Maybe it’s because the desert almost killed me, but I find myself much more at home here than in the sandy emptiness. Something about the lush foliage, running water, and all the green puts a smile on my face. The color of my surroundings shows brightly even in the darkness.
However, just because it’s beautiful doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Although I may not have to worry as much about water consumption and heat exhaustion, there are many more things that can get in the way of someone trying to run through these dark corridors of forest. The trees hide everything and every misstep could mean tripping over downed branches or falling into a small brook.
None of this seems to faze Eve in the slightest, as she still manages to keep us moving forward at a great pace. I hate to admit it, but she is actually moving faster than I feel comfortable with. Perhaps if I was better rested, or less injured. Seriously, I’m not at 100% right now.
Because Eve wants to be in on any communication from The Geek and doesn’t like having both her ears covered because she has trouble hearing the world around her, I trade the earpiece for my headphones. The Geek patches the music through so Eve can listen in as well. She seems ecstatic about having music to run to. Every time a new song starts up, I hear a little giggle coming from her. She shoots a look back at me, approving, or disapproving the specific choice. She seems to be really fond of the blues and folk songs.
The Geek seems to have noticed this, as there’s a lot more of these styles of music coming through. I can tell she’s really enjoying herself, although she does continue to whine about how she can’t hear what’s going on around her while the music plays. Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed shuts her up for the time being.
We run mostly in silence, trying to not make too much noise. Although this area is mostly uninhabited, we don’t want to risk alerting anyone to our presence, not now that the SPs have gotten everybody in the whole country ready to call us in the second they catch anything that looks remotely like us.
It’s actually pretty exciting. The whole country is probably seeing my face everywhere: walls, bulletin boards, playing non-stop on televisions, not to mention the SPs going door-to-door looking for me and alerting people to our arrival. I’m not one to usually look for attention, but something about it makes me happy.
Salt Lake City is one of many places you absolutely don’t want to be anywhere near if you have a bounty on your head. A big city like that, filled with people working their government jobs; they’re all looking for something to set themselves ahead. Good thing we’re avoiding it almost completely. I just hope Eve’s safe house is really as safe as she claims it to be.
The area to the east of SLC is mostly dominated by mountains, which isn’t going to make things any better for me. My legs still haven’t recovered from the morning’s run and I’m feeling tired. Really tired. I hate to admit it, but I find myself hoping we’ll have the chance to take a long break at Eve’s safe house. I’ve never had to struggle so much to keep up with anyone on such a short run.
Eve stops and waits for me to catch up, which makes me feel as though I’ve failed somehow. I had fallen behind only a short distance, but much further than I should. Eve doesn’t make much of it, but I still can’t help but feel embarrassed that she is beating me so easily at this race.
“You doing alright, Cy?”
“Yeah,” I lie, gasping for breath. “Just keeping my distance. You know, for safety or whatever.” I couldn’t come up with a good excuse.
“It’s really okay if you need me to slow down,” she says, smiling. I can tell she’s really enjoying watching me struggle. “The ranch is just on the other side of that hill.” She gestures to the hill in front of us. “Since you’re looking so ragged, it might be a good chance to rest for a while before starting again in the morning.”
“I’m really okay,” I lie.
“Whatever you say. Just let me know if that changes.” And she starts off in the direction she indicated. I stand and stare at her as she disappears into the darkness before realizing I’m supposed to be running, too.
Like I’ve said before, it always helps to have a landmark in sight. Now that I know we’ve only got a short distance ahead of us, I find it a lot easier to push myself through the pain and tired limbs. Within a matter of minutes, we’ve reached the top of the hill. Eve stops briefly and points to a spot in the middle of the valley below before starting off down the hill. I assume she’s pointing at our destination, but all I can see are more trees.
We slide down the hillside quickly and once we make it to the bottom, she bolts off ahead of me. It’s obvious she hadn’t been running at her top speed based on how fast she’s moving now. I sprint forward and try my hardest to keep up, so I don’t get lost in the dark. Four seconds later, the trees open up and we’re under an expansive canopy painted to look like the rest of the forest.
Eve has already reached a tall gate just inside the clearing and is fiddling with some device attached to it. The gate opens and she disappears inside. I run to catch up, not wanting the gate to close with me on the wrong end of it.
After I enter the complex, I am greeted by a sight much different than I expected. Since the gate outside looks like something you use to guard a military bunker, I was certain I’d be greeted by a group of serious-looking men holding some serious-looking machinery.
Instead, I find myself standing in the middle of a small farmstead. Cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep are scattered around a modest wood home. Eve is already at the bottom of the steps in front of the house. The door opens as she reaches it and out steps an older couple, I’d guess they are around sixty, who greet Eve with hugs and kisses. Eve turns and gestures to me.
“Come on Cyrus, what are you waiting for?” I walk slowly, not sure what I should expect. The trio comes to the bottom of the stairs to meet me.
“Hi Cyrus,” the man says as he extends his arm to me formally. “Eve has told us so much about you.”
I reach out and grab his hand, giving it a quick shake. “Um, nice to meet you too,” I respond awkwardly.
The woman comes to me and gives me a big hug. “Thank you, son. What you’re doing means a great deal to us, all of us.” I can see a tear welling up in her eyes.
“Cyrus, this is John and Mary Gardner,” Eve smiles. “My parents.”
“I thought you said we were coming out to meet up with some rebels,” I ask.
John laughs. “Well, I don’t know if you can really consider us rebels anymore. Once, maybe, but those days are long gone.”
“Why don’t you just consider us friends,” Mary adds softly. “We help those in need. No questions asked.”
“Aw, come on, you two are some of the worst liars ever,” Eve says proudly. “At one point, these two were basically running the rebellion.”
“Now, Eve,” Mary blushes.
“Well, it’s true, Mom.”
“Eve likes to romanticize our involvement in the rebellion,” John adds.
“Oh, come on, Dad. You and Mom were involved in setting up almost all of the rebel bases around the country. That’s not nothing.”
“Well,” Mary adds quickly, “all except for the one in Black Rock City. We had absolutely nothing to do with that one. I’m all for free expression, but those folks out there seem to take things to an entirely new level. Of course, we did manage to have a bit of fun when we were there, didn’t we John?” Mary giggles.
“It had its moments,” John laughs in return. “I’m honestly surprised that place is still around. After what happened in Lyman, I–”
“Oh,” Mary says, cutting her husband off as she notices the uncomfortable look growing on my face, “this is not the sort of conversation we should be having with guests around. I’ve got some dinner warming on the stove if either of you are interested. I hope you like ham and eggs.”
“Oh, yes ma’am,” I say, happy to be freed from the conversation.
Mary leads us inside. The inside of the house is a lot like the outside. There’s nothing to mark this as a sanctuary from the rest of the world, nothing to show it has high security measures installed all around.
Mary takes us to their dining room and commands us all to sit. I suddenly realize they had been expecting us. How did Eve manage to get a message out to her parents to let them know we were coming?
Mary disappears into the kitchen, stating she has only to fry the eggs before dinner is ready. John looks inquisitively at me.
“So, how do you feel about being a part of the rebellion, Cyrus?”
“I’m not a part of the rebellion,” I answer shortly.
“Maybe I should have phrased it differently. How do you feel about helping the rebellion out like you are?”
“I don’t know,” I say as I look at the floor. “I guess I don’t really care about it all that much.”
John laughs. “I remember being the same way when I was your age. The only thing I was interested in rebelling against were my parents.”
“Not until Mom came around,” Eve giggles.
“Well,” John agrees, “yeah, to be honest. It’s funny what a pretty girl can make you do.”
“Join the rebellion, get a date?” I offer.
“I suppose that about sums it up,” John laughs again. “When I first met Mary, I would do anything to be around her. Just so happened, she was in the rebellion.”
“I guess that’s one way to start a war,” I mumble.
“It’s not a war, Cyrus,” Eve objects. “It’s a movement, a new way of thinking. It’s about freedom, like the Founding Fathers promised—“
“Now, Eve, I think Cyrus was just making a joke,” John defends me. “But Eve’s right. We weren’t planning a war. We were focused on providing support to those who needed it. Most of what we did was run supplies out to different parts of the country, you know, areas that were in really bad shape. After a few months of seeing all those people struggling just to live, I was hooked on the movement.”
“So all it took was seeing poor people?” I ask.
“More or less. Seeing that there were so many people in the same country I lived in who were barely able to afford to stay alive and that our government was actually managing to make things worse for them, well, it changes a person.”
“Isn’t that why we’ve got the government-sanctioned jobs and all those other things people are always complaining about paying for?” I ask. “I mean, that’s what they’re for, aren’t they? To keep people from going hungry.”
Mary enters from the kitchen with a stern, but smiling, look on her face. “Now John, I thought we agreed we were done talking politics with the boy.”
“You’re right, Mary. I guess I just can’t help myself.”
“This is the type of stuff Cyrus need to know about, Mom,” Eve disagrees.
“You might be right, Eve,” Mary replies, “but not at my dinner table.” Without another word, Mary begins dishing food onto my plate. “Besides, the food’s cooling as we speak and no one wants to eat a pile of cold eggs.”
She’s right and although we’re all cheerful, we spend the rest of the meal mostly in silence. Eve appears to be just as hungry as I am considering how quickly all three of her platefuls disappear. The topic of the rebellion never resurfaces, although I see Eve’s mind working through something while she eats.
As the meal ends, both Eve and I decide to get an early start on sleep so we can be rested enough for the following morning. I’m ushered to the spare bedroom and John hands me a set of pajamas, which I choose to leave on the dresser.
I hear the sound of running water and guess Eve must have decided to take a shower.
“Geek,” I whisper, not wanting John or Mary to hear me. “You there?”
“Yeah. Why are you whispering?”
“Don’t worry about it. Can you turn off audio on the earpiece? I don’t want Eve to hear us.”
“Umm. . . okay, I guess so.” I hear his fingers clicking across the keyboard. “Done. What do you need?”
“I need you to wake me up in two hours.”
“Sure. And Eve?”
“She’s not coming with.”
“Why should she?”
“Because we need her. Without the use of splits, we’re completely out of options for getting new supplies. She knows where all the rebels hang out.”
“We’ll be fine without her.”
“Don’t give me any of that, ‘I work alone’, crap. I think this is–”
“I’ve made up my mind. She’ll just slow us down.”
“From what I’ve seen, you’ve been–”
“Are you going to help me or not?”
“I guess so. But, are you going to get the earpiece back?”
“Wasn’t planning on it. Why?”
“The earpiece has the transmitter in it. If you’re not within twenty feet of that device, we can’t communicate.”
“Fine, I’ll get the stupid earpiece. You promise to wake me in two hours?”
“Sure, two hours.”
“Great. Talk to you then.” I lay down on the bed, still wearing my dirty running clothes. Before I even have time to think about how I’m going to manage to get the earpiece in the morning, I’m asleep.
Go to Chapter Twelve