**This is a continuation of my novel. To start from the beginning, please type 'Welcome to Mars Expo 2065' into the search box to read the prologue.
Chapter 3: Good Men Are Criminals in a Society Run by Criminals
Matias heard the rhythmic beating of a heart monitor. He opened his eyes and abruptly sat up in bed. The cloth on his body felt light and loose. He looked down and grabbed a fistful of the hospital gown that he was wearing. His last memory was of escaping home, and collapsing in front of Jake's house. He must have called the ambulance.
“Psst, Lucas! Matty's up.”
Matias snapped his gaze to his left. His friends, Jake and Lucas, sat next to his bedside. They took off their visors and stood up.
“How long was I out?” Matias wondered.
“Almost the whole day,” Jake replied. “Matty, who did this to you?”
Matias put his hand over his ribs where he remembered experiencing excruciating pain. The pain was gone. “My father. Nobody told him you brought me here, right?”
“No. We figured he had something to do with this,” Jake answered.
Matias swept his gaze across the room. He recognized the TV hanging off the ceiling, the paintings on the wall, and that fridge with a transparent door that revealed all the food stored inside. “This is the Vaughan Trauma Clinic. You should have taken me to a public hospital.”
“If we did that, you'd still be in the waiting room,” Jake said.
Matias hopped off his bed. “We're not safe from my father here. We'd better leave.”
“Why? What's wrong?”
Matias found his clothes on a stool at the foot of his bed. “Private clinics like this one are illegal, yet they cater to the elites who write the laws. It's all to create the veneer that everyone uses the same healthcare system.”
“What's your point?”
Matias removed his hospital gown and put on his clothes. “My point is the docs who run this clinic have to pay protection money to my father. In exchange, my father allows them to continue to operate. They'd have contacted my father as soon as you brought me here.”
“Wouldn't a public hospital have done the same?”
“Not if they can't identify me, but the staff here knows me. I hope my father's not already here.”
“Are you well enough to leave?”
Matias stretched his arms and legs, and rolled his neck. He felt better than new. “Regenerative stem cell technology. They keep my stem cells handy because they know I always come back.”
“Why do you mean by that?” Lucas asked.
Matias cracked his knuckles. “This isn't the first time my father beat me to a pulp. The doctors here know it, yet they still kiss his ass. Let's get out of here before I kill the next doctor I see.” He walked over to the door, threw it open, and marched down the corridor. He led his friends up to the the door that controlled access to the patient care ward. A receptionist sat in the gatehouse located next to the door.
Matias tugged doorknob, but it was locked. He glared at the receptionist. “Open it.”
She shook her head. “Sorry, the nurse has to assess you first to make sure you're fit to leave.”
Matias walked up to her counter and loomed over her. “Spare me the bullshit excuse. Did you contact my father, by the way? Is he on his way here?”
“Um...” The receptionist reached for her phone. “Let me call my supervisor.”
Matias slammed his hand onto the phone. He reached over with his other hand and pressed the button on her desk that unlocked the door. The door buzzed, and then Matias heard a click. He turned to his friends and tilted his head towards the door. “Go.” He turned his attention back to the receptionist. “I know you're just doing your job, but that's no excuse for serving evil. Look at my file. Go on.”
The receptionist shifted her gaze down to her computer screen.
“What does it say I came in for?”
“B-broken ribs. A concussion. Internal hemorrhaging...”
“And the last few times?”
The receptionist scrolled down the file. “It's... it's always broken bones.”
“Does it say what is the cause?”
The receptionist shook her head. “I've always been told you keep getting into sporting accidents.”
Matias glowered. Those docs can't possibly be so stupid as to think my injuries were from sporting accidents. They're helping my father cover up his crimes. “My father breaks my bones, the docs mend my bones, and then my father breaks them again and again.” He gripped the phone so hard that it started rattling. “Do not stand in the way of my freedom.”
The receptionist gasped. “I'm sorry. I-I-I didn't know.”
Matias glanced at the sign in sheet on the reception desk. It contained the names of his friends. “Do me a favour and erase the names of my friends from your system. I don't want my father coming after them.”
A deep voice took Matias by surprise. “Sally, is there a problem?” A burly security guard approached them. Matias removed his hand from the receptionist's phone and put his hands on his hips. He sized up the security guard. Six foot two. Three hundred fifty pounds, give or take. Matias stood his ground and resisted the temptation to run.
“Everything's fine.” The receptionist smiled at Matias. “You can go now. Good luck out there.”
The door buzzed, and then it clicked.
Matias bobbed his head, grateful for Sally's help. He brushed past the security guard, opened the door, and left the ward. He briskly walked through the waiting area. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled. Any minute now, that security guard is gonna come after me... He quickened his pace and left the waiting area behind. He entered a hallway. His friends waited for him by the elevators. He strolled towards them. “My D-link and the components we need for our 3D printer are in my bag. Where is it?”
“I left it at home,” Jake replied.
“Then that's where we're going.” The elevator door opened. Matias stepped inside.
“You obviously can’t go home. Need a place to stay?” Jake asked.
“Thanks, but my father might look for me at your house.”
“Staying at a motel then?”
“No. I snapped my bank card in two, so I have no money. I know a couple of homeless shelters I can hide in. Hopefully, he’ll give up looking for me after a while.”
Lucas crossed his arms. “We’ve known you six years now. Why didn’t you ever tell us that your father would regularly beat you to the point of death?”
Matias gritted his teeth. “Not something I like to talk about.”
Lucas shook his head. “That's not something you keep to yourself.”
“Talking about it will change nothing!” Matias punched the elevator door. “I will destroy the TTC. I will destroy the Cooperative. My father will watch his kingdom burn, and then I will slit his throat… That is the only thing that will put my soul at ease.” The elevator doors opened, revealing a pair of security guards waiting for them in the main lobby. Matias bared his teeth. “Ah, shit. What do you want?”
“Your father's on his way,” one of the guards said. “You're to wait for him here.”
Matias clenched his fists. “You do understand he’s the reason why I ended up in this clinic?”
“That's between you and him. We're just following orders.”
Matias shook with rage. He no longer saw these security guards as human beings. They were mindless drones, inanimate objects that stood in the way of his freedom. He motioned for his friends with a wave of his arm. He stepped out of the elevator, and kneed one of the guards in the groin. He hooked his fingers into the guard’s nostrils and threw the guard into the elevator just as the elevator door slid shut.
Jake, Lucas and the remaining guard stood with their mouths hanging open.
Matias glared at his friends. “Don't just stand there. Back me up!”
Jake and Lucas tackled the security guard to the floor, and hammered his face with their fists. Matias stomped on the guard's kneecap, and then kicked the guard repeatedly in the ribs. After he had vented his rage, he grabbed his friends by the collar and pulled them away. “Run!”
They charged across the lobby and burst through the front entrance. They sprinted down the sidewalk until they could run no further.
Matias slowed down to catch his breath. “Lucas, call for your car.”
Lucas took his visor out of its protective case and slipped it on. He moved his hands across a virtual interface that only he could see. “Shouldn't be long. It's parked nearby.”
A minute later, a driverless car pulled up to the curb. The passenger side-doors lifted upwards like falcon wings. Matias and his friends climbed aboard. The doors automatically shut. Lucas entered their destination using his visor, and the car drove off on its own. They passed by the clinic building. The two guards they roughed up burst out of the building. The car sped up, leaving the guards far behind.
Jake straightened his jacket. “Matty, your father’s got eyes and ears everywhere. How long do you think you can keep hiding from him?”
“He’s not going to start a nation-wide manhunt just for me. What an embarrassment that would be for him. He’ll try to track me through the internet and the banking system, except he won't find me. I will open a Cap2 account and live off my runits. He’ll give up after a while.”
“But nobody has a Cap2 account right now,” Jake said. “So you won’t be able to buy anything with your runits. Not food. Not shelter. Nothing.”
“And that’s why we need to sell D-links. Is your father home right now?”
Jake checked his watch. “Yeah, today’s his off time.”
“I need him to supply us with cartridges. We’ll have a chat with him.”
They arrived at Jake's house. Matias walked up to the front door and waited for Jake to unlock it. Jake opened the door and headed inside. Matias and Lucas followed.
Inside the living room, Jake's mother sat on the sofa and talked on her visor. “I understand. I will let you know as soon as they get here.”
Matias put his hands on his hips and glowered. As soon as who gets here?
Jake's mother saw them. She took off her visor and put it on the coffee table. “Matty, you were so badly injured. I’m glad you’re okay.”
Matias shifted his gaze down to her trembling hands. “Mrs. Monroe, to whom were you speaking?”
“Your father. He told me you guys roughed up a couple of security guards and ran off.”
Jake stepped forward. “Ma, Mr. Romero was the one who beat Matty up.”
“I know, Jake. That man is furious I didn’t inform him about Matty earlier this morning. He threatened to destroy our family if he so much as suspects we’re hiding Matty here.”
“He’s means what he says,” Matias said. “It’s the only quality I like about him.”
Jake’s mother shook her head. “Then I’m sorry, Matty. He can’t know you were here. You have to leave.” She pointed to the bag lying against the wall. “And take your bag with you. I found something in there that I don't like.”
Matias snorted. It was probably the gun. He retrieve his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He faced Mrs. Monroe, and stood with his legs spaced far apart. “I’m not leaving until I speak with your husband. Where is he?”
Jake’s mother stood up and pointed at the door. “Just go. Please. You’re endangering our family. And whatever you’re planning, keep Jake out if it.”
Matias scowled. He despised cowards, and Jake's mother reeked of cowardice.
Jake huffed. “Ma, why are you acting like Matty’s the criminal here?”
Matias twitched his face. “That’s because good men are criminals in a society run by criminals.”
He heard the door open behind him. He turned around and saw Elaine, Jake’s younger sister. She held within the fold of her arms a folder filled with colourful brochures.
Mrs. Monroe walked over to Elaine and hugged her. “Back so soon, honey? Did you find a university you like?”
Elaine pursed her lips. “Dad and I visited all the universities in our area. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I felt really... suffocated on these university campuses.” She let go of her mother. “Mom, I earn a good living making videos on Tudou. I don't need to go to uni do I?”
Mrs. Monroe brushed her daughter's hair. “Making those silly videos is just a hobby. It's not a real career.”
Elaine frowned. “It is to me.” She turned her gaze towards Matias and Lucas. “So what are Jake and his buddies up to now?”
Mrs. Monroe glared at Matias. “They were just leaving.”
Matias had no intention of staying. All he needed was to speak to Jake's father, and if Jake's sister had travelled with her father all day, then Frank must still be outside with the car. Matias brushed past Mrs. Monroe and walked out the door. He bumped into Frank just outside the house. He seized the opportunity. “Mr. Monroe, a moment, please.”
Mrs. Monroe barged out of the house and stepped between them. She whisked her husband into the house. “Frank, dear, Jake’s friends were just leaving. You must be tired after driving Elaine halfway across the province…”
Matias glared at their receding backs.
Jake walked over to him. “Matty, I’m so sorry. My mom shouldn’t have thrown you out like that. Here. Take this.” Jake handed his bank card to Matias.
Matias ignored the card. “We need those cartridges.”
“Matty, you wouldn’t have been able to convince my father to risk everything just to supply you with cartridges. Take this card. You need it.”
Matias shoved away Jake’s hand. “Keep it. Lucas and I will manage on our own.” He motioned for Lucas to follow. They walked back to Lucas’s car.
“You want me to come with you guys?” Jake asked.
“I wouldn’t want your mother to worry about you.” Matias opened the car door and climbed into the front passenger’s seat. Lucas took the driver’s seat.
Jake held the passenger door open. “Matty, my mom was a bitch to you. Don’t take it out on me.”
Matias sighed. “I’m not mad at you, Jake. I’m disappointed in our parents. Their generation lost us our freedoms. They turned our universities into ‘safe spaces’ where hurt feelings can shut down reason and debate. They didn’t have the spine to stand up to words, so now their children must face bullets.” Matias slammed the door shut. “Lucas, take us to the nearest shelter.”