The kids escorted me out of the alley. The whole time I walked with the group of teens, Stretch and The Hobbit kept up a running argument. I couldn’t hear them, but could easily imagine what they were discussing. Me. We left the alley and passed down a side street and over to the park. I couldn’t help but notice that I was always surrounded by the group. If I tried to work my way to a side or fall behind, they adjusted. I resigned myself. I was sort of free, but they were not going to trust me yet. Smart kids.
The little one finally dropped back as Treetop pulled ahead. He looked angry. She strode beside me, looking every inch a queen. “We have decided to trust you. A little. My name is Brin and my tall friend is Logan. We are taking you someplace safe where we can talk. I’ll introduce the others when we get there.”
I nodded and stopped, arms crossed. The park was empty at the time, so we were alone with the morning sunshine. “I might can help with the privacy thing.” I nodded to a circle of trees a few dozen yards away, “We can talk there. You may have chosen to trust me, but I might not feel the same yet. I don’t relish being alone with a whole group of people who could do me harm if they chose. I’m no soldier.”
Brin laughed, her blue eyes dancing merrily while Logan dropped back. He looked a little bit relieved, “Okay, we can stop here, but how can you insure privacy?” He stared down at me seriously. I flinched. He might be young, but I would not want to tangle with him. I’m no fighter.
We reached the trees and made ourselves comfortable on the ground. They were pines, mostly about fifty feet tall and grew in an almost perfect circle. I pulled out a small electronic gadget and scanned. “Good. No listeners close by. Still…” I took out another little box and flipped a switch on the side. Nothing obvious happened, but I definitely had the teens’ attention. “Zone of Silence Mark !V. Smaller and more powerful than what Enforcement Division has. Good for a range of ten feet.” I tossed it to Brin who snagged it out of the air, checked the status, and stuffed it into her pocket with a grin.
I took a deep breath. Now or never. I reached into an inside pocket and pulled out a book and tossed it over to Logan. He opened it and his eyes flew wide.
“Foundation, by Asimov.” The others started chattering excitedly, crowding around until Logan shushed them. “It was you. You are the one who was sneaking books onto the store shelves.” I nodded and he went on, “What about the woman who was with you?”
“Just someone who helps me from time to time,” I lied. I wasn’t going to take a chance with Kenz. That was up to her. The shocked and pleased faces told me all I needed to know. “It is slow going. We’re called the Shadow Web. And we are trying to counteract the Librarians, trying to get sci-fi into the hands of people like you.”
Justin spoke up, “So you have technology. What can you find out about our friends?”
I didn’t speak. Instead, I pulled out another book. Inside was my special tablet. I booted up and connected, thankful that the park was covered well by our wireless signal. I did a search and came up empty, then tried another tactic. I connected to the security cameras around the Second Story and began to scan back to the previous evening.
I looked up and Brin, “What time were they taken?”
“A little before five,” She replied, “can you find them?”
I shrugged and kept scanning. A few minutes later something caught my eye. I zoomed in and slowed the tape. In the image, a female was emerging from the front door of the Second Story at a run. Brin looked over my shoulder and gasped, “That’s Kortney!”
I switched to the alley camera and checked the same time: 4:38. Nothing. Nothing moved in the alley. That couldn’t be right. I played the segment again and slowed it down even more. There! The image froze at three seconds before 4:38 just as a black cat emerged from a shadow. I advanced frame by frame, but the cat didn’t move. At 4:39, the little animal was suddenly gone. I laughed out loud and showed the video to the others.
“The tape stayed frozen for two minutes. Not enough time for ED to drag three people out of the alley, and there were no vehicles. That means they must have gone into one of the other buildings.”
Irene pushed Justin aside and leaned over my shoulder. “Wait, what is that shadow? I don’t remember there being anything that big in the alley this morning.”
I zoomed in. the dark shape was a blob. Everything else was clearly resolved, but that remained a blur. I laughed, “Those idiots! Is that the best they can do with doctoring a tape?” I advanced frame by frame and at 4:40 the blob was gone. I zoomed out and a vehicle appeared at the end of the alley. I followed it, changing cameras from time to time. It finally stopped a few blocks away at a plain white building. I stood up and looked down the hill.
“There!” I pointed down the hill. The others followed finger with their eyes to an unmarked two story building nearby. A black van was parked at the side.
Brin gasped and took off running across the park. “Come on, guys, let’s get them!”
I tried to stop her, but it didn’t work. She kept running, soon joined by the others. I shrugged and took off after them with a sigh. This might get ugly, but I had set the ball in motion, I couldn’t leave them now.
Kate leaned her ear against the metal door. “Shh,” she cautioned. Jack and Juli fell silent. Kate concentrated. “Someone’s coming. I hear boots.” She backed away a step and raised her club. Juli and Jack hurried to their chairs and draped the straps over their arms. Kate’s chair wasn’t in direct line of sight from the door, so the three agreed she should be the one to start the action when their captors returned.
Silence fell in the interrogation room. Kate could smell her own sweat. It reeked of fear, but the fear fueled her anger and desperation. She flattened herself against the wall; the door would open inward, hiding her until she struck. She glanced at Juli. Her friend was shaking. Jack had his eyes open and his head up. He would try to pull the guards’ attention to himself. If it all worked out, Kate would attack and give him and Juli a chance to join in.
The sound of the metal bolt being thrown on the other side of the door was impossibly loud, echoing through the small room and Kate move toward the sound. The door began to move. Too quickly! The guard pushed the door open and strode in, the door knocking Kate down. She hit the floor with a yelp before the guard even noticed that Jack and Juli were awake.
Babs turned her head toward Kate, her mouth open. The big woman froze and Kate saw that she was unarmed except for a Billy club hanging on her belt and a tazer. Why shouldn’t she be? She did not expect the teens to be free. Kate rolled away from the door and rose as Babs yelled in surprise. Kate heard the sickening thud of wood on bone as Jack hit her from behind just as she swung her own club as hard as she could at the woman’s knee. She was rewarded with a loud crunch and a spray of blood. Babs fell hard.
“Is she, is she…dead?” gulped Juli. She held her club in the air, ready to strike. She was glad she didn’t have to. Jack was breathing hard and growling, but Kate looked a little green. Juli touched a finger to the side of the guard’s neck. “I feel a pulse. I think.” She looked at her friends, “We need to get out of here before anyone else comes.” She dashed out the door with the others right behind her.
The four sprinted down a long corridor that was lined with doors every few feet. More torture chambers? They did not take time to investigate. They reached another door and threw it open, Jack going through first with his club raised. No one was in the office they entered. One more door and they would be free. Jack motioned for Juli to open it, and she reached for the handle.