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Justice isn’t dead… yet.
It’s been two years since Sam Shepherd embarked on a one-man mission to change the judicial system, a mission that ended on live television in front of a stunned nation. His mission became a calling, a movement for change that demanded to be heard.
They didn’t listen.
From the ashes of that mission rises a new group, one that has vowed to succeed where Sam failed.
Special Agent Jack Randall of the FBI is tasked with stopping them. It promises to be a fight such as he’s never known.
This time he’s not after one killer. He’s up against twelve.
The first two chapters of Rebellion:
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process they do not become one.”
Anna parked her car in the park’s nearly empty lot. As she stretched her legs on the bumper, she took in her surroundings out of habit. Nothing caught her eye but a few kids skateboarding through on their way home and a young couple steaming up the windows at the other end of the lot. She put on her hat and gloves before dismissing them all and striking out down the trail.
It was much later in the day than she was accustomed to, but her eyes had plenty of moonlight to navigate by and she followed the trail from memory. The night air was chilly and she paused long enough to pull the collar of her training shirt up and over her mouth. With only her eyes now showing, she picked up the pace.
Two laps later the parking lot was void of skateboarders and she had worked up a nice sweat. The simple act of running worked to force unwanted memories aside, and the miles dropped off under her feet without her really noticing. She would run all day if her body let her, staying forever in this zone of nothingness. No pain. No worry. No memories. A tranquil place she could hide in. She welcomed the darkness as well, it was a trusted friend, and she ran into its arms willingly. Clouds began to intermittently covered the moon making it that much darker, but it would take more than darkness to stop her.
She passed the parking lot again. A large pickup truck had pulled in. She caught sight of two men in the cab, and the smell of marijuana tickled her nose as she silently passed behind them. The young couple were still steaming up the windows. She stayed on the dark trail and passed without being noticed.
The distraction served to bring her back to reality. This time she let it. Options. What were her options? She could continue as she was doing, working toward putting it behind her. Eventually the dreams would subside and the pain of loss would follow. She was young, she still had time to build a new life. Maybe go back to school someday, maybe even meet someone and start over. These were the things she had told herself for the last two years. They were possible, if she just ran hard enough and long enough she would get there. She had to believe that.
She had much more to live for.
She stifled the answer and increased her pace. Before she knew it, she was at the parking lot again. She saw a man standing next to the young lovers’ car, watching the action in the backseat through a window. She frowned as she got closer and then stopped when she heard a muffled scream. Walking closer still, Anna saw the body of a teenage boy laying on the concrete. His breath showed in the cold night air, but he remained motionless.
Kenny’s grunts could be heard over a girl’s muffled screams.
“Yeah, Kenny. Show her how it’s done!”
“Shut her up, man, and hurry up!”
Anna never remembered making the decision.
The boy on the ground moaned and held his stomach. The man standing over him spun around and swung a boot into his head. The boy’s head snapped around and he again lay still.
Anna stepped out of the shadows and walked toward them. The man saw the motion and spun to face her.
“Well, hello, darling. You come to join us?”
“Who you talking to?”
“We got company, some fun for me.”
The girl screamed again and Kenny responded by punching her in the face.
“Damn it. We gotta go?”
“I got this; just keep that bitch quiet!”
Anna sized him up as she approached. About her height, with a scraggly beard and moustache. Baggy jeans and a hunting jacket over a camouflage shirt. He pulled on his hat before reaching in his belt. Anna stopped when the knife snapped open. She was just out of range.
“Don’t run off now. Let’s have some fun.”
Anna stepped left and the man rotated with her. She put up her arms in a surrendering posture. The man smiled and gestured for her to get up against the car. He smiled again when her butt hit the fender. He had her cornered. She was his for the taking.
He reached for her hair, the knife held up in front of her face where she couldn’t miss seeing it.
Hours of hard work in the gym had given Anna abs of steel. She contracted them now and snapped her upper body inside the reach of his groping hand. At the same time, her arms crossed at the wrist and she brought them down to meet his hand just above the knife. Her hands grasped a hand and a forearm, turning them against each other and back toward the man’s own body. Once she had them positioned, she dropped to her knees with all her weight.
The crack of breaking bones echoed across the parking lot. The man sucked in a breath to scream, but he ran out of time.
Catching the knife now falling from his lifeless hand, she spun in place and slammed the butt end into the man’s throat, choking off the scream and putting him on the concrete next to the boy. He grabbed his crushed throat and kicked his legs while he struggled for air.
“Son of a bitch!”
Kenny scrambled to leave the backseat, but the pants around his ankles tripped him up.
He had just planted his feet on the ground when the girl landed a wild kick to the side of his face. Her screams became non-stop, and her feet continued to kick the air in search of her tormenter.
“God damn it! I’ll fucking kill you both!”
Before he could suck in another breath, he was staring at the handle of the knife sticking out of his chest. His eyes widened in disbelief as his pot-addled brain struggled to grasp what it meant. A cough sent a wave of pain like he had never felt through his body, and the copper taste of blood filled his mouth.
He stared at Anna until his legs failed and left him sliding down the car to the ground. His groping hands managed to wrap themselves around the knife. He yanked once, and the blade popped free, followed by a geyser of blood.
His last sight was that of his friend lying still on the concrete next to him, his eyes and tongue sticking out as he took his final gasp for air.
Anna stepped back and avoided the growing pool. The girl was now attempting to cover herself with her ripped clothing and wailing hysterically. She was badly beaten. One of her eyes was swollen shut and the other full of tears. A cut from her shattered glasses bled freely over her good eye. She whimpered like a trapped animal.
Motion at her feet drew Anna’s attention and she stooped to check on the boy. He was still unconscious, but coming around. She took off a glove and felt for a pulse. Strong. He’d be okay.
“Do you have a phone?”
“Do you have a phone?”
“Call the police.”
“Wait… wait. Are you leaving? Don’t leave me here alone! Ronny? Where’s Ronny?”
“He’s right here. He’ll be fine. Just call the police.”
The girl squinted at her through myopic eyes.
“Who are you? Where did… where did they go?”
“They’re gone. They can’t hurt you anymore.”
“Just call the police!”
Anna turned and ran. She was in her car and leaving seconds later.
The man stepped farther back into the thick trees, just in time to conceal himself from the passing headlights of Anna’s car. He doffed the night vision goggles and stowed them away before watching the retreating taillights of Anna’s car disappear around the first corner. Watching the teenager’s car, he saw the girl emerge on unsteady feet holding an object in her hands. She cried out at the site of the two dead men and wrapped her tattered clothes around herself as best she could while struggling to dial the cell phone. The calm voice of a 911 operator traveled across the silent lot to his ears, and he immediately dismissed the girl in favor of another look in the direction of the woman he had come to watch.
There was no sign of her. A brief smile found its way onto his face. It was a smile of satisfaction. He silently moved back into the trees and was soon a part of the night.
Anna took the first two turns she came to and found an alley to park in. After pulling into the shadows she shut the car off and rolled the window down a few inches. She worked to control her breathing while she waited.
“What the hell are you doing?” she whispered to no one.
She wasn’t sure.
She replayed everything in her mind. She had gloves and a hat on. Her shirt was pulled up over her face. The boy had never regained consciousness, at least not enough to see her. The girl had one bad eye and the other was myopic and full of tears. Anna doubted if she’d been anything but a blurry shape to her. Her clothes? Did she have blood on them? There was no way to be sure, so they would go in the trash before she got home. She had another outfit in her gym bag. Shoeprints? Hers were fresh, but also among hundreds of others in the park that day. Didn’t matter; shoes were cheap. She would ditch these as well and buy another pair tomorrow. Were there cameras in the park? She had never seen any and she wasn’t the type to miss them. No, she was sure there was nothing on video. What about around her on the streets? Yes. There were some. There were always some. Her only choice was to defeat the timeline. The cops would get a report from the girl. They would check the cameras for footage from around that time. She retraced her route from the park. No ATMs. No businesses. There was the park, and the river, and some old houses in a poorer neighborhood. Unlikely that anyone there had money to spend on cameras.
She took a deep breath and replayed it all again, looking for holes, anything that could lead back to her. Nothing. She did it again, this time from the time she had left her apartment. Nothing.
The sound of a distant siren reached her through the cracked window and she smiled. The girl had found her phone. She followed its progress as the wail echoed through the night. Another soon joined it and then a third while she listened them getting closer. The flash of lights began to reflect off the wall at the alley’s entrance, and she watched as two squad cars and an ambulance dashed past the opening in front of her.
“Help her, guys,” she cheered them on quietly.
She watched and waited impatiently until she saw the ambulance leave in the opposite direction. She almost picked up the phone again—the habit was ingrained—but she suppressed the action and tossed it aside.
“They wouldn’t believe you. Not anymore.”
An hour later she reached into the back seat and pulled out her gym bag. Peeling off her sweaty clothes and shoes, she stuffed them in a discarded grocery bag before putting on a baggy pair of sweats and a worn hoodie. She started the car, cringing at the noise it made before quickly putting it in gear. She eased up to the mouth of the ally and, with the headlights off, steered the car away from the park. Keeping to the backstreets, she navigated her way out of the area and away from her apartment. Finding her way to a highway, she traveled for over ten miles before exiting and finding a fast food restaurant.
Bypassing the drive-through, she pulled around the back where she found what she had hoped to find: an open dumpster. Without getting out of the car, she placed a well-aimed shot up and over the bags already piled inside. She briefly considered setting the whole mess on fire, but decided the timing and overkill might draw more attention than she wished. Once back on the road, she took a roundabout route on her way home and parked in her usual spot. Thankfully, her parking lot was empty of foot traffic, so no one saw her padding up the sidewalk to her door barefoot.
After closing the door behind her, she stripped naked. Gathering the clothes up, she stuffed them into a kitchen garbage bag. Leaving it by the door, she walked straight to the bathroom and took a very long shower, scrubbing every inch of her body and hair twice and then standing under the stream until the water began to cool.
Washing away evidence. Something she had never thought she would ever do.
Wrapping herself in a towel, she stepped out and wiped the mirror clear. The look on her face stopped her short.
“What did you do?”
Tears started and her hands balled into fists.
“What happened to you?” she whispered.
Not getting an answer, her face turned to one of anger.
“What the hell are you!”
Her fist began raining blows into her own reflection, faster and faster, the sobbing grew with the intensity of the attack, until the mirror cracked under the onslaught and blood began flowing down its surface, changing direction with every shattered line. Her forehead met the mirror’s surface, before she sank to her knees and cupped her bloody hand as she sobbed.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”
But there was no one there to accept her apology.
It was a small diner. Much like any other one in the nation, this one was open twenty-four hours a day. He had selected it because of its low traffic and multiple exits. The BLT he was mechanically eating did little to distract his thoughts from what he had witnessed.
He replayed the scene several times and tried to answer questions both old and new.
Was she still the one they sought? He wasn’t sure now. Her actions were confusing. They had verified her skills, while at the same time calling into question her mindset. He’d been about to intervene on the teenager’s behalf, himself when she had appeared on the track and approached the two men without hesitation. He had actually stepped out of hiding at one point. Foolish of him he now saw, and he scolded himself for doing so. His target had handled the two men with both an ease and brutality that had surprised him, and he had returned to the darkness of the trees to watch what she would do next.
The phone lying next to his now empty plate served as a reminder. There wasn’t much time. He had to make a decision. He checked his watch and then got to his feet. Leaving enough cash on the table to cover his tab and a healthy tip, he made his way out the side entrance and to his rental car. The drive to the hotel was short and that was as planned as well; he had something he wished to watch on the television tonight, and after that he had a call to make.
He was looking forward to the former, but not the latter.
“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”
There was nothing remotely interesting about the building. It was like any other convenience store found in any American city, yet he examined it with an intensity it didn’t deserve. The traffic was light tonight and getting lighter as the sun went down. People entered empty handed and exited with their lottery tickets, bags of junk food, and giant Styrofoam cups. Most got gas as well, as he had. He didn’t really need anything, yet he wanted to go in. Just to see if he could do it.
He smiled and nodded at the couple passing by. Checking on the old man, it was nice of them. They would forget about him before they got to the double doors. Everyone did. Just another retiree with nothing to do. He was too ordinary for any thought beyond that, and he had accepted it a long time ago. He unconsciously rubbed his ring on the steering wheel as a woman walked across the lot with a child in tow. They laughed about something, and he smiled when the boy held the door for his mother. They disappeared inside and he found himself staring intently at the door, willing them to reappear. Eventually, an ache in his hands gripping the wheel shook him out of it.
A nudge from his passenger pulled his eyes away from the door. The dog whimpered, nuzzling his arm further until he received the man’s full attention. He stroked his fur with a gnarled hand and the dog responded by licking his face.
“All right, Irving, you’re right. Time to go home. We don’t want to miss the TV tonight.”
He put the car in gear and pulled around to the entrance. Glancing at the mirror, he saw the woman and her son emerge from the store, still laughing, still full of life.
He wiped his eyes clear, before pulling out and heading east. Irving stuck his head out the window, blocking any view of the store in the mirror. The man silently thanked him before swallowing hard and driving on.
Dayton sprawled on the hotel bed. He’d already secured the door and pulled the drapes shut, so he didn’t worry about the gun laying on the bed beside him being seen from outside. The TV glared at him from across the room, but he had silenced it so he could concentrate on the file he had spread out around him.
He knew most of it by heart. It was similar to several others he had committed to memory over the past couple years. With one exception.
The photo found itself back into his hands. Not an official one, but one he had caught while observing her the first day. She had been exiting the gym and had encountered a dog walker, one with several dogs in tow of all shapes and sizes. She had been surrounded by them as they towed the walker forward and, for the briefest of seconds, the hardness had vanished. The set of her jaw had slackened and a smile had painted itself there as she tried to pet them all at once. He had snapped the shot, and then watched as the walker apologized profusely before towing his menagerie of canines away from her to travel on. She waved the apology away and then watched them leave, but her face had already returned to its previous state.
It had stayed that way for the rest of the time Dayton had watched, and he found himself longing for its return.
He now stared at the photo. The lines of her face. The hair. In many ways, it was a familiar face. With a sigh, he forced himself to place the picture back in the file and closed it. He pulled out his cell phone, engaged the encryption software and…thumbed it back off. Something was stopping him. He wasn’t sure what, but the phone was returned to the bed. Tonight’s activities would go unreported—for now at least. He’d figure it out later.
His hand found the gun and he picked it up for no reason, finding comfort and reassurance in its weight and feel, before setting it back down and replacing it with the remote control. He thumbed the volume higher as the show started.
“Good evening, and welcome to NBS News. Tonight on our show we have the interview all of America has been waiting for. Paul Kelly, brother-in-law to Sam Shepherd, also known as the Vigilante Sniper, has granted NBS an exclusive interview from behind the walls of the maximum-security prison here in Florence, Colorado.
“Sam Shepherd is a name that grew to international fame two years ago when he, with the support of his brother-in-law, embarked on a crusade to rid the country of some of its most despised criminal elements. Some of which had been convicted, but many who some would say had escaped justice. This crusade ended in front of the entire world on live television, shortly after Senator John Harper of Georgia was gunned down outside the capitol building following the President’s speech at the State of the Union address. Many have called Shepherd a criminal, a terrorist, a vigilante driven by grief and a twisted view of the justice system. Others call him a patriot, a man protecting his fellow Americans when the system failed to do so. The debate has gone on for two years and divided a nation. Many of the questions as to why and to what end Shepherd and Kelly chose to launch their campaign still remain. We hope to answer some of these here tonight on our program, which will be brought to you live and without commercial interruption.
“Negotiations for this interview took several months. Mr. Kelly had a number of requirements and getting the prison officials to agree to them took some effort on the part of this reporter. Eventually, an agreement was reached. Tonight’s interview will be live and broadcast with only a five-second delay. We are also airing this at a later hour to lessen the likelihood of children seeing the broadcast. The interview will be live for one hour, and recorded from then on only if Mr. Kelly wishes to continue.”
The camera switched to a prison wardroom. The grey concrete block walls and lack of any furniture advertised its Spartan conditions. Paul sat in what was obviously a borrowed office chair across from the reporter. Bright jury-rigged lights shone down on both of them, highlighting the contrast between the tanned face of the reporter in his suit and the pale man across from him in his orange prison garb. He appeared calm, resting his hands in his lap and meeting the reporter’s gaze with intelligent eyes and a slightly tilted head. His expression offered nothing. The camera switched to the reporter, and the silhouette of a guard could be seen bisected by the edge of the frame.
A few hundred miles away, two men sat in a dark room in front of several monitors. The younger of them sat upright in front of the keyboard, his hands never far from it. When his hands did move the screens danced in front of him, spewing forth data on whatever subject interested him. His typing speed spoke of years of practice and despite an age that could be guessed at as in the mid-forties, he was already showing the slight stoop of a life spent bent over a desk. His right foot pumped against an angled footrest in a never-ending battle with the pain of muscle damage. An old wound that required a cane, it served as both a reminder and a motivator. His given name had long been forgotten and, to those who knew him in the world he operated in, he was a ghost—a legend to some, an enemy to others. But the name was never spoken without respect, even by those he counted as former employers, the same ones who hunted him now. To them all, he was simply William Ockham.
Next to him sat a man whose legs did not move at all, the damage to them both greater and more permanent then that of his younger colleague. He sat in the finest custom wheelchair yet manufactured and was clothed in a tailored suit. His silver hair was meticulously groomed, and he watched the screens from behind a pair of thick bifocals, his intelligent eyes not missing a thing. A West Point ring adorned one finger, and he fought the urge to tap it on the arm of the chair as he often did when heavy thinking was involved. Like his young partner, he had given up his formal name—at least inside this room—and was now addressed as he had been for many years: by his last rank held. It served to establish his position and remind those he did business with of who they were engaging with. A man accustomed to both money and power, he was used to getting what he wanted. Abruptly retired by age and injury, he now worked outside the system, with a different set of goals and a very different set of rules.
“He looks a little thinner.”
“Prison food will do that to you.”
“According to our sources. As he said, he has many friends, both inside and outside the system. Paul is hands-off to both the prisoners and the guards. It wasn’t difficult.”
“I would imagine the white supremacists would not let him live.”
“A donation to one party, a threat to the other. They understand.”
The old man squinted at the screen, and a few taps of the keyboard enlarged the picture without him asking.
“Some volume, please, William.”
The reporter had finished his polite opening questions, and was now ready to hit his first talking point.
“In the last two years, many have said that you and Sam damaged the country. Particularly the judicial system.”
“Have we? I ask that in return because I have yet to see an instance where we’ve damaged the system as it existed then. Outside of copycats, which we took steps to avoid from the beginning, I would say there has been no collateral damage from the actions we took. If anything, we’ve sparked a debate that’s led to some changes for the better. Since I’ve been imprisoned we’ve seen a number of measures being brought before Congress to strengthen the system, to make it harder for criminals to escape justice, and to keep career criminals behind bars, where they belong. Even in the population, there has been change: Reported crimes are up. Where before people chose not to become involved, as they had no faith in the system, they now come forward and point out criminal behavior. I would say that’s a change for the better.
“But I’m open to the idea. If anyone can point out where our actions have resulted in serious harm to the country, I’d be interested in seeing it. But I don’t think they can. And when I hear such claims, I find them hard to take seriously.”
“Throughout history, those who have rebelled against the system have always been labeled as such. Whether they are a whistleblower pointing out corruption, or a simple man with a musket throwing tea into a harbor, they are immediately identified as a problem. In this country, it’s become standard: If you identify a problem, you in turn are identified as a problem and immediately discredited.”
“They would argue that some of your… targets were not guilty of any crime.”
“And they would be right. Technically, they were not guilty. But are they any less guilty by enabling those who are? I’ll use myself as an example. I, myself, have never committed a violent act. I have never caused the death of another human being, nor have I committed one physical crime under US code. Yet, here I sit in a maximum security prison. The reason for this is that I aided my brother-in-law who did commit such acts. I’ve been told that there are several ways I can fight my sentence, numerous loopholes in the law which I could twist to my advantage and possibly gain my release.”
“They would argue that you would be taking advantage of the very thing you have fought to change.”
“Exactly, which is why my lawyers are upset with me for not giving them the go-ahead to do so.”
“Will you reconsider that at a future time?”
The reporter paused, hoping his subject would elaborate, but when it became apparent that that was all the answer he was going to get, he moved on.
“Let’s talk about Sam. How would you define your brother-in-law?”
Paul seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if he didn’t wish to answer. But when he did, his voice was strong.
“Smart, very intelligent. Driven. Loyal. He was a patriot, a man who loved and served his country until he died. A great husband and father. A skilled professional, in all aspects of his life.”
“You say he served his country, and we, and a great many others I might add, have been trying to determine in what capacity he did so. Most inquiries have been met with a blank stare. We know he was in the Special Forces, an instructor at one point, but beyond that very little. Could you possibly shed some light on his role with the military?”
Paul graced them with his first smile, and the reporter responded in kind, but not for the same reason.
“I wish I could. Other than the occasional story he told for entertainment purposes, he actually shared very little. There were never any photos around the house or anything sitting on a shelf somewhere from some far-off country. Other than a few names, and they were only first names, he never mentioned the people he worked with or the things he did.”
“So security was important to him, even though he was out of the army?”
“Never slipped up over a few drinks, or shared any inside knowledge of a particular place?”
“No. If anything, he liked to point out others making mistakes.”
“Okay, here’s a story. We’re out one night at a bar, watching a football game or something, and we hear this guy at the table next to us spouting off to his buddies about all the stuff he does for the Special Forces. He just wouldn’t shut up. On and on and on, until finally Sam and I switched tables. On the way home, I asked him if he knew the guy, and he laughed. He said: ‘A real special ops guy doesn’t go around telling the world he’s a special ops guy.’ And he’s right. After that, every time I saw a Special Forces sticker on a car or a SEAL team trident tattoo, I’d laugh because I knew the guy who put it there was an impostor. So, to answer your question, yes, Sam took security very seriously.”
“And he taught you to as well?”
“What about his political views?”
“Sam was not happy with the current administration, or the several that had gone before it for that matter. I mean… You have to understand that this was a man who had spent the better part of his life, a life he often put at risk, trying to make the world a better place, and by doing so, make the United States a better place. The problem the government has with men like Sam is that the reward for doing their job well is promotion, and with promotion comes more access. By its nature, you need intelligent people to do the job he did. The problem for the government is that people like that don’t come with an off switch. You just can’t keep feeding them bullshit and expect them to believe it. Well, Sam saw the raw data. He saw what was really going on in these other countries, and when a man with that knowledge and those principals sees the story that his government is feeding the public, the world, and it doesn’t come close to matching the truth, it does not sit well. I remember him calling Colin Powell a liar, and telling me there was no reason for us to be going into Iraq. These are things that were eventually proven to be true. The American people were fed a carefully-crafted lie, and the politicians were counting on the post-9/11 mindset of the average American to be angry and afraid enough to buy it. And it just keeps happening: now we have the intelligence agencies operating with free rein. Look at the fallout from Edward Snowden. That’s another man whom they claim has damaged the country. The amount of money being spent by our own government so it can spy on its own citizens is in the billions, while the amount spent on protecting those citizens from a criminal element right here at home, right now, is a fraction of that. Sam felt that the leadership had lost its sense of priority.”
“And since he couldn’t do anything about what was happening overseas…”
“He fought the battle he thought he could win, here at home.”
“And now others are.”
Paul’s eyes narrowed at the bait question. “I have no insight into that.”
“For the record: You have no connection to any other vigilante, be it a person or a group, while inside these walls?”
“I do not. Sam was very specific about that. It was our whole purpose for sending the letters to the FBI, so that if copycats did occur, they would be able to tell the difference. It also gave them a way to notify the public that they had a way to do so and thus discourage anyone from emulating us. Why the FBI never notified the public is beyond me. I have yet to figure that one out.”
“You’re saying that they never went public with the information?”
“No, after a while we couldn’t wait anymore and leaked it ourselves. They then followed suit.”
“Since you’ve denied any affiliation with outside groups, can we get your opinion on one of them?”
“The Twelve Shepherds?”
“Yes. What’s your opinion of their actions?”
“I only know what I read in the press, and I’m not allowed to see much television coverage, so I can’t approve or disapprove of their actions as I simply lack quality information. But I will say that their targeting seems in line with what Sam believed, and I approve of their method of discouraging copycats. Other than that, I have no comment.”
“What about their targeting of women?”
“I have no comment.”
“Very well… During your campaign, what if you made a mistake? What if you had faulty information? Weren’t you afraid of targeting someone who, maybe, was innocent?”
“We were very afraid of that. We were so afraid that we took extra steps to gather information on people and cases that had already been tried and found guilty. Cases that anyone involved in would call open and shut. We mailed information to the press and the FBI that we found out later they didn’t even have! What does that say, when a civilian with a laptop can collect more data than a federal agency? Again, assets are directed elsewhere. We’re so busy watching terrorists halfway around the world, a potential threat, that we let criminals, a real-time threat, run free here at home. Budgets are lean for this type of investigative work. I can’t knock the police and government agencies involved; most are doing the best they can with what they have. It’s not always their fault when they come up short.”
“Okay. Now the big question: How do you justify what you and Sam did?”
Paul paused for a moment, forming his words in his mind while his eyes blinked in the bright lights of the cameras. The reporter waited patiently.
“There’ve been times throughout history where the state has failed the people it has sworn to protect. That’s a big deal. That’s a big part of the social contract we make with our elected officials, our government. The President likes to say that his most important responsibility is the protection of the people. It sounds good in a speech. Yet that protection has been lacking more and more every year. Instead of doing what needs to be done, we are instead pandered to for political gain. First they make you afraid of it, then they sell you a solution. But no one ever asks who will gain the most from that solution, or which rights you as a citizen are going to give up in order to obtain that solution. Right now, in this country, we have a mental health problem disguised as a gun problem, and a tyranny problem disguised as a national security issue. What is right is not always the same as what is legal. Sometimes, in order to do the right thing, one must break the law.”
“You see this as a form of civil disobedience? A serving of the public interest?”
“That’s a little general in terms for my taste.”
“Was it worth it?”
“I think it’s all in how you weigh it, you know? At what level of civil disobedience are you operating? We had to make sure that what we were risking was not going to harm anyone outside our target list. If one of us were caught we had to—I want to be careful when I say this—volunteering yourself as an example, be it negative or otherwise, cannot have a detrimental effect on anyone else. My incarceration, be it for life or less, can still have a positive effect.”
“If you will. I would hope that what Sam did drew the proper attention from the right people. If it did, it’ll be hard to say whether his actions—our actions—were good or bad.”
“How… when does this end?”
“I don’t know, really. If the system continues to repair itself, and those in charge change their priorities and start serving those they’re supposed to be serving, if we shed this two-tiered form of justice we’ve fostered, it could end very soon. If they don’t… I can’t really say, but I do know this: there are a lot of soldiers out there, a great many of them served their country overseas, losing brothers and sisters in the process, only to come home and find their own country broken. They sacrificed their youth and their friends, their family, for the promise of a better America, only to find it increasingly owned by a few select people. That promise has not come close to being fulfilled. Many are now worse off than before they left, and this makes them angry. They sacrificed so much, and they’re still looking for the reason for that sacrifice. The government should listen to those men and women— very closely. They should stop telling us what they think we want to hear, or what we should be afraid of, and instead listen, really listen. If not, I imagine those people will find a way to make themselves heard.”
Paul waved his hand and nodded to the guard behind the reporter, who quickly shifted gears and turned to the camera.
“And we’ve run out of time. I’d like to thank Mr. Kelly for this opportunity, as well as the warden and staff here at ADX Florence. Tonight’s interview will be broadcasted in its entirety on our website very soon, with a full transcript available, as well. Thank you, and good night.”
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