The Agora Files – Part I – Online Edition – Chapter Thirty-One

Drones.

I jump to my feet as I wake. I’m still in the women’s restroom Eve modified into a bunker. I look down and see I’m stripped down to my boxers. Eve is on the other side of the room, looking as though she had fought sleep for some time before finally giving in. She’s also down to just her undergarments. I feel my cheeks burn and my heart race.

I force myself to look away and size up the situation. The sound of the drones comes and goes, which means it’s unlikely they have any idea we’re in here. That’s good, I think. Of course, just because they don’t know we’re in here doesn’t mean they don’t know we’re stateside.

I want to talk to The Geek and see if he knows anything, but Eve deserves her rest. Once again I owe her my life. A few more minutes of sleep is the least I can do. I stand and pace around the room, trying to come up with a plan. I’ve got nothing. I check my clothes, which Eve had slung over the bathroom stall doors to dry. They’re still dripping.

I sit down on the floor next to her, hoping to share her warmth, and slip my headphones over my ears. I press play. Hard Time Killing Floor by Chris Thomas King. The blues feel appropriate considering our current situation.

I stare at Eve as King’s sad voice echoes through my mind. She looks so different asleep, like a lost child. She breathes so deeply, no longer aware of the dangers around us. A smile spreads across her lips, her perfect lips.

Then, fear crosses her face and she shudders, shaking violently. Her lips quiver. I slide closer and hold her in my arms. She nuzzles into my chest, her hair in my face.

I inhale her aroma. The sound of the drones fades as I’m warmed by her body against mine. I want to wake her, to share this moment with her. I can’t ignore it any longer. There’s something about her that causes my heart to skip. Her under-dressed state only makes it more difficult for me to ignore this.

She’s beautiful.

I run my hand across the skin of her back. Electricity pulses through her skin into mine. I bury my face into her hair and give her head a soft kiss. She turns to me and looks deep into my eyes. I’m lost in those twin blue orbs as she stares at me in silence. There’s no fear, only happiness. I lean my face closer to hers and feel her breath against my cheeks.

Slowly I lean in closer and press my lips against hers. She presses against me in return. My head swirls with excitement.

The world melts away and I am aware of nothing but this moment, no past, no future, just now. There is only us and I can’t imagine anything more perfect. A tear appears on my cheek as Eve pulls away and lays her head against my chest once again.

I look down at her hair, trying to come up with the best way to bring her back to me, to continue the moment we shared, to remove ourselves from this world which wants us dead.

“That one’s for free, soldier,” Eve mumbles, her voice muffled by my chest. “Next one will cost you.”

This one has already cost me more than she could ever know. I hug her head tightly, never wanting to let go, but I know what must be done. I never want her to leave my side, but to keep her alive, to keep her safe, I have to leave her behind.

Her heavy breathing returns. She’s asleep. Good. I hold her tightly for another minute. The last minute.

Reluctantly, I pick myself off the floor, careful not to wake her as I place her head back onto the pillow she had made for herself out of paper towels.

I stand and take my clothes off their drying rack, struggling to get the cold damp cloth over my skin. My shoes, my beautiful new shoes, are soaked. At least Eve had poured out the water and set them upside down to dry. They are still wet enough to squish under my feet and squeak against the floor. I walk on my tiptoes to keep as quiet as possible. Eve isn’t stirring.

I find my backpack hanging on the back side of the stall door my clothes were on. I open it and look inside. The papers are as dry as ever. The Geek’s abilities to waterproof things will never cease to amaze me.

I walk to the door. I’ll need to lock it behind me to keep Eve safe from the drones after I leave. I bend over and unlace one of my shoes. I tie the loosed lace around the lock lever with a slipknot.

I cock my ear to the side. No sign of the drones. Now is as good of a time as any. I look back at Eve one final time as I open the door. It whines as it pulls on the hinge.

“Cyrus?” Eve mutters.

“Shhh,” I whisper, “go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” she mumbles, followed by something I can’t understand.

I stare at her and consider changing my mind. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m being selfish in leaving her here. But this run is certain to end in my death. If she is at my side when I’m caught, it will end in hers as well. My resolve returns.

I grab the shoelace, step out the door, and shut it behind me.

“Geek,” I whisper. “You there?” I wait a few minutes. No doubt he expected to have some time before his services were needed again, he’s probably sleeping.

“What do you want?” he asks angrily.

“I’m leaving.”

“You?”

“Yeah, as in, without Eve.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “but like you keep telling me, I’m not too bright.”

“Okay, fine, so what do you need from me?”

“I’m leaving the earpiece for her. I need you to promise me you will help her get somewhere safe.”

“You know she’s not going to listen to me, right?”

“Convince her. She likes you.”

“Not as much as she likes you.”

“Promise me.”

“Fine, whatever, I promise. Is that it?”

“Any news?”

“Last I heard the SPs were giving up on the drone swarms. They’ve got the border covered and don’t expect to miss you, the rest of them are being shipped to Boston as a last ditch effort. You should have a pretty clear road ahead, at least until Massachusetts.”

“Awesome.”

“This is a really stupid idea, Cy. At least take the earpiece.”

“No, Eve needs you more than I do. I’m beyond saving.”

“You might be right, but I still think I’d be more help to you than her. She’s not going to listen to me,” he repeats. I know he’s right.

“Make her listen.”

A short pause and then, “Are you really sure you want to do this?”

“Yeah, Geek. Thanks. For everything.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says coolly. There’s another pause before, “Cyrus?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t die, okay?”

“Billy,” I say slowly, “I’ll be back at The Corral in no time. I believe I owe you a strangling or two.”

“Ha,” The Geek laughs nervously. “Alright, I’ll hold you to that.”

“You better. See ya soon.”

“Cyrus,” The Geek says softly. “I, well, I umm. . .”

“Don’t worry about it, little buddy, I know.” I look down to the shoelace in my hand. “You had better take good care of her,” I say as I tug on the lace lightly. The lock clicks as the string comes through the door frame. And they call me stupid.

“Alright,” I say to myself, thinking it might somehow reassure me. I re-lace my shoe and tighten both. I cock my ear to the side and don’t hear any drones. Let’s hope The Geek was right. It would be great to get through New York before being spotted. That would give Eve plenty of time.

Then there’s Massachusetts. We can deal with that later. We…there’s no we anymore, just me. I press play on my music player. Might be the last song The Geek gets to choose for me. I hope he’s chosen something good. A Satisfied Mind by Bob Dylan. Not quite as exciting of a song as I had hoped for, but I’ll take it.

I look down at the GPS. Looks like The Geek has loaded the final destination for me. I slowly follow the trail through the park, which leads me to a bridge across the river. There’s a city on the other side and the sun is rising. I don’t like it. It would be horrible to get spotted so quickly, not to mention how they would be certain to find Eve. I rush through the parking lots and back yards as fast as possible.

The urban areas are fairly sparse here. A couple commercial buildings, a housing development, and then I’m back in the trees. The pattern repeats three times before I find myself once again in farmland. The sun’s light now fills the air. I don’t like being out in the open, but it’s better than being in the city.

It’s taken me about 10 miles to get to the farms. Don’t want to push myself too hard yet, especially considering how much time I have left. I see a cluster of trees up on the right. I make my way over there, figuring I should have some cover while I’m sitting around. The trees have given up all but the most stubborn of their leaves, meaning my hiding place really isn’t all that hidden.

It’s still better than standing in the middle of an open field, but with how much the SPs have been making sure everyone knows how important it is I’m captured, any person who sees me running through the countryside will be all too eager to phone in a sighting report. They might not get the entire bounty for a phone call, but they’d probably be given at least a small reward. I’m sure it would be more than enough to change that snitch’s place in life. Even being offered a better job would make a world of difference for most people.

My breathing returns to normal and I get back to running. My music player has now gone officially over to random. There’s no question. I decide to take control after the third slow song. Only so many times one can listen to Unchained Melody before breaking down and crying. I decide on some Supertramp. Nothing beats a little classic rock.

Give a Little Bit is the first track that comes up. Not exactly upbeat, but better than I had going before. I return my focus to running, pushing even harder now. I don’t want to wait any longer to face my death. I want it to come now. I’m feeling a bit better about the fate awaiting me. At least I’ll die knowing I saved Eve. Plus, it’ll be a pleasure to die knowing I caused the SPs so much trouble.

That should be enough to get me into The Agora’s history books, right? They have to be pretty happy about all of this anyways. I have to imagine all the other Runners are having no trouble getting around with all the focus being on me. The Agora’s probably making more money than ever thanks to me and my death run.

Another ten miles down without any trouble. I see storm clouds brewing off to the north. Looks like a nasty one. Hope it doesn’t head this way. I decide not to sit around for very long. I want as much of a head start on it as possible.

I’m getting bored now. After all the excitement of the past few days, I keep expecting something big to cross my path. Instead, it’s just me and my music. Ram Jam’s Black Betty comes on the player. I should have hit up my classic rock playlist a long time ago.

The music’s still not enough to keep the run from dragging on. The emptiness of the fields only serves to enhance how I feel inside. Not only do I not have The Geek in my ear giving his constant annoying pieces of advice, I’m also without Eve.

It’s funny to think how quickly my feelings toward the run have changed. A week ago, I would have cringed at the thought of having anyone along with me on a run. Now that Eve’s gone, I can’t understand how I ever did it without a companion by my side.

And I can’t stop thinking about that kiss. No doubt she’s awake now, cursing herself for feeling so comfortable with me, but I have to imagine she felt the same way I did when our lips locked. If only I could see her again, just for a minute.

But, that’s not an option. I’ll never see her again. I’ll never be able to smell her hair, feel the skin on her back, or share her embrace, the way I did on that bathroom floor.

I picture her in my mind the way I last saw her. I feel tears welling up in my eyes. I can’t fight it any longer.  They force themselves out. I want to turn back, find her, and forget about this run. We could live out our lives in hiding, together forever.

She would never let that happen, of course. She’s too dedicated to the rebellion. She’d tell me how important the mission is, how much it means to so many people. This stupid run. If I hadn’t decided to do it, we’d never have to make that decision. Of course, if I had never taken it on, I would have never gotten so close to her either.

I curse the winds of destiny which led me to this depressing point of my life. I want to stop. I want to lie on the ground with my head in my hands, but I push forward.

Looking up at the sky, I see the sun is high now. I must have been running longer than I thought. I hate that I don’t have The Geek available to give me updates on my location. I hate that I don’t have Eve here with her great knowledge of the nation’s geography.

I hate that I’m alone.

A rainbow appears to the north. The storm must have run its course.

I should take another break. I look in my bag to see what edibles I have available in there. I find an apple, which I take out and eat.

I suddenly realize I hadn’t left Eve anything to eat. I hope The Geek will send her back to the house above the tunnel. Maybe they can take her back over into Canada where she’ll be safe. At least she would have plenty of food to eat while she waits.

Who am I kidding? Eve and The Geek are probably working on a way to find me as we speak. I hope not. That would make my gesture worthless. There’s no reason for her to come after me, but she’s just hardheaded enough for that to not matter.

I stand up and start running again while I finish my apple. If she’s going to try to catch me, I had better get as much distance between us as I can. That way, when they catch me, she’ll be too far behind for them to find her.

Another questionably long amount of time passes and I notice the sun is directly overhead. I need a real break. I hear water running off in the distance. Sounds like as good of a destination as any. I run through the trees the sound is coming from and on the other side I find a small creek rushing over what appears to be a dam, but not like any dam I’ve ever seen before.

This thing is old, really old. The water leading to the other side of the dam has an enclosure built over it. Not hard to decide it’s the perfect place for me to hang out while I’m off my feet. There’s a pathway along the water inside the enclosure. I walk down it briefly, far enough from the entrance to not be spotted immediately, and sit down.  I place my bag on the ground and use it to prop my head up as a pillow.

I close my eyes.  A little nap couldn’t hurt.

Go to Chapter Thirty-Two

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