**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.**
Cristina and Alix huddled together to share their body heat, warding off the artificially produced chill of the evening. Using their backpacks as support for their lower backs, they sat on the pavement in the alley and leaned back against the wall of the building. Spending the night, sleeping in shifts, they continued their vigil over the building where they were certain Paul was hiding.
Alix had obtained a measuring meter from a store down the street. After spending several minutes inside the building across the street, he confirmed what he suspected. The inside wall of the room upstairs was partitioned three and one half feet shorter than the wall outside of the room. There had to be a hidden space, a very small, narrow room, perhaps. There was no other reason that he could determine, no vent ducts of plumbing – all of that appeared to run through the outer walls.
The concealed room probably dated back to the earliest times of the city, before the railcar infrastructure was fully online. Smuggling was a lucrative, but of course illegal, enterprise. Many felt it was well worth the risk of being caught or the bribes paid to dishonest authorities for protection of their shady business. Alix had seen documentaries on the rough and tumble times when there were only four cities in the world.
In response to the lawlessness that seemed concentrated in Andromeda and Star City, the Colonial Authority established an intercity agency task force to enforce laws and regulations and maintain the peace for the average citizens in the growing communities. It was the origin of the Security Agency. The security needs persisted long after the establishment of the railcar system to the infrastructure, just the nature of the commodities smuggled changed.
The Security Agency grew and its influence within The Colonial Authority expanded well beyond the original scope of its mission, all in the public interest. No one discussed the excesses the agency went to carry out their expanded role as the de facto inter-city police force.
The night passed slowly. Alix fought the urge to close his eyes and rest for a few moments. He knew the end result of falling prey to such self-deception. He did not understand why they did not just go upstairs and find the access to the hidden room. They knew it was there. They knew Paul was inside as there was no other way out of the building.
Closely, they continued to monitor the building, observing the comings and goings of others. There had been a visitor in the evening, around dinnertime. He arrived carrying a box, holding it by its edges, carrying it level as if the contents were prone to spilling. Then he departed carrying the box in the same way, perhaps retrieving the meal tray from lunch, Cristina had surmised.
She was convinced, as was Alix, that the visitors were bringing food to Paul. Then later on, when the bustle of the local area relented to retiring for the evening, another visitor came, carrying a backpack. After a half hour or so, he also left, carrying the same backpack.
Cristina was already sleeping, resting up for her turn at the watch. Alix considered long and hard the purpose of that last visitor and why it would have taken him longer than the others to finish whatever business he had with Paul. Then it occurred to him. The visitor brought a change of clothes and perhaps the necessary articles for taking a shower in the full bathroom that Paul had seen on the floor and had inspected meticulously for any sign that it had been used recently. Every surface in the bathroom had been dry. There was no sign of its recent use, any hairs or stains. Still the toilet had water in it. He assumed that it was functional. If he was right about the purpose of the final visitor of the evening, the bathroom had to be functional.
Cristina woke around 2 AM. She was rested but still sleepy. Alix told her about the final visitor and she agreed with his assumptions and logical assessment. She took over the vigil as Alix stretched out, resting his head in her lap just as she had rested hers in his before. It was a long but thankfully quiet night.
Shortly after dawn, the visitor bearing breakfast came and went. The coffee shop opened a few minutes afterwards. Cristina awakened Alix and suggested that they get some breakfast, an idea Alix welcomed. They picked up their backpacks and went into the coffee shop. They ordered breakfast along with coffee, all the time still maintaining their vigil through the shop’s window.
When they had deposited their backpacks beneath the table, Alix began. “We know Paul’s there. We even know where he is. I don’t see why we don’t just go up there and figure out how to open the concealed room.”
“Paul might be armed,” Cristina said. “He might innocently defend himself before he realized who we are.”
Alix thought for a few moments. “He has to be able to hear through the walls, at least to some extent. We tell him who we are in advance.”
Cristina considered what Alix was suggesting as she sipped her coffee, and then took a bite of toast and chewed it for a bit before swallowing. Then she responded, “We need to know how to open the wall, and where the opening is.”
“It would have to be at the corner,” Alix surmised. “It would be the best place to set hinges strong enough to bear the weight of the wall. The seams in the wall have to be concealed as well and there is the corner trim on the wall and the full door frame seven feet down the wall from it.”
“You have been thinking this through.”
“I was bored last night.”
“So was I,” Cristina said, and then maintained a silent pause in conversation for several minutes as she stared at the building across the street and particularly the windows upstairs. She was this close, so very close to her goal of finding Paul. Yet, she did not know how to best accomplish it. Would Paul listen to her? “Let me think about it,” she finally said to Alix.
He finished his bacon and eggs, sopping up the yoke of the over easy egg with the edge of his buttered toast. It was a perfect breakfast, he thought. It filled him and satisfied him. Of course he was very hungry. Neither he nor Cristina had eaten anything except the snacks that Dom packed into their backpacks before they left Raven’s place. The snacks were amazingly filling but unfortunately the effect did not last long. Still, they wanted to refrain from using the payment wands Raven gave to them as it was limited but they knew they could not possibly use their personal accounts. Even if it was a day early they were fugitives in Andromeda and thus far they had not been found out, certainly they did not want to have any indication they were in Star City.
So far, there was no evidence of their arrival in Star City. No one would have thought of checking the security recordings at the stations for the morning before they were expected to arrive. Who could have imagined that during their escape, Alix had pulled Cristina through a small threshold he opened beneath the veils and they stepped through into a different time and place, a little while earlier.
Cristina leaned back in her chair, not taking her eyes off the building across the street. “I suppose we need to do something. I mean, how long are they going to keep him in that building?”
“Until his trail grows cold,” Alix suggested. “He’s a fugitive, like us.”
“We are fugitives because of him.”
“Just we’re here before anyone knows we’re fugitives.”
“Exactly. Are you sorry I got you into this?”
“It has been scary at times, but really, it’s been exciting. It’s definitely something I never thought I’d be involved in, running from the authorities, hiding, tracking down someone. You read stories about things like this, watch movies, you know? Real people rarely get a chance to live this sort of life.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Cristina prompted.
“I’m with you to the very end,” Alix said. “As long as we’re together I’m not complaining.”
When they finished eating breakfast, they gathered up their backpacks and returned to their places in the alley between buildings where they had the best possible vantage for continuing their vigil. Throughout the day they watched. No one went through the arch and up the stairs except for the one who came around mealtime to deliver breakfast, lunch or dinner – someone different each time.
Once more, a few hours after the last previous visitor, a man came to the arch bearing a backpack, just as Alix had described to her from the prior night’s observations. He went up stairs.
“How long will this go on?” Alix asked.
“As long as necessary. The local cell that is affiliated with his organization has secluded him. They’re taking care of him, but they don’t want to risk him being observed and identified.”
“Won’t the authorities eventually notice on their street cameras that at fairly regular intervals people are coming and going from this building?”
“That might take a while,” Cristina said. “They would have to be focusing in on this section of town.”
“Might,” Alix repeated the operative word. “What if it doesn’t take long? I mean, you and I found him. It didn’t seem all that hard.”
“But we knew what to look for and sort-of where to look.”
Cristina shrugged but then, after that one conversational exchange, she seemed a little more nervous and a lot more focused on the building across the street. Alix was right. The local cell would have to keep moving Paul to prevent his being detected. They would have to vary their patterns, their procedures. The authorities would invariably key in on any routines. They had cameras monitoring the streets. All they had to do was hone in on one area and staff enough people to maintain a vigil.
Cristina noticed some men hiding on rooftops. Who were they? Had they been there before and she had not noticed? Were they part of the clandestine group or agents of the Colonial Authority?
She silently pointed out her observation to Alix who immediately nodded then suddenly began to share her concerns. Were they posted to protect Paul or to capture him? How long had they been observing? Had they observed Cristina and him?
Cristina stood and stretched, and then she walked down the alley even to the next street toward the north. There she squatted down as Alix maintained his divided attention on her and the building across the street. After a few moments, the last visitor of the evening exited the building. Alix watched as the observers on the rooftops returned to whatever concealment masked their presence before. Still, Alix believed they remained there on the roofs. He could not be certain of it. They might have descended from the roofs to some concealed alley or street. Still, why would not they be there, maintaining surveillance – same as he and Cristina were doing?
Alix panicked when he looked down the alley and did not see Cristina. Where had she gone? Why? Then the true fear set in. When he was distracted, someone might have abducted her.
For several minutes Alix debated whether to leave his post and search for Cristina or to stay put and wait for her to come back. If he waited a few more minutes she might come back from wherever she went. But if she had been abducted every minute he delayed would make it more difficult for him to find her.
He was just standing up, preparing to set out in search of her when Cristina returned to the alley. She crossed the street diagonally from the corner of the building they had been watching. She crouched down beside Alix as he explained to her what he had observed.
“They are all over this block. Probably on top of all the buildings in the area,” she said.
“Who are they?”
“Judging from the numbers alone, they must be agents,” she said. “They know something’s going on.”
“Then, it’s not safe for us here.”
Cristina sat on the hard pavement in the alley and adjusted the laces on her shoes. “We need to remain in sight of the building. I was looking for a hotel or some vacant building where we could stay.”
“That would be good.”
“It would be, but there’s nothing in direct line of sight. The rooftops are all taken, at least from what I can tell. I’m not sure where else we would go. They can’t exactly arrest us for sitting in an alley and talking. I guess it’s loitering, but we have done nothing wrong.”
“At least there’s been nothing under our present identities.”
Cristina smiled. “Maybe it’s not worth pushing our luck. They can check fingerprints, retinal scans and DNA to identify us – if they wanted to. We probably don’t need to raise their suspicions. I’d prefer to be unobtrusive.”
Alix nodded. “My point is they’ll become suspicious if we stay here any longer. They may be suspicious already.”
“You’re right,” Cristina agreed. He could tell that her mind was elsewhere at the moment as she studied the nearby rooftops. “It is just there’s nowhere else for us to go and I’m not about to desert Paul, not now that I’ve finally located him.”
“If the authorities move in and capture him, what are we going to do? What’s the point?”
“Maybe we can do something,” Cristina said. “I think we might save him.”
“How? He has the attributes. He must be able to use them.”
Cristina stood up, grabbing her backpack with her. “Come.”
“Where are we going?”
“For a walk.”
“We’ll lose sight of the building,” Alix protested but, knowing better than to think he would win the argument, he snatched up his backpack and followed her anyway.
“I’m not expecting anything before morning,” she said as she moved on down the alley, the way she’d gone before. “We’ve watched the schedule. We know what’s going on and when to expect it.”
“How can you be certain?” Alix asked as he hurried to catch up to her.
“If they’ve been watching all along they know as much as we knew at first, that Paul’s in there but they do not know where. We have an advantage. We know where he is. They are watching and observing the comings and goings, timing them, estimating windows of opportunity. Perhaps they’ll attack when one of the visitors is inside. But they’re going to be cautious and choose the right time. They want this to operate on their timetable. They want to be in control.”
“The best time’s when the last visitor comes for 30 minutes,” Alix suggested.
“I don’t think so,” Cristina said.
“It’s the time that Paul would be exposed for the longest interval,” Alix argued his point.
“Don’t you think Paul’s visitors know that? The building must be protected in other ways that we’ve not yet observed. Besides, the authorities will not willingly attack at night. The night favors us. We have the attributes – better night vision.”
Alix nodded as she took his arm. What she was saying made a lot of sense. It also explained why the authorities had not bum-rushed the hideout. If they were covering every rooftop in a four-block area they certainly had the agents to do it. She must be right. They had other plans.
When they reached the next street, Cristina led the way into a hotel. It did not appear to be the greatest place to stay but it was the closest. They went inside, registered and presented their new thumbs for the imbedded ID chip to be scanned and then paid in advance with the payment keys that Raven had given to them. They asked for a room far away from everyone else, stating they were newlyweds. The desk clerk gave them a room on the top floor.
The room was smallish, as might be expected in the oldest part of the city. It was clean and seemed comfortable enough, though. Considering the most recent reference for comparison was spending the night in an alley, it was an excellent accommodation.
Cristina set her backpack down on the floor and squatted to open it. She noted when she had opened it before to obtain a snack Dom had been thorough in packing. She had everything she needed, even makeup. It struck her as odd that a DOMLIB would think of makeup and certainly it was strange that Raven would have such things in his residence. Perhaps he’d send Dom out to purchase items for them while they were resting.
She unpacked what she needed and disrobed, taking a long, hot shower, washing her hair and then, when she stepped out of the shower and toweled dry, she opened the door to allow Alix to do the same while she got dressed for bed.
Alix’s shower was comparatively quick. The hot water seemed to be getting cooler the longer he lingered and so he focused on getting rid of the dirt, sweat and smell before the water turned too cold.
When he stepped out of the shower and dried off, he walked up behind Cristina and wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her on the side of her neck just below the ear lobe. She giggled in response, “You missed me already.”
“We could have conserved water and taken a shower together.”
“I sort of think we might have been in there longer then.”
Alix laughed. “You’re probably right. I’m just looking forward to being comfortable lying next to you. Nothing else in this craziness makes sense to me. “
“I’m sorry,” she said as she turned within his embrace and faced him. She looked strange from the preparations she applied to her face to cleanse it deeply. Not that he had ever seen her in such a state, it was just he had other ideas for the evening. It could be their last time to spend together as a free man and woman.
“There is only this moment,” Alix said. “There might never be another.”
“I know,” Cristina said.
Alix swept her up into his arms and carried her into the other room. As she clung tightly with her arms wrapped around his neck, Alix peeled back the sheets with one hand and then laid her down gently on the bed. He leaned over her and pressed his lips to hers even though he inadvertently applied some of the cleansing face cream around his lips.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Everything,” Alix said.
Cristina giggled. “I don’t know if I can do everything but I suppose I can give it a try.”
Alix laughed. “I just want to forget about everything else – just be us, here and now. Nothing else matters.”