A sound came from outside the game. A loud bang, and then another. A burst of light leaked in through the edge of Tandy’s VR gig. “I have to go,” she said. “I think something’s—”
Alternis tipped on its side, distorted, and vanished. Pain ripped through Tandy’s head: something pulling her hair, or someone.
A black insectoid face filled her vision. “What do we have here?” a low male voice asked.
Tandy screamed, then realized that what she was seeing was part of a helmet. That didn’t make her feel any less like screaming.
“Pipe down, you’re under arrest.”
The man zip-tied her hands behind her back and held her in place while a team in all-black tactical armor swiftly took apart her game rig. They carted it out of her apartment, along with her phone, her stacks of notes, and the entirety of her tech graveyard, a collection of gear too old to use and too broken to sell.
Then they set about destroying her life.
They ripped open her pillows and mattress, dumped her canisters of rice and sugar onto the floor, pulled her collection of postcards from the walls and shoved them into a plastic bag. It all happened so quickly, she could barely comprehend it, like an action movie with too many quick cuts.
“What’s going on?” Bewildered outrage cracked her voice.
The man flipped his visor open and stared her down. “You’re Tandy Kahananui? You’re under arrest for espionage and conspiracy against the United States.”
The next hours passed in a blur. Later Tandy would only remember disjointed pieces of it. She was shoved into a car with windows tinted too dark to see out of, then onto a plane with no windows at all. She hadn’t even known there was such a thing.
The shock and the dull vibration of air travel lulled her into something like a trance for a while, though her heart was thumping much too fast. None of her keepers stayed in sight during the flight. They were kind enough to let her into the toilet when she asked, but they didn’t unbind her hands.
She did her business in the cramped enclosure, and then, unexpectedly, she threw up, a full-body heave as she tried to reject what was happening to her. It left her weak. She leaned against the sink and stared at her shocked reflection: the dark hollows under her eyes, the paleness of her lips. “What’s going on?” she whispered.
A fist pounded on the door, and she shivered. “Hurry up in there,” a voice boomed.
“I’m almost done.” She washed her face and her hands, and tried to rinse out her mouth before exiting the lavatory. Her captors secured her into her seat again.
She wasn’t sure how long they traveled, in the end. It was still dark when the plane landed, and she couldn’t make out the unlit terrain as they hustled her into a jeep. Eventually the vehicle entered a tunnel. It never came out the other side. Instead she was escorted into a cavernous room, like an aircraft hangar, and then marched through a maze of windowless concrete hallways, all exactly alike.
They stopped her at a nondescript door. One of her captors opened it. “Stay put until we’re ready to talk to you,” he commanded. Tandy walked into the room of her own volition, before they could shove her. The door closed behind her with a horrifying finality, and she heard the lock click into place.
She had been confined in what was obviously an interrogation room. Two chairs faced each other across a small table, washed in a single cone of dreary fluorescent light from a fixture directly above. There was no one-way glass or other visible means of observation, but Tandy didn’t need to see any cameras or microphones to be sure they were there, recording everything she did from every imaginable angle.
She sank into the seat facing the door, and she waited.
Time passed, but Tandy felt like it had left her behind somewhere; there were no windows and the lighting never changed. The room was so thoroughly soundproofed that the pounding of her pulse thundered in her ears. After a while, an HVAC system cycled on, and a burst of cold struck her neck.
Tandy shifted in her chair, arms curled around her knees, and wondered if she’d been fired yet for not showing up to work.
Eventually the door opened.
A woman walked in wearing a sober navy suit. Her hair was cropped short and her already-dark face had even darker smudges around her...