**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
The last time Paul slept for more than an hour or two was a few days ago. He recalled it. He was in the chamber beneath a climate observation station. Had he known then what he knew now, he might still be there, waiting for a better time to execute his ambitious plan of gaining the direct support of his sister.
It was obvious that Jodi betrayed him. He trusted her. Only she knew everything. How could he have been so wrong?
There was no other explanation. The authorities had been waiting for him. All he wanted to do was to reach Cristina and talk to her. He was certain he could recruit her. He’d start by seeking her understanding if not her help. She would support the cause. He was certain of it. Her participation was essential. In retrospect that the first time he met her he knew that, before he knew she was his sister. She exuded the graceful evidence of her greatness for anyone that was experienced in the attributes or cared to see the underlying truth in the world around them.
Paul skulked from shadowy corner to concealed alcove for the entire night, cautiously moving as he progressed through the alleys of the city. Hiding in the nighttime was a relatively easy task requiring only the common sense of staying out of the areas illuminated by streetlights. He felt safe enough at times to even entertain the idea of taking a nap, but he resisted. He was in far too great a danger.
By the approach of the first light of dawn cowered in the back of an alley, trying to hide, looking for a place where he felt safe enough to close his eyes for a little while. He was constantly fighting the urge to sleep. He was exhausted.
Nearly decided he had found a secluded place until there was movement in periphery to his chosen safe haven. He sensed them. In the next moment, they were everywhere, surrounding him. How had he ever allowed himself to get cornered again?
Advancing on his position, one here and one there, hope of escape was impossible. He refused to surrender, though. He would never yield to the authorities. He’d rather die than allow them to pick his brain for whatever information he did not know he had. He had to get behind them. As they drew in, his vulnerability revealed, like a death shroud blanketing him, he felt their smothering proximity, but they did not understand. He could pass through them in less than a thought, parting the veils to emerge where none expected. It was his only real chance. All he had to do was be patient and draw them away. He hoped the trick gave him enough of a head start.
It was time, he decided. There was every indication of potential success. All he had to do was focus and concentrate. Then, suddenly as he transitioned, still huddled down as he was before but now behind a dumpster, he opened his eyes and started to plot his escape even as the others were still closing in on his previous location. He stood up and ran around a corner, slamming face first into a tall man’s chest. Panicked, stepping back, a little addled he rapidly regained his purpose and threw a shoulder into the man, pushing him to one side before the man reached for his collar and grasped it, yanking him back. “We’re on your side, Paul,” he said.
At little dazed, Paul looked up into the man’s smiling face and asked, “Who are you?”
“Tam’s the name.”
“Tam?” Paul inquired.
“Whippoorwill was my Courier,” Tam said as he opened the palm of his hand and revealed a small orb, seeming to have come from thin air. In response Paul did the same. “See, we’re on the same team.”
Paul sought a glimpse of his eyes for their purpose and clarity of the truth, and then offered his hand. “I wish I could say I am glad to see you, but this should not have involved you.”
Tam smiled. “Things happen, especially when you’re betrayed.”
“My team,” he said then made a sound like a bird to recall them. When they were somewhat congregated in the alley around them, Tam introduced them. “As you can see he evaded you. Your attentions were too close and meticulously focused on the immediate moment. It’s easy for someone with Paul’s skills to evade you.”
“I don’t know how,” one of the team leaders responded to Tam.
“Well, I do. As I’ve told you repeatedly, always expect the impossible. If I had not been back here to meet him, you would still be pursuing a phantom.”
“Does all of your team possess the attributes?”
“The vast majority does. Some were pretenders, infiltrators. They were eliminated. Those that remain that do not possess the attributes are sympathetic to our cause.”
“You trust all of them?”
“With my life,” Tam said. “You must do the same.”
“I do not want to know where your operation is based.”
Tam smiled. “That’s good. I wasn’t going to take you there anyway.”
“You’re a man after my own heart,” Paul said.
“I expected you’d understand the precautions.”
“I need to get to Andromeda,” Paul said. “My sister’s there and she is essential to the overall plan.”
“It’s problematic to get you out of this city anytime soon,” Tam explained. “You’re notorious and wanted. The authorities are completely focused on finding you, even going door to door in their searches. They’re risking the complaints for violation of privacy, even those of exempted privilege. The Colonial Authority believes the conspiracy includes some of the wealthy and powerful.”
“You need to lay low and move only when we tell you to move. You must allow your scent fade and your trail to be swept away. That’s the only way we can help you. As for your sister, well maybe you need to wait a little longer for that meeting.”
“It can’t wait. She will return to New Milan and I probably won’t have a chance to see her again until she is on tour next year.”
“She’s in a rock band.”
“Really, isn’t that an odd profile for one of us?”
“Tam, maybe all along we have been looking too narrowly for others of our kind. The more creative of us have entered into the arts.”
“Obviously, your sister has.”
“Maybe the rest of us, all the ones we’ve sought. There are three in Cristina’s band alone.”
Tam smiled as he considered it. “We are outside of the mainstream. I suppose it is possible.” He turned to his team leaders, “Prepare him. It’s growing far too light. We need to get off the streets.”
Paul stood by patiently as one of the team members blindfolded him. Two other team members grasped his arm and hurried him along. For a brief instant, Paul shared an odd flash of vision that he sensed was from Cristina, as if she was closer than he believed, nearly beside him, but as Tam’s team hurried him along the vision faded.
Twisting and turning in their course they negotiated a maze of streets and alleys. Paul understood the necessity of the circuitous path. Then after twenty minutes or so they deposited him in a room and told him to sit on a chair. Paul complied and in silence he waited for several minutes.
“Stand up,” Tam bade him as he entered the room. Turn around and pick up your chair.
When Paul had done as requested, the hands of two men guided him toward a much smaller room. He could sense from the change in ambiance that it was very close quarters. Then, when he was told to stop he was allowed to remove his blindfold. It was cramped quarters indeed, with an overhead light, a cot with a pillow and a blanket, a small desk with reading lamp and a chair. There was enough room for only him.
Tam stood at the opening, an entrance concealed behind a moving wall. “We will bring meals three times a day,” Tam began detailing the circumstances and instructions. “There’s a restroom through the far end of the wall. It isn’t much but it works. At night you’ll be escorted out and taken to a place where you can shower and change clothes. Otherwise you will remain here. There is an infotab in the desk drawer. It’s also capable of presenting books to be read. There are several books stored on Mods that are contained in a cube. Perhaps you have not read some of them.”
“I’m grateful for your assistance.”
“It’s unfortunate that this is necessary,” Tam said.
“How’d you know where to find me?”
“I’m afraid that must remain my secret for now.”
“What if I need to contact you, or let someone know of an emergency?”
“There will be no contact,” Tam said. “I’ll risk only one person at a time to assist you, someone different each time there is contact. Once this room it sealed you are locked inside. I will tell you only this, the place you’re in isn’t our base, not even close. What we do for you we do at a considerable drain to our resources, but it was requested.”
“Who requested it?”
“Again, that’s not something that I’m allowed to reveal. Once I leave here, I take all the others with me and, no one else is here. The only access is from the outside and only my team and I know how to open the room. By its nature the room cannot be opened from the inside.”
“I could punch through walls.”
“If you can punch through double layers of steel mesh with a solid steel plate between, then have at it.”
Paul nodded, thinking that the precautions were a little extreme, but if the authorities were only just a step behind he had no options. He knew he could sit it out. He also realized there was nowhere else that he knew to go that might not make his situation worse.