It seems like I have just closed my eyes when I hear The Geek in my ear. I choose not to respond to him, hoping to keep as silent as possible while I make my exit.
I enter the hall and slide open the door to the room Eve is sleeping in. I peek in and see the earpiece on a dresser near the door. Without entering the room, I’m able to grab the device and slowly close the door behind me. I tiptoe through the house to the front door and, without a single floorboard creaking, I’m outside.
Once outside, I rush to the gate where I find there’s no latch or knob with which to open it. I push against it with my shoulder to no response. Looking up, it’s easy to see it’s too tall for me to climb over.
“Can you work your magic on the gate?” I whisper.
“No can do, Cyrus. They’re off the grid. That means no matter how good I am, I can’t hack it.”
I look to the right and see a keypad. Too bad I had been too far back when we got here to see Eve enter the code. Why would they even lock this place from the inside?
I decide the plan is pointless and resolve myself to getting a couple more hours of sleep instead of my intended head start, when I hear footsteps behind me.
“Can’t get through the gate?” I hear John whisper. I turn to look at him. Instead of the angry face I had expected, there’s a smile.
“No,” I say, looking down at the ground to avoid his gaze.
“Sorry, it’s an old security measure. In case someone we don’t want knowing about us actually gets in, we want to make it extra hard for them to get back out to tell the world about it. Lucky for you, Mary recently decided I’m no longer a threat.” John says as he shoots me a reassuring smile.
“What?” I ask, confused.
“Sorry, that’s a bad joke, I guess. I mean I just so happen to know the code to open the door.”
“What do I have to do to get you to give it to me?”
“Nothing,” he chuckles. “Don’t worry. I’m not mad you’re trying to leave without my little Evey. I have to admit I’m kind of relieved. I never wanted this life for her. Heck, that’s the whole reason we left the rebellion in the first place. Living in constant fear of being found out is no way to live, son, even if you’re doing it for a good cause. Guess it didn’t matter, though. She did it anyways. Just like her mother, she is.”
“So, you’re not going to –”
“Tell her about you leaving? No, son, not going to happen. When we wake up in the morning, I’ll be just as surprised as the rest of them when we find that empty bed.” He reaches behind me and presses several keys on the keypad. The gate clicks and he pushes it open.
I struggle to find an appropriate way to say thanks, so I extend my hand. “Mr. Gardner, it has honestly been a pleasure getting to meet you.”
“Same to you, Mr. Rhodes. Good luck on the rest of your run. Oh, and, here.” He hands me a brown bag, which I assume is filled with provisions. I toss it in my pack.
“Thanks.” I step through the open gate.
“Oh, and Cyrus,” John begins. I stop to look at him.
“About the rebellion.”
“I know I said it’s not the way I think anyone should live their life, but, neither is running, if you ask me. If you ever do decide to pick a side and you pick the one that Eve’s on, well, they’d be really lucky to have you.”
“Umm. . . thanks.” I stammer and walk into the darkness. The gate shuts behind me as I lean against a tree to determine where I’m headed next.
“Yeah, Cyrus,” I hear a need for sleep in his voice.
“You sound terrible.”
“You try being on-call 24 hours a day.”
“Oh my goodness, I didn’t even think about how hard this must be on you,” I say in a mocking tone. “Did you injure your butt from all the sitting you’ve been doing?”
“You better watch it, Cyrus. At least you get to sleep. I’ve been sitting here almost non-stop trying to find ways to get you to the destination on time. What have you been doing? Making kissy faces at your girlfriend?”
“You keep talking about all this work you’ve been doing, but so far all I’ve seen is that you almost got me killed in the desert. Maybe I should have kept Eve around, she’s done more to help me on this run than you ever will.”
“It’s things like you deciding you don’t need her anymore that keep me up all night in the first place. If you weren’t my brother, I would quit this job so fast and—“ he cuts himself off, clears his throat and begins again. “What do you need?”
“Just checking to see where we’re heading next.”
“Yeah. . . “
“Fine, alright. Well, there’s a little farming community about 10 miles away called Porterville. I guess that’s as good of a place to head as any.”
“I don’t know what else I can tell you, Cyrus. Without splits, I don’t really have anywhere for you to go. And without Eve’s knowledge of rebel–”
“Fine, I get it. I guess I was stupid to think you might actually be useful.”
“I’ll let you know if I come up with anything else.”
“Sure you will.”
“You know what, Cyrus, I’m sick and tired of –”
“Get some sleep, Billy,” I cut him off. “We can talk about this in the morning.” I hear a disgruntled snort before he clicks his microphone off.
I bend over and tighten my shoelaces as the music returns. Nine to Five by Dolly Parton. Can’t get much more passive aggressive than that, can you? I don’t have time to think about it now, so I start running, choosing to use the upbeat song as a motivator, instead of a reminder of how angry I am at The Geek, or how much he is at me.
Although my brain is exhausted and it’s difficult to think straight, my legs feel brand new. I’m finally feeling as though I’ve gotten control of this run again. And, doing some basic math, it looks like there might actually be a chance that I could make it to Boston before I hit AoA, if not by the time that Alvin guy wanted it there. I usually like to run about 70 miles a day. Since my legs are feeling awesome, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep up a ten minute mile average. That means I’d only be running about 11 hours a day.
Of course, that’s still not going to get me there on time. I’ve got over 2000 miles left and 13 days before Alvin wants me to be there. So, that means a little less than 200 miles a day, right? It’s times like this where The Geek tends to be most useful, but I really should allow him to get some rest.
I’m probably not too far off by saying that would mean I’d need to be running something like a mile every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day. Not great, but getting closer to where I need to be. I begin to wonder if The Geek has heard back on any of the favors he’s been working so hard on. I probably shouldn’t have lashed out at him so bad back there. We are going to need a lot of help to pull this off, even if I would prefer to work alone.
Although math and I aren’t exactly best friends, thinking through the next 2000 miles seems to have helped the time go faster. The early lights of dawn are peaking out at me over the tree tops as the birds begin chirping their early morning songs. Looking down at my GPS I see I’ve already been running for over an hour and have covered a little over six miles. And I’m still feeling great.
All the same, I should probably take a break. Looking off in the distance I see an opening in the trees. Once I reach the opening, I find myself in a small meadow overlooking a little pond. Through the misty morning air, I can just make out a flurry of animal activity occurring within. I walk down to the waterside as I catch my breath.
Once my breathing returns to normal, I find a spot to claim for my backside so I can sit and enjoy the view. It is simply beautiful.
A smile slowly spreads across my face as I think back to the Gardners. This is all they live for, to be at one with nature. In a way, I’m the same. Sure, I love the thrill of running, but I think it’s moments like these that really make it all feel worthwhile.
Maybe this is what the rebellion is really all about, getting people to be able to enjoy the world again. That’s not so bad, is it? I don’t know, maybe I’ve been missing the point.
My ears perk up to the sound of a loud whirring noise. I look across the pond and see a dark cloud approaching. The cloud moves awkwardly, from left to right in a very organized pattern. I stare blankly at this oncoming haze and notice my heart has just stopped beating.
“Cyrus, what are you doing, get out of there!” I hear yelling in my ear. At the sound of The Geek’s voice, I finally recognize what I’m looking at and jump to my feet, bolting for the tree line and hoping I havent’t been spotted.
“Come on, Cyrus, get a move on. The drones are right behind you,” The Geek yells as I bound through the forest.
The mist I had mistakenly identified as a cloud is actually a swarm of Search Drones, a series of devices utilized by the SPs to explore an entire area from top to bottom. I stop in my tracks as my brain suddenly registers what that means. “The Gardners!” I yell as I change direction and run back to where I just came from.
“Cyrus! What are you doing?”
“The drones, they’ll find the ranch!”
“Stop!” The Geek yells. I stop. “Good. Listen, Cyrus, even if you wanted to help them, there’s no chance you could make it back in time. They’re over six miles away from you now.”
“Yeah, but. . .”
“They know what they’re doing. Their house has been there a long time. This can’t be the first time they’ve had to deal with a drone swarm.”
“But doesn’t that–”
“You’re no good to anyone heading back in there, you’ll just get caught. Right now they have no clue where you are, but if you head back in, they’ll know for certain, well before you get back to the ranch.”
“Okay. . .” I say hesitantly. I know he’s right, but I can’t help fearing what could happen to the Gardners if they’re found. It’s one thing to side with the rebels; it’s another to have a life completely outside of government control. The punishment for that has got to be bad. But The Geek’s right, there’s no chance I can save them. And there’s no reason all of us should get captured. I turn on my heel and head east.
Having the drones out looking for me means one thing, the SPs are getting desperate. That’s a good thing, although dangerous. I’ve managed to avoid them so far, but if they’re sending the drones out, there’s no chance I’ll be able to get much farther before they find me.
Of course, the one thing I have that they aren’t counting on is The Geek. He’ll be able to see where all the swarms have been released and keep me out of their way. Let’s just hope the SPs don’t find out he’s my eye in the sky, because then I’m really screwed.
My headphones are around my neck now. This is one of the few times where I can’t risk not being able to hear every single noise around me. Even with The Geek keeping a lookout, there’s always the chance that a stray swarm is hiding out here waiting for me.
I’m running at top speed now, covering as much distance as I can to keep me from the swarm I saw behind me.
“Hey Cy,” The Geek says cheerfully.
“What’s the news?”
“Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is the swarms aren’t out here for you; they’re just out on a scheduled scan of the area. Looks like they’re all behind you now, so you should be able to rest easy.”
“And the bad news?”
“It sounds like they found the Gardners.”
“You don’t sound certain.”
“Well, I’m not totally sure, but there’s not much else that it could be. I’m hearing an awful lot of SP chatter regarding a rebel stronghold not far from where you’re currently at. If that’s not the Gardners, I don’t know what it could be.”
“Do you have any clue what they’ll do with them?”
“Not a one.”
“What about me? Do you think we need to be worried?”
“Doubtful. I can’t see them ratting you out. They’re probably used to this type of thing.”
“So, I’m safe for now?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“How am I doing on time?”
“Pretty good. Porterville’s only two miles ahead of you.”
“Perfect, I’ll talk to you once I get there.”
With The Geek’s news, I decide it’s probably safe to turn my music back on. I Wish by Stevie Wonder. I push forward, forcing every extra ounce of speed out of me.
I exit the trees and enter farmland. I must be right outside of Porterville.
I’d rather not stop with the drones being so close, but I’ve really pushed myself hard these last few miles and feel my energy disappearing quickly. If I don’t take a break, I’ll be worthless when it finally does matter.
The morning has come in full force now. I feel naked standing in this field with the sun shining brightly on my face. I look off toward the horizon for some place with cover and see a dilapidated barn in the distance. Looks as good of a place to hang out as any.
I make it to the barn in no time, slip inside quickly, and slide down against the interior wall, my lungs burning in my chest. I close my eyes tight, suddenly feeling the pain coursing through my legs. And then it finally hits me. The Gardners. I know it’s not my fault, but they don’t deserve this. They’ll be lucky if they’re only executed.
I keep my eyes shut, trying to hide from the realization that these kind people have such a horrible fate awaiting them. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before. I’m not sure I know how. I had always thought this type of punishment was reserved for the worst of the worst. I rest my head against the wall and try to regain my composure.
“Hey Cyrus.” I jump to my feet and open my eyes.
“Yeah, what took you so long?”
“Eve!” I repeat as I run over to hug her.
“Whoa there, soldier. That’s quite the greeting for someone who was trying to ditch me.”
“But,” I stammer, remembering how I had never expected to see her again. “How?” I gasp.
“Oh, come on, Cyrus. You made it pretty obvious that you were planning on ditching me, especially when you had your whole secret talk with The Geek.”
“How’d you know about that?”
“I was listening, dummy,” she said as she punched me in the arm. “I’ve been dealing with folks doing secretive stuff for a long time. I knew the second I turned on the water in the shower that you would be making plans with The Geek.”
“But–” I stammer.
“Just give in, Cyrus. I bested you.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here, in this exact barn.”
“Porterville is really the only place to stop along the way and who wouldn’t choose this broken-down barn as a place to hide. Admit it, I’ve got you all figured out.”
“Fine. I still think you’re keeping something from me.”
“So, how was the run over? You’re looking pretty winded.”
“What?” she asked, a look of concern growing on her face.
“Your parents,” I say softly.
“Yeah?” she responds as her eyebrows furrow.
“There was a drone swarm. They were everywhere,” I pause. “The Geek says they found the ranch.”
“Yeah?” she says in a bright response. I feel angry I have to explain further.
“The swarm found the ranch, Eve. Your parents are going to be captured, if they haven’t been already.”
“Aw, is that it?” she scoffed. “I appreciate the concern, Cyrus, but it’s not needed.”
“Eve, I know it’s hard to believe, but the drones found your parents. That gate will only keep them out for so long.”
“Do you seriously think this is the first time the drones have been out here?”
“Well, no. I mean, I know the drone sweeps are scheduled regularly. But that doesn’t change the fact that they were found.”
“Don’t you think it’s odd they were found this time and not any time before?”
“I guess. I don’t know. What are you getting at?”
“The ranch is built specifically with the Search Drones in mind. It’s specially designed to avoid all of their search parameters. Simply put, the drones can’t see the ranch.”
“But they did see the ranch. The Geek told me.”
“My parents must have seen them coming and decided to buy us some time by making sure the drones found them instead of us.”
“Okay, so I’m still not getting why you aren’t concerned. Whether or not your parents allowed themselves to be found doesn’t change that they were found.”
“Come on, Cyrus. My parents were a part of the rebellion for years. This is the kind of stuff they lived for.”
“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“There are a series of tunnels located all throughout these woods connecting all of the rebel houses out here. After they made the ranch visible to the drones, they ran down into the tunnels and off to one of the other safe houses.”
“But won’t the SPs find the tunnels when they get in?”
“The tunnels and ranch are designed with a self-destruct feature. Press a button and there’s no trace they were ever there.”
“And you say there are other houses out here?”
“Yeah, all over. My parents will just shack up in one of them until they can get placed in a new one.”
“But you said there are other rebels out here? Like, a bunch of them?”
“Yeah, of course. What do you think happens to rebels when they retire?”
“When you’ve got a rebellion that’s been going on for as long as this one has, they need to retire sooner or later.”
“How long has this rebellion been going on?”
“Seventy years. It’s been around since the end of World War II. America dropped the bombs and everything changed.”
“Seventy years? And you still haven’t fixed anything?”
“I like to think we have. Obviously we’d like to make a more overwhelming change to the way our government does things, but these things take time. In the meantime, we do what we can to make things better for those who need it.”
“This is what you and your parents were fighting about, right?”
“Yeah, the rebels are finally ready to take action, you know, do something big. My parents think it makes us no better than the people we’re fighting against, but this rebellion has been going on for far too long without making a real impact. Now is the time.”
“The time for what?”
“I’m not sure. They’re being mighty secretive about it, but, it’s going to be big and it’s happening soon.”
“Like how soon?”
“Couldn’t say, but I do know that it has something to do with this package you’re delivering.”
“Yeah, I kinda gathered that back in San Francisco.”
“Whatever you’re carrying in that bag of yours is supposed to change everything.”
“But it’s only an envelope. What could be all that important that they couldn’t just, I don’t know, e-mail?”
“Aren’t you curious?” I ask. “We could open it.”
“What? No! First of all, what good would it do? Secondly, no, we’re not going to do that. I thought you didn’t care about this political stuff anyways.”
“Now I’m curious.”
“Whatever is inside that envelope is for the eyes of the person in Boston and their eyes only.”
“Fine, whatever you want,” I sigh.
“Alright,” she says as she bends over to tighten her shoelaces. “Now that we’ve got all that out of the way. You ready?”
“The real question is, are you?” I grin and bolt out of the barn.
Go to Chapter Thirteen