The sense of adventure vanished quickly. The first night I attempted to stay at a homeless shelter. Despite my clothes being freshly washed and looking well fed, I thought a shelter would be the fastest way to acclimate to my life on the run. In line with nearly a hundred folks much more in need than myself, I noted the woman admitting people had a device in her hand. Hand print scans are required to enter the shelter.
I slept on the street.
A young woman in a shawl stopped and gave me the once over. I thought I was about to get mugged or at least wrestle over my backpack. I could almost smell jasmine on her. “It don’t matter who you’re running from, trust no one. You sleep with your back to a wall and ready to keep running.” She collected herself, pulling the makeshift blanket closer about her body and shuffling off to wherever she called home. Near an old abandoned building, I put my back to the wall and made note of every escape route.
To say I slept is an over statement. I shivered. I cried. I tried to convince myself that I was doing the right thing. Doubt is my enemy, it encroaches on my survival. It nips at my heels and I can feel myself stumbling. I am Madison Walker. I have spent my entire life acting as I was told. For the first time, I am straying from the path, but I believe it’s the correct path. I do what I always do when I’m lost in a sea of uncertainties. I make lists.
Who do I know? I know Michael, but he’s out. I can’t talk to him without jeopardizing him. I know my father’s research assistant. She might be able to provide some missing detail I overlooked in his journals. I know…wait for it. Lists work. The Valentine of Chicago, arguably one of the most powerful people in the capitol. I have my who.
What do I need? I need somebody who can access the files on this hard drive without being detected. I need a master of computers. I need a hacker. How the hell do you find one of those? The moment I go into tech district, their drones are going to identify me. They say they’re not cataloging our retinas, but mine are already on file. I’ve heard there are underground Body Work shops, that’s kind of close right? I’m going from one illegal activity to the next.
Where do I need to be? I need safe passage out of the city. I need to make it from Chicago to Boston. I can’t fly. I can’t rent a car. I can’t hitchhike without being picked up by the police. I could steal a car? How the hell does one steal a car? Their GPS systems would pinpoint me within minutes. An old car? Maybe a junkyard will give me an old car with no tech in it. I might have enough money for that.
An hour before dawn I noticed a group of men approaching. There were another dozen homeless, tents made of cardboard and tarps. They didn’t point at the other people, they pointed at me. Had the woman given away the new person on the street? They tried to be nonchalant about it, but it was growing increasingly evident they wanted something I had. I was about to be mugged, robbed, and with my luck, stabbed.
Three of them, they spread out as the one in the middle approached. I was prepared. He ran. I pushed off the wall. My body slammed into his and he staggered out of the way. I’m not strong, nor am I fast. But I am desperate. When the second man reached for me, he missed, grabbing onto the strap of my backpack. My father would be proud. Heel to his instep. Elbow to the nose. I ran. They chased, but I’ll chalk it up to good nutrition. I was faster.
A woman cheered as I ran. I didn’t look back. I continued down the street to where the condemned buildings out numbered the inhabited. I only slowed as I crept through an alley between two buildings where they once housed the trashcans. I found the boards covering the basement windows were loose enough for me to pull them back. I slid my way inside the basement of an old house and scurried to the corner where bags of old clothes smelled of rot. I didn’t care. I was tired. I was scared.
I have never broken the law. More than that, I have never been in trouble for anything other than childish mischief. My entire life has operated within societal expectations. I’m not sure if I should be proud of this, or disappointed I didn’t push more boundaries as a teenager.
Today I broke the law.
I planned on asking my Edward, my boss, for additional work that would by default grant me higher security clearance. When he called me to his corner office, I had almost mustered the nerve to demand the opportunity. Instead, he wanted to discuss a collection of documents on loan from the University of Chicago. In-between leering and reading me top to bottom, he explained he wanted me to oversee the processing of all the materials. I should be flattered he wanted me to supervise a project with the college, but
Edward would be attractive if every word out of his mouth did not come with innuendo inappropriate for the workplace. I tolerated it because I needed the job. The moment he walked behind my chair and rested his hand on my shoulder, I snapped. I’m a liberated, sexual woman, when and only when I want to be.
I should have spun about and slapped him. I should have threatened to expose him to his superiors and hope they took my side. I should have drove my knee into his groin like they taught in self defense classes. I should have done a lot of things. On the long list of reactions, reaching up and lightly touching his hand, was not one of them. The response startled him, probably surprised after years of rejecting his advances.
When I went to exit, I put on that sexy and seductive expression no woman ever uses in reality. I leaned in close, the smell of cheap shampoo and the man’s lunch making my stomach turn. There isn’t enough mouthwash to remove the vile taste of the man from my mouth. Kissing shouldn’t be disgusting. I’m thankful his libido robbed his brain of common sense. He never noticed as my hand grazed his slacks, liberating his keycard.
Crime one, theft.
I could swear every co-worker I encountered on the way to my cubicle knew. I sat at my desk and stared at the man’s identification card. With a piece of tape, I secured it behind my own keycard. It wouldn’t be long before he retraced his steps. I grabbed my tablet and tried to casually walk toward the elevator. I’m certain I moved too quickly, guilt oozing from my eyes. I didn’t need long, but I needed to make it to the secure floor and out of the building before they confiscated my tablet, his badge and secured me in prison.
Each area of the processing division was fitted with motion trackers and cameras. Sensitive materials were brought into the building and each person could be accounted for at any minute. Thankfully, weeks prior I had been given a promotion, I hoped me accessing the secure floor wasn’t enough of a red flag to send security storming. The card reader in the elevator accepted my boss’s badge, and I punched in his access code, “1111.” How the man got the job I’ll never understand. I can only hope it’s due to nepotism.
Crime two, impersonation.
The door opened and I walked down the hall, reminding myself not to run. On this floor, there are only glass walls, allowing any supervisor to watch their employees work diligently. I counted three people, carefully inspecting computer screens and verifying the data being imported into their tablets. Hilda waved. I liked her, a hard worker and quizzical woman who helped me brainstorm thesis topics. When her head tilted and she pointed at me, I gave a thumbs up and a huge smile. She clapped at my imaginary promotion.
The last door in the hallway lead to the classified information. I’d be able to access any records we converted related to the Outlands and the Children of Nostradamus. These were deemed too sensitive and required the highest security clearance. I can’t believe Edward had access to this data. Does that dolt understand the power he wields with this type of information? From here alone, I’m sure I could write a compelling and articulate thesis, but even that wasn’t enough. I needed to find what compelled my father to leave.
My tablet synched with the server in the room. I identified government files, personnel records and a long list of other things I didn’t understand. I nearly cursed when I saw the directory of Outland files. Three files. Three whole damned files. Either we kept these records off the server, or there was another data center processing these files. The Children of Nostradamus however, contained hundreds of documents to be had. I downloaded them all.
Crime three, break and entering.
Crime four…oh hell, at this point I’m just a criminal.
Once I had downloaded the info and made it to the lobby, I realized there was no ‘next step’ to this plan. If I went home, eventually my boss would check the cameras and come to find me. If I accessed the tablet from outside of the building, it’d log my ID and location. I powered down the tablet. I texted Michael that I’d be out of reach for a while and to not worry. Ever notice when you tell somebody not to worry, the first thing they reply with, “What’s wrong?” The police would question him. I couldn’t say anything more.
What do you pack when you’re running from the law? A change of clothes? Rations? I emptied my bank account. I took my father’s journal mentioning the Outlands. I didn’t want them to figure out where I was heading. As I packed my father’s notes into my backpack, it dawned on me for the first time. I was about to literally follow in his footsteps. The perfect storm of anger and desperation had me acting out. I thought I would cry, or at least have a panic attack, but I felt exhilarated? Free?
I almost died when somebody knocked on my door. I’ve never stood so perfectly still in my life. If it was the police, synthetics would have busted my door off the hinges. If it was Edward, he’d be yelling I’m sure. The camera showed a man holding a small package. Usually the courier left it at the door to be stolen by neighbors before I returned home. I tried to act normal as I opened the door and signed for the small box. In reality, I think I smiled and slammed the door in the man’s face. I forgot to tip the courier. Sorry.
I almost forgot the package on the counter. I hoped it was more food, perhaps something I could sell at the market. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be returning to my apartment. Finally, I packed a photograph of father and I.
In one afternoon I went from a nobody college student to a felon. I didn’t have time to process what that would mean. I was out the door and into the street as fast as possible. Pulling the hood of my jacket over my head, I headed toward the congested part of the city to try and hide while I figured out my next destination, my step, my next crime.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The night terrors have persisted longer than ever. I’m sleeping roughly four hours a night, which might be a blessing in disguise. After taking seven minute shower, the hot water turned chilly and somewhere between yelping and lunging for a towel, I found my topic. “The Emergence of Gods: A Study of the Church of Nostradamus’ and its Incorporation of Dieties on a Corporal Plane.” I sent the email and it couldn’t have been more than a minute that my adviser mailed back with, “Tell me more…”
My office isn’t large, and truthfully, it’s used for storage of dad’s files more than it is my own work. I decided to rummage through my his files to see what inspired him to enter the Isolation. I’m deviating from his research, but the Church itself has strong roots in New York City. I hoped he’d already touched on the subject, at least enough to give me a lead that allowed me to skip awkward introductions with the local church. He wrote in code, a lot of it. We played this game as a child, swap this letter for that, this number means this, and it seems he used it to encrypt physical documents. I’m not sure if it’s part of the paranoia that slowly came over him, or perhaps this is the legacy he left to me. I’d trade research for a real father, but somewhere in those dusty papers, his mind lives.
Michael is going to come by and help me sift through the mess and try to make heads or tails of it. This is where we begin those hour long conversations about our research. Lately it’s mostly been me helping him lay out the groundwork for his research. I know almost nothing about sustainable food sources in a crowded and drained ecosystem, but I find it fascinating that his work is attempting to save mankind. If it goes well for him, he’ll be picked up as a research assistant for a corporation like Genesis Division and be able to work in their environmental department. I laugh every time he starts to explain science. I’m smart, but I’m nowhere near his level when it comes to his research. I serve as his ethics soundboard. I’m excited for the first time, I’ll be able to bounce ideas off him as well. Finally, I feel there is some momentum.
He’ll open the door and the first words will be, “Madison, you look like bloody hell.” The lingering British accent from his parents is why I really keep him around. I’m hoping he can help make sense of my father’s papers. I know my dad would be proud of my topic, and he’d promptly launch into a discussion of scholarly proportions asking me to considering the most minuscule detail. This is going to happen. First this paper, then my degree.