Thirty more seconds. She’s been at this for nearly an hour and her legs are screaming that she’s done. Just thirty more seconds though. She can taste the sweat on her lips. Her fingers tingle. Her hair threatens to fall in her face every few seconds. She knows she can make it though. That realization should come as a relief but instead it makes her angry. Life is about pushing yourself. Anything less is a sign you’re letting yourself off easy.
Feeling her anger overwhelm her, Kalenia Wallace increases the speed on the treadmill and adds an extra minute to her time. The treadmill whirs faster beneath her as her feet pound the ground. Her muscles swell and her legs threaten to burst. Forty five seconds. Her vision’s obscured by not only her hair but also the amount of sweat dripping down her brow.
Attempts to wipe away the sweat are barely worth the effort. It’s like using an umbrella in a tsunami. As soon as her hand comes away from her face, she’s soaked again. Thirty seconds again. She turns the speed up higher, this time going as fast as this hunk of metal can handle. She feels herself getting closer to the back of the treadmill, unable to keep up. Is she going to fall off the back? Pushing harder, she manages to move forward inch by inch.
Fifteen seconds. Breathing in and out, in and out, in and out. Don’t stop. Just don’t stop. Zero seconds. She grabs the sides of the treadmill and steadies herself as the path between her feet comes to a halt. Her feet rest on either side of the track.
Kalenia heads toward the bathroom in desperate need of a shower before continuing her day. For as long as she can remember, any time she’s nervous or has an issue she works it out by working out.
Every day is a workout day of some sort but every day doesn’t need to be a primal test of her limits. She only pushes herself right to her breaking point on days she can’t get out of her own head. Back in high school these workouts usually happened when a boy didn’t return her feelings or her parents were fighting again. School itself came easy but everyone has challenges. As she’s gotten older, the reasons have changed but she still needs a workout like this at least a couple times a month. A fight with her boyfriend, a bad day in court, and she finds herself pushing until she has to turn back or collapse.
When she was younger these challenges usually came on the basketball court instead of on a treadmill. Kalenia was an all-state shooting guard in high school and that opened a lot of doors for her. She had her choice of colleges and went for the best. Her four years were full of study while juggling a desire to dominate on the court. On bad days she’d tell herself she had to score forty, or she only let herself shoot from a specific spot on the court. She has to work harder to find motivation now.
One of the top recruits in the country during her senior year of high school, the expectation was she’d be one of the best players in the nation and eventually turn pro. That never happened. She was a good starter on one of the best teams in the country but it was rare to see her dominate a game. Studying came easy when she was younger but a challenging course load took it’s toll in college. Basketball could no longer be her entire life. Realizing she had to choose between the two paths before her, study became the priority. She wasn’t one of the best players in the country, but she did graduate near the top of her class.
Going pro was never completely ruled out. On the night of the WNBA draft she excitedly watched with her family, hoping some team might call her name. Nobody was all that surprised when it didn’t happen though.
Her agent tried to sell her on moving to Europe and playing there. Plenty of teams were interested. It just didn’t seem worth it with a pre-law degree under her belt and a scholarship to law school waiting. The money being offered sounded good but it wasn’t life changing. Earning it would have required living in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan or some other country she can’t pronounce, in an unknown culture among people she couldn’t understand. Her mother sat her down and asked if that was the life she wanted. They both agreed it wasn’t. She figured she could make better money after graduating law school anyway. She was right.
She rarely makes time for basketball anymore. With nothing at stake the sport doesn’t hold much interest. Training never stops though. Any edge she might gain from keeping herself in great shape is worth the grind. On a day like today, that edge is crucial. Today she’s filing suit against the state of Michigan, claiming her clients’ civil rights are being violated. Her firm does a lot of pro bono work but this case they’re actually getting paid for. There are some very rich men and women who have no interest in the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, otherwise known as VMUS, staying on the books.
A few months ago Richard Hughes won one of the most contentious presidential elections in the history of the United States. She’s not impressed. Everyone knew this buffoon couldn’t win, right until he did. She didn’t even bother to vote. By the time it started looking like Michigan would go his way it was too late. Every time she thinks about it, she wonders what might have been if enough people like her showed up.
She spent the final hours of election night staring at her television in disbelief. She kept going over all his campaign promises in her head and wondering how her country could get this so wrong. She proceeded to get very drunk. The next morning she had to order a new living room rug.
Nothing will make her feel good about failing to vote but today she can fight back against the man’s bigotry. Today she’s challenging one of Hughes’ most outlandish campaign promises. Almost before he could remove his hand from the bible he was signing the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act into law. This allows anybody with the inclination to register as a vigilante and patrol the streets, dishing out their own form of justice.
The act’s rules are so vague as to be worthless. The language describing keeping the public safe can fit whatever definition an individual wants. Thousands of interpretations are competing against each other in the streets while the public feels less safe than ever. The president has deemed the act a massive success. It doesn’t feel that way as you drive through Detroit.
In her hours of research, Kalenia has found some stories of places where the act’s going well. Usually in small towns where there are only a few volunteers. Most cities have seen a lot more mixed results. Armed men and women roam the streets, guns in their hands and something to prove in their hearts. Every day she hears about someone losing their life because an untrained vigilante decided they were dangerous.
There’s no standard of proof. How do you prove a feeling? The vigilante’s word is all that counts. When has anyone’s word ever served minorities in this country? Minorities aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of this act but the effect on their communities has been the most drastic.
A pretty strong argument can be made that the whole program’s illegal. At the very least it violates due process and the right to a fair trial in it’s current form. The goal is to tear the entire program down but their backup plan’s to force stricter and more enforceable rules into place. That would still save lives.
Already the program’s been changed to require vigilantes pass a proficiency test but it’s so easy that almost everyone passes. Nothing stops the mentally ill from signing up. Former felons don’t have the right to vote in most states but they have the right to be a vigilante. Once you pass that simple test there’s no further oversight. Have a good time gunning people down. Cops get away with a lot in this country but they wouldn’t get away with half of what these vigilantes have.
This may be the most high profile case of her career. They’re starting at the state level to test the viability of their case but if they win, they have a chance to set a precedent. Public opinion on the act has been all over the place. The administration has been releasing great looking crime statistics which fail to mention all the crime the vigilantes themselves commit. Meanwhile, the media reports constantly of the many violations. It leaves the public free to believe whatever they want. A slight majority now oppose the act but it’s close and there’s still a large portion of the country insisting this is the only way they can be truly safe.
With her shower over, Kalenia searches her closet for the perfect power outfit. After a few false starts, she goes with her favorite red suit. A final glance in the mirror confirms she’s giving off the vibe she’s looking for.
Grabbing a granola bar on the way to the garage, Kalenia smiles when she notices her car and her outfit match. A beautiful red convertible’s her way of getting around town in style. In Detroit it’s not always smart to show off any kind of wealth. Projecting the right image comes at a cost. She keeps the car hidden in the evenings at least. She liked this house from the moment she saw it but she really fell in love when she realized the garage was beneath the building. Pulling out of this house always causes a pang regret.