The Price of Safety by Michael C. Bland

Today we are excited to introduce you to The Price of Safety by Michael C. Bland.

The Price of Safety Author Michael C. Bland

The Price of Safety

By 2047, no crime in the U.S. goes unsolved. No wrongdoing goes unseen. When Dray Quintero learns his 19-year-old daughter Raven committed a heinous act, he covers it up to save her life. This pits him against the police he’s respected since he was a child and places him in the crosshairs of Kieran, a ruthless federal Agent. To survive, Dray must overcome the surveillance system he helped build and the technology implanted in the brains and eyes of the citizens.

Forced to turn to a domestic terrorist group to protect his family, Dray soon realizes the sheer level of control of his adversaries. Hunted and betrayed, with time running out, will Dray choose his family or the near-perfect society he helped create?

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The Price of Safety Excerpt:

I exited the 605 at Beverly and raced through Whittier, passing countless neighborhoods, most of which were dark this time of night. I closed my data streams to reduce my digital trail, and tried to avoid the surveillance that existed even in this sleepy part of Los Angeles, the cameras and traffic scanners and microphones that monitored most of the country. I wanted to take side streets to further reduce my history, but needed to get to Raven. She wasn’t the type to ask for help. Strong and resourceful, she helped others, cared about the neglected and abused—otters, immigrants, the homeless—and debated fiercely, but never with a mean spirit. She would become a force as an adult—though with the way she’d sounded, I worried for her future.

My thoughts flickered to my son Adem, who’d died before he learned to talk. Even with how safe I’d helped make our world, I couldn’t protect him. Couldn’t save him. I feared I wouldn’t be able to save Raven, either.

I passed the guarded entrance to Hoyt Enterprises and followed the fortified, ten-foot-high wall for blocks until I located Trever’s red-and-black McLaren. I tried to tamp down my fear as I parked my Chrysler E-650 sedan beside the metal wall. I had to be level headed and calm, though I didn’t feel either.

Spotting the hole Trever and Raven had created, two of the vertical panels pried apart, I went to it. I’d maintained my weight over the years, but I’d always been thick. As a result, I had to squeeze my way through the gap.

Multi-story buildings occupied most of the compound’s interior—production, office, warehouse—though they stood back from the wall, the structures dark, the only light in the complex coming from the entrance far to my left. Closer to me, one-story storage structures stretched in long rows, the nearest five yards away. Straight ahead was an empty space followed by an asphalt road and a cluster of residence-type buildings barely visible in the darkness. To my right, a flat-topped building sat on top of an unlit hill adjacent to the facility. The property was fenced, and the two parcels shared a wall.

I started toward the residence-type buildings, sticking close to the nearest storage structure, followed the structure to the far end, and found a security camera staring at me. I froze, but my image had already been captured.

My apprehension growing, I continued forward and crossed the road.

The buildings were old, possibly the property’s original development. Three could have been homes, another a garage, a fifth some kind of lab. I hesitated, unsure which one she might be in, heard a sound to my left, and cautiously proceeded toward the residence in that direction.

“Raven?”

She appeared in the shadowed doorway, pulled me inside, and hugged me, trembling.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“It was Trever’s idea. Dad, he attacked me. He tried to rape me.”

I stepped back. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw the swelling in her face, her bloody lip. Her shirt was torn.

A primal rage began to grow. “Did he…?”

“No.” Her composure, thin as it was, cracked. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

Her words tempered my anger and fear, though not by much. “Whatever you did was

self-defense. You were justified. The police will see the truth.”

“I can’t.”

“They’ll listen.”

She grabbed my arm. “His implant. I ripped it out.”

His neural net, the implanted technology that linked our brains to the web, work, and every other digital source. Federal law required that every citizen have one, and tampering with them was punishable by death, regardless of the circumstances. There had been complaints about the law’s extremity, even demonstrations, but nothing had changed, and most people didn’t care, too enamored with the access their implants granted.

My lips felt numb. “Is he alive?”

“I don’t think so.”

She led me to the next room, where Trever lay in a pool of blood, his body contorted, his implant nearby.

I’d never seen an implant outside of a person’s head. The part that was usually visible, the silver-dollar-sized reflective end, stuck out no more than a quarter-inch from a person’s temple. However, the entire implant was over an inch and a half long, with two curved leads that jutted deeper into the brain: one about two inches long and the other about five inches.

“He grabbed me and tore at my clothes,” she said. “I tried to crawl away, but when he grabbed me, I kicked him as hard as I could, and he rolled off. That’s when I saw the pipe.”

She indicated a rusted drainage pipe, one end curled back where it had broken off.

I squatted beside it, careful not to touch it. “You hit him with this?”

She nodded.

“How many times?”

“Just once. When I swung, the pipe caught the edge of his implant. I didn’t mean to.”

Trever wasn’t the first corpse I’d seen, but he was the first born of violence, which made me unsettled. His right temple was caved in where his implant had been. The metal ring that had secured his implant in place was missing, along with a chunk of his skull. Raven’s years of playing softball had saved her from a heinous act—but at a terrible price.

A fierce protectiveness rose inside me, joining my fear. The police would be methodical. I had to anticipate what they’d find.

The building we were in was being renovated. The floor had been reduced to a concrete slab and the walls gutted, with spools of wire stacked in a corner and construction supplies strewn about. A nearby wall had blood splattered in an arc.

Nothing contradicted her story, though doubt nagged at me. “Ripping out his implant was a fluke,” I told her. “It was self-defense. A jury won’t convict you.”

“He didn’t rape me. I stopped him. If people could’ve seen his face, how he lunged at me, what he said, they would understand, but there aren’t cameras in here. No one will believe me.”

A prosecutor could claim her injuries were self-inflicted. Say she’d torn her own clothes. Without hard evidence, she was in danger.

She didn’t have to add that Trever’s parents were politically well-connected. Mina frequently interacted with them as chief of staff for the mayor of Los Angeles. Jesus, Mina. She was going to be horrified.

“What do we do?” Raven asked.

“I don’t know. Who knows how many cameras I passed getting here, not to mention the GPS in my car?”

When I left the reactor, I’d shielded my face from the cameras I knew about, but dozens of others had probably nailed me, including the one inside the facility. Hell, our phone call could be used against us. My work cell had a built-in scrambler, so the cops would only get one side of our conversation, but with the other evidence, it’d be enough.

She didn’t plead, didn’t back away. “I’ll turn myself in.”

I started for her, careful not to step on Trever’s implant, but paused.

The implant.

If she hadn’t ripped it out, hadn’t killed him, I would’ve wanted her to confess to the police. But if she did, she would pay the ultimate price.

She couldn’t just leave. Not only had she been caught on camera, she was leaving DNA: blood, hair, dead skin. I was, too.

We had to do this a different way and hope it worked, because I couldn’t lose her. She and her sister were my world.

“I have an idea. You’re not going to like it,” I told her. “I’ve heard rumors about people stealing implants. Cops don’t want to admit it happens, because it’s one of the only crimes they struggle to solve.”

“Why would people steal…? Oh. To become someone else.”

I nodded. “Each has a unique code cops can use to identify us if they get a warrant. A criminal who wants to hide from author ities can’t unless they obtain a new code, which means a new implant—one that’s been stolen, wiped, and recoded.”

“You want to blame Trever’s death on implant thieves.”

“To do that, I’ll have to take yours.”

Her eyes grew big. “What?”

“If yours isn’t stolen, the authorities won’t believe you.” I held out my hands. “I’ll take it out straight, minimal damage. You can tell the police you two were here hiding out or whatever when men jumped you. Trever tried to defend you, but they overwhelmed him and ripped out his implant. They were easier on you, as you didn’t fight, using the same pipe—”

“The same pipe? Dad, I don’t want to die.” She looked panicked.

I took her in my arms. “You won’t. I promise. Tell the cops the men were masked and didn’t say anything.”

When I let go, she wiped her cheeks. “How do the police find me?”

“As soon as I take your implant, I’ll call 911.”

She paled further, eyes darting, but nodded.

I had her lay near Trever, yet far enough away that she didn’t touch his blood.

“I’m scared,” she said.

I wasn’t a father. I was a monster for suggesting this. But I had to keep her safe.

I touched her cheek. “I’ll make it as clean as possible. With the right amount of force, it’ll pop out.” I had the strength. I’d manhandled the robots we’d used in the reactor. “This is the only way.”

As she rolled onto her side, I picked up the pipe. I placed my hand on her head, my calloused fingers nearly palming it. “I love you.”

I gently slid the hooked lip of the pipe under the edge of her implant, wincing when the pipe touched her skin. After seeing Trever’s neural net, I knew Raven’s had been implanted straight into her skull. If I pulled up, like removing a nail, it’d minimize the damage. I didn’t want to do this, and would probably never forgive myself, but it needed to look like a criminal stole her neural net.

I had an image of her in prison garb, curled on a metal cot. Another of her strapped to a gurney, getting a lethal injection.

I couldn’t let that happen, whatever the cost.

I held her in place with my free hand and pulled on the pipe, at first gently and then as hard as I could. For the briefest of moments, the ring held—she screamed—then gave way with a wet sound. The implant tumbled to the ground as I fell back, the pipe nearly flying from my hand.

She started to shake and gasp. Sparks flickered in her eyes, and blood welled up in the hole I’d opened in the side of her head.

A panic unlike anything I’d ever felt seized me.

What had I done?

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The Price of Safety Author Michael C. Bland

About the Author: Michael C. Bland is a founding member and the secretary of BookPod: an invitation-only, online group of professional writers. He pens the monthly BookPod newsletter where he celebrates the success of their members, which include award-winning writers, filmmakers, journalists, and bestselling authors. One of Michael’s short stories, “Elizabeth,” won Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 2015 Popular Fiction Awards contest. Three short stories he edited have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Another was adapted into an award-winning film. Michael also had three superhero-themed poems published in The Daily Palette. He currently lives in Denver with his wife Janelle and their dog Nobu. His novel, The Price of Safety, is the first in a planned trilogy, and has been recognized as a finalist in both the National Indie Excellence awards and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

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The Price of Safety Author Michael C. Bland

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