My problems began when I got my first 18+ card. Driving and owning a vehicle was getting too expensive; besides the only way to get places was to walk, hover board or blade it. So, having the card to tell people I wasn’t a teenie-bopper was a good idea. My brother, Gabe, said it was also cheaper for me too. But I had to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Bummer. I didn’t mind that it took a little while to get to me; what scared me was that I might be a victim of name fraud. Yes, it’s a new thing where your details are right but your name is changed. You don’t ask for this, it just happens.
So, there I was at the Post Office in the afternoon. The sun was glaring off the pavement when I ripped open the envelope I had to sign for. I stood there in shock with the ID card in my hands. They had everything right on it; my picture, my age, height, hair colour… but my name. Oh my god! My name… I couldn’t pronounce it! Not that I can’t read or the print was crap. No… my name – the real one – is Lydia Johnson. The one I saw on my 18+ card was something so alien, I almost passed out from holding my breath those few moments. I quickly pocketed the card and realised I needed help; and I knew who to talk to. You guessed it: my brother Gabe.
You see, he worked for an organisation that was digging through the red tape to abolish name fraud. He used to be a drafter; but when this thing affected his wife and got her killed, he concentrated his efforts on opening his own business to get this up and going with the government. But a lot of people were going to die before the law was passed on his business existing. So, it was an underground one for now; and it worked too.
A lot people had gotten their lives back, but then a lot them had died because once your name had been replaced with either a terrorist’s or criminal’s name, a Bounty Hunter was enlisted to end your life; even though you were a law-abiding Australian citizen. The 18+ cards worked through a different system from the Transport Department and so they were less secure. Nobody was sure why it worked like this and it seemed that the government had its hands tied. But I didn’t like the look of that weirdly-spelt name with my details next to it. I arrived at my brother’s workplace and went into the building feeling sick at the thought that I may be a victim of this stupid thing now.
He looked up from his terminal quickly as I entered the office and smiled, but realised that I wasn’t having a good day when I handed my card over. He inspected it closely and ran it through some scans before groaning: “Yep it’s happened to you now, Lyddie.” Gabe frowned at the card and typed in the name with difficulty and handed it back. “I can’t believe you’ve become a target now.”
I had been looking morosely at the card when I heard the last comment, “What? A target?”
He looked at me from his computer monitor, “Hey, relax, I’m looking up where it all went wrong and finding out who did this to you. First though, you must start some serious training. Once you’ve been ID’d like this, you’re on the Bounty Hunter’s hit list.”
The thought of being on a hit list felt like a rotten nightmare come to life. I found my way to the chair again and sank into it, “How?”
“Have you got a couple of hours?” he smiled, “We have to jack you into these computers and reprogram your defence system.”
“Make me ninja?”
He took my card back, “I’d rather you be safe than dead. I trust these guys. Please, let them. You’ve had it done before and it’s… simple.”
One of Gabe’s closest friends, Jim, walked to me from two desks away and smiled: “Come on, we’ll begin now.” He sat me down and took up a new packet with a ‘jack-in’ cord wrapped up, “We are all professional about this.” His blonde hair fell into his green eyes as he regarded me, “Gabe wouldn’t have me do this if he didn’t trust me. Now, hold still while I find that ‘plug’ we put in last time.”
A grin played on his face and I smiled: “Oh… I see. You shit.”
“Gotta get ya to laugh.” He shook his head, “You’re far too serious, Lydia.”
“I’m a Bounty Hunter’s next target. It’s kind of hard to joke about it.”
Jim squeezed my arm gently, “I know. Trust me. I’m the best in the business.”
A couple of weeks passed and I had my mind slowly reprogrammed into a better defence system. Don’t get me wrong, I was the same person, just my defences were stronger and more sensitive to people following me. I knew better moves than mace spray then running; boy did I know some moves! I worked out for hours on end in the basement of Gabe’s work and built up my stamina so when the time came to running, I could do it without problems. I broke toes, sprained ankles and pulled a lot of muscles and I had to work through all that pain. It’s good I had that practice. The only thing I had on my mind was to keep myself alive long enough to survive the Bounty Hunter. Once they don’t accomplish their goal, they consider you too hard to kill and leave you alone. Nobody else comes after you; you’re beyond them. And if you’re unlucky enough, you’ll be offered their job before long; something I really didn’t want.
One evening, I was leaving Gabe’s work. It was dusk. He was busy with even more than his fare share of 18+ name frauders; mine included. We bade each other farewell and I left the building, keeping to the shadows as I had become accustomed to. Soon, though I found that there was somebody following me. It was more of a feeling than actually seeing anyone. So, I began to jog a little and my shadow kept up.
Rounding a corner, I bolted down the next street, dodging past people and then turned down the next alley. It was dark and there was not much lighting; just how I liked it. I got halfway down there before the person who was tailing me was at the mouth of it. Looking around, I found this alley was fenced off and I heard it zapping gently. I found a fire escape nearby, grabbed the ladder and began to climb quickly; trying not to make too much noise as I scaled the building via this ancient device. I got close to the roof and a huge chunk of brick exploded next to me; I nearly jumped out of my skin and lost my balance as I gripped the old ladder shaking from how close the shot had been. Glancing down, I spotted the Bounty Hunter. He was in black, standing there with his feet at shoulder width, glaring up at me; clearly pissed off that he missed his target. I got myself over onto the roof of the building and ran towards the roof door; knowing it’d be locked.
I ran past it as it opened and a young person emerged with gun ready to shoot; this was the Apprentice. A young man usually who was being taught how to be a Bounty Hunter. With Apprentice’s they are not permitted to kill anyone on their first year of service; however they are licensed to carry a firearm in case the person they’re hunting with the Bounty Hunter is armed and they have to use it in self-defence. I wasn’t. But I also wasn’t going to stick around to find out if this Apprentice was on his first year or second year (on their second year, they are encouraged to kill during a hunt). Picking up speed, I ran to the adjacent edge and pushed off to the neighbouring building, I landed in a rough forward roll but had enough momentum to get to my feet and keep going. A shot rang out and as I past the air-conditioning vents, a large hole clanged into the side of it, destroying it in the process; causing my ears to ring and I ducked away from it instinctively. I tried to keep my fear subdued without success; I hated my predicament right now. I turned the corner and found the roof door was ajar, took the opportunity and wrenched it open. The inside gloom was a shock as I almost fell down the stairs to the top floor apartments, opened the door into the hall and kept running. The lighting was so bright, my eyes took a little too long to adjust. I ran past lots of white doors in the rose-coloured corridors. People poked their heads out to see who was running down their quiet hallways at dinnertime; but didn’t see me. Instead, saw a large person following me in black with the biggest gun they’re likely to see in their lives. As I hurried down the stairs, I heard the deadbolts on the doors of the top floor clunking home. Nobody was going to help me; nobody was going to risk their life to save mine… this was obvious.
My training was paying off as I decided to jump the balustrade and freefall to the foyer; there were only two floors to go. As I fell, I pressed two studs on my jacket and jeans and the armouring on my outfit – including the collar – activated. I heard the gun explode behind me, heard and felt the bullets zip and whizz past my head as I prepared myself for the landing; arching my back as a cat would. I saw the chequered marble floor obtain huge divots and crack as the bullets collided with it. A loud crack from above sounded the descent of my pursuer and so as I landed, I didn’t have time to absorb the shock of my body landing. I rolled off to one side, pushed myself up and ran out the front revolving doors and into the darkened street with the concierge stuttering after me.
I ran straight out into the traffic, climbing over bonnets of cars, being bumped by fenders and skittled by motorcyclists who hadn’t seen me. Horns and cursing followed me in my wake of jaywalking. The Bounty Hunter did the same. Instead, he climbed on top of the cars, trucks and the boots of cabs to cross the street. Nobody honked their horns as he pointed his gun at them and they sunk back into their vehicles and closed the door. I was down another alley and had found an empty building by this time. By the time he found me, I was scaling the building to the second floor. It was right about here that I realised this guy was using infrared lenses. However, this wasn’t my night. As I climbed through the window, most of it and the brickwork next to me exploded inward and I fell into the room I had chosen; spraining my ankle. I didn’t have time to tend to it. I heard heavy footsteps on the floors above me.
“Damn apprentice!” I cursed as I got up and ignored the pain to keep going. I arrived at the doorway of the condemned building and still heard footsteps above me getting heavier. I headed towards to the basement; knowing I was about to walk into a trap. As I arrived to the first floor, I slow my steps. My armour was still up on the clothes, but the gloom was dreadful; I couldn’t see anything. I was blinded by a shot in the darkness that clipped my neck; smacking me against the stairwell wall face first. I felt my nose begin to bleed and I sniffed a little (a typical human reaction that I immediately reprimanded myself for) as I leaned into the corner. Another shot from the Bounty Hunter’s gun slammed into my spine and I collapsed in a heap. I could barely move let alone breathe. All I could think about was how thankful I was for the armoured clothing my brother gave me and how he had demonstrated how to arm it. I’d have to remember to thank him if I got of out this alive… that was a very big if.
Footsteps walked over the rubble and up the few steps to where I laid facing the wall. I smelt the heat of the gun as it was pushed into my left side. Through the armour, it was hot and he pushed hard onto my ribcage to see if I was alive; to make me groan. But I didn’t give him the pleasure of giving in to that weakness and have him blow my heart to bits. I was too busy slowing my pulse down enough to seem dead. His large hand rolled me over and saw my open eyes with blood on my face, my mouth. Against the paler of my skin, it was a stark contrast and he cringed at it before he felt for my pulse through the armour.
“She’s dead.” His gravel voice reeked of cigarettes. Then, he spotted something and took up my pentagram, “Hey, what’s this?”
A young voice behind him said: “That’s a pentagram; a sign of protection. It means…”
“I know what it means. It fuckin’ means we killed another Australian.” His deep voice moved away from me, so did his gun, “Oh, shit not again.” He turned away as he became emotional. This had happened to him before and was getting too much to bare. He had been misled many times and the Bounty Hunter knew this was murder. His Apprentice stood near my body looking at me, not knowing what to do. The expression of fear was imprinted on his face as he paled and looked like he was going to throw up.
I took in a deep painful breath full of dirt and dust before blinking and licking my mouth, “I’m not dead.”
The tall, bulk of a man turned back, “What? You tricked me?”
I sat up aching all over; knowing I was going to feel worse than this tomorrow, “No, I applied for an 18+ card and I’m victim of name fraud.”
He sat on the steps with his apprentice behind him as we spoke about what could be done about it. The night wore on and I lived to tell the tale about how we abolished name fraud with the assistance of this Bounty Hunter and my brother’s underground business.