Res Publica: Strip and Search
Copyright 2021 Lorenzo Marks
Natalie knew she was taking a chance by cutting through the park. If she hadn’t run into her friend Brooke, she would have probably taken the bus or the subway—although these days they were almost as risky as the park—but she had to get to the job interview by nine, and they figured if they stuck together and kept their heads down they should remain fairly anonymous in the crowd of commuters.
Sometimes a person coming the other would try to tip you off if there were Civic Police in the area. A slight shake of the head, the subtle waving of a flat palm, something like that. But there were surveillance cameras everywhere these days, and very few citizens wanted to risk running foul of the civic authorities. Anyway, there were no hints that danger lay ahead, so Natalie and Brooke linked arms and followed the gravel pathway toward the small lake in the middle of the city park.
Winter was coming and it was cool enough to require jackets, the sky a sheet of white and flecks of rain in the air. Even so, the park was quite busy with people heading to work, not because it was safe, but the chances of being accosted by the Civic Police were less than walking through downtown.
Which was why the sudden turn of events that changed Natalie’s life had come as such a complete surprise. They were walking past a high hedge, approximately halfway through the park, when Brooke’s cell rang. Brooke took her arm away to answer the call and Natalie turned around to wait. Brooke started to speak but then looked over Natalie’s shoulder, and her eyes grew wide.
“Run!” Brooke whispered.
Brooke turned and ran.
Other people were hurrying away too, but for that fatal split second, Natalie instinctively turned around to see what they were running from—and found herself looking straight into the eyes of a Civic Police officer. She backed off a pace, but he said, “Hey, pretty. Where are you going?”
Natalie’s stomach tightened as she glanced at the official silver and black badge on his coat lapel: Civic Police Inspector Julian Snyder. Res Publica.
She had of course heard the horror stories about the unlimited powers of these sadistic civic policemen. Many of them had been low level municipal employees during the old normal, but now, backed up by the Corporate State, they could do pretty much whatever they liked with impunity—and once they had you in their cross hairs there was no escape. Today it was Natalie’s turn. She glanced back to see Brooke jogging in the opposite direction and she realized now that she was on her own.
Julian had worked for the city before the pandemic and the subsequent political takeover—a low paid, boring office job in the public health department. But that was during old normal times, before the new corporate government began systematically stripping away the basic human rights that its citizens once took for granted. And they had moved fast, turning this once vibrant city into a place of suspicion and fear. Now the Corporate State had unlimited powers, which meant that as a Civic Police Officer, Julian did too. He proudly wore the notorious silver and black badge that was enough to make the color drain from the face of any citizen he encountered. He could do whatever he wanted—and he had a lot of catching up to do!
The gorgeous young woman now trembling in front of him would have been out of his league before the takeover. She still was of course, but the normal rules of engagement no longer applied to Julian. This was the kind of uppity bitch who wouldn’t have given him the time of day when he had been a mere office drone. Now she had no choice, and just the mental image of what he was planning to do to her gave him a woody.
He said, “Would you accompany me please?”
Her eyes wide, she said, “W-Why?”
Julian smiled kindly. “Because I asked you to—you don’t question the Civic Police, do you?”
“I-I meant, I haven’t done anything wrong!” the girl stammered.
Julian regarded her. Long, loosely curled brown hair. Fair complexion with light freckles. Pretty eyes and pouty lips. She was perfect.
“We’ll just have to find that out, won’t we?” he said.
The girl still didn’t move. Maybe she couldn’t. Julian decided to help.
“Or would you prefer to do this at Civic Headquarters?”
The girl whimpered and stiffly followed him across to a park bench where his colleagues, Officer Leon and Officer Floyd where sitting. Floyd was drinking from a hip flask as usual. Leon was playing a game on his phone. Now they both looked up with interest as Julian returned with the sexy young woman.
Julian said to the girl, “Identification, please.”
The girl opened the compulsory VaccinCorp Passport app in her cell phone and shakily held it up. Julian took out his own phone and scanned her QR code. A second later he had all of her personal information in front of him.
Natalie shuffled her feet anxiously while Inspector Snyder checked her information. She could see people glancing in her direction, no doubt counting their blessings that they hadn’t been stopped themselves. Natalie didn’t want to speculate why this guy had specifically picked on her, but she had an uncomfortable feeling as the other two officers on the bench leered at her.
Reading from his phone, Inspector Snyder said,“Natalie Wells, twenty-two years old. Height, five feet eight. Weight, one hundred twenty pounds. Hair brown, eyes blue—bust, thirty-six inches.”
He paused and glanced at Natalie’s chest and she blushed, glad that she was wearing a thick jacket.
Inspector Snyder went on, “Address, one seventeen, Parkway. Marital status, single. Current occupation, unemployed.”
He looked at her again. “What are you doing on this side of the city, Natalie?”
“I-I’m going to a job interview.”
“Really? What kind of job?”
“Um, hotel receptionist.”
“And what time is the interview?”
Inspector Snyder shook his head apologetically. “I don’t think you’re going to make it.”
Natalie’s heart sank. She had been hoping that if all her credentials were in order, they might promptly send her on her way. But the way this guy was looking at her, she now feared he might detain her for a while to come yet.
He continued to read about her personal life while his two creepy looking colleagues casually watched her. Natalie had heard terrible rumors about defenseless women being taken advantage of by the Civic Police. She had even seen people being searched in the street herself, had shared their embarrassment at having their belongings tipped onto the sidewalk—and had of course, been selfishly grateful that it hadn’t been happening to her.
Except now she was being investigated by the Civic Police for the first time, right here in the middle of the park, and there was nothing she could do to change that. How she wished she could turn back time, but that was just being foolish. She was an adult. She needed to manage this situation. These thugs may well be Civic Police, but they were still men—and Natalie knew how to push a man’s buttons. But right now she needed to keep quiet, act humble, and hope that once they had demonstrated their power and authority, they would let her go.
Inspector Snyder scrolled down his phone and frowned.
“Oh. I see you are behind on your vaccination schedule,” he said.
Natalie winced inwardly. She had been putting it off. She hated needles.
“Have you been ill recently? Headaches? Sneezing?”
“Even so, you could still be an asymptomatic carrier,” Inspector Snyder said. “I could have you arrested for that, you know.”
“I-I was planning to go the VaccinCorp building tomorrow morning,” Natalie said.
Inspector Snyder scrolled down and Natalie breathed a sigh of relief, but then he gave her another disconcertingly long look before continuing to pry into her personal life.
“I see you are a member of the Andromeda gym. Expensive place for an unemployed girl.”
Natalie glanced at him. She had managed to wangle a free membership by flirting with one of the gym club instructors. There was no way she was ever going to sleep with the guy, but the poor sap didn’t know that.
“It was a gift membership,” Natalie lied.
Inspector Snyder nodded.
“So you like to keep in shape, then?”
Natalie nodded cautiously.
“Yet you are behind on your medical updates. The virus could be lurking inside you.”
Natalie said, “I feel fine, really!”
“But what if you are infected?” Inspector Snyder said. “I could get into a lot of trouble if I don’t report you to Civic Headquarters.”
Natalie’s heart began to pound.
“P-Please don’t—I’ll go to VaccinCorp right now, if you want me to!”
Inspector Snyder looked at his two colleagues.
“What do you say, guys?”
The fat one with the hip flask said, “Hey, you could put her through your fitness test.”
“That’s a good idea, Floyd,” Inspector Snyder grinned. “Leon?”
“I’d like to see that,” smiled the one with the pocked marked face.
Inspector Snyder turned to Natalie.
“So, what’s it going to be? Civic Headquarters or the fitness test?”
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