I realise how much I love you and we get back together next week.” She flashes a smile at me. “Simple.”

I put my hand around her slender waist, pull her close and stare into her gorgeous green eyes, which seem to instantly dissipate my anger. “You’ve got it all worked out haven’t you?”

“Of course I have,” she replies. “He’s going tomorrow and won’t be back until Sunday evening.” She pulls closer to my face, her lips inches from mine. “We have all weekend together,” she whispers before pulling away. “But first of all, today. Where should we go to eat? You know I can’t go shopping on an empty stomach.”

I can almost feel the cogs going round in my head. Shopping? When did I agree to that? I think I’ve taken a bit too long to answer as Emily punches me hard on the shoulder.

“Don’t tell me you forgot? Oh my God, Nathan. We discussed this last night. How could you forget already?”

“I’ve not forgotten,” I laugh as we exit through the main doors to the school and outside, where a combination of sunlight and cold, late autumn air welcomes us. “How could…” My words trail off as I enter the open space and my heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach.

“Nathan?” Emily asks at my side “What’s wrong?”

I can’t answer as I stare at the black four by four parked across the road from school. Beside it, a burly man is stood waiting for me. This can’t be happening, not today. They never come to school; they usually only want me in the evenings, and I’m normally given a bit of notice. I can feel my heart pounding, thumping crazily against my chest.

“Nathan?” Emily repeats, following my eyes towards the car.

“I have to go,” I stutter. “I’m sorry.” It’s like I’m in a hypnotised state, unable to take my eyes off the car. I don’t want to go, not again and not now, but I know I have to. I force myself to look away and stare down into those green eyes, her face a mixture of confusion and disappointment.

“With him?” She asks and I nod. “Who is he? What’s going on?” Emily demands and I want to explain everything to her, but I can’t. I don’t want her to know anything about my other role in life. I can’t think of a good reason so I try to avoid the truth and hope it succeeds.

“It’s just something I have to do. I’m sorry.” I’m willing her to accept it and not push it any further. Emily takes another cautious glance towards the car, then turns back to me, and to my relief, she nods her acceptance.

“Okay,” she finally says, and her eyes search my face for an explanation that I cannot give. “Just…be careful, whatever it is you’re doing.” I can hear the doubt in her voice, like she doesn’t believe me but doesn’t want to aggravate it. After my recent angry outburst, who can blame her?

“Call me when you get home so we can discuss the weekend,” she adds, softening her voice a little. I feel her hand brush along my arm, yet I don’t feel the pulse of electricity that usually follows her touch.

I can’t think straight and all I do is nod. “I’m really sorry, I need to go. I’ll call you tonight.” I glance towards the car where the man is standing, arms folded and staring at me with the kind of look that is showing his impatience in waiting for me. I look back at Emily and feel another apologetic look spread over my face. I lean in to kiss her and the smell of her perfume hits me. I breathe it in deeply, savouring the scent that I’ve got to know so well over the last few months. Our lips meet and I want the kiss to last forever, but she pulls away just as I’m beginning to lose myself.

“Don’t be greedy,” she says as the kiss ends, before reaching up to whisper in my ear. “I’ll pick up something nice at the shops for tomorrow.” She gives me a small, mischievous smile, then reaches into her bag for her phone while I head out of the school gates towards the car.

I need to concentrate and erase all thoughts of Emily and anything else about the weekend, just for now. If anything goes wrong, I won’t be able to speak to her again. Not for a while anyway, so I need to be completely on the ball. As I get closer to the car, it’s obvious the man is not happy with me taking my time; he’s not the sort of person that you want to keep waiting if you know what’s good for you, and I’d been stupid to push him this far. As I hurry across the busy road, he opens the rear door for me.

“Come on Romeo,” he says sarcastically. His voice is gruff and dry and by the smell of it, he’s been drinking, even though alcohol consumption before seven in the evening is illegal. I shouldn’t be surprised; this group have no regard for the law so why should a simple rule like that stop them? I glance at him, then risk a fleeting look back at Emily, who is slowly walking away from school with a couple of her friends, but she doesn’t look towards me.

“Get in,” he orders. “You can see your little bird when you’ve finished.” He mutters something else under his breath, but I can’t make out what it was. I hate the way he talks about Emily, or about women in general. He leers at every woman his eyes make contact with, and always has some kind of derogatory remark for them, but only if the woman is close enough to hear it. It seems like his goal in life is to hack off as many people as possible. He’s at least succeeding in that. I’ve barely got into the car when he slams the door shut, almost trapping my right foot, and I mutter an obscenity as he climbs into the driver’s seat and runs his finger across the ignition pad to start the engine. Seconds later he pulls out into the traffic without checking to see if it is clear.

“Calm down, Stefan,” warns a stern voice from the passenger seat. “You don’t want to draw any attention to us.” This is the organiser, Mr Robertson. If they want something doing, they turn to this guy. He’s the complete opposite of Stefan, usually quite calm and relaxed, but he still has an authority about him that says he’s not to be messed with. Robertson’s words have an immediate effect, and as Stefan slows the car down, Robertson turns his head, takes off his rounded glasses and stares at me with a piercing look.

“Sorry for the short notice, Mr Yorke,” he says in a well-spoken voice that seems totally out of place with the current situation. “But we need your services again.”

I don’t want to ask why; I’m just doing as I’m told. One day, this will all be over, preferably before they kill me or worse, I’m caught and become a forbidden one.

 “You’re doing very well with us, Nathan. You’re just like your father.”

I say nothing, but my earlier anger starts to resurface and my hands clench into fists as I fight to control the urge for another outburst. That’s the second time today he’s been mentioned and I resent it even more coming from Robertson. I’m sure he knows what happened to my father, but he couldn’t care less. Dad was probably working for him on the night he disappeared, so if it wasn’t for him, dad wouldn’t be missing and I’d be with my girlfriend right now instead of waiting to be given instructions on my next round of criminal activity.

“In fact,” Robertson continues, oblivious to my angry thoughts. “We’re thinking of promoting you.” I stay quiet, mainly because I’m not exactly sure what that would entail, but Robertson looks like he’s reading my mind and answers the question for me. “It will mean your debt will be paid off quicker.”

At least that gives me some hope. “What will I have to do?” I ask, not really wanting the answer. I have a feeling that it’s going to be something a little more dangerous than what I already do for them, which is dangerous enough as it is.

“We’ll talk about that another time. Just concentrate on today. Nick has all the instructions.”

Oh no, anyone but him. Simply put, Nick is a psychopath. Or sociopath. Or both. He barely speaks and when he does, it’s usually in a vicious or threatening manner. Nick is a couple of inches taller than me, but more imposing. His head is shaved regularly and he has a huge scar across his chin. His nose looks like it has been broken a couple of times and many tattoos along his arms, one of which is two crossed swords surrounded by a snake, which I think is identical to the one Stefan has. I wonder if this is some kind of badge, a symbol of dedication to their gang? If it is, then Nick is part of their group by choice, not forced into it like me.

“Is there a problem, Mr Yorke?” Robertson asks, staring at me with those piercing eyes. He must have noticed my derision at the news.

I shake my head. “No,” I lie. “No problem.” I just love working with psychos. I hope the lie is convincing but I’m not sure. Robertson continues to stare at me, like a teacher who knows when you are telling a lie and tries to intimidate you into admitting the truth, so I turn away from his gaze and stare out of the window. The light is fading quickly, which will provide the perfect cover for whatever Nick has to do, and the rapidly darkening streets are almost a blur as Stefan drives through them towards the rendezvous with Nick, before finally stopping and ordering me out. One job, I think to myself. One job and I can have my weekend with Emily. As I get out of the car and slam the door shut, the realisation of the coming weekend hits home, and I feel more than a little resentment that I am here in the middle of a quiet street, rather than with my girlfriend, and I’m suddenly overcome with guilt for the way I’ve just treated her. As soon as this is over, I’ll meet her in town and take her somewhere to make up for it. It’s the least I can do.

Stefan screeches the car from the side of the road and Nick, who has been slumped on a bench in the middle of the street staring blankly into space, suddenly comes to life, almost like the noise woke him from a comatose state. I cross the road towards him and he just watches me, like I’m a bad smell heading in his direction before he stands, slings a bag over his shoulder and walks along the street, making brief glances behind him to make sure I’m following. This is the way it works; he walks and I follow a little further behind. This way, if the police stop one of us for any reason, the other can just walk on by and cannot be implicated; the only time we are together is when he breaks into the car and I drive it.

Nick strides along, like he’s walking with purpose and I suspect he already knows the vehicle he wants and where to find it. After a few minutes he stops; he has seen his target. A white BMW, the only car on the street worth stealing and not controlled by a computer, is sitting near the end of the road and Nick heads straight for it. I take a quick look around, making sure we’re not being watched but it’s deftly quiet; it’s like the streets have emptied just for us. To be honest, it’s a little too quiet. Usually a suburban area like this would have some people about; kids coming home from school, delivery drivers dropping off goods in time for Christmas or even a couple of old people out for a leisurely late autumn walk, but there’s nothing and to be honest, I’m a little unnerved by the lack of human presence.

Nick doesn’t seem too concerned and takes a quick look around to make sure he is unobserved, before hurrying toward the vehicle. Crouching beside the driver side door, he pulls the bag from his shoulder, then reaching inside he takes out a small, hand held device which he runs over the metal. I can see a blue light reflecting against the door as it scans for a viable fingerprint, and by the time I reach the car, Nick is already inside and busy re-programming the ignition. Some cars still use keys and are quite easy to steal, but the better cars, like this one, use fingerprint identity and only recognised prints can start them. Clever, but still not as clever as the equipment used to steal them, like what Nick’s using. He scanned the car for a print, copied it and now he’s fooling the car into believing I am its rightful owner. Like I said, clever.

After reprogramming the on-board computer, Nick slides into the passenger seat and I get in, my heart pounding like it always does when I’m about to drive a stolen car as the adrenaline rushes through me. I run my finger over the ignition pad in the same way Stefan did in his four by four, and the engine quietly comes to life. I put the car in gear, take one last look around and hastily pull away. There is still a chance the owner will see us, but as I guide the BM through the quiet streets and enter mainstream traffic, I know I’m safe. For a while at least. Nick gives me directions and I drive quickly but carefully, not wanting to draw any attention to myself. Print recognition cars are easy to identify, but because the theft rate on them is very low, the police rarely if ever stop them, even if it’s a kid like me driving it. Even so, I’m taking no chances and make sure that I stick to every rule ever written, like I had to pledge on the day I passed my test.

We head south for around half an hour, and I’m anticipating stopping to take another car, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. The rule is that we don’t drive a stolen vehicle for longer than half an hour, because there’s a chance the owner will notice it missing in that time and the police will be out looking for it. By the time they find it, we’re long gone in another vehicle. Nick has given no indication that he wants to stop, but instead instructs me to drive through an area that I’m completely unfamiliar with. Even in the low light I can see that the houses are unlike those in the main city or outer suburbs, and I realise we’re in one of the less desirable neighbourhoods. The government have made the twelve new cities look nice and clean for all those that can afford to live there, while the outlying towns that survived the war, make up the areas surrounding the cities. Then there are areas like this. Shabbily built houses on plots of land that is likely to be subsiding, and a poor, yet expensive transport system linking them to the city that is miles away, ensuring they are kept away from the riches of city life. There are hundreds of estates like this, dotted around the very edges of the main cities, and all can rot as far as the government are concerned. The residents make their living by working in the many warehouses and factories owned by rich city businessmen who rarely, if ever venture out to the businesses they own.

I live outside the city. It may not be as rich as the city dwellers but it is comfortable, not like the place that surrounds me at the moment. Even the atmosphere here is different, almost imposing with the closeness of the houses that bear down on you, giving the impression that your every move is being watched by suspicious eyes from behind small cracks in the curtains. Not that they would see much as the area is badly lit with minimal street lighting, but I can see that it’s a mixture of industrial complexes and residential homes. To me, it’s the sort of place you’d probably expect to see drug deals or gangland style executions taking place, and I’m hoping what we’re doing here is neither.

Nick directs me through the streets towards an industrial estate and orders me to drive behind the buildings. They look deserted and I don’t think anyone would notice if we pulled up to the front doors covered in Christmas lights with a brass band playing behind us, however Nick wants to remain as hidden as possible, so I drive into a deserted alleyway at the back and stop the car behind one of the larger buildings. As it is now dark, there’s little chance of being seen, which is just as well as Nick gets out and forces the door of the building on the left before disappearing inside, leaving me alone in the car. I now have to sit and wait anxiously until he comes out. I’ve no idea what he’s doing in there and don’t want to know; the less I’m aware of, the better. I hear the sirens of a police car nearby and instinctively duck low to hide my face from view. Thankfully the sirens fade into the distance and I’m safe for now; they’re off to catch some other lawbreaker. But it’s not just the police I need to be looking out for; Police Observation Drones, or PODS as they are better known, are often on patrol and can be anywhere, even in areas such as this. PODS are large, metal globes, laden with cameras, microphones and sensors that hover through the streets to assist the police in identifying and capturing criminals. The only time you know one is close is when you hear the low hum of its power cells, but by then it’s too late; once you have a POD on you, it’ll never leave until you’re arrested. There’s only one loser and it’s never the POD.

I take another anxious look around and I’m still alone. Spoke too soon. Someone has just entered the alleyway but I can tell instantly it’s not the police; the person is walking in a disjointed way, like they are drunk or have been walking for so long, their legs are about to give up. I sink lower in the seat as the shadowy figure gets closer and as they reach the car, I notice it’s a man and not someone to worry about. He’s a ‘forbidden one,’ more commonly known as an invisible. Forbidden ones are criminals and all crime, no matter how small is now punishable by the same sentence: invisibility. Of course a person would not actually be made invisible, where would the punishment in that be? Instead the forehead is stamped with an immovable mark that shows they are invisible and must bear the mark until their sentence is complete. The rule about invisibles is simple; they are to be ignored, shunned by society, like banishment from civilisation until they learn the value of living in a crimeless society. Invisibles lose everything they have; home, family, identity and if any person interacts with an invisible, they are breaking the law and suffer the same fate. It’s a punishment that has brought the crime rate down, but not enough; hardened criminals have simply got smarter. How invisibility works I have no idea and I don’t want to know, but I’ve heard the pain from the procedure is the worst you can imagine. That’s why I’m hoping Nick hurries up and gets the hell out of the building so I can get off the streets, and I’ll be one job closer to paying off this debt hanging around my neck.

The invisible sees me in the car and begs me to help him. I turn away and look anxiously towards the building, praying for Nick to finish whatever he is doing. What’s taking so long? I’ve never been in so much of a hurry to see the psycho’s face than I am now. The invisible is almost on his knees, pleading for me to help, but the more I ignore him, the angrier he gets and before I know it, he starts banging on the vehicle. I don’t need this sort of attention and nervously scan the area again. He moves to the front of the car and starts pounding on the bonnet, all the while shouting and hurling abuse at me. It’s almost like he wants to draw attention to himself and, in turn, me. I need to stop him but if I’m caught interacting with him I’ll end up just like him. On the other side of the coin, if I do nothing and the police turn up, I’ll still suffer his fate as I’m in a stolen vehicle. My only option is to silence him, so I look around the car for some sort of weapon. Outside, the man suddenly falls to his knees clutching his head, but his screams continue and he pounds the car harder, making some huge dents in the metal. My left hand is rummaging under the seat for anything I can use as a weapon and my fingers touch something cold and metal. Great, an old style metal foot pump. A modern car like this doesn’t deserve such a dated piece of equipment, but it’s better than nothing I suppose. I take a deep breath in anticipation of what I’m about to do. I’m not proud of it as I’ve never hurt anyone like this in my life, but it’s necessary. As I open the door, the man suddenly becomes silent and falls to the floor. After hitting him hard on the head, Nick simply gets in the car like he’s just given a child a packet of sweets to shut them up.

“Is there a reason you couldn’t do that?” he asks angrily, slamming the door shut and throwing a bag onto the floor.

I show him the foot pump. “I was just about to.”

“What were you going to do? Inflate him to death?” he replies sarcastically. “Just get us out of here now before anyone sees us.”

I’m seething as I throw myself back into the driver’s seat and fling the footpump over my shoulder onto the back seat. I scan my finger angrily across the pad. The engine starts and I move out of the alleyway, leaving the invisible on the ground behind us. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive, but I’m not going back to check. I’m so annoyed that I drive erratically through the estate, releasing my anger through the car but as I reach the main carriageway I forget where I am and emerge into the road without looking. A car appears on my right and I swerve left to avoid it but in doing so, crash the vehicle up the kerb and straight into a lamppost. Nick curses loudly, gets out and examines the front while the other driver stops behind us.

“Wheel’s wrecked,” he says, kicking the vehicle. He looks over at the other car and smiles. I’ve never seen him smile before and it looks unnatural, or maybe I’m just used to seeing him look angry all the time. I watch as Nick walks toward the other car. It has a female driver in it and I realise that’s the reason he’s smiling. I hear him as he checks she is okay, and calmly asks if he can use her phone. I’m wondering what he’s up to as Nick always has his phone with him, and he’s being quite pleasant with her. That’s when I notice the bag on his shoulder and I realise what he’s going to do. I want to stop him, but I can’t and I’d be stupid if I tried. The woman winds the window down just enough to slip a phone to him. I open my mouth to shout a warning to her but there’s no time. He reaches for the phone, but instead of taking it, he forces the window down, reaches inside and unlocks the door before dragging the woman out. I’m frozen in my seat, unable to move like there are invisible restraints holding me down. Nick shouts at the woman and pushes her to the ground while she looks on, terrified. He shouts at her again, raising his arms like he’s about to strike her and she backs away, scrambling across the road to safety, clearly terrified that he will hurt her further.

“YORKE!” Nick shouts and I realise I’m still sat in the car, watching him threaten the poor woman. I get out and run towards the car, passing the woman, who is on the floor and looks injured. She pleads with us not to take the car, saying it’s her baby, and I just want to run away and leave Nick alone, but I can’t, no matter how much I want to. I’m temporarily distracted by an explosion, and as I look up, I see the factory where we were a few minutes ago gushing with flames.

“Yorke, get in,” Nick says and, remembering where I am, I get in and pull away from the roadside, but no sooner am I gone and the woman starts screaming hysterically.

“It’s only a car, the stupid bitch,” Nick sneers as I watch her collapse to the floor in the wing mirror. “And a crap one at that.”

I ignore his comments; I’m too concerned about his actions. I’ve never been involved in a car jacking, and it isn’t the way we do things. She has also seen both our faces and Nick used my name, so it won’t be difficult for me to be identified. Add to that the fact that, after we left her, some residents ran over to help her, so it won’t be long until the police are on us, maybe ten minutes or so. I have to get rid of this car as quickly as possible. I still can’t believe what just happened and I want this job over now, so I put my foot down to get away a little quicker. That’s another mistake. As I pass a side street, a small black globe ladled with cameras emerges, hovering around fifteen feet from the ground.

“POD,” Nick shouts as I slow down, but it’s too late. I’ve already got its attention with my speed, but I notice the light at the bottom of the POD is orange, meaning it’s in observation mode. If it turns red, it will pursue so I keep my speed low, trying to give it no reason to continue observing us. It follows us for a few moments, then seems to be satisfied that I’m driving safely and backs off. I hate those things. Some say they are sentient, while others think humans direct them. Whatever controls them, I don’t like them. It’s just another way for the government to oppress us. I watch the POD in the rear view mirror getting further away. Then suddenly, the light changes to red and it takes flight, speeding towards us like some kind of supersonic aircraft and within seconds, it’s right behind us. I curse and floor the accelerator, trying to go as fast as I can while the POD attempts to circle the car, trying to record every event so that it can later be used as evidence in court. But we have to be caught first. I know I won’t be able to outrun it if I stay in this built up area, so I turn quickly down a side road, mounting the pavement and taking out an old, traditional newspaper stand on the street corner. Just add it to my list of charges. The POD is still with me so I force the vehicle into a series of turns, taking road after road and before long, I’m taking every other road in order to get away but nothing is working.

“Get to the motorway,” Nick yells above the noise of the overworked engine. Why didn’t I think of that? PODS never go on motorways. The traffic causes too much wind power, which knocks them all over the place. In the early days, many PODS were destroyed because they ended up crashing into trucks or bridges so if I want to get away, that’s my best option. It’s about a mile away and I’m sure I can hold the POD and any pursuing police off until then. As I drive, I keep checking my rear view mirror; the POD has slowed considerably and is quite a distance back and it stays at the same distance all the way to the motorway. I wonder why it fell back but to be honest I’m glad it did; I could be the first person to escapes one of those things. As I reach the motorway slip road, I let out a satisfactory smile. There’s no way it will follow us now. I glance in my rear view mirror and it’s completely clear with no sign of the POD or any chasing police cars.

“You thinking of slowing down?” Nick asks suddenly. I realise that my eyes have been stuck on the mirror rather than the road ahead, so I don’t notice the traffic is slowing. I slam my foot on the brake and immediately check the mirror. My stomach turns when I see the POD gliding towards us. It must have known that we’d have to stop for the traffic and followed us. I think fast and again floor the accelerator, cutting across the hard shoulder and forcing the car up the grassy embankment. I have no idea where it leads, but I’ll deal with that when I get there. The car lurches over the top of the mound, and the front wheels leave the ground slightly before slamming onto the hard soil as I crash through a wooden fence that surrounds a small field. It is pitch black but I can see the lights of a farmhouse and head for it, knowing it must be connected to a road. The POD is still with us as the car bounces over the uneven land and I feel, and hear the effects of the front wheel hitting something hard. The steering wheel vibrates and I start to lose control, but just manage to keep it together as I hear a strange noise behind me. I’m pretty certain it has nothing to do with the car and I risk a glance round to see what it was. I really wish I hadn’t.

CHAPTER TWO

 When the woman said ‘baby,’ I think we both assumed she was referring to her car because she loved it so much, not because there was an actual baby inside, sitting in its car seat behind us like it hasn’t a care in the world, which I suppose it hasn’t being a baby. Damn, why didn’t I see it? Of all the cars, why did Nick have to take this one? With theft, car-jacking and now this, they’re going to throw the book at me if I’m caught, so I have to make sure that doesn’t happen, however I’m feeling very guilty for taking the baby from its mother and also responsible for its safety. And with it being pitch black and barely able to see a thing, I start to drive more carefully, hoping I don’t hit a ditch or something. I can’t let anything happen to the child, regardless of what will happen to me. The POD is still with us, hovering on the left closest to Nick, who is desperately trying to cover his head with his jacket in the world’s most pathetic attempt to stop it from recording his face. Think it’s a bit late for that mate. The field underneath us is getting worse and harder to drive on, so I ease my foot off the accelerator, reducing the speed considerably.

“What the hell are you slowing down for?” Nick shouts at me. I can feel his aggressive glare burning into the side of my head.

“Well if you hadn’t noticed, it’s a bit rough, I can’t see where I’m going and we’ve got a baby in the car as well,” I retort.

“You think I care about a kid?” Nick replies angrily. “Put your foot down, now.”

I ignore him. He might not have morals but at least I have some, and I’m not putting the baby’s life at risk. I know I’m going to be arrested, that’s inevitable but I still have some sort of decency within me. And I don’t care what Nick says or does to me; he’s going to get the same treatment as me when he’s caught. I look over at him; he’s scowling and I suspect he’s about to do something, when he suddenly lifts his leg over the gear stick and onto my right foot, trying to force it to the floor to make the car move faster. I struggle against him to keep control of the car as he grabs at the steering wheel. I feel his fist strike my face, and I’m dazed for just a moment, but it’s enough for him to reach further over and try to open the door. I realise he wants to push me out so I’ll get caught and he can escape, so I fight back but he’s too strong and he manages to get his fingers on the door handle. I struggle against him and his elbow connects hard with my jaw, before he reaches over again and this time, he succeeds and opens the door. He lifts his foot from mine for a second, and sits back to kick me out of the car just as the vehicle hits something hard and comes to a sudden stop. The baby screams hysterically as I try desperately to start the car, but no matter how many times I press the start button, there’s no way the engine is going to fire.

The POD is now hovering outside the car, recording our every move and image and I realise I’m beyond help. Nick grabs his bag from the floor and snarls at me. “It’ll follow one of us. If you get caught, remember the protocol.”

The protocol. That’s one way to put it. Basically if we get caught we say nothing regardless of any deals the police offer. It is imperative that people like Mr Robertson are not mentioned or implicated in any of our criminal activities. When it comes down to it, we are acting on our own and simply joyriding. In simple terms, we’ll be taking the fall. Nick opens the door, but before he gets out he turns back to me.

“If I ever see you again, I’ll rip you to pieces,” he hisses before getting out and running into the dark.

I turn and stare at the POD, which is hovering just a few feet away while I try to decide what to do, but the screaming child in the rear seat makes the decision for me. It’s bitterly cold and I can’t leave the poor kid alone, so instead of running, I get out and rummage behind the drivers seat for something to stop the baby crying. I know that staying will mean arrest and invisibility, but that was inevitable the second we stole the car. It wouldn’t have taken them long to find and arrest me, so I might as well accept it now rather than later, hoping my actions will somehow look more favourable in the eyes of the judge, and I’ll get a lesser sentence, maybe a week or so owing to the fact that I’m under eighteen.

The baby quietens down and I cover it with a small blanket that’s on the seat next to it to protect it from the cold, and I hear the noise of police sirens getting closer. I turn to see what direction they are coming from and notice the POD, which is hovering just above me but out of my reach even if I jumped, watching me intently. My mind drifts back to the time before PODS were invented; there were cameras on every street but they were limited. They weren’t fitted with rechargeable power packs, which last thirty-six hours, nor did they have the ability to move, follow and chase. They couldn’t scan a person, monitor their heart rate or record every move and word spoken by anyone within a fifty-yard radius. The invention of PODS has made life very difficult for criminals, which was a good thing until I got caught up in all this.

I look up beyond the farmhouse as a stream of flashing lights enters the farm. It looks like they’ve sent the entire police force as what looks like a dozen emergency vehicles make their way along the dirt tracks towards me. I turn away and plant my head against the metal roof of the car, completely regretting my actions this evening. I’m about to disappoint a lot of people, most of all Emily. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and now I’ll most likely lose her. She won’t have anything to do with me after this.

The first of the cars grinds to a stop in the hard dirt and I hear the police shouting to me as they approach. I don’t hear what they are saying but I can guess and put my hands on the roof of the car while I wait to be searched and cuffed. My arms are shoved high up my back to the point where I think they’ll either break or be ripped from their sockets, while the police tell me my rights, which are not very much these days. I am then marched towards and thrown into the back of a waiting police van, and the last thing I see as they slam the doors shut is the baby being taken from the car to be returned to its mother, who will undoubtedly want to press more charges than those for a carjacking. I am left alone in the back of the van with nothing but the stench of stale urine and vomit for company. I can’t even cover my nose or bury my face in my hands to try and blot out the smell. Outside, I hear the voices of the other officers who, from what I can tell are about to begin their search for Nick. The hum of the POD fades and the doors at the front of the van open and close before the engine starts, and my journey to the police station begins.

As the van moves across the farm, the motion throws me about and that, combined with the vile smell, makes me think I won’t make it to the station without adding my own contribution and I’m glad that, until now I’ve managed to stay out of trouble. I can feel my stomach turning and I desperately want to get out of both the cuffs and the van. Maybe I should have escaped when I had the chance; it might not have been so bad if they’d arrested me tomorrow, but then I think it might be better this way; at least I don’t have to face anyone I know, particularly at school where I would have been on display like some circus attraction.

As the van hits normal road, I think of Emily. Her beautiful mousy brown hair that glints with tinges of red when the sunlight hits it, that I’ll never be able to run my fingers through again. Her soft face, her sweet lips that only an hour or so ago I was kissing. I want to see her, but after this it’s not going to be possible. She won’t be allowed to speak to me without breaking the law. In fact, nobody will; I’ll be completely on my own, regardless of how long my sentence is.

The journey to the station isn’t long and before I know it, the doors are open and cool air sweeps into the van, along with the bright lights from the police station that force me to turn my head away. I feel a pair of hands pulling me out of the van and I stumble, smacking my knees into the tarmac. I try to take several deep breaths to try and clear the stench of the van from my nose and throat as I’m dragged to my feet and marched across the yard towards the station, before being unceremoniously thrown through the doors. The coppers push me forward, towards a desk clerk who looks like he’s been on duty for the last two days and couldn’t care less about who has just been brought in front of him. He sighs loudly, like my arrival is an inconvenience to his evening.

“Name and address,” he asks grumpily, not moving his head that is resting on his left palm and tapping his tablet with just his right hand.

“Nathan Yorke,” I reply and begin to give my old address when I lived with my father. I stop mid-sentence, realising my mistake and for a moment I have a complete mind-block, which the clerk interprets as me trying to give him false details. He lifts his head up, revealing a large red patch where his hand has pressed against it and glares sternly over his glasses, like he suspects I’m trying to hide something. I think fast and just in time, I remember and repeat it quickly to him.

“Don’t bother trying to pull a fast one, son,” he growls. “We will always be able to find out where you live. How old are you?”
            “Seventeen,” I reply without the barest hint of hesitation. I hate to admit it, but sleepless man has got to me. It’s like his role is to intimidate me so I’ll give a full confession straight away and, to be honest it’s working; I’m almost ready to spill the entire story now. Sleepless man looks up at the officers who brought me in.

“What’s he done?” he asks.

There’s a slight hesitation, like the two coppers have changed their minds as to what they are charging me with. “Oh the usual for a kid his age,” one replies sarcastically. “Car-jacking, theft of a motor vehicle, wilful destruction of property, driving a vehicle without insurance.” He turns to the other officer. “Did I miss anything?”

The second one replies instantly “You forgot kidnapping a minor.”

“And kidnapping a minor,” the first one adds.

I can feel the rage boiling inside me as I hear the lie. That’s not what they said at the farm. “It wasn’t kidnapping,” I protest. “I didn’t know there was a kid in there.” I get a whack in the ribs for my outburst, but I carry on through the pain. “We just wanted the car.”

Suddenly their faces turn serious and a duty sergeant appears from behind sleepless man, the distinctive three stripes of his rank clearly visible on the arm of his pristine uniform. Where he’d been hiding I have no idea, but my situation has just become very scary, if it wasn’t already.

“What for?” he asks and I realise the predicament I’m in. Aware that I’m about to break the protocol, I lower my head and keep my mouth shut. “A young lad like you doesn’t steal cars for fun, let alone car-jack a young woman with her baby.”

 He leans over the desk in an attempt to intimidate me, and I continue to avoid eye contact with him.  “You know what will happen to you, don’t you?” He persists and I know too well what awaits me. I want to admit the truth but can’t. I’m in a place where there’s no escape; if I grass, there’ll be punishment, if I don’t, there’ll still be punishment, so which is the lesser of two evils? I still don’t look up but I can feel his eyes glaring at me.

 “Throw him in cell three,” he says angrily, disappointed that he didn’t get a confession from me. “And call Murdoch. He’ll get the truth out of him.” One of the officers grabs my shirt and drags me along the corridor, before slamming me face first against a cell door. My head is held against the stone wall while the cuffs are removed, before I’m thrown inside a cell that stinks almost as bad as the van.

“Don’t I get to make a call?” I shout, but get no reply. The door slams shut and I’m alone with only the smell for company. I don’t know who I’d call anyway. I can’t ring Aunt Carolyn; it would be a huge kick in the teeth for her to see me like this after all she’s done for me. And there’s no way I can face talking to Emily about what has happened and expect her to understand. I’m the very essence of the society her father is working to eradicate, and if she is associated with a criminal, her father’s reputation will be hit. Thinking of her reminds me that I was supposed to be getting ready for a weekend alone with her, not locked up here like the common criminal I am. To be honest, I’m amazed her father fell for the line she spun him about us breaking up; if I were him I’d probably want some sort of proof, or plant a ton of video cameras around the house to record everything that went on. In fact, he might well have done, but I wouldn’t know having never met him; I only know what he looks like from seeing his picture across the Internet. But the weekend isn’t going to happen now anyway so there’s no point in thinking about it further. I just wish none of this had happened.

I sit on the edge of the metal bed and look around at the cell; there’s barely any room to even keep a cat, never mind swing one. As well as the bed, which is bolted to the wall and floor with a mattress slept on by god knows how many delinquents, there’s a metal toilet with no seat or lid, and a sink from which both taps are slowly dripping. A modern police force with twentieth century cells. Nice. I think about the sergeant’s words and what’s going to happen to me. Once I’m found guilty of whatever they decide to charge me on, I’ll be made invisible, like so many others before me and it’s going to be horrible. Once a person is made invisible, it’s like they no longer exist, apart from becoming target practice for kids. Some have said it’s barbaric and many have protested about it, but there are many people for it and, I’ve got to admit, the streets have seemed a lot safer since this law was introduced. But the real criminals like Robertson and his gang have just got smarter and have found ways to avoid it. The sentence was designed as a punishment for lawbreakers to give them a better understanding of living in society. So for murderers it’s a way of making them understand the value of human life, or thieves will experience what it is like to have something taken away, but it’s different for me; I’m not a criminal by choice.

I sit back on the bed and the springs inside the mattress poke into me, making it difficult to find a comfortable position.  Every time I move, another spring stabs into my legs, until I eventually give up and sit on the floor while contemplating what my life will be like. I won’t be able to see Emily again, not until my sentence is complete, and I will no longer be able to live at Aunt Carolyn’s. The moment I become invisible, I’ll be on my own. I’ll have to make my way to a special shelter, which is the only place I’ll have access to food, water and a bed, but that’s all. I’ve no idea where it is and have had no need to find out until now, and the more I think about this, the more I’m infuriated I’m getting. I’m angry with my father for leaving me when he did and having to clear up the mess he left behind. I’m angry with Robertson and his gang for forcing me into this life but most of all, I’m angry with Nick for his actions this evening. He’s the one who should be sitting here, not me; he’s in that group by choice.

I’m starting to feel claustrophobic; I want to tear down the walls, kick the door down, anything to get out and find him. I want to scream and shout but it will do no good. No one will come and take me away from this. I’ve let people down, people who trusted me. Aunt Carolyn took me in when it was obvious my father wasn’t coming back. She’s given me so much and this is how I thank her. And Emily, who has been my rock over the last three months; she doesn’t deserve this either and shouldn’t have to see me like this. But she will; they both will and I can’t do anything to stop that. I’ve failed them. I don’t care about Nick, Robertson or anyone else involved in that group; as far as I’m concerned they can all rot in hell, but Carolyn and Emily are the two most important people in my life and I’ve ruined everything.

I need a lifeline, and it’s not long before I get one. The cell is opened and an enormous copper fills the doorway, and I presume this is the man who the duty sergeant was referring to. I’ve not given him a thought while I’ve been cooped up in this hovel, but now he’s here I’ve suddenly changed my mind about leaving. Like Stefan, he is big but in a muscular way and looks like he works out every day. No wonder he has a reputation for getting the truth from people. He stares at me for several moments before speaking.

“Come with me Mr Yorke,” he orders in a menacingly deep tone. “You and I are going to have a nice little chat.”

His voice is as frightening as his frame and I feel like I have no choice but to follow. He is well over six feet tall, which is at least four inches above me, and I feel intimidated just walking beside him. He doesn’t speak as we walk along the station corridors and I know this chat, as he put it, isn’t going to be about the weather over tea and biscuits. We enter a room on the left and he orders me to sit. I instantly obey and he closes the door before sitting down in the chair opposite. For a few minutes, he just sits staring at me, with the kind of look that wants to bore right into my thoughts, until finally he speaks.

“Car-jacking isn’t a particularly huge crime, Mr Yorke,” he says calmly. “But it’s still a crime that would get you six months invisibility. However kidnapping a child is considerably worse.”

“I swear I had no idea the baby was in the car. If I had then…” Murdoch holds his hand up to stop me and I instantly fall silent.

“I believe you,” he says to my complete surprise. “You don’t seem the type of person that would kidnap a child.” Suddenly I feel a bit more hopeful about the situation and I might still be able to get out of it. But then he speaks again. “All, I want to know is why you took the car in the first place.”

A few moments ago I was eager to speak, now I’m silent again.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time Nathan,” Murdoch says quietly. “Even before the new laws came into effect. I can tell a real criminal a mile off and do you know what? You’re not it.”

Well at least I’ve got something going for me.

“The man you were with,” he says placing a picture of Nick on the desk in front of me. “He’s known to us and we’ll be bringing him in anyway, so you don’t need to be quiet to protect him.”

I drop my head again, knowing he’s right, to a point.

 “Just tell me what you two were doing and who else is involved and the kidnapping charge, along with all other charges will simply…disappear.” He opens his hands like a magician who has just made a rabbit vanish. He’s making it sound so easy, and all I want is for this to end quickly, but that would mean breaking the protocol. If I do that, chances are Emily will be waking up next to a dead man this weekend. His voice scares me out of my thoughts.

“Come on Nathan,” he growls. “You’re a smart boy. There’s nothing on you. This isn’t a normal action for a kid like you.” He points to the picture of Nick. “Don’t let this idiot ruin your life.”

He’s making it harder for me to stay silent. I look at Nick’s picture but all I can think of is Emily. How will she react when she sees me as an invisible?

“I just fancied an adrenaline rush,” comes my stupid reply, although it came out with a little nervous tone, which I know instantly he detected.

Murdoch sits back and sighs deeply before continuing, his voice taking on a more aggressive manner. “We found the car you crashed earlier. It had been re-programmed to accept new fingerprints. Your fingerprints.” He waits for a response, which doesn’t come. “Adrenaline junkies don’t have specialised tools to re-programme cars like that.”

I feel my face drain of colour, realising we didn’t erase my fingerprints from the on-board computer before we abandoned the BMW. Nick has really set me up here and I know I’m completely doomed. Murdoch waits but I remain silent while I consider what to do. Nick has left me to take the rap for this and, for the first time I’m considering telling Murdoch everything.

“Do you know what the sentence is for kidnapping?” he asks, folding his arms across his huge chest. I shake my head but can’t muster any words. “Three years invisibility. Kidnapping a baby would earn you an extra two.” He waits a moment to let the news sink in. Maybe the judge would show some leniency when he finds out I stayed with the baby, but what Murdoch says next unnerves me further. He leans forward, like he’s speaking so only I can hear and rests his elbows on the table. “You won’t make it to six months, once people out there know what you’ve done. And believe me, I’ll make sure they find out.”

I’m sure he can see the fear on my face. I can feel it there so I know it’s visible and I can feel sweat forming across my head, neck and pretty much everywhere else. I want to keep quiet, but there’s no way I can face such a sentence because he’s right; I won’t last long once people know what I had done. Or what they believe I’ve done.

“Think about it Nathan. The people you’re involved with will all be invisible for a long time, and no longer a threat to you. Whatever the reason you’re involved with them will be gone, and you’ll be free to live your life.”

He’s making it sound perfect. No more Nick or Mr Robertson giving me orders, or Stefan waiting for me at the school gates, all their contacts eliminated and my debt to them cleared. It’s becoming too appealing.

“You’re not really considering the alternative are you? Freedom or certain death. It’s a no brainer in my book.” He sighs heavily at my continued silence. “If not for yourself, do it for your girlfriend. She’s a pretty girl. Don’t drag her into this as well.”

“WHAT?” I shout. “She’s not involved in any of this.”

Murdoch smiles. “She can be. It’s up to you.”

I can feel my heart racing away, like it wants to escape. If he wanted, he could very well frame her, make it look like she was in the car with me and I realise I don’t have a choice. I’m not risking her life as well. “Will you protect us? And my aunt as well?” I ask.

Murdoch nods and a satisfied smile spreads across his face. He knows he’s got me. “Not that you’ll need protecting. You know how the system works. We’ll have them within a couple of hours and the sooner we can get them in, the sooner we can get them sentenced. The more you name the better.”

I nod and can feel myself wanting to cry. I try to stop but a tear escapes down my cheek. Murdoch gets up and sits on the desk next to me, like he’s about to offer some comfort. “Nathan. We all make mistakes, but we don’t always get an opportunity to atone for them. You have. Don’t throw it and your life away for this idiot. He doesn’t care about you. He’d rather you rot.”

I look at the picture of Nick again and I know Murdoch’s right. Nick doesn’t care about anyone, least of all me. If the situation was reversed, I’m sure he’d give my name in a heartbeat. My decision is made. If they can take these people out of my life then I’ll do it. I nod and I’m soon giving Murdoch the names of everyone I know that are involved and to my surprise, he says most are already on their watch list. I’m even explaining how this all started in the first place and he listens patiently, like he’s some sort of counsellor. Suddenly, Murdoch’s demeanour changes and it’s like I’m now his best friend.

“Thank you Nathan,” he says putting his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve done the right thing.”

I’m still not happy about it, but if it comes down to a choice between Robertson and his gang or my girlfriend, Emily will win every time. Murdoch stands, beckons me out of the room and leads me to another, but this one is not a cell or an interrogation room, more like a lounge area. He leaves me there, while outside the windows, I can see the police making plans to take the people I’ve named into custody. Within an hour, a full operation has been launched and just a couple of hours later, Murdoch tells me the raids have been successful.

“That was relatively easy, Nathan. We’ve got everyone you named and a decent amount of evidence too. Now, are you sure that’s everyone?”

I nod. “Everyone that I know or worked with,” I reply

“Excellent. Good job Nathan,” he says, beaming like he’s just won a coveted award for Detective of the Year. “They’ll be sentenced soon. You’re safe.”

“Do I need to testify against them?”

Murdoch shakes his head. “I would imagine so, but there should be enough evidence against them to easily get a conviction without it.”

I nod, feeling relieved that the nightmare of the last few months could finally be over. No more will I have to be secretive around Emily, or hide from PODS. My life can return to normal.

“I just need you to sign a few papers at the front desk and you’re free to go,” Murdoch says.

“What about the mother of the baby? Doesn’t she want to press charges against me?”

Murdoch shakes his head. “Not against you. As far as everyone is concerned, the guy in the photo stole the car. He’s up for kidnapping a minor. And when she heard how you stayed with her son and looked after him, she was more than happy to forget you were there.”

I can’t believe it. I must be the luckiest guy in the world right now, and I feel a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders as I walk with him to the front desk where the clerk is waiting to release me.

“We’ll have a POD monitor you and your aunt, but since we got everyone involved, I don’t think there’s a particular risk.”

“Thank you,” is my weak response. I can barely manage any more than that. I am truly grateful for what he has done. I am free not only for my weekend with Emily, but for the rest of my life.

“You did well, Nathan. You should be pleased with yourself. As agreed, this whole incident will be wiped clear. There will be no record of this anywhere so it can’t come back to haunt you.” He smiles warmly and he is very much a different person than when I first met him. In fact, he’s quite likeable.

“Now do me a favour and keep out of trouble.” He pats me on the shoulder and I feel like a child who has just been given a headteachers award. I nod as the door opens behind me, and I can hear a great deal of commotion coming from the outside. Someone is clearly resisting arrest and as I turn to see what’s going on, I instantly regret my curiosity. Stefan and Nick are being dragged through the doors, kicking and screaming that the police have nothing on them, while Mr Robertson is relaxed and not putting up a fight, although he looks like he is trying to talk his way out of it. However, the second he sees me, he goes very quiet, which is in stark comparison to the other two who, once they see me try everything possible to attack. Robertson stares hard into my eyes, and I can’t help but give a small grin. This man has made my life hell over the last few months, now it’s his turn. He scowls at me, and then gives me a grin of his own, only his is nastier and I have the feeling that this is a long way from being over. He forces his way forward in an attempt to get to me but the officers holding him are too strong, however he is close enough for me to hear his threat.

“You need to watch your back, Yorke,” he hisses as he is dragged away. “The others will be coming for you.”  

CHAPTER THREE

Others? What others? I don’t know of any others. I’ve only ever known Nick, Robertson and Stefan plus five other lads I’ve worked with, all of whom I have named and presume are now in custody. I’m rooted to the spot, unable to move in case there’s someone waiting outside for me, but my self-imposed paralysis is violently broken when Murdoch grabs my shirt around the neck and squeezes it tight. He pulls me up towards him so that my feet almost leave the floor and I can feel my face turning puce as I struggle to breathe.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” He spits, his attitude changing considerably from the friendly one a few moments ago, and I feel he’s about to throw me back into a cell for keeping some names for him.

“No,” I manage to say. I grab at my collar, which seems to make him realise I’m struggling for breath, and he releases it a little. “All the names I gave you are the only ones I’ve ever known. I don’t know what he’s talking about.” I talk quickly in the hope he will let me go so I can get out of here, but Murdoch is eyeing me, his suspicion obvious.

“Really?” He replies and I can tell by his tone that he doesn’t believe me. “Your friend seemed to think otherwise. You’d better start explaining yourself or you’ll be joining them in their cell.”

I can feel my heart racing. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, I swear,” I answer desperately. “The only people I’ve ever met are those I told you about. As far as I know, Robertson was the one who organised everything.”

“As far as you know?”

“Yes, he arranged everything. He gave all the orders. I don’t know anyone else, I swear.” I don’t know what else I can do to make him believe me. It’s like those films where the good guy is telling the truth but is never believed, so ends up being tortured then killed.

Murdoch can see the fear in my eyes and he must know how terrified I am, and just as I think my face will explode, he releases his grip, allowing me to breathe properly again. I reach up to my neck and pull the shirt away as I gasp for air, but a second later Murdoch slams his hands into my shoulders and pins me against the wall.

“Fine,” he growls. “But you listen to me, Yorke. If I find you know more than you’re letting on, kidnapping and car theft will be the least of your worries. Do you understand?”

I quickly nod my head in agreement as he releases his grip on me and takes a step back. I can feel my body trembling as he orders me out of the station, and I don’t need telling twice as I turn quickly, grab the belongings they took from me and hurry through the doors into the night, waiting until I’m well away from the station before tidying myself up. I want to go back and ask if I still get police protection, but that’s a stupid idea; they’re already suspicious of me and I don’t want to give them any reason for changing their minds about letting me go. Instead I rush through the dark, lonely streets, trying to put any thoughts of the gang to the back of my mind, but it’s impossible. All I can think about are Robertson’s words. Maybe it’s a tactic of his to unnerve me and make me think there are more people involved than there actually are. Even if it is, it doesn’t stop me from checking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure I’m not being watched or followed. I even double back on myself to make absolutely certain I’m alone. I try to ring Aunt Carolyn to let her know I’m on my way, but there’s no answer. I try to remain as calm as possible as I leave a message, but even I can tell it’s garbled and she probably won’t understand half of it, causing her to worry about where I am. I think about phoning Emily, but I want to compose myself first; she’s very perceptive and I don’t want her becoming suspicious of anything, particularly as she saw Stefan at school. If I phone her now, she’ll only demand all the answers and I make a mental note to ring her once I’m safely home. I’m feeling very shaken up and my nerves are shattered, but I keep moving; I want to get off the streets as much as possible. Every noise around me seems multiplied and my head is like a swivel as I look for any signs of trouble.

It’s an anxious walk home but as I get there, the first thing I see is a POD hovering nearby and instantly feel safer; Murdoch has at least come through on his promise and I relax a little. I know I still have to testify against the gang, but it seems like a formality that they will be sentenced for a long time. I consider the fact that they may come looking for me anyway, but it would surely be too risky for them; although invisibles are able to go anywhere, they rarely stray from the shelters provided for them. Out on the streets, they are easy targets for anyone, particularly victims of their crimes. There have been reports of invisibles disappearing and even found dead. One invisible, sentenced for repeatedly beating his children, was found beaten to death himself in a ditch in one of the outlying towns, like the place I was in earlier. The police never bothered to search for the murderer, as murdering an invisible isn’t a crime; you can’t kill what doesn’t exist.

As I approach the house, I notice there are no lights on, which isn’t unusual, just unexpected. Aunt Carolyn may have been upstairs for a while and the light sensors downstairs have gone to sleep. Or maybe I’m just looking too much into things, I really don’t know. I press my thumb against the pad on the wall and step inside as the door swings open, but all I am greeted by is silence. Detecting my movements, the lights instantly brighten the room but there’s no sign of Aunt Carolyn; I would have expected her to be home by now. I look at the clock; it’s almost nine. Something’s not right. It’s not uncommon for her to work late, but she’s always home for seven thirty at the latest, so I know something is definitely wrong. I can just feel it. It’s eerie like there’s been a death. One time when I was a kid I’d stayed here for a weekend. There was a fire at the house next door and three people died. The feeling then was like it is now; disturbing and ominous, empty like something is missing.

The music on my phone suddenly starts playing, scaring the hell out of me. I’m hoping it’s Carolyn and I feel guilty at the disappointment that runs through me when I see Emily’s name and face on the screen. She only wants to know if I’m home and okay as she hasn’t heard from me yet, and for obvious reasons I avoid telling her that’s because I’ve spent the evening in a police cell. I’m grateful for the call, but I want to know where Carolyn is. As I shut the front door, I hear a noise behind me and I turn to see where it came from. A shape, best described as a huge dark blur, comes towards me and the next thing I know, I’m on the floor having taken a well-aimed kick to the chest. The phone flings from my hand and I shout to Emily, who I’m hoping is still on the phone and hearing the commotion, to call the police but I’ve no idea if she’s heard me. I try to get up but a strong arm wraps itself around my chest, a hand clamps around my mouth and I am dragged into the lounge. The taste of leather from the gloves fills my mouth and I try to bite the attacker’s hand, but it has little, if any impact. I fight back as much as I can, wildly kicking my legs out and my right foot makes contact with the assailant’s shin. He curses and flings me to the sofa and I again shout to Emily to call the police. One of the attackers pushes my head into the settee and pulls my left arm up until it can’t go any further. I scream in pain and the man tells me to stay still before letting me go. I look round to see three burly men standing in front of me, arms crossed menacingly while forming a human wall to prevent me from escaping. I try to jump over the back of the sofa, but a large pair of hands grab my ankles and drags me back before pinning me down. The man presses his hands hard into my shoulders.

“What did I just say?” he shouts, his face just centimetres from mine. “Are you going to make this difficult?” I shake my head nervously. “Good answer,” he replies, slapping my left cheek, like a parent giving a ‘well done’ to their child. The man releases his grip and takes his place between the other two.

As I sit up, another man enters the room and walks towards me with a deliberate slow pace. He stops but keeps his face hidden, obscured by a combination of the glare of the light behind him and the hood he is wearing. I wonder if he’s just going to stand there all evening just staring at me, until he finally breaks the silence.

“You’ve caused me a hell of a lot of trouble, Mr Yorke,” he says in a very well-spoken but croaky voice, which could well have been Mr Robertson, if he wasn’t inside a police cell. “Today was supposed to be a quick job, nothing difficult, but you decided to get caught and break protocol.”

I try to stand so I can defend myself but the men in front prevent me. “It wasn’t my fault,” I reply desperately, trying to see a way through the wall of muscle. “Nick chose the car. There was a baby inside.”

The man moves closer but I still can’t see his face. “I couldn’t care less if a whole family and their dog were in the vehicle,” he snaps. “You should have just stopped and left it on the pavement but no, Nathan Yorke has his own agenda. Nathan Yorke sells us out and costs me a lot of good people.” I can feel his anger towards me building. “Nathan Yorke puts the life of a pathetic little baby before those of his colleagues.”

I make another impassioned plea of innocence. “I’m sorry. They were going to sentence me for kidnapping and -”

“And you should have let them,” the man cuts me off angrily. “But instead, you destroy part of my operation.” I think his patience, which is probably already quite thin, has broken. “And now. You have. To face. The consequences.”

His words are deliberate, slow and full of purpose, and I can tell by the way he is acting that I’m going to suffer.

“Please,” I choke. “I had no choice.” I know I sound pathetic, like a six year old begging to his father, but I have to find a way out of this. “I’ll do anything you want. Just give me another chance.” I can feel my heart racing faster than it ever has done and I am aware of tears rolling down my face. “Please, I don’t want to die.”

“Die?” The man says in a surprised tone. “Who said anything about dying?” One of the men in front of me grins while the other two remain stone-faced. “I’m not going to kill you Nathan,” he says much to my great relief. “Killing you would be pointless.” He pauses for a moment, before continuing. “No, you serve a far greater purpose, my friend.”

What does that mean? If he’s not going to kill me, then what is he going to do? I thought I was going to die here and they’d leave my body for Aunt Carolyn to discover. Probably make it look like suicide or something, but now what? I watch the man as he stands still, seemingly making his decision, before telling the men in front of him to proceed. One man turns and lifts a small, metal case off the floor, setting it down on the sofa next to me. He opens it and inside, I can see a selection of syringes, needles and bottles of clear liquid. He selects one syringe and inserts it into the cap of a bottle, drawing the fluid into the plastic tube. Once he has reached the required level and released the air bubbles, he turns to me and I fight to get away, but the other two men hold me down. I can’t see much of what was going on, but I feel my right sleeve being pulled up and a strong hand grips tightly around my upper arm. I again struggle and try to pull my arm away, but it’s useless; I’m not strong enough to fight off one of these guys, let alone two.

“Relax Nathan,” the man holding the needle says. “This will make it much easier.”

I feel a pinch as the needle penetrates my skin, and the cold liquid flows into my veins. Once the injection has finished, I am released but the men remain standing in front of me, re-forming their wall.

“Give it a couple of minutes,” the man says as he puts the syringe carefully back into the case. “Then he’ll be away with the fairies.” The other men laugh as they stare at me and I wonder what he means.

“What have you done to me?” I ask as my eyes start to droop and I realise that I’ve been drugged. Behind the human wall I see the bright lights of a car shining through the windows and I’m hoping its Aunt Carolyn or the police. I’m starting to feel light headed and the room is moving in circles, or is that me? The images in front of me are blurring by the second. I feel sick and wonder what sort of drug was in the needle. I hear the man speak again but I can’t tell what he’s saying and between the burly figures in front of me, I can see two more people entering the house, dragging a third person behind them. I can’t see who it is, but I can tell it’s a female. I try to stand but my legs won’t work; it’s like I’m paralysed from the waist down and I just fall onto the floor.  The human wall moves as I try to crawl along the floor. I am aware they are laughing at my futile efforts but I still try; I need to help Emily.

“Leave her alone,” I shout, at least I think I shout; I’m not convinced I’m making any sense anymore. “She has nothing to do with this.”

I want to get up and help her, but I’m losing the feeling in my arms, and my head hits the floor in defeat as I finally succumb to the serum injected into my body. The last sensation I feel is being lifted and thrown onto the sofa. The man crouches over me and removes his hood and I can make out some very faint features on his face.

“Silly boy,” he says quietly.  His face is quickly replaced by an array of bright coloured specks of light, dancing in front of my eyes while everything else turns into a complete blur. I know I’m about to pass out and try to resist it for as long as possible, but it’s hopeless. Then I hear the words I don’t want to hear and I’m powerless to prevent from happening.

It is the order to kill her.