I know it was stupid but for some reason the “bat-faced” comment really irked.
The older man tried to explain to his son, “Dawson, I can’t believe I fathered such an idiot. Do the two of you have no concept of what you have done? This isn’t something you can just sweep under the rug or buy your way out of. The contract with SEPH wasn’t my idea, your number simply came up. I negotiated the best deal I could get but it is still a SEPH contract, not merely a private one.”
The bored young man asked, “So?”
“So, the contract was signed six months ago and you both knew it. What’s worse, everyone knows you know it. You two numbskulls participated in that protest in Phoenix and the video of your pathetic plea for freedom and liberty for Fertiles went viral and in it, if you will recall, the two of you mentioned that you were already under contract … to other people, not each other. SEPH will use that to take the conglomerate over. And don’t look so uncaring you little wretch, they’ll go after your mother’s assets as well. Now sit down and shut up both of you. I’ve got to think.”
My rat senses were tingling like crazy. The only way out of a SEPH contract was if one or the other parties involved were found to have significant genetic abnormalities … or died. I wasn’t waiting around to see which option he decided to play. I picked up my suitcase and took off through the grass thanking my lucky stars that it was after quitting time. There was a barn ahead of me and I ducked in.
The first thing I saw upon entering was a pile of faded coveralls that looked like they’d just been shucked out of. Digging through the pile I found the one closest in size to me – in other words still way too big – and decided to change. After looking around I found an empty stall and stripped, pulled the foul, still-damp-with-someone-else’s-sweat material on and then zipped it shut. Next I quickly transferred what I could from my suitcase to the pack. The suitcase had remained practically empty since the beginning of the trip so there wasn’t much, and the pack was a large one.
The shoes I was wearing were completely unequal to an escape but there wasn’t a shoe store handy; I would have to find alternatives at some point but I wasn’t going back to the house to look. My main problem was the chip behind my ear. I had hoped for more time to find a way around what I was about to do but that wasn’t happening so I looked around for something sharp. I found a tool that looked like a box cutter in a chest, wiped it off, and then raised it to do what was necessary.
“Sterilize it first or you’ll be sorry.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I was so rarely snuck up on that it took a moment for my brain to catch up. A man was looking at me through a stall door with bars on it.
“They set Ident chips beneath the subcutaneous layer. It is a chip you’re after right? I’ll do it for you if you bring me those keys over yonder.”
I looked at the keys he indicated that hung on a nail by a work bench then back at him. Then a raggedy girl stepped from behind man. “Asa won’t jip you. You bring him the keys, he’ll take the chip out.”
Suspiciously I asked, “Before or after you two kill me?”
The girl just looked at me and deadpanned, “Neither if you help us to get out of here.”
I almost smiled. I smelled a rat … the good kind … but I couldn’t quite figure out why. It was coming off the man more than the girl for some reason. I didn’t know their game or their crime but Rat called to Rat and it was impossible to ignore that one had gotten caught in a trap. I shook my head. “I’ve been out of the game too long. I’m going soft,” I muttered.
I got the keys and threw them to him. He and the girl were out of there in seconds. “Come here and let’s get this over with.”
I handed him the box cutter but instead he grabbed a jacket from the wall, slipped it on and then took a pocket knife out of the inside lining. “This is going to hurt like a mother but you’ve got to hold still. Dove, pin her against the wall.”
“Dove,” I told the girl. “You don’t want to do that. I’ll be still and if I jump and lose an ear it will be my own fault.”
The man said, “Suit yourself.”
Oh yeah it hurt … but I’d hurt worse. Not often but I kept telling myself that a few of the falls and scraps that I had when I was on the street had to have been worse than what I was experiencing. I heard him say, “Dove hand me … yeah, that. Good find. Stow it with whatever else you find and be ready to run.”
I saw a tiny piece of plastic balanced on the end of his blade while the girl taped something behind my ear. He looked at me and said, “This is high tech, don’t see too many of these out here.”
I didn’t say anything and he flicked the plastic into a waste bin. “Keep it clean and don’t pick at it. It’ll be sore for a day or two but you should be OK unless it gets infected.”
I nodded and he turned to the girl named Dove. They headed toward the back of the barn and out a door and then I lost sight of them. Next it was my turn. By the time I got behind the barn they were nowhere to be seen but I wasn’t particularly looking for them either. I was more concerned about where I was going.
Basically I had two choices. I could head East or I could head West. East would take me back to the city and more people to get lost amongst; but it also meant that I would be closer to SEPH controlled territories. If I headed West I would get further away from SEPH and their plans for me but I’d be heading into the Wastelands. The cities would be familiar and easier for me to navigate but something – the smell of freedom perhaps – pulled me West.
I looked at the setting sun and knew that I wouldn’t have much longer to get away. Making sure that all was clear I started jogging. I stopped that real quick as the pain behind my ear became unbearable, even for me. I changed my gait to a ground eating walk, following the sun, praying for the first time in a long time that maybe … just maybe … there was a blessing out there somewhere for me.