**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.**
Julie stopped just outside the door and waited for Chase to finish his brief conversation with Neville. She thought the visit went very well. Chase seemed to be a little more at ease with the new reality. Toward the end of their visit Chase’s mother had told a couple of anecdotes about Chase’s father, embarrassing things that, of course, his father never told him. Although he was skeptical at first that the woman in front of him was his mother, now he seemed to accept it. Maybe he wanted it to be true and did not want to pursue the matter any further or he was like her in that he could feel the truth.
Julie did not want to participate directly in the conversation Chase and Neville were having. The subject bothered her, and she could not wait to get Chase away from Neville so they could discuss it in private.
Neville was an atypical administrator. He had his own agenda, but he was also a caring human, not a bureaucrat. Still, he was attempting to enlist Chase’s aid in his plans. She was worried The Twenty-Four would end up in a controlled environment for study just like their mothers. Then an even worse thought occurred to her. What if the Colonial Authority was courting their cooperation to gain access to the offspring of The Twenty-Four? What were they up to – planning to keep them all separated and under scrutiny for all their lives?
The same, cold clear logic about researching The Twelve could be bent and twisted to fit any aim the Colonial Authority deemed was in the common interest for the general good. They had already invaded her privacy and all but destroyed her relationship with Chase. Really, she wanted to have as little as possible to do with the Colonial Authority but thus far they were been relentless and pervasive.
Chase finally glanced in her direction and noted she was impatiently motioning for him to hurry along. He offered some closing remark and his hand to Neville who accepted both but he followed Chase for a few more steps, finishing up whatever it was he felt was most important. Then as he and Chase reached Julie’s earshot, he raised a hand to wave and say goodbye to them both before turning back and reentering the security entrance.
“You seem to have hit it off surprising well,” Julie said as Chase approached the coach.
“He’s a nice enough sort. He says he grew up in Star City.”
“Yeah his folks owned a small cafe. As a kid he and his family lived in an apartment above it. He’s just like anyone else, except he’s not a stuffy bureaucrat, and he has the attributes.”
“It’s not common knowledge. He’s a generation behind us, of course. He has the traits not the outwardly physical things, you know…”
“Yes, I know. And he just told you this?”
“No, I picked it up from shaking hands. Anyway, that’s why he’s sympathetic to us and our situation.”
“Why didn’t I get that from him?” Julie asked.
Chase shrugged. “Maybe you weren’t open to it. I don’t know. He invited us to dinner with his wife.”
“You didn’t accept.”
“I said I’d ask and it’d be up to you,” he said as they boarded the coach.
“Maybe it’s not wise to get too friendly with Neville,” Julie said.
“I thought you were the one who was all about cooperating with the authorities,” Chase countered as he pulled away from the curb and headed toward the perimeter gate. They paused there, opening their doors for the required inspection of the coach before the gate was opened for them to exit the compound.
“There’s a difference between providing information and becoming close friends,” Julie said once they were beyond the gate.
“What about Yates?”
“He was friends with my father,” Julie said. “He’s trying to help us out but that’s as far as my friendship with him would ever go. I wouldn’t go to his house or become friends with his wife.”
“Well, I don’t think it hurts anything to know these people as real people. Maybe that is the entire problem. We are different and that frightens most people because they don’t understand us. He’s different because he has some of our traits. Maybe he’s like a bridge.”
“He wants you to go with him to Star City,” Julie said.
“You caught that.”
“How could I not?”
“He thinks Paul might listen to me. The good news is the Colonial Authority doesn’t want to kill Paul. It’s just that after what he did…well, they can’t exactly just let it slide. They even allowed his mother to go there to see him.”
“I heard something about that. It was a failure. He wouldn’t listen to his mother, so, what hope do you have?”
“That is what I said, but Neville seems to think Paul would listen to someone like me, someone he knows, as opposed to a mother he never really knew.”
“Why not just find Cristina?” Julie asked.
“Cristina and Alix really have disappeared.”
“There have been no ID scans or payment wand transactions since here, except for one set of ID scans that does not make any sense because they happened in Star City a couple of days before they left here.”
“Someone stole their identities?” Chase suggested.
“Well, that is what Yates thinks but no one is sure. He thinks the reason they have not been found may be related to someone else using their IDs. But he’s not sure. I’m not so sure, though. It could have been them.”
“How? They were here with us.”
“Remember how they were practicing with the orbs and they saw a living sand-morph?”
“Yeah.” Julie looked at him.
“Cristina believed they were seeing back through time.”
“But it has been over eighty years since…well, since there were any sand-morphs.”
“When I was getting ready to take them the railcar station, the agents stormed the front door of your apartment. I couldn’t see everything. It happened pretty damned fast. Cristina and Alix were taken away. They could not have escaped but they did. Somehow they did.”
“Perhaps Alix can shift from one place to another,” Julie said. “Maybe that is his ability.”
“That isn’t his only ability. He causes things to ignite.”
“Catch fire?” Julie sought confirmation.
“When he thought I was flirting with Cristina he lit my hair on fire.”
“I’m glad that amuses you.”
“No, it is just the visual it brought to mind. I’m sure it was scary.”
“All that time I thought he wasn’t practicing with his orb but he was.”
“Maybe those aren’t his only abilities,” Julie suggested. “We all can do a number of things. What if he can ‘shift’ as you say but not only from one place to another but also from one time to another?”
“Okay, okay. That’s interesting. What if they didn’t go anywhere else but went back in time, a day or maybe more and ended up in Star City well before they were even supposed to leave here.”
“But why hasn’t there been any trace of them in Star City since? Anytime they get on or off a bus they would have a payment wand record.”
“Star City has free mass transit,” Chase said.
“That’s right,” Julie said. “So they could have spent all day in the city without being tracked. But they would have to eat…”
“Not if they went to see Raven and he put them up for a few nights.”
“Okay. What about since then? The authorities have been looking for them everywhere, since the afternoon that they disappeared.”
Chase cleared his throat. He was about to divulge a secret and was having some second thoughts in that Julie had sold out to the authorities. Then again he had cooperated as well, but mainly because she betrayed him and whatever he had to say was minor in comparison and mostly only confirmed what she had already told them.
“You know something. You won’t tell me because you don’t want Yates and the authorities to know. They may already know everything we have said to each other.”
“It wouldn’t matter but this coach is clean. It had six hidden devices in it when my friend scanned it. He neutralized all of them.”
“So it is safe?”
“Well, they might have put more bugs on it since, I suppose. But I don’t see why they would. Everything still works, it’s just he applied the zipper to the audio bugs.”
“It’s what they call it, like ‘zipping your lip’. It creates an inversion field corresponding to microphone patterns. They used to use it ages to control analog feedback from the monitors in concerts before everything went digital and wireless.”
“Okay. I think I understood most of that.”
“The microphones still show that they are present and they even show the authorities where we are. But none of the bugs can pick up our voices because the zipper cancels out the microphone’s pick-up pattern.
“So, as far as they know we are just being very quiet.”
“Won’t they get suspicious that we aren’t talking?”
“Yeah, but, well, we haven’t been together much and as for my coach, I don’t exactly talk to myself when I’m driving to and from work.”
Julie shook her head. “You know someone who can do that, the zipper thing?”
“Julie, I am not a saint. Okay? I even told you that when we first met. I got into trouble a lot when I was growing up. As a result, I know people who know people who can make anything happen for enough laundered payment wand credits. I even know some people who electronically launder the payment wand credits. In this case, though, the guy’s someone I grew up with who went legit. He’d an audio engineer. They use zippers when they are doing live recordings. That’s the only reason the Security Agency allows them to exist. There’s a modification you have to do to the device to get it to jam bugs, but it’s effective, once it’s tuned in properly.”
“Don’t you think that since the authorities have been following us for all our lives, they also know who these people are and where to find them.”
“The authorities know anyway, Julie. Don’t be naïve. There’re ways around everything if you have the right set of connections. There are honest agents and crooked agents everywhere.”
“Why haven’t you ever told me this? I mean, I figured from what you said you had a brush or two and then learned your lesson.”
“I learned my lesson alright but I also still know the system and have my contacts. One of the reasons my father moved us here was to get away from the people that I associated with but then there were plenty of the same sort of people to connect with here. He even sent me to Haven to live with my uncle and aunt for a summer in hopes of changing my course. I suppose it worked to an extent. When I returned I had a new outlook on things and I was a little more focused on the positive things. In fact, until this crap started to happen, I’ve not been in contact with any of my cohorts since before I went to college.”
“After college you had that job in advertising.”
“Yep, I did a flyer for a band that worked well and that got me an interview with Global Star. I had a good job that led to a better job and now I am about ready to be given a great job.”
“Somewhere in all of that you met me.”
“And when I met you it just reinforced that I was on the right course. I had no reason to want to go back to the crazy life that I led before.”
Julie sat silently digesting all the details that never before had Chase shared with her. She wasn’t sure that any of it mattered more than filling in the details about him. Since she met him, he was predictable and dedicated to his work. His darker past troubled her but in another way that might be exactly the sort of background he would need if what she was beginning to suspect eventually came to fruition.
Chase glanced over at her, wondering about the silence lingering between them for the past few minutes. “It matters to you, that I was a punk?”
“I don’t know, Chase. You aren’t that way anymore. I know that. It’s not like I was a saint either.”
“You never got into trouble with the authorities.”
“No, I didn’t,” Julie said. “I was willful and headstrong, though. I was defiant and belligerent. Whenever anyone challenged me I fought. It was never with anyone outside of my father and uncle.
“We each have a past,” Chase said. “What’s important is we learned from it and left it behind.”
Julie reached her hand over to lightly touch the back of his. “I miss having you around.”
“I miss you too,” he admitted what she already knew.
“Why are we not together?”
“Maybe each of us did some stupid things, said things we wish we could retract – even what we felt at the time but now the relationship we had is more important than anything that has come between us.”