Anchors No More #11: The Dark, Empty Streets of FreedomMar 31, 2014
They passed the taco truck and continued north, leaving behind the small town that served primarily as the quick lunch or dinner destination for ARLIS employees. Beyond the town they hit open countryside, moving towards the highway and a straight shot west to Pratt. The Kansas roads were gloriously dark and empty, filling Sebastian Restrepo with a dim but lingering tingle in his gut that they might actually make it. He stepped harder on the gas, pushing the jeep as fast as he felt safe to do, his mind conjuring images of the fate of the world hanging on a Kansas State Trooper stopping the jeep for speeding.
Gary and Holly joined him in his silence, all three of them wrapped in their own uncertain thoughts. Eventually, as the jeep blew past a sign informing them that Highway 400 was thirty-six miles away, Gary asked Restrepo, “Where are we going?”
Restrepo didn’t want to answer, afraid of what might happen if they got caught and the two scientists, untrained in the art of interrogation resistance, told them what they knew of his traitorous plans. Oh jesus, he thought, I’m a traitor, I’m damaged goods, I can never go back. He let out a long, tense breath and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, “We’re going towards Pratt,” he finally said, “Someone’s going to help us.”
Gary wanted to press but decided not to. In the backseat, Holly stared out the window, the dark night complementing her thoughts. The question ‘what have we done’ looped in her head, it was the only thing that kept her from lapsing into a numb state of depression, her mind running in circles, building pressure but finding no outlet. She saw a farmhouse as they sped down the road and she began to weep softly, perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps it was due to the perceived innocence in the simple life the farm represented, far from cutting-edge scientific research and time travel and bottomless jails. Either way, she wept and Gary, noticing her tears, turned to her. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Her head moved slowly from side to side, “No,” she said, not looking at him, “No, I’m not okay. It’s not okay.” She cried harder now, spurred on by the verbalization of her thoughts, “What have we done? What did we do?” Gary did not have an answer readily available, so he just stared at her, his jaw loose and his eyes searching.
“You fucked up,” Restrepo offered bluntly, “They took your research, they found everything, and now…” he trailed off, not wanting to acknowledge the reality of the situation. He looked in the rearview mirror, made sure Holly caught his eyes, “Now there’s no going back,” he said, “We just gotta figure out how to go forward.”
His words stopped her from crying, stilling her mind. There was fear in his tone, sadness in his timbre. It suddenly hit her what had happened, what he had done for them. She leaned forward in her seat, placed a hand gently on his shoulder, “Thank you,” she said, “I’ve been so overwhelmed by all of this, I don’t…” she paused, looked at Gary and then back to Restrepo’s face in the rearview mirror. “You sacrificed everything to help us, didn’t you?” He did not speak but the reply was available in his eyes; she knew she was right. “Thank you,” she repeated.
Gary looked at Restrepo curiously, the truth of the last day finally dawning fully on him as well. He swelled with fatigue-loosened emotion, she was right; this stranger risked his life for them and certainly sacrificed having it ever return to what it was before. A confused gratitude hit him and he managed the words, “Thank you, I can’t believe…” he sat back, sinking into the depths of what he could not believe. He could not believe it was yesterday morning, breakfast at home, a short walk to work, and it was last night, waking up in an organic sac four years in the future and promptly arrested by the same man who now drives their car towards some unknown, supposedly safe, haven. He could not believe that terms he had so often enjoyed in his choice of films and literature, terms such as ‘treason,’ and ‘fugitive,’ ‘traitor,’ and ‘at large,’ were now applicable to both him and Holly. Gary looked back to Restrepo, “Please,” he asked, “Where are you taking us?”
Restrepo hesitated but he knew to survive they had to be in this together. Fully together. Looking quickly at Holly in the mirror and then Gary beside him, he turned his eyes back to the road saying, “We’re going to meet some people, someplace safe.”
Gary accepted that for an answer but continued his inquiry, “Okay,” he said, “Why?”
This question took a bit longer for his driver to answer. Sharing the plan of where, safety, and how, stolen jeep, and when, now, were much more straightforward than the causal mechanism of ‘why,’ and surely easier to explain. He knew trust was their safest bet for getting out of this all alive, but still Sebastian Restrepo was not quite ready to tell him of his moral limits or the fears of facing his mother’s eyes, and he certainly could not divulge the truth of their destination, so instead he offered only, “Because it’s the right thing to do,” and drove the remaining distance to the highway in silence.
Thirty minutes later they stopped at a remote country gas station, Restrepo pulling up to a pump and turning off the engine, saying, “I’m going to fill up the tank and make a phone call around back. I guarantee that Vanderhoff is going to have men out looking for us within the hour and I want to make sure our people are ready for us.” He gave them a serious look, too nervous to comfort their wide-eyed uncertainty he could only add, “I promise you, it’s going to be okay,” as he climbed out of the jeep, looking around as he began filling the tank.
Unfortunately, Restrepo was wrong about two important things. First, Vanderhoff was already looking for them, a squad of jeeps fanning out from the base in every direction. Second, his promises meant nothing anymore.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.