Walking to the library is … remarkably freeing. Out from four walls, a fenced compound, overhead security cameras, a dozen other more subtle surveillance systems that cover the Gardner grounds … off along the suburban avenue with its tall trees, blocks of housing extending in a grid in all directions …
I know I’m still under watch. The illusion of freedom is a strong one, but still an illusion.
I could rabbit, to be sure, and, unless they’ve slipped a tracking pip into my gruel, I even think it likely I could get away.
But get away to what? Show up on Mr. Cane’s doorstep and ask for sanctuary? Dig out the Halcyon safehouse? Flee to Europe, South Africa, Argentina? And do what? Being a fugitive is hard work, though I’ve decided it beats sitting in a cell. If it ever comes down to that choice, I’ll be headed for the horizon. But that’s not the choice facing me. Not yet. And there’s no reason to do it, and every reason not to.
I don’t want to rule the world. Well, not yet, and not like that. Not Father’s way.
Turn left on Oak Street.
I decide to maintain the illusion of freedom. They might spot me spotting them – the car parked down that street, the news copter that just went overhead, cameras in the streetlights, an invisible drone, those kids playing with that dog, stop it, stop it – and that would make them more suspicious, more wondering what was going on with me, more inclined to keep me locked in my cell except for school hours and “going on adventures.”
(So how does that “going on adventures” thing work? Because it seems kind of random, and we really haven’t seen any action since that fabulous little party Jason through, and isn’t he being the quiet, confident type now, and I am not going to be the one who breaks that silence between us first …)
And there it is up ahead, where Oak meets Conway Landing.
Have I ever been in a public library before? Not much need or opportunity during my previous “schooling.” All the books and CBT modules I could ask for (or Father could assign) growing up in one lair or another.
Do they really have muffins in the lobby? How very American – never missing a chance to stuff their faces. My greatest challenge once I get out of lockup won’t be to fight public threats, it will be to avoid putting on twenty-five pounds.
Daph manages to stay fit, though. Girl’s soccer, sure, but – well, she seemed to be eating the same unhealthy glop that everyone else was at the cafeteria at lunch.
Yes, I watched her, after my call to Parker. From a different table. Once I knew I was going to be going to the library to study with her, it only made sense.
Especially after this whole thing got arranged.
“Save me!” she whispers, swinging around me, head huddled close like we’re in deep conversation, using me to mostly block her from the sea of students heading out from class and in the hallways. The reaction is automatic, trained, operative to operative, as I let her move around, loosen up my shoulders in case her pursuer needs their larynx broken, wait for a further cue. Her eyes drift past my shoulder as someone walks by; I shift my position slightly so I can watch in my peripheral vision. Short kid, male, East Asian, some sort of concert t-shirt on I didn’t catch, backpack with an orchestra patch on it, already past and walking. She relaxes after he’s moved on.
I’ve chatted in passing with Daph a couple of times since our first encounter at the Semester Assembly. I have her in AP US History and in Calc, and she’s a decent enough student in both. Most of the conversation has been meaningless social interactions, notes about the weather, the day of the week, etc. There are a few others who have done likewise, or just exchanged "Hey"s in passing to a semi-familiar face.
Should I be suspicious of her? The approach is consistent with standard infiltration and engagement techniques. On the other hand, it’s also consistent with (from what I’ve seen) normal behavior in this particular setting.
I reserve judgment.
"Hey, thanks, sorry, that was weird, but – yeah, that guy, G. T., don’t even know, he’s kind of like semi-stalking me. He told me before the break that we’re fated to be together from another life, which – yeah, I’m pretty sure not, and if it’s a pick-up line, it’s really lame, but he keeps showing up places, and I was just a little tired of it. Thanks, you’re a life saver. We should hang out. Hey, want to work on the that Three Presidents Project together? Cool – catch you later."
I know she’s a Meta, because she told me, but that’s about the extent of it. I should certainly learn more.
The library is large (compared to other buildings in the immediate vicinity) and fairly modern. I’ve little doubt there are AEGIS assets present – at least one live. (That car in the parking lot? The one at the book return? That old lady sitting next to the bronze sculpture, reading something? No, more likely inside and – stop it.) Parker had plenty of time to arrange something after our droll little conversation at lunch. (I enjoy yanking her chain that way, esp. balancing being provocative and not drawing down retribution; that’s a game I learned to play long ago.)
I ignore the security cameras on the front plaza, and go inside.
Yes, there’s a muffin shop.
Yes, Daph is there.
Yes, per her prediction, there are boys.
author: *** Dave H.