Asher Jones: Liar, Traitor, or Just A Man Torn Between Worlds?
Asher Jones didn’t want to be anyone’s hero.
He was tired of fighting for a cause he no longer believed in.
Despite the fact that Hybrids outnumbered Purebreds in the American Republic, I was, without a doubt, this country’s biggest fear—a disillusioned American who found hope in Allah.
But no one would label me a dissident. I’d been through a hell of a lot in my life. Losing my family, my first love, and even my freedom made me desperate. I sought solace from my overwhelming grief. At one point, that comfort came from drugs and alcohol. When those things jeopardized my independence, I turned to religion. I wasn’t seeking destruction, only hope and a little salvation. The only thing I got from my church was words promising an afterlife with those I lost when I hungered for a way to live in the here and now. So I sought a replacement. What I got was a new family, love, and a form of temporary peace.
Besides, I thought I was on the right path. All around me, the country and its inhabitants were disintegrating thanks to acts of homegrown aggression. Everyone had a beef, but nobody had a solution. People couldn’t find common ground and mutual respect even if they were marked with an X on a map. The level of hatred sickened and shamed me.
And now we were headed in that same direction again.
At this moment, my superiors derided me for the things I’d done—stealing encrypted government technology, releasing it to the public, and helping rebels stay ahead of the New Order. Nothing I could do or say would change the opinions of those who’d sworn to protect the country. They only saw that I sided with the rebels, not entirely true. I sided with those who offered me a chance at something…better.
When I first got started in this endeavor of double-agency, it was just the Alliance against the government. At some point, the organization split. Those who believed in peaceful solutions continued, but there was a darker element that developed. One that wanted freedom for all by any means necessary. That group became the one I answered to. The one who willingly separated me from wife and child for a year. Because of that disconnect, my heart went astray and put me in the face of temptation. Thank Allah—or whoever listened to me—nothing came of it.
If you tore through the carefully constructed wall of the Alliance, you found the chinks in its armor. The so-called managers of information kept shit from the bottom feeders, the lowly agents stuck in the field, expecting total obedience. Disagree and there were lethal consequences. When my wife disagreed with the leaders, she had no choice but to go underground with her extended family. They all live in the New Mexican Territory with my grandparents watching over them.
“Lieutenant Jones…” The angular man in uniform, General Eddy Stone, stopped in front of the table. “You have a lot of explaining to do starting with Lieutenant Castaneda’s allegations.”
I smirked. She got her rank, and it only cost her…everything. “I’m not sure what the good lieutenant told you.”
Wonderment loomed over General Stone’s face. It was obvious that he struggled with the possible reasons I might have for choosing the opposition over the country. He could join the club. I’d been questioning lots of things in my life of late—been seeking a bridge that narrowed the gap between my religious beliefs and the science our leaders forced upon us.
“You shared confidential information in exchange for sex. Seriously, Jones? Men like you are why there’s that Don’t Touch Law.”
He’s referring to the law that rose out of the whole Me Too Movement. It got to a point that no one could shake hands without drawing suspicion. “Like, don’t assume shit about me, sir. I’m only guilty of being interested in Castaneda. Nothing ever happened between us.”
“Still… There will be an investigation. For now, make yourself comfortable. Papers are being finalized to transfer you back to base and a cold jail cell. Frankly, I can’t help you, not this time. Hell, I don’t think you can help yourself.”
The door slammed behind him, and I lowered my head.
Honestly, I wasn’t looking for help unless it came with a way out of this shithole. Let me maintain the dregs of my dignity while I still could. If someone was offering me a ride to the New Mexican Territory, that was the only assistance I required. Otherwise let me deal with the consequences.
The door swung open and a tall, stocky man entered the room. This face just as familiar as the last, but from a darker side of the fence.
“We’re disappointed in you, Aza.”
I must have been in a hell of a lot of trouble if this man dared to use my Arab name here.
“Understood. Where’s Taaliba?” Dr. Taaliba Aoki represented the Alliance—the underground group hell-bent on taking back our country from the mad scientists running the show.
“Dead.” This superior wore his uniform, but it was the one that lay beneath it that was more problematic. He was a major general, but his allegiance was not to the American Republic. “It seems we have a problem.”
I took in the hooded eyes, hook nose, and bronze complexion of Major General Farouk Shatila, just one of the many operatives serving within Riza. This compatriot was a follower of Mohammad Raman Bashur, a man who had become a trusted ally and even a commander. Add him to the list of things I was having second thoughts about. I was a desperate kid when I joined Bashur and his struggle. Instead of simply enlisting in Riza, I let the militant spoon-feed me his rhetoric. I listened to his speeches encouraging citizens to take back the power from leaders who abused it and made the snap decision that his philosophy made sense.
My shoulders lowered. I clasped my hands and moved them closer while dragging the chain attached to the table. “Like, what problem is that?”
“Your mission was to confiscate the tech, not leak it to the DarkNet. Do you understand the ramifications of your action?”
I shrugged, half-heartedly. Farouk made it sound like it was an easy decision—far from it. Releasing government secrets without explanation guaranteed a public backlash, but honestly, I didn’t see any other options. Everybody wanted that damned SIM card. Holding it promised a short life for me, and frankly, dying young was not on my personal agenda. I told my wife I’d come home to her. I’m a lot of things, but I don’t lie to Rihana.
Spreading my hands wide, I asked, “Now what?”
Farouk straddled the chair across from me and rested his elbows on the table. “Bashur has offered redemption.”
Leaning forward, I asked, “As in?”
“Completing the mission that sent you to the island.”
“What do you, like, expect me to do?”
“We expect you to locate the target, dismantle it, and bring us proof of its existence. If the public is aware, the brewing storm will cease. They’ll see that we are the right ones and will follow our lead.”
“How the hell am I supposed to—”
Farouk stood. “Not our problem.”
I scrubbed a hand over my face and shook my head. I was done with all this secret mission, undercover shit. It was time to go home. “And if I, like, refuse?”
Farouk’s face contorted, and he pursed his thin, chapped lips. “That family you’re dying to get back to? You may never see them again.”
My fists balled, and my heart rate increased. Threatening my loved ones would always be a deal breaker. “I’ll kill you before that happens.”
“You misunderstand, Aza.” The corners of his dark eyes crinkled. “A dead man will not see his family on Earth.”
“Think about it, Lieutenant. We will be in touch,” Farouk said and strolled to the door.
Before he could open it, a Riza soldier barged into the room. “Sorry, sir. You’re needed.”
“What has happened?” Farouk said.
“Leader Venter has been killed. Soldiers are rioting.”
Rioting? Against each other?
Farouk pushed his way past the soldier who yelled out, “What about Jones?”
“Set him free. He can help.”
The soldier, nothing more than a skinny kid, unlocked the restraints on my wrists. He scowled down at me. “You don’t deserve freedom, traitor.”
I pierced the boy with a stare and spat back, “Until you’ve, like, lived a day in my shoes, don’t judge.”
“You don’t know a fucking thing about me! Take the opportunity to save your ass and leave me the hell alone!”
I left the kid standing with his jaw on the ground. He wasn’t the only shocked one in the room. What was the purpose of all this shit in our lives? Did it make us stronger, better Americans? The more I thought about it, the only answer I consistently came up with was absolutely nothing. It was all a colossal waste of my time, and I wanted out. I wanted normalcy. Somehow, I’d have it despite what everyone else demanded of me.
It was time to find Niang and the rest of my crew and go home.
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