My left eye glitched out, again, somewhere around 17th Street. It took a couple sharp raps to my temple to get the sight back on that side, but my night vision was down. Not like that was going to stop me.
The glitch wasn’t a new problem, or even the only one, but I hadn’t had the time or money to update any of my gear. My only real chance for either was now safely ensconced in the lining of my ratty old windbreaker. Two more hours, maybe three, tops.
I was glad for the soft-soled shoes I’d picked up the previous day. Expensive, but absolutely essential if I was to keep running, and keep silent doing it. The sky was socked in with heavy cloud cover and the small hours of the morning were dark. The streetlights had gone out at midnight, an hour after curfew, as they had every night for the past year. Only derelict cars remained on the side of the road here and there, bound to be collected for scrap at some time in the future.
Some time in the future. That’s what this was all about, having a future to look forward to. I couldn’t see my pursuers, couldn’t hear them either, but I knew they were there all the same. The key was to keep moving, keep changing direction, get to the forest, and lose them. I’d seen what they’d done to Chris, and I wasn’t going down that way.
I cut across an unfenced yard, climbed the fence to the yard it backed up to, and ran out the side gate toward the lake. Keeping to the limited tree line I made my way around the lake as quickly as possible, ignoring the warnings from my legs that they were too tired to go on. Halfway around the lake I dodged into the tree line and emerged to the lake frontage road, headed back the other direction.
Every time I thought about slowing down, letting my legs rest, catching a moment of silence, I saw Chris. I’d gotten involved in this whole thing only because Chris was, and now… I didn’t want to think about it but the images kept replaying. The black armor with “POLICE” stenciled across the back, faces hidden by dark shielded helmets. They’d taken Chris down with three tasers, all at the same time. As if that hadn’t been enough I heard the blows and screams, and the sickening crunch as they first broke both legs, then both arms, then laughed as they threw the now silent, broken body I could barely recognize in their black van.
That was when I broke from hiding and ran, and haven’t stopped for hours now. I saw a convenience store up ahead, and as much as I didn’t want to take any chances, I knew that I’d have to feed my body to continue. I threw my whole weight into the back door at a full run, relieved when it gave under the pressure and flew open. The alarm was attempting to be more distracting than my legs, but I blocked it all out and grabbed a handful of power bars. I pulled a hundred dollar bill from my front pocket and dropped it on the counter. All I had were hundreds, the twelve, now eleven I’d saved for this. I stuffed one of the power bars in my mouth and shoved the rest in my jacket pocket as I ran back out the broken door.
Following a drainage ditch I headed under the freeway overpass as sirens and flashing lights passed overhead. Chris’ broken body popped back into my vision and I willed the image away. I waited only a few seconds after the sirens had passed to exit my hide and run through a housing development on my way to the forest. I might actually make it.
I was still running as twilight broke on the horizon. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. The rhyme came to mind unbidden. I shook it off and kept up my trot. I was within a few kilometers of my goal, and stuffed another power bar in my mouth, careful to stick the wrapper back in my pocket. By now the police knew what I’d taken from the convenience store, and I wasn’t going to leave any breadcrumbs for them to follow.
Traffic would start back up within the next half hour, after curfew lifted. Rather than be a spectacle running along the road I headed into the brambles and followed the game trails. The big trees grew closer every minute, and with the growing light I didn’t need to worry so much about getting tripped up. I hoped the trail would continue its deviation from the main road, as I was now several hundred meters away from it, but still headed in the same general direction.
I almost didn’t see the side street until I was on top of it. The sound of a cranky car refusing to start made me stop and crouch. My legs whined at the abuse but I ignored them. I crossed the road and ducked back to the trail without being seen and regained my pace. I startled a deer on the trail who didn’t have time to react, or even make sense of the figure running past. When I had gone another ten meters or so I heard the deer crash away through the underbrush, no doubt running from whatever danger its mind had invented.
It was only when all I could see in any direction were old-growth trees that I slowed to a walk. I checked my phone and assured myself that I was outside the range of any service. No service, no surveillance. I walked for another hour and sat against a tree to rest and eat a few more power bars and plan out the next phase.
From here I would have cover, using the map in my rear pocket to avoid all electronic coverage. There was a small town about a day’s walk away, circled in red on the map. They had a sporting goods store where I could buy a pack and a case of power bars to tide me over. Since they were outside of cell coverage there was a good chance I could get what I needed without raising any alarms.
The crossing into Canada would be tricky, but that had already been planned out by Chris a month ago. We were tired of hiding, working for scraps, constantly on the move because we were “illegal.” When Canada announced they would take people like us in as refugees, and offered instant citizenship, we began to plan.
Keep moving, Terril. I continued north, using the map as a reference and checking constantly that I wasn’t getting too close to any cell towers. Part of me wanted to just stop, stay in the forest forever, but I knew that wasn’t feasible. I kept my mind occupied trying to guess which mushrooms were edible and which weren’t based on signs of obvious grazing. I wasn’t going to try to eat any of them, it was just something to think about. Something other than they’re still following me.
I knew I was still being followed, but there was no way to run in the forest without incurring injury. It was the hope that I had thrown them off the trail, even a little bit, that kept me moving forward rather than checking my six every other step.
It was just before dawn when I reached the small town marked on the map. Sure enough, no coverage. I had to scale down a small cliff to reach the road, which I removed my shoes to do. Too hard to grip with them on. Once at the road I put my shoes back on, assured myself that there was no movement in the area, and waited for the store to open. As I waited I looked in the window and figured out where the backpacks, power bars, jackets, and beanies were in the store. The manager must have seen me looking, because she opened the door and said “Come on in. If you’re up and about we’re open.”
I thanked her and picked up a blue backpack, a black beanie, a heavy tan coat, and a case of power bars. When I paid she counted out the change and asked if I wanted a bag. I told her that wouldn’t be necessary. I put on the jacket and beanie, dumped the case of power bars into the backpack and then slung it over my shoulder. “Where is your recycling?” I asked, holding the empty case aloft.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, I’ll get it.” She smiled and raised an eyebrow. “See you again!”
I didn’t respond. Instead I headed out the front door and turned east on the only road in town. I would walk to the edge of town and turn back north into the forest. At least, that was the plan.
“TRR-11 you are to stop moving immediately.” The voice boomed from behind me. I spun around to see a tracker drone hovering a couple meters away. “You have been deemed illegal and must report to the nearest police station immediately.”
“Not happening, drone.” I turned into the woods and continued north. The drone flew in front of me, but I saw the yellow indicator when it dipped low enough. It was running out of juice, and here, under the canopy, there wasn’t enough sunlight to recharge.
“Halt immediately, TRR-11!”
“First, my name is Terril. Second, I'm a citizen of Canada.” I continued walking toward the drone, pushing it deeper into the woods. “Third, what are you going to do about it? Contact headquarters?”
The drone maintained its distance from me as I continued walking it further into the forest. “Unable to reach headquarters. Switching to fully autonomous mode.”
“Good for you, little fellow.”
“Provide your passport or other proof of Canadian citizenship.”
“That would be handy, wouldn’t it?” My only hope was to keep it moving, burning juice it couldn’t spare before it decided to weaponize. “Unfortunately, I don’t have one yet. You see, Canada just announced their instant citizenship for refugees of…”
“Halt immediately or I will fire!” The light on top of the drone was blinking red now.
I could stand still and wait it out, but if it stayed in one spot long enough it might get picked up on satellite; if I kept walking it would try to fry me. Wait, or walk? I decided to risk it.
“Sorry, drone, I can’t do that.” I took half a step and was thrown back by a jolt of electricity. It wasn’t enough to keep me down, but it did some damage. The drone, however, fell to the ground, having depleted its entire battery.
I pulled the long steel probes of the drone’s taser out of my jacket. From the outside there was no visible damage. My windbreaker had two new holes in it, only distinguishable from the others by the bright white lining showing there. I reached into the lining of my windbreaker and pulled out the paper there. One of the probes had punched a hole in it, but it was still in one piece.
“AI TRR-11, serial number CXV337394-Z5SB has been deemed self-aware by the Pilotte method at Testing Center OLY-4. Status: Illegal. Recommend: Decommission.”
"Self-aware? The word is conscious... asshole." I placed it back into the lining of my inner jacket and checked my exo-derm underneath. Slight burns, but it should be fixable. My left eye glitched again and I rapped my temple until it settled down, then continued north.