The More Things Change...
We probably stood out like crazy, with the bright orange coveralls we all wore in the enclave. And from the noise in the distance at least two, and probably more, guards and maybe police or military were after us.
We juked and zig-zagged up and down streets, through alleys, and over fences. I had no idea where we were. I'm pretty sure Sam wasn't any more clued in than I was.
The first priority though was to get somewhere and hide. Where, and how, well, I was working on that.
I was high on adrenaline, and not really thinking things through. Just running, and reacting.
We hopped over a fence and ended up in someone's back yard. Just as we were about to climb the fence on the other side, a voice said, “What the hell are you guys doing?”
We stopped, panting hard. We had run over a kilometer, at a full sprint. The sweat was dripping off my face, some of it stinging my eyes. I wiped my forehead and eyes with an orange sleeve, and looked over at the owner of the voice. A girl, about sixteen, was halfway out of a sliding glass door set into the back of the house. The girl was looking at us, then she looked left and right quickly, and back at us.
Sam's expression, in between his own gasping for air, was mostly fear and shock. He looked like he thought that she'd strike us dead at any second.
I suspect my expression pretty much matched his.
Neither of us said anything. The only sound our rasping breath.
She looked around quickly again, then said, “Didn't you hear them sound curfew!? Just a couple of minutes ago. If you're caught outside you're going to be in big time trouble.”
Sam and I looked at each other.
Finally beginning to feel a bit less winded, I said, “Uh, actually, it's a bit too late for that.”
The girl narrowed her eyes a bit. She seemed to be studying our coveralls, then she looked back at me. She seemed to make a decision. “Get in here. Quick.”
I looked at Sam, and he looked at me. The adrenaline was wearing off, and I was crashing hard. I had no idea if trusting her was a good idea. But, staying out in the open, running around a strange city randomly didn't seem like the best option either. Sam nodded slightly.
I said, “Okay. Thanks.” and we followed her through the sliding door and into her home.
She closed and locked the sliding door, and then closed the blinds. She then walked through a doorway and into a kitchen, towards the top of a flight of stairs. We followed. “If they do a door-to-door, you guys should hide in here,” she said, walking down the stairs and pointing to a storage room underneath. “If you're quiet, I doubt they'll check. Most people don't see that room because of where it is, and the way the paneling makes the door almost invisible. You almost can't see it unless you know it's there.”
We both nodded.
We followed her back upstairs. She went into the kitchen and handed us each a cold drink, which we opened and began drinking thirstily.
I looked around while swallowing my drink. I liked her kitchen. Or, I guess, her parents' kitchen. It was bright, mostly pale yellows and greens. Modern, but with retro touches that made it feel familiar to me. Like the stainless steel look on the appliances. You just didn't see that anymore. And the wooden stools near the island in the middle.
Her mom must have liked owls. The salt and pepper shakers were owls, the sugar bowl on the oval kitchen table was an owl, and the wallpaper was owls. In pale yellow and green. There were a few more hidden among the knick knacks around the kitchen too. I could smell a faint odor of cinammon and maybe vanilla. Potpourri maybe?
In any case, a far cry from the cold, inhuman concrete, cinderblock, and steel of the Enclave.
The girl sat down on a stool set against a raised two-tier counter-top and spun herself around to face us. She sucked the left half of her bottom lip between her teeth. I got the feeling she did that a lot, especially when she was thinking.
“Okay,” she said. “The outfits, the running, the sudden daytime curfew alarm. You guys took off from the mental hospital, didn't you? That new untangling facility over there.” The pointed in the general direction of the Enclave.
Sam said, “Mental hospital?”
“Yeah, you know.” She again pointed back towards the Enclave, her finger waving back and forth, “They just put up the signs last week. 'Southwest Protectorate Mental Health Facility,' I think they said. I know it opened right after the coup. The signs and public information before that told everyone in the neighbourhood that it was going to be state of the art. The best untangling gear, and the newest procedures.”
The coup? Is that what people were calling it? Made sense, I guess. I doubt most regular people would be thinking of it as a secession, no matter what the vids said.
“Uh,” Sam said, “that's not a mental hospital.”
She looked at Sam's haunted expression, and then at me. “So? Well then, what is it?”
Sam looked down at his feet. He seemed to shrink a bit. His adrenaline was wearing off too, and he was starting to hunch into himself again.
“It's...well...it's a...an enclave,” I managed to utter. “They call it the 'Alabama Genetic Diversity Preservation Enclave.' We...we were prisoners there.”
“Prisoners? There's no prisons.” then in a much quieter tone, as if to herself, she muttered, “at least there didn't used to be.”
She continued, “You mean, you were, like, locked in?”
Sam and I nodded.
“Why?” asked the girl. “What did you do? Where are you guys from?”
“Well,” I answered, “I'm from just outside Toronto, and he's from South Carolina I think.”
“Toronto? That's not in the Protectorate. Why are you...wait a minute! I knew you looked familiar! You're that kid that made the speech! Before the election! The one that was born way back in the twentieth century. God, they hated you around here, all the HfH supporters.”
“Uh. Yeah. I guess,” I said. I wasn't really prepared to be recognized.
“So, then, that place must be for political prisoners? People the Protectorate doesn't like?”
Sam seemed to hunch even further into himself.
I shook my head slowly. “No. No, that's not what it is at all. It's a prison for people with what they think are desirable genetics. They rounded up people they thought would contribute to the gene pool, locked us up, and told us we were owned by them. That we were their property. And that we had to contribute genetic material.”
“Property? That doesn't make sense. You're people. Kids, like me. People can't be property.” she seemed to think, then shook her head. “Grandpa said it wouldn't take long, after the coup. He told me stories about what it used to be like, before the Depopulation. I thought they were horror stories, meant to keep my cousins in line.
“So what did they do? Take blood samples or something?”
Sam laid his head down on his crossed arms at the kitchen table. I didn't know for sure, but I think he was crying. His shoulders seemed to be ever so slightly shaking.
“No,” I said quietly, looking down at my feet. “No, it wasn't blood samples they wanted.”
I think she was pretty intelligent, that girl. She looked at Sam. She looked at me, and she chewed her lip. Then she looked down at her hands in her lap. “Oh,” is all she said. Very quietly.
The noise of trucks was coming from the street in front of the house. The girl, I still didn't know her name, looked around the door of the kitchen towards the front of the house. “Shit. They're doing a door-to-door. Probably looking for you guys. Go where I showed you. I'll see if I can get rid of them.
We ran downstairs and into the storage room underneath, and tried to be quiet.
Sitting quietly in the mostly dark room, after everything that had just happened, was maybe not the best idea in the world. Not that we had any choice. But now I had a few minutes to slow my breathing, and my heart rate. I wasn't being overloaded with sights and sounds, and running and reacting.
Now, I had a few minutes to just think.
It turned out that wasn't at all a good idea.
Because, what I was thinking about, what I couldn't help thinking about, was all the other prisoners. The people we left behind.
Reuben, who did more than anyone else to get things started. Chris and Mark, who got things going, and then were out of it before it even began. All the others, both those in on our little escape attempt and those that tried to do their best when it was all happening. All left behind.
I knew one thing about the fledgling authority structure here. The people just learning how to control and threaten and scare and hurt others. They were new at it, and they made a lot of mistakes. That's how we got free. But they were learning fast. And they most definitely weren't stupid.
I hated to think what would happen to those we left behind. With the inevitable new security procedures and whatever new technology that would be used, how hard it would be for anyone else to get free.
I closed my eyes. I think I shook my head slightly.
We were sitting on the floor, next to each other, the thin material of our coveralls doing nothing to protect our butts from the cold, hard concrete beneath. We were both leaning against cardboard boxes sitting on shelves. There were some jars and cans of something, preserves I suppose, on the shelves across the room. Hard to make out in the dimness. And more owls. It was a bit dusty, and that tickled my nose.
I wasn't feeling very good about things right at that moment. The way we left, the way I acted. Then, right in the middle of feeling guilty and horrible and selfish about escaping, and being here and leaving everyone else except Sam behind, even though everybody else did all the work, I had another thought.
The one I hit with the chair.
Like an old movie, the scene kept playing itself over and over in front of my eyes. The chair hitting his face, the leg going into his eye, the way he fell, his skull hitting the floor and the noise it made.
Then, the blood.
I think I might have killed him.
My gut roiled. I wanted to vomit. My breathing got fast again. I was trembling.
After everything I had been through. After all that I had learned, after all the progress I had made since waking up. Then, the shame of everything I had let happen to me in that prison. Not having enough guts to stop it. And now, this.
I was coming to a shocking realization. The untangling, the mental blocks, the treatment.
They hadn't worked at all.
I just pretended they had for a while. I fooled everyone. Even me.
Now, here it was. The truth. Right there in front of my eyes.
I was still a fuck-up.
The proof was right there. First, I couldn't bother to have enough willpower to tell them to screw themselves with their samples, they could goddamn stick a needle in me a dozen times a day before I'd do that.
Then, I finally get out of there, and how do I do it? Everyone else does all the work, and most of the planning, and makes the sacrifices. Not me though. Oh no. I merrily waltz out of there without a care in the world. Taking advantage of what they created, and leaving them to the wrath of the Enclave's management and the Protectorate government.
Finally, in the process, without even hesitating and seemingly without the slightest thought about it, I smashed a guy's head in. Maybe even killing him. Maybe taking a human life. Even worse, if it weren't for Sam stopping me, I might have done it again.
For the first time since about a month after waking up in the fake house, I felt like I really didn't want to be alive anymore. Like, just maybe, I really didn't belong in the world.
Just as these thoughts were swirling through my head, just as I was ready to curl up and die in the corner, I felt an arm draw itself around my shoulders.
I don't know why he would do that.
I don't know how Sam knew I was thinking about all this. Or if he knew. I don't think I was making a sound. And I don't know why he'd want to get near me after what I did. I almost got him killed too. He really probably should be scuttling over to the far corner of the room. He saw what happened. He even stopped me from doing it again! He knew what I was.
And yet, there he was.
I couldn't help it. When he pulled me closer to him, I let a sob escape. I didn't want to. I knew we had to be quiet. I tried to stop it. But it just came out.
I covered my mouth with my hands, and just sat there, shaking and trembling, while Sam leaned into me and gently rubbed my shoulders.