The Future of Our Prosperity
by Dan Rice
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The roadway was dark and deserted with dense forest on either side. Mrs. Moorhouse came around the vehicle carrying a backpack. She held two headlamps. She handed one to me.
“Don’t turn it on until we’re in the woods,” Mrs. Moorhouse said and opened the passenger side door. “Allison, can you stand?”
“I can try,” Mother said.
Together we helped Mother out of the car and guided her toward the woods.
“She wants out. Soon,” Mother said.
“We just need to get off the road,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Then you can rest. Maybe—”
Mrs. Moorhouse was interrupted by a distant yet distinct eeeoooeeeeooo.
A rock-hard knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I was afraid of being captured. I was terrified I might be tortured and killed. An irrational urge seized me, to sprint into the woods and not look back. The impulse passed; I couldn’t abandon Mother and my unborn sister.
“Gabe, get your mother off the road,” Mrs. Moorhouse said and dashed toward the car.
“But...” I said. Mrs. Moorhouse ignored me.
“We need to keep moving, Gabe,” Mother said.
I guided Mother over the uneven ground into the sable woods. I turned on the headlamp. We stumbled over the thick ground cover. Despite the cold night air, I was sweating from the strain of supporting Mother, and my shoulder was throbbing.
“I need to rest, Gabe.” Mother said.
“Over here.” I guided Mother to a Douglas fir. The ground looked relatively flat and free of obstructions. With my help, Mother lowered herself to the ground, resting her back against the tree.
“Gabe, you need to help me with your sister. She’s coming.”
“What do you want me to do? I’m scared.”
“Help me pull my pants off,” Mother said, her voice strained. “I’ll lift my butt off the ground. You pull down my pants. My underwear too.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for—”
Mother moaned. “There isn’t time.”
I dropped to my knees. Twigs pressed into my skin through my sweatpants.
“Ready,” I said, my hands clammy.
Mother didn’t respond right away. “Okay. Now. Between contractions.”
Mother pressed her hands into the ground, locking her arms and raising her buttocks. I grabbed her maternity pants, the fabric moist against my skin, and pulled. It was harder than I imagined; the fluid was causing the material to adhere to her skin.
After two hard tugs, I had her pants down around her knees, but her underwear, stained red in spots, was still around her waist. Looking away, I grasped her underwear in both hands and pulled until it was down around her knees too.
“Good job, Gabe,” Mother said, lowering herself.
The siren wailed, closer now but still distant.
“You need to check the baby’s progress,” Mother said.
“No,” I said, voice cracking.
“Calm down, Gabe,” Mother said. “You’re panicking. Stay calm. Like when you disabled the ASU.”
“This is different,” I said, refusing to look at her.
Mother groaned. “The contractions are coming faster. I need you to look. You might see your sister’s head. You don’t need to be scared or embarrassed.”
My sister’s head. That piqued my curiosity. I looked at Mother, my gaze starting at her face. The headlamp spotlighted her ashen skin and closed eyes. My gaze inched downward to her groin and my eyes almost bugged out of my head. I was familiar with the female anatomy but that did not prepare me for the sight of a human head emerging from between my mother’s legs.
I swallowed hard. “I see her head covered in blood and goo.”
“Thank goodness,” Mother said. “That means she’s in the right position. How much of the head do you see?”
“I don’t know,” I said, leaning in closer. “Most of it, I guess.”
“Okay. With the next contraction, I’m going to—”
Mother’s words were cut off by a long moan. Her entire body strained and kept straining.
“She moved!” I said.
Mother’s body relaxed. She gasped for breath. From nearby I heard the blare of the siren.
“Can you help her?” Mother asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Help ease her out.”
“Not yet. She needs to be out more.”
I heard a twig snap from the direction of the road. Mother groaned and tensed. The baby slid further from her body. I saw my sister’s ears, eyes shut tight, scrunched up nose, and small closed mouth.
“I can see her face. Her head is out,” I said. “Something isn’t right. I see something around her neck.”
“The umbilical cord,” Mother said between groans. “Unwrap it... as soon as you can.”
Mother strained. I reached for the baby, cradling her head in my hands. Her skin was slick. In my peripheral vision, a second beam of light moved across the undergrowth and onto Mother.
“Oh, no,” Mrs. Moorhouse said.
My sister fell out of Mother into my hands. Mrs. Moorhouse knelt next to me, unwrapping the cord from around the infant’s neck.
“Is she breathing?” Mother asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s turning blue.”
Mrs. Moorhouse jammed her thumbnail into my sister’s foot. A second later the baby started to wail. I passed her to Mother. She held the baby to her chest and murmured. After one more ear-piercing wail, my sister fell silent.
“Gabe,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, “get some clothes from your backpack. Something to cover your sister with.”
“Okay,” I said, unslinging the backpack.
Mrs. Moorhouse pulled a first aid kit from her backpack and removed a pair of scissors.
“I’m going to cut the cord,” Mrs. Moorhouse said.
“Will that hurt them?” I asked.
“They won’t feel a thing,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, taking the cord in her hand and severing it. “Gabe, the clothes. Your sister is cold.”
I pulled a hoodie from the backpack, and together mother and I wrapped the baby in it.
“Sophia,” Mother said. “Her name is Sophia.”
“Sophia. I like it,” I said.
“Walk with me, Gabe,” Mrs. Moorhouse said after helping Mother start breastfeeding Sophia. She led me a few feet away and spoke in a whisper. “You heard the siren earlier?”
Mrs. Moorhouse pulled out her keitai and glanced at it. “It’s been about 25 minutes since you brought down the ASU. I haven’t heard the siren for maybe... I don’t know, three minutes or so. I think they’re at the crash site. That means they’re about ten minutes away from here by car.”
“So fast,” I said, feeling the panic rise inside me. “They’ll find the abandoned car—”
“Not right away,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “I instructed the car to drive north on the backroads. That will buy us a little time. I’m guessing thirty minutes. Less, if they call in an AAU.”
My mouth went dry. AAU stood for Autonomous Attack Unit. Those aerial vehicles were larger than an ASU and armed with missiles. “Is that enough time to escape?”
“It will have to be.”
* * *
I slipped through the woods with the sleeping Sophia clutched to my chest. Mrs. Moorhouse and Mother followed about twenty feet behind us. I kept going until I reached a dirt road.
“Left, Gabe,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Use the road. You’ll see a road barred by a gate on your right. Wait there.”
I headed up the dirt track until I reached the narrow road blocked by a gate secured by a chain and padlock. No sign of the car. In my peripheral vision, I saw light to my left.
I glanced down the road and saw headlights in the distance. Scrambling into the woods, I dodged behind a tree trunk. My pulse quickened and I clutched my sister tight to my chest. She uttered a soft whine.
“Shhhh... It’s okay,” I whispered, gently rocking her. She quieted down.
I looked at the approaching car. A spotlight shone into the woods, rotating back and forth to cover both sides of the road.
Sophia sneezed and started crying. My heart felt like it would explode from my chest. Whispering a nursery rhyme, I rocked her. That quieted her, but she still squirmed in my arms. A few feet away came the hum of an electric motor. The spotlight moved over the trees and undergrowth.
“Hold up,” said a voice from the roadway. Brakes squealed. The light shone on the gate. My sister whimpered.
“Locked. Move out. We’ve got another five miles to cover.”
“Wait,” a second voice said. “Did you hear something?” Loud phlegmy coughing followed the question.
“How am I supposed to hear anything with your hacking? Let’s roll.”
The engine softly whined, and soon I saw the car’s taillights. I let out a long sigh and stared at the canopy overhead. The manic energy that drove my body and mind expended, I sat exhausted, body aching, and ready to fall asleep. Stars sparkled in a black sky. My eyelids grew heavy.
* * *
A tugging at my arms and my sister’s cry startled me awake. My eyes shot open, and I was ready to run for it.
“It’s okay, Gabe,” Mother said. “Give me the baby.”
I relaxed and smiled, handing my sister to Mother. “The APF is gone?”
Mrs. Moorhouse was standing behind Mother. “We were in the woods when we saw the car. We hid behind a tree until they drove by. Come on, our car is down this road.”
We piled into a silver sedan that looked like a beater in the light from the headlamps, but the old internal combustion engine roared to life without a hitch. By sunrise, we reached a secluded dock where a motorboat was moored.
A tall man with grey hair and a weatherbeaten face waited for us at the pier. “You’re behind schedule,” the man barked at Mrs. Moorhouse.
“We had an unexpected delivery,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, nodding toward the small form Mother was carrying.
The three of us boarded the boat with the old man, leaving Mrs. Moorhouse behind. Two days of travel saw us to the safety of Vancouver, British Columbia.
* * *
In Canada, I found a country that accepted me without regard to my race. The years passed and, as a teenager, I came to terms with my ancestry although it did not define me. I was a hacker, a son, and a brother. By fifteen, I became a Resistance fighter, my prodigious coding ability pitted against the government that had once named me the future of its prosperity.
Pieces were missing from my life, those one or two lost pieces without which a puzzle can never be complete. Father was gone, his ultimate fate unknown. I often thought of Maggie and wondered if leaving her behind had been the right choice. I considered contacting her or using my hacking ability to keep tabs on her, but friends told me the APF would “disappear” her if they learned she’d been in contact with or monitored by the Resistance.
One of my duties in the Resistance was meeting recruits in downtown Vancouver. One evening, when reviewing the new recruitment roster, I happened upon the name Maggie Lopez. It filled me with excited anticipation and a good deal of dread. How many girls named Maggie Lopez were there in the world? This was probably a different person. Even if it was the girl from my childhood, she might not recognize me.
On that rainy Vancouver evening, I bordered the Skytrain for the fast-food restaurant that served as the recruitment office. I was a nervous wreck, unable to sit still.
I practically ran the entire way from the train station to the ramshackle restaurant. I barely noticed the scent of frying food when I marched through the seating area and into the kitchen, dodging a short-order cook. I arrived at a small room disguised as a freezer.
I took a deep breath to calm myself before pulling open the metal door. I immediately spotted Maggie. She was sitting on a dingy bench with a dozen other recruits, all haggard-looking from their tumultuous journey north.
Our gazes met. We stared at each other without moving or saying a word. I was oblivious to everyone and everything else. My entire being focused on her and on the intense emotions stirring within me. She stood. Of course, she was taller now and a woman, not a girl, but her warm brown eyes were the same as I remembered.
“Gabe?” Maggie said. “Ay, caramba, it is you.”
We flew over the few feet between us and embraced. We stood together in silence, enjoying the physical reassurance that we were both still alive. My past and present reconnected. I felt whole. We were two puzzle pieces finally locked in place.
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Rice