2. The event...
I sit at the kitchen table as I finish packaging up the last of the factory work clothes Mom made. Today is a wonderful day. The rain has finally stopped. The sun seems so happy and everything is warm. The flowers on the windowsill sway and nod, whispering happy nothings in each other’s ears. Today, Mom and I even decided to make cookies. I’ve only had them a few times before, and Isa has never tried them. Already the light, spicy scent has filled the house, and Isa keeps poking his head in to see if they’re done. Robinson even came over and offered to sell his soul to us for one of the cookies. We refused.
I jump up and go to look through the little window. Our trash can is lying in a heap on our driveway. My heart stutters making me cough.
Suddenly, our front door swings open, crashing into the wall. It’s Dad. He’s over two weeks early, but this isn’t happy. His eyes are wild. A package tumbles to the ground as he collapses. He clasps his hands to his chest, blood seeping through his fingers.
“Dad! Dad!” my voice cracks and squeaks as I rush to his side.
Mother rushes in and immediately grabs me by the shoulder.
“Quinlyn, get the first aid kit!” she demands.
Everything feels distant and fake like it’s all just a dream. A few minutes later, I gaze down at my dad on the couch, gasping for breath. Mom holds a compress to his chest, desperately trying to stop the blood flowing everywhere.
“What else can I do?” Tears heedlessly streaming down my face.
Dad waves his hand in the direction of the package, still lying on the floor where it had fallen.
“Where on earth is that?”
Dad’s eyes turn to Mom.
“ Turn right on Marge street. Take the 2nd tram till you reach Quadrant IV. Up the hill on Lilana Avenue. The black gate. The password is on the fridge.”
“Your Aunt’s postal code?” I can’t believe she lied to me about that but now is not the time to think.
I grab the package and run to the kitchen, scanning for the familiar yellow sticky note. Scribbled down is F331. Sprinting out the door, I head out into the fading sunlight. Tram 2 departs in three minutes. I haven’t run since that rainy day with Robinson, so if it’s not obvious, I’m not fast. I bite my lip. Somehow, I need to get to the station before it leaves. I climb into the back street where I won’t be seen and start racing down towards the station. It’s then that I hear it. Bing! It’s such a chipper tweet, but I don’t think any sound is quite as terrifying. Beeeep….beeep. It’s a detonation tracker, and it’s just locked on to me.
F33l...F33l...My breath comes in spurts, and my vision blurs. Does this hill go on forever? I have to keep going…I’m almost there. I bite my lip, trying to ignore the searing stitch in my side. My eyes sting from sweat and tears. Though I reached the station in time (barely), the detonation trackers can follow you almost anywhere. All I have to do is get to the black gate before I’m seen. The gate should be headquarters. I listen intently behind me. The sound of yells is too close. I need to run faster. Tears threaten to spill again, but I grit my teeth. I need to do this. My life...my family’s life...maybe others, depends on this.
I force my shaking legs to move faster. I’m not sure if I actually do, but I try. Reeling around the corner I spot the gate. Thankfully, I easily spot the keypad beside it. F33l. I plug in the code. A red light flashes ...how did I type it in wrong! It’s four figures! I hear a dog barking just down the alley, and I can almost imagine the beeep...beep... of the tracker. I need to get through, NOW! I type it in again...it flashes red. Panic makes my vision swim. I KNOW that’s what was written down on-Wait...is it l or 1? I type in F...3...3...1. Anxiously I wait, my heart thumping sporadically. It is the longest second of my life. Click. Despite my terror, I quietly open and close the gate behind me, melting in the shadow of the pillar. Less than a moment passes before I hear the detonation tracker round the corner. Beep...beep...beeep. I cringe at the sound. Its echolocation device can’t reach me inside the complex, but its microphone will still be able to pick up even the slightest sound. I bite my lip, trying to stop my heaving breaths. I have to breathe through my nose. Beeep….beep ...beeep. It stops.
Finally, I hear the search team round the corner. An officer cries out. “It’s stopped. It must be deactivating due to low battery. I want everyone to scatter and keep up a search, while I charge it up again. The target must be close.”
I hear the tracker power down. Tears start to fill my eyes, but I try to swallow them down. Relief makes me weak. Already every part of me is shaking, but my mission’s not over.
Now I can actually look around me. I’m in a courtyard with a hedge along the edges and a fountain in the middle. In the growing dusk, I am barely able to make out the two buildings on the other side. One is clearly a barracks, so I walk up to the other one. Looking through the frosted glass door, I see a dimly lit lobby with soldiers stationed at every exit. This must be it. Walking inside I approach the desk. The lady smiles up at me.
“ID number, Miss?”
“I’m sorry...I don’t know. I’m delivering a package on behalf of my father. I know it’s urgent but…”
“Your father’s name, Miss?”
Before I can finish, she is up on her feet.
“Where is he? What happened?”
“He was injured...I was chased here, but I lost them, I think.”
She motions me to the wait and hops on the phone. “Lieutenant, it’s Jeri. He’s been...mhmm. His daughter is here with the package.” She lifts her head up and addresses me, “Did they use a detonation tracker?”
“Yes, they did. Of course. I’ll send for Agent A. Yes. Will do.”
“What’s happening?” I can feel my adrenaline leaving me. I just want to cry and go to sleep.
Hanging up the receptionist smiles at me. “So sorry, I need to make just a few more calls, please be seated. An agent will be with you shortly.”
I collapse into a chair, curling my feet up beside me and clutching the package to my chest. I don’t think I can let it go.
Minutes pass, and I struggle not to think about my dad. Is he still alive? His wound was serious, but I don’t know if it was life-threatening. I press my head into my arm, silent tears finally pouring down.
Finally, two agents walk up to me. I’m surprised. They look younger then I expected. The first one reaches out to shake my hand.
“Hello, it’s good to finally speak with you, please call me Agent A. I’m sorry that your father has been injured. When you leave, make sure to swing by the front desk. We have an insurance package for you that should supply the funds to cover his injuries and a number of probable alibis should he need hospitalization. Now, if you will follow me this way...”
Following the two agents, I go down a series of hallways. We finally come to a small interrogation room.
“Sorry for the cramped quarters,” Agent A continues, “most of the other rooms are currently occupied,” she motions for me to sit. “If you’ll just fill out this paperwork? It’s an official documentation of the events that brought this package to us, at least the ones that you know of. Also, your package will be read-”
The door opens, and a girl walks in, flanked by soldiers. She seems frail and delicate, her brown curls framing a timid face.
“This is our empath. She’ll be able to translate the Foreign materials for us.”
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Quinlyn.” I stretch out my hand to greet her, but then I notice she’s in chains. Still, she smiles at me sweetly. Her sad, hurting gaze penetrates me. My initial reaction is to hug her, but for some reason, I guess the soldiers won’t let me.
“The empath is kept under close guard. It is important that all her emotions are concentrated on her translation and not on the surrounding environment. The act of translation is very draining, and we want to make sure she stays healthy.”
I turn and look at Agent A, I hope she realizes nothing she’s saying makes any sense. She motions for us all to be seated.
“Here is what I brought.” I open the package and find a stack of pamphlets. We’re risking our family...for pamphlets? I lay them in front of the empath. I hate calling her that, but I don’t know her name.
Her finger gently traces the edge of the parchment, and then she opens them. To my surprise, there is no writing at all on the pamphlets. Like an intricate puzzle, the empath arranges them in a specific order. I watch as the empath closes her eyes and runs her fingers back and forth along the paper as if she is reading braille. I open my mouth to ask a question, but the other agent lays a hand on my arm. Tears start trickling down the empath’s cheeks. Finally, with a quivering gasp, the empath leans forward trembling, her tears making splotches on the parchment.
The other agent hands the empath a handkerchief for her to dry her face off with.
“What does it say?”
The empath glances at me. “Nothing good for those who hurt the Foreigners, Agent J.”
Agent A nods. “Quinlyn, I cannot thank you enough for the information you provided. It may save so many.”
“What does it say?”
Agent A glances at the empath. “In all fairness, you deserve to know, but until I’ve heard it myself, I cannot know if some of the information is classified. I will send a write up in code to your father.” She pauses for a moment. “Besides, sometimes it’s better not to know.”
I hate that response but nod in agreement. Agent J gets up and opens the door.
“If you are finished with the paperwork? Make sure to stop by the front desk for the insurance packet.”
“So….I just return home now?” I ask.
“If you feel unsafe, I can issue a guard escort to accompany you home,” Agent J replies.
“Could I?” Am I a complete coward?
Agent A begins to rise, but Agent J waves her hand and says, “Don’t worry, M. I got this.”
I grab the insurance packet and wait outside the frosted glass door for my escort.
“Good evening, Miss. I will be your-”
The door opens, and I see a young man dressed as a courier with a Rebel pin come out. As he steps into the light, my jaw drops. Robinson? Robinson just looks like your typical guy. He’s my escort? I really don’t know how much he could protect me if we were attacked. More importantly…he’s a rebel?
I see a startled look cross his face, but he pulls himself together. “So, you’re Miss Quinlyn?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
He smiles and holds out his hand, “Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Robinson.”
“Nice to meet you too?” I guess we’re pretending we don’t know each other.
It’s a silent walk, but surprisingly it’s not awkward.
As we board the tram, he whisks out a Premium badge. I gasp. Both of us get seated in a private compartment.
He sees my reaction and responds to my silent question. “One of the perks. Besides, it makes us less conspicuous. It’s not safe to ride the trams at night.”
The odd quietness continues, but I really don’t know what to say. It’s not like I can just ask, “When did you decide to overthrow the government?” It seems unreal when I finally walk the last few steps to my house.
“Well, this is me…thank you, Robinson. I’ve never gone on the Premium tram before...and I know it must seem foolish that I asked for an escort, but I just wouldn’t have felt safe after-”
“No worries. That’s what I’m here for. An escort is always safest, especially at night. Please, don’t feel bad.”
“Anything else I can do for you, Miss Quinlyn?”
“No, you’ve done more than enough.”
And with that...he leaves. I find my mother fast asleep next to the couch, her fingers entwined with Dad’s. I find a blanket and gently lay it over them both. They are so beautiful together. It’s then I notice the strong smell of burnt cookies.