Chapter 4: Home- Social/Trouble

Simon sat silently at the table, aware of the curious glances by the older Cambersons and Crosettis as they noted his unusual appearance.

It was true that his hair grew longer, just slightly past the shoulders. His bangs – not something he cared for in the beginning, were enjoyed now because of the discomfort caused to their guests as it obscured half of his face. He knew he was paler, too. Thinner, as well, but the clothes covered that little fact, unless the Crosettis knew enough to see how much more the vest and shirt hung off of him now.

"I've not been feeling right," Simon said. "So, this time alone has been…It's led me to ask a number of questions. Some answers are more interesting than others." He paused for effect. "Or so my voices say." He felt the angry glare from his father as his mother quickly changed topics.

Simon exchanged a quick smile with Gael Camberson. She was about his age and still at university. The path her parents chose for her was something Gael learned to manipulate for her own purposes. It amazed Simon, how she could follow her parents' rules and yet boldly create her own and never get caught. He wished he had her gift.

"Mind if we go out into the garden, Father?" Gael asked already moving away from the table. Her father nodded. Simon's gave him a warning look. "It's all the better to dance by the moonlight, Mr. Tam. We promise not to ruin any of the flowers." With that, Gael took Simon's hand and led him outside.

He looked over his shoulder and saw Benat standing guard by the door. Returning his attention to his rescuer, he said, "Thanks. For getting me out of there, I mean."

She shook her head. "Nah, that's nothing. I needed to get out of there before I went crazy." Gael looked at Simon. "Sorry, wrong choice of words." She played with his hair a bit then smiled. "I knew your rebel side would come out eventually."

Simon smiled, too. "Well, what else am I going to do during my 'meditation' and such?" he joked. He sighed. "What is going on in the world, Gael? What am I missing?"

"Besides your mind?" she asked, pulling him toward the fence between their two houses. "Life, my dear Simon, life."

He couldn't believe it. They had made it to a red-light tenement bar without anyone following them. Simon took it all in as he held Gael's hand; the young woman confidently leading the way. He chuckled at the name of the place -'The Moonshuttle.'

"Let's get a drink," she said.

Simon shook his head. "I've no I.D., Gael. And even if I did, I-."

She casually handed him a card. "Not only do you have a card, you have an appointment, after a round or two, that is."

He looked at her confused. "Gael... you lost me."

She lit a cigarette. "Someone's been looking for you and I was looking for an excuse to get out, so…" She dragged him into the bar where they found a corner table to sit in.

They spent the time talking, joking and complaining about their parents, among other things. It felt good for Simon, to be around someone his own age, who believed in him, even half-heartedly, about his quest. Whether it was the rebellious side of Gael to believe or not, he didn't care. Just having someone tell him he wasn't crazy was refreshing for him.

Gael kept looking at her watch as they drank. It was almost midnight. "What is it?" he asked as she paid for the last of the drinks.

"I've arranged a meeting for you, to let you pick up where you left off, see. They'll meet you out back, in the alley. I'm going to go to the club down the road, so…" She kissed him on the cheek. "I hope this helps you, Simon."

Simon cautiously entered the alley, wary of every sound he heard. The rendezvous point in the Blackout Zone didn't have this much sordid activity, and it unsettled him, unless it was just the lateness of the hour that got to him. Whether or not he got caught this time was secondary to the fear of possibly being murdered, or worse, the contact not showing up at all. His respect for Gael's bravery was being re-evaluated for possible madness.

He looked over his shoulder and saw Gael wave goodbye before she hurriedly went toward the part of town she was destined to go – a partying district he was surprised to learn she had gone to before. Then again, he hadn't known this district existed in the first place. If he had, he probably wouldn't have been anywhere near it, unless meetings required it...or if Gael encouraged him.

On the other side of the dimly lit alley, a cat screeched as a garbage can fell. The smell of alcohol, drugs, and other…things began to cling to Simon with each step he took toward the lone working, flickering light. He resisted the urge to check the time again, not wanting to add to his nervousness.

A figure emerged from a distance, something swaying in time with the steps. Simon tensed almost immediately as he pressed his back into the shadows. Previous meetings, two came out to meet him – one who passed on the intelligence, the other to stand watch. They never drew attention to themselves by carrying…Simon squinted and saw this man was swinging a metal pipe.

He might have a chance bolting for the street to catch up with Gael or duck back into the bar. Simon no sooner took two steps out from his hiding space before two men blocked his path. Simon crouched slightly, hands positioned to hit and defend. Weighing his options, he already made up his mind about two possible targets – the throat or the knees. He only had to see which one would make their move first.

The shorter of the two came at him first. Simon blocked the forward punch from the outside, cursing himself slightly for missing the brass knuckles, then promptly kicked the man square in the knee cap with full force as his elbow went to the attacker's throat. As soon as the second attacker – slightly taller and definitely heavier – made his move, Simon threw the first man towards him, buying enough time to grab the second attacker's face, digging fingers into his eyes as his palm pressed the nose flat, and forcing him to the ground. As before, Simon put his full weight behind the kick delivered to the knee cap.

If he ran now, he stood a chance. But he hadn't expected the other man, who must have continued his walk, to grab Simon from behind. Simon reached up to loosen the grip of the arm around his neck, while kicking at the other man who approached him from the front.

Struggling free just enough to look over his shoulder, Simon saw the man was of average height, average built, dark hair giving his unmarked face a scruffy look. What caught Simon's eye was the brightness of the man's exceptionally white teeth framed by a dark mustache and short beard. The cold blue eyes almost dared Simon to stare at the man's large forehead.

Turning his chin down in an attempt to free himself from the chokehold, Simon felt the calloused hand reach further around Simon's neck, tightening the grip, short fingernails scratching him.

"Where do you think you're going?" the man said in his ear, the short beard scratching Simon's cheek.

Something was thrown to the attacker. "Jayne, cover his face first!"

Simon struggled, careful not to look at his captor, mentally wrestling with the idea that this brute had a girl's name. He felt a cord tied around his neck to keep the canvas bag in place. Good news, he thought, was that he was still breathing. A fist to the stomach changed that, driving Simon to the ground coughing.

He waved his hands about in a futile effort to stop the booted foot from repeatedly kicking him.

"Got 'em!" Jayne said grabbing both of Simon's wrists with one hand. Another piece of rope wrapped around his wrists crossed over like an 'x', palms facing up. Simon felt the rope cutting into his skin. Knowing his luck, if he survived this, most people in his parents' circle would mistake the marks as something sordid and selfish.

"Get 'im good, Jayne!" one man called out.

"Yeah, it's up to you, now," the other joined in.

On the one hand, Simon did successfully reduce the number of assailants. On the other, as he tried to brace himself against the unknown, this Jayne fellow probably had more strength than the other two combined. The beating was precise and painful as an alternating pattern of fists and boots delivered bruises all over his body, with the exception of his head and hands. Simon was certain that not an inch of him remained unmarked, with the exception of his feet.

"Not done, yet, boy," Jayne said, laying Simon flat on the ground on his stomach, hands wrapped around Simon's wrists. He felt his arms stretched forward, close to the ground. Simon felt a rock in the pit of his stomach, uncertain what to expect, dreading it all the same. Something like a concrete block was placed just below his elbows. That was followed by a heavy booted foot slamming down on his forearm, breaking the bones.

"Call that payback," Jayne said. "Of course, if they was fair, they'd have gone for your knee caps, instead."

"Someone's comin'!" one of them yelled. Simon felt Jayne let him go as the other two grunted in their attempt to walk or run. So long as they didn't return to him, Simon could care less which way they went.

He listened a moment longer, a grunt, then a whine followed by a 'huff' as it sounded as if someone was being picked up or left behind. Footsteps came up beside him just as a car pulled up towards him – Simon almost guessing the type of car based on the engine – a game he never did well with, that was River's specialty.

"Stay with us, son," someone said as they untied the cord around Simon's neck. He blinked against the still flickering light behind his liberator once the sack was removed. He watched as his hands were freed, wondering how often Good Samaritans wandered alleyways. Before Simon could focus on this man's features, a familiar voice called out behind him.

"Simon! What in the world are you doing out here?!"

Simon forced himself to breathe in and out as slowly as he could, determined not to laugh out loud at the fact that his former tormenter was now his savior. How Benat knew where to look for Simon, he didn't know, and at this point didn't care. Between these two men and the high probability of being taken to hospital meant there was little chance of having to go home, back to his prison.

He was wrong.

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