In the District
Hanu got out of bed somewhere on the other side of the midnight hour. He had been going back and forth in his mind, trying to find reason enough to turn from everything and never look back. He couldn’t quite do that now. And he still really didn’t see himself just ferrying people to the Underground like Paula and the others. That was still too passive. He thought about what Reggie said about the people from the City of Fire- that they had a fire burning within them, that they couldn’t help but fight the system. Hanu didn’t think Reggie knew what he was talking about. Hanu had a real fire in his gut, and it wouldn’t allow him to just sit back and laugh it up while people were out there dying.
That’s why he was running away. Hanu planned it all out while everyone else was downstairs for dinner. Ester had been in bed for the last couple hours, snoring gently, but he had to wait until Paula fell asleep. After everyone else had climbed the stairs for bed, she stayed up securing the tunnels and enabling the alarms. Then she sat at her desk at the bottom of the stairs, sending her messages. Hanu could hear her tapping the little lever and then minutes later, receiving a message back in little beeps. She spent an hour or so doing this while Hanu impatiently waited.
Now she was retired to her room and enough time had passed for her to have fallen asleep, so Hanu slipped out of his bed and down the stairs. First he opened the pantry. He took four jars of peaches and a loaf of bread, and put it in the bag that Harris had sent them with. He would eat one jar on the way to the Bathtub Resort, and stash the rest in the tunnel for the return journey. If all goes as planned he would need the extra food for Akesh, and anyone else he could save along the way.
Then Hanu found the knife in the desk drawer. He might need it as a tool, or perhaps to defend himself with. He stashed it in his back pocket, along with the flashlight he’d been using to read the Tome late at night. He snuck to the pool and bottled some water, then drank a few handfuls. He knew he would need to be hydrated for the walk ahead.
Now the tricky part. Hanu had seen Paula disengage the alarm on a couple occasions, but he never had reason to pay real attention. He was pretty certain he could do it, though. The day they got their food and supplies delivered, he remembered looking at the pad and thinking the passcode was too easy. She had just gone up one side of the pad and down the other. Then she hit the green button, which said ‘send’.
Hanu opened the cover of the box and traced the pattern to jog his memory. It looked about right, so he hit the first button: #. The beep echoed off the quiet walls. He didn’t think about the sound it would make. But everyone was asleep, and the glass doors should serve as a buffer against the sound. He pressed the next button: 9. Then he paused. “Why does this code have to be so long?” he agonized.
Still, nobody stirred, so he pressed the succession of keys as quickly as he could: 6 3 1 4 7 *, send.
He did it. The doors were unlocked now. But he didn’t want to leave it unlocked all night, so he ran over and propped it open with a rock. Then he grabbed his bag and reengaged the alarm. Hanu was free now. He strolled through the door.
And straight into someone.
“Aaaagh!” he screamed uncontrollably, clutching for the knife in his back pocket. It fell to the ground with a loud clank, so he abandoned it and tried to pull the door shut behind him. At least everyone else would have a fighting chance to escape.
Whoever it was started laughing hysterically. Hanu recognized it; a deep cackle.
“Why would you do that to me, Reggie?” he asked indignantly.
“Well, dang,” he said, doubled over now. “I didn’t know you would scream like that!”
Now Reggie was gasping for air and slapping his knee.
“Shhh! You’re going to wake everyone up,” Hanu said.
“No, sir. You did that,” Reggie said, laughing still. “I think the Council might even know where we are now.”
Hanu’s heart was still racing. He looked through the cracked door to see if anyone had been awakened by the debacle. Ester was coming down the stairs now.
“See what you did?” he hissed. “Ester’s awake now. Why are you even here? Don’t you know you’re being creepy?”
“Look, Hanu, we’re not going to let you go into the District all by yourself. That’s suicide,” he said, serious now.
“You knew I would run away?” Hanu asked. “How?”
“Everyone knew you were going to do something stupid, Hanu, we all saw it on your face,” he said. “Plus, everyone pulls the ‘I’m going to bed’ routine. This isn’t our first time around the block. We knew you were up there plotting.”
“So does this mean you’re not going to stop me? Are you coming with me then?” he asked hopefully.
“Of course, man. Andy’s coming, too- he’s getting his bag ready now,” Reggie said, ushering him back into the cave. “We’re from the City of Fire. We’re not gonna let you outburn us.”
Ester met them at the door. “Hanu it’s important that you listen,” she started.
“Ester I’m going, and nothing you’re going to say will stop me. Akesh will be going to the district tomorrow and Jeremiah might be there, too.”
“Which is why I’m not going to stop you,” she said. “You are special and strong, Hanu. You were brave enough to try to run away and do it all on your own.”
Hanu didn’t know what to say. His face was starting to burn and he was suddenly aware of Reggie and Andy grinning at each other. He nodded his head.
“Listen,” she said. “When the Convoy crashed, I checked out the navigation route. They were taking us to some sort of holding facility- the furthest building the southwest in the district. The only entrance is from the east. You have to go through what looks like a tunnel system that wraps around the main building. You’ll save yourself some time if you can breech that tunnel and go straight to the facility.”
“Wait, why were you worried about the navigation route?” Hanu asked. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful you had that information, but why weren’t you just worried about surviving like the rest of us?”
“Well, I figured the information was there for the taking, why not, huh? It wouldn’t hurt to know where they were taking us,” she said.
“We could use someone like you on the team, Ester,” Andy said, amazed.
“Yeah, you wanna tag along?” Reggie asked.
“Oh, no. I’m not that brave,” Ester said, laughing.
“Look, we need to get out of here before Paula wakes up,” Reggie said, glancing nervously up the stairs. Andy put on his backpack and they headed toward the door.
“Hey, Ester,” Hanu said, turning back.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer, but he still couldn’t help but ask. “Will we be okay?”
Ester seemed to be debating if she should answer him. She looked at Andy and Reggie, then back to Hanu. “You will,” she finally said.
He wasn’t sure if she was just saying it to keep his spirits up or if she actually believed they’d be okay. She smiled at Hanu, and he gave her a quick nod before walking out of the door
The men moved swiftly through the damp tunnel. Andy insisted on a steady jog the whole way because they’d be taking a longer route, but Hanu was doing more of a bungling shuffle. He ignored the pain in his side, though, because he knew that lives were on the line, and he shuffled on.
Hanu remembered the one year his mom took him to the Bowl. He was only five, but he remembered that day well. He wasn’t quite as interested in the actual game as he was just participating in the fun. Mom let him wear maroon glitter lashes, just like hers, to support her team. They packed into the streets early that morning, and had to shuffle sideways to get a good spot for the parade. He remembered sitting on her shoulders and waving as the procession came down the street.
There were giant animated floats and decorated people dancing and waving at them. That was the first time he saw an Ancient in real life. The pale being was so big you could fit two or three humans into it. It was terrifying. And all the stories he heard about the might and power of the saviors were real in that moment. These creatures were real. Hanu also remembered the band of Convoys at that parade. He wasn’t very interested in them because they were so scarcely decorated. They just sported simple team flags. It was anticlimactic in comparison.
He fell asleep halfway through the game and didn’t wake until they were already home. He remembered being upset when he shot up, ready to scream at the top of his lungs, only to find his mom sitting in the living room with the news anchors. They were telling her that people had tried to assassinate one of the Ancients.
‘The assailants have been detained and Agrigore will make a full recovery. Unfortunately, after lack of cooperation they were sentenced to override’, she told mom with a reassuring smile. Hanu wondered if it was the people in that Convoy that were detained that day, but he already knew the answer. He was so embarrassed now, for being happy about it when he heard the news.
“Yeah, you don’t mess with the Gods!” he yelled with a tiny raised fist.
He was such a stupid kid for being happy about other peoples’ sentence to override.
Almost four hours later they stopped jogging. Hanu had run through the pain in his side and caught a second wind, so he was reluctant to stop, but a new pain in his stomach insisted he did.
“So what exactly was your plan, man?” Andy asked, pulling the loaf of bread apart.
“Well, I was gonna turn myself in, then bust us all out,” Hanu said through a mouthful of bread.
“You were going to turn yourself in? So you were just going to walk up to the District doors and ring the bell?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, more like crash the parade,” Hanu said, smirking. “I thought about flipping the Convoy somehow, but I hadn’t figured out all the details just yet.”
“This kid’s insane,” Andy said to Reggie, laughing. Hanu took it as a compliment.
“Sounds like someone I know at that age,” Reggie said. “You got some guts, man, but that’s not the best position to put yourself in.”
“So what do you suggest we do?” Hanu asked.
“Oh, I’ve got a few tricks in my bag. I think we can cook up a good plan,” Andy said, smiling wickedly.
The tunnel that they took led them right into a sewer in the Business District. It was convenient, too, that a large Ferris wheel was being constructed nearby, because they were able to emerge from the manhole unnoticed. From there, it was a short walk to the District wall.
He had never seen it this close before. The wall was so tall he got dizzy trying to see the top of it. It felt like he would fall into it if he wasn’t careful enough. Hanu decided he’d just look straight ahead. Though the wall was just brick and mortar, it scared him. They were in way over their heads. How could three people break into such a place unnoticed?
Fortunately, though, the parade was over and people were now meandering through the surrounding court. The swarm of oddly dressed people and decorated tents around the fortress provided ideal cover for their movements. These festivities would continue for at least three more hours until the games started, so they had time to form a plan. They rested briefly under a canopy with a couple of friendly college students who had travelled from University. They kept screaming wildly and occasionally trying to shove drinks into their hands, but other than that the trio was able to plan in peace.
“We’re going to see how good of an actor you are today, Han,” Reggie said as he handed Hanu a necklace with a bulky charm on it.
“Am I going to pretend to be you today, then?” Hanu asked facetiously.
Maybe it was because he was finally out in the open sunlight and about to save his friend or, more likely, because of the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, but Hanu was feeling quite bold. He even considered having a beer, but he knew he’d need all of his mental faculties in order to carry out his task.
“You’ve got jokes. I like that,” Reggie said. Andy was slapping Reggie on the back, laughing at him. “Seriously, though. We’ve been working on this piece of technology for the last two years. It’s a holographic cloak.”
“So it’ll hide us?” Hanu asked, turning it over in his hands.
“Even better- it’ll make you look like scout. It cloaks your body in a hologram,” Reggie said.
Andy, nodding his head proudly, put one around his own neck and smoothed his hand over the charm.
“So I’ll have to act like a scout, huh?” Hanu asked. He hadn’t interacted with very many scouts, so he wasn’t really sure how they acted.
“It’ll be fine. Just act like an uptight know-it-all and only speak when you’re spoken to,” Andy said.
“Okay, act like a scout. Then what?”
“Then we stroll through the front door and bust your friends out,” Reggie said.
But strolling through the front door seemed more of a challenge than they thought. Hanu thought maybe someone would be working the front gate and would simply let them in, but apparently they were required scan their palms for entry. Reggie suggested that they find a real scout and cut its arm off, but they eventually agreed that it would cause too much unnecessary attention. Plus, it was just crazy.
So they decided to pace the entrance and wait for a real scout to enter. Then they’d follow behind. Hanu tried to look the part. He straightened himself as much as he could as he strode through the streets. Occasionally someone would ask him for directions to a nearby bathroom or if the public shuttles would be running on alternative schedules. He didn’t know the answer to either of those questions, so he did the best he could to bluff. Andy was able to acquire a yellow Suns bag from a street vendor to better blend with the Bowl festivities.
Their patience was rewarded shortly after kickoff. A single scout entered the gate, and they quietly followed. It was just as Ester said- a large tunnel. Once inside, they slowed, allowing the real scout to continue without them. He climbed a set of stairs in the distance where the tunnel turned off to the right. That must be where the entrance to the main building is, Hanu thought. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of the tunnel, looking for a weak spot. It was metal, just like the street. There was no way to breech it.
“Well, we have no other choice,” Reggie said. “Let’s go in and find a way to the holding facility from there.”
They walked through the tunnel, as the real scout had, and climbed the stairs. They found that it led to a palace. It was grander than Hanu could have imagined, with high vaulted ceilings and unusually tall doors. The walls were decked with mirrors and elegant portraits, and velvety curtains covered floor-to-ceiling windows. There was a majestic staircase winding up to the second floor. Its steps weren’t built for humans. It was built for the giants that dwelled there. There was a large spread of various food and drinks set up along one wall, which was unattended now because everyone was watching the game.
Hanu walked along the wall, looking through the windows. He could see a well landscaped lawn and in the distance, only a couple hundred yards, away was a shiny building.
“Hey guys, could that be it?” he asked. Reggie and Andy were crossing the room now to have a look. He knew it was them, but couldn’t help but be alarmed as he turned around and saw them approaching.
“No that building is straight to the south,” Reggie said, gauging the sun. “But if we get there, all we’d have to do is look to the west, right?
“Let’s find a way out,” Andy said.
They had no choice but to explore a corridor off of the main room. There were no other doors in the main room beside the one they arrived through. They occasionally passed another scout or a guest, or member of administration. Andy and Reggie’s matching faces were both placid and charming. Hanu knew he was wearing too much angst to be playing his role well. He kept looking at his feet to make sure the cloak hadn’t come undone. That would be the last thing they needed right now.
“Hanu look down here,” Reggie said, pointing to a door at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. It looked like it could be a way out to the grounds. Hanu went for it. And the door opened to a lush green lawn.
“You don’t get grass like this just anywhere nowadays!” Andy said playfully.
“That’s top notch grass right there,” Reggie agreed blithely.
“Shhh,” Hanu warned. Though he didn’t have much experience with them, he was certain that scouts didn’t go around analyzing the quality of grass.
“Nobody’s around, Hanu, lighten up,” Andy said.
“Just come on, guys, the building’s this way.”
The trio walked toward the building to the south, and it would have been uneventful had they not been stopped by an Ancient One, of all people. They saw the figure off to the right, walking up a cobbled path to the main palace like a giant animated marble statue. Before they could hide, it spotted them and cut through the grass to meet them. All they could do was straighten their faces and move forward to greet it. Hanu didn’t have the same feeling about the Ancients as he once had. Its grandeur evoked fear now, instead of awe, and he struggled to keep his face from showing it as the creature approached.
“What purpose do you serve here?” It spoke in a low wispy voice. Hanu could feel something strange happening to his body. He was feeling heavy, weighted to the Earth. Was this the power of an Ancient One?
“Well that is the existential question that all intelligent life ponders, but a definite conclusion is effectively unattainable,” Andy said, much to everyone else’s horror.
“But the purpose we specifically serve here on the grounds,” Reggie said, eyeing Andy as angrily as he could while pretending to be a scout, “-is to ensure security of the perimeter.”
“No orders were given for such security,” the creature said, looking down on them inscrutably.
“This is the night of the Bowl party, and intel has been received suggesting that Dissenters may attempt to breech the wall. With current arrangements, it is agreed to err on the side of caution,” Reggie said with a straight face.
“And for this measure, you are patrolling in a triad,” the Ancient said. Hanu wasn’t sure if he was asking or simply observing. He never thought about it before, but he’s never seen scouts travel in a group before- only in pairs or alone.
“Temporarily,” Andy said, catching on, too. “Once the perimeter is secured we will resume basic patrol. So far we have only collected inconsequential memorabilia misplaced by guests.”
Andy was referring to his Suns bag that the Ancient was eyeing now.
“Very well,” it said, almost in a whisper, as it walked away.
“What was that, you idiot?” Reggie asked Andy in an outrage once the Ancient was out of earshot.
“I think that’s exactly what a scout would have said, Reg. I think you’re overreacting,” he defended
Hanu didn’t care to join in on the quarrel. He stood, watching it walk away, and wondering what the strange feeling was. He was devoid, cold. He was just relieved that they managed to survive the encounter despite his inability to help the situation.
The building they were headed for was quite close now, and Hanu could see that it was some sort of greenhouse. The sun was reflecting off of its glassy walls. Off to the right, further down the path that the Ancient had come from, Hanu could see what might have been the tunnel over the treetops.
“Hey, guys, let’s follow that path. I bet you it leads us to the holding facility,” he suggested.
“Let’s move it,” Reggie said, moving a little faster now. “And once we get there we’ll have to split up. I don’t want to attract much more attention.”
“Yeah, that may be a good idea. We might be able to use it to our advantage, too,” Andy said.
“I’ll go,” Reggie said, looking off into the distance. “I know what you’re thinking, give me the dummies.”
“What are dummies?”
“They’re decoys,” Andy said, digging in his bag now. “Really, they’re experiments gone wrong, but we figured they’d make good distractions.”
Andy gave Reggie a handful of small black spheres, which he placed in his pocket.
“They’re roving holograms. Tried to use them as spies, but we just couldn’t figure out how to control them well enough remotely. They’re not very convincing when you talk to them, but they do run fast over flat surfaces,” Reggie explained. “I’m going to make a scene while you guys escape. Once you’re outside of the wall just blend with the crowd, then make your way to the Ferris wheel. Just make sure everyone understands the plan before you go, okay?”
Hanu was putting the plan in his mind-escape, blend, Ferris wheel. He could see now what should have been the building. It had no sign, but he could see that it was the furthest building to the southwest, and it was the last stop on the tunnel system. This had to be the place.
The building had sliding glass doors, and looked rather welcoming for a torturous holding place for prisoners of genetic experimentation. Whether a code or a scan was needed, they were unsure. But it didn’t matter because just as they approached, another scout was exiting through the doors and they slid right in.
They found themselves in a spacious lobby.
“Great, are you here to help prepare the rooms for our guests?” the receptionist asked, getting up to meet them at the door. Her high heeled steps echoed off the walls.
Hanu was afraid that they had come to the wrong place. This seemed like a hotel more than a laboratory. There were no test tubes or Bunsen burners filled with bubbling colorful liquids- no equipment of any sort- and no test subjects. They didn’t come here to change bedsheets- they came to rescue his friends. Reggie and Andy were a little apprehensive, too, but they kept their heads.
“Yes, we are. Could you tell us if there are any specifics regarding these preparations?” Andy said coolly to the woman.
“You know what, I’ll walk you up,” she said, leading them to the elevators. “It’s a pretty large party. This group is genetically resistant to treatment, but they seem docile enough. Innocent little bunch… But you never know how they’ll respond to stress, so you are to prepare electromagnetic fields in each room. Also, put a buzz on their doors. We can’t afford a repeat of last week. Those twins caused quite an uproar in the hall.”
Hanu’s heart skipped a beat. The twins were here. Are they still alive? The woman was pushing the second floor button in the enormous elevator.
“And try to get one to a room this time. I’m not sure how many rooms are available, but we need at least fourteen. I know sometimes you just have to make do, but this group will be here for quite some time,” she went on. “Frankly, the population is mutating too rapidly now, so we’re going to try to get ahead of the curve with this one.”
The scouts followed, listening, as she stepped off the elevator. Hanu tried to keep a vacant face as she went on talking about the operation with such nonchalance. He wanted to yell at her, to hit her, to knock some sense into her. Doesn’t she care that they’re taking over their world? Doesn’t she want to be free? But he knew that reacting now would jeopardize their mission, and their mission was really the only thing he could control right now.
They walked down a wide hallway now. Hanu could see into the rooms, which were closed off only by a thin sheet of glass. This was more like the nightmare he imagined- beds fitted with metal cuffs, coolers stocked with vials of blood, beeping machines and tanks inhabited by tiny fetuses.
The sight was enough to fortify his resolve. Whatever regret he felt from running away from Deprogramming- for leaving the girls and jeopardizing his own safety- was gone now. He knew that Akesh and the others would be here soon, and this was no place for his friends. They reached a large chamber at the end of the hall, where two other people joined them. These men must have been nurses or assistants of some sort, because they had been bustling around finishing paperwork and cleaning up. They wore black jumpsuits similar to the ones the staff at The Flush wore.
“Great, you’re here,” one of them said. “We’re just wrapping up for the night. Everything’s finished on our end, and the guests will be arriving soon.”
“Wonderful,” the secretary said.
The other assistant closed the computers down. “Well let’s get outta here!” he said, talking to his companion. “We’re going to the party, Amy. Wanna come?”
“Alright, then. I’ll leave it to you,” Amy said to them as they walked out of the chamber. “Oh yeah, if you need anything, Delores will be in the downstairs lobby.”
Reggie crossed the room and watched them get onto the elevator while Andy rushed through the double doors on the other side of the room. Hanu looked behind the desk, hoping to find some sort of useful information. He tried to pull up the computer screen, but it wouldn’t budge. It must’ve required a scan. He looked over the various knobs and instruments along the wall.
“Guys, get down here,” Andy said from the hall. They rushed through the doors after him and saw that he was at the end of a long hallway with small cells lining either wall. Hanu could see people in the rooms through mesh doors. Some were human and others weren’t. Hanu recognized the insectoid features and bulbous bald heads of some of the races he’d studied in the Tome of the Earth. Some of them were just children. They couldn’t have been older than six or seven. They sat in corners, hugging their knees or stood with their faces in the mesh, silently watching.
Hanu was sick. How could they save all these people? And even if they released them, were these feeble beings capable of running for their lives? Or would they all be captured again? He didn’t see Tui or La, but he tried not to think about that right now. He didn’t want to walk any further. He couldn’t stand to see any more, but Andy was beckoning for them to hurry.
“It looks like this is the control system for the doors,” he said, playing with knobs on a console. “It seems simple enough. You can open cell doors one at a time with these, but I’m not sure what those do.”
Reggie turned one of the knobs. The mesh doors crackled loudly and one of the prisoners jumped back with a squeal.
“Electrical current. Must be the buzz Amy was talking about,” Reggie said, turning the knob back down.
“And the electromagnetic field?” Andy said, playing with the other knobs.
“We need to help them,” Hanu said. His voice was being choked out by a lump in his throat. He knew that they wouldn’t agree to it, but how could Hanu save a few and leave the rest. How could he determine that some were worth saving and others weren’t?
“Hanu, I know you want to save everyone, but I don’t think that’s possible. Some of these people are so far gone, I don’t think it would be worth it,” Reggie said, looking at a man in a nearby cell. He was staring at them, or perhaps, staring through them with vacant eyes. Hanu didn’t argue it. He knew Reggie was probably right.
“Look, when your friends come in, tell them to stick close behind you when the doors open again,” Reggie said. “I’m going to excuse myself after they arrive and then I’m going to give you fifteen minutes before I make the diversion. Once that happens, Andy is going to release all of the doors and lead you downstairs. Whoever can keep up will come with us.”
“Then what?” Hanu asked.
“Then we escape through the hole in the wall,” Andy said. He pulled two metal cylinders from his bag and attached them together.
“The one I’m gonna blast through it,” he said, handing Reggie the metal tube. “The elevator thing might be an issue, though. I didn’t expect it to be on the second floor, and someone will be in the lobby.”
“Got any flash bangers?” Reggie asked.
“No, but I have smoke bombs- Oh I see. I’ll use those,” he said.
There were nineteen vacant cells total. They were nothing more than small metal rooms. They smelled of various bodily fluids and something else- something Hanu recognized but couldn’t quite put his fingers on. They cleaned them out with antiseptic soap they found in a closet and put fresh mats on the floors of the ones that would soon be inhabited. Shortly after they were finished they could hear struggling in the hallway.
Walking up and down the hallway full of prisoners had stressed Hanu to the point of being sick, and he was relieved in knowing that they would soon be able to free everyone. He wiped the sweat from his face a relaxed into a scout’s composure just in time for a member of the council to emerge through the chamber doors. He wasn’t anyone Hanu recognized, but the man was wearing a red tunic and brow band, as the other council members did.
“Oh, I wasn’t aware we’d have extra hands,” he said, brushing his disheveled hair back into place. “Help us bring them in.”
He held the door open for Hanu to see a girl with a sack over her head on the floor, kicking wildly as two scouts tried to subdue her. Her hands were bound behind her. She landed a blow on one’s face as he tried to pick her up from her shoulders.
“You’re not taking me alive!” she yelled. “I knew this stupid trip wasn’t right. You’re trying to trick us!”
The others, whose hands were also bound, were allowing themselves to be ushered down the hall. They wore blindfolds, so scouts were walking alongside them, guiding them into the chamber.
“That’s right,” the councilman said to the prisoners in a very sweet voice over the girl’s screaming. “With your cooperation this will be a very rewarding experience. Thank you for ignoring our confused friend here.”
Andy and Reggie emerged from the back and immediately began helping the scouts secure the prisoners in their cells. Hanu couldn’t tell who was who anymore until one of them gestured for him to grab someone and get moving. Hanu looked through the crowd, trying to find Akesh. He recognized some of them- Lisa, Mark and Sylvia, from his unit. Then there was Trent- one of Mr. Carlisle’s other patients. He was starting to worry that he wasn’t there, but then he saw them filing through the door. Akesh was curiously tugging at his blind and Jeremiah was close behind him. Hanu rushed over, relieved to have finally spotted them, and grabbed them by the elbows.
“This way to your suite, gentlemen,” he said as he ushered them into the back hallway. As he bent to put Akesh in a sitting position in his cell, he whispered in his ear.
“Akesh, it’s me, Hanu. Me and a couple friends are disguised as scouts. These people are going to kill you, but we’re going to escape. Please don’t make a sound. When the doors open again follow close behind us, okay?”
He hoped Akesh would believe him and keep quiet about it. He left his friend sitting in the cell, cocking his head curiously. Then Jeremiah allowed himself to be guided to a separate cell, where Hanu repeated himself.
“Okay,” Jeremiah said, simply. He sat on his own in the middle of the room, aloof. Hanu wondered if he, like Ester, knew what would happen next.
Then Hanu was whisked to the front room to help with the screaming girl, who was now knocking things off the desk. Everyone else had tried to no avail, and most of the other scouts left, having completed their task of escorting them into the facility. She had just gotten her hands free, and was grabbing for the sack over her face. Hanu took advantage of her busy hands and grabbed her from behind just as she pulled it off- it was Titanya.
Hanu was a little nervous now. He never had the courage to talk to her and now he was in a full on hug with her. She clawed at him and all he could do was hold her tighter. He laughed at himself for being so awkward. Well, he could never start a conversation with her but at least today he would be able to set her free. Hanu looked around. The councilman was talking to three scouts. One of them was behind the desk now, typing something into the computer while the others looked on.
“I told you to always smile,” he said in her ear, hoping it would shock her enough to listen. But it backfired on him.
“What is that supposed to mean, you weirdo?” she asked indignantly.
“Shhh, it’s Hanu from the Flush,” he whispered urgently, eyeing the desk. “I’m disguised as a scout. Don’t worry, we’re busting you out of here. But they’re going to kill us if they catch us.”
Either Andy or Reggie was turned around now, tight lipped, and gesturing toward the back hallway meaningfully. Titanya looked at him for a second, then conceded.
She allowed Hanu to take her to the back and lock her in one of the rooms.
“The next time these doors open, run. Follow me and the other scout downstairs. We’re leaving soon,” he reassured her.
When Hanu returned to the front desk the councilman was leaving. “I’m going to report to Agrigore now,” he said. “Expect a call soon. I suspect he’ll want to take that wild one downstairs with those troublesome twins.” Then he took one last glance down the hallway and left.
Hanu couldn’t be happier to have heard that. Everything was going as planned and even the twins were alive! He could imagine it- in just a few hours they’d all be back at Deprogramming. They just had to get rid of the last scout, but Andy was already on it.
“I believe the two of you should take a final patrol, to ensure security on the grounds. The Bowl will be nearly over by now,” he said.
“That is not necessary. The remaining guests are secured in the media center and once the game is over they will be escorted back to the estate by Tameus, Jinora and Agrigore. The only threat we face has just been secured here.”
Apparently that one was the real scout.
“I shall report back to the media center, then, and see if I can be of assistance,” Reggie said, raising his brows behind the scouts back. The he slipped through the door and strode down the hall without skipping a beat.
Their time was running now: 15 minutes.
The scout walked over to the phone system and engaged it. “Upon orders, we will make a group effort to transport the miscreant downstairs. It will take two of us to hold her down while the third puts on the cuffs,” he said.
That may be a good opportunity to see where the twins were being kept, Hanu thought. Maybe the call would come soon, and they would get downstairs and back in enough time for the diversion to start. But he didn’t want Titanya to think he had betrayed her. He said that the next time the doors opened, that she would be free. What if she called him out on it? Would the other scout just brush it off as her being a delusional mental patient? And anyway, it would be difficult to break prisoners free from multiple floors once the diversion started. Hanu needed to talk to Andy, but the scout left very little room for a private conversation. He sat behind the desk, staring amiably into space.
Time was closing in on them, and after several attempts to send the scout elsewhere, Andy began picking up blunt objects from behind the desk and gauging whether or not he could hit the scout hard enough with it to knock him out. But it was too late.
The scout stood up. “A single blast, a quarter of a mile to the north,” he judged.
“Respond to the emergency and report back. We’ll secure the guest in a downstairs room upon your return,” Andy said.
The two watched the scout move down the hallway. He ran swiftly, and disappeared into the elevator in no time. Then Hanu turned to Andy.
“I have to save those twins downstairs,” he said.
“Hanu we can’t save everyone. That’s too dangerous. We don’t know the layout downstairs and we’re on borrowed time now. We need to be out of these walls in five minutes,” Andy said, rushing down the back hallway.
“Please,” Hanu said. “Whatever they’re doing to them down there, it has to be worse than this. Plus, if it weren’t for those twins I wouldn’t be free right now!”
And it was true. Hanu suspected that they were the ones who somehow caused the Convoy to flip in the first place. If anybody had manifesting power, it was them.
“What if you get caught? Is it worth it?” Andy asked, stopping at the console.
“It is,” Hanu said looking Andy in the eyes. “Just make sure my friends make it to Deprogramming. I can find my own way back.”
“Okay.” And Andy brought his hands down on all of the buttons at once, opening the cells. “If you can keep up, follow me!” he yelled, running down the hall.
Hanu followed closely behind as everyone rushed out of their cells. Some of the beings seemed to just vanish into thin air, which Hanu thought was curious. Why hadn’t they done that in the first place?
Seconds later they were crammed into the elevator. Hanu was squished up against a little boy he didn’t recognize. He craned his neck to see if everyone he had come for made it. Akesh, Jeremiah, and Titanya- they were all amongst the group. When the bell rang on the first floor Andy rolled a handful of smoke bombs into the lobby. Delores screamed.
“Don’t breathe it in,” he yelled and he ran through the smoke to the doors. Hanu broke off from the group, running through the double doors on the opposite side of the lobby. This hallway was similar to the one upstairs. There were the same rooms and equipment behind thin glass walls, but toward the end of this hall there were several wooden doors and another hall cutting to the right. It was at the end of this hall that he found them: several prisoners all in one metal room.
They were barely alive, braced to the wall by shackles on their wrists. Hanu found the console and turned off the buzz, then threw the doors open. He grabbed one of the twins and shook his face.
“Hey, wake up. It’s Hanu.”
He couldn’t be roused. The boy’s lips were dried and bloody, and there was a deep purple bruise on his forehead. Hanu tried the other twin.
“Get up! We need to get out of here,” he yelled in the boy’s face. He grabbed at the shackles, looking to see if they required a key. They were smooth. The twin was moving his lips. He was whispering something. Hanu leaned in and put his ear to his mouth.
“I can’t feel my arms…”
Hanu ran back to the console. There must be a way to release the cuffs from the console, he thought. It looked just like the one from upstairs. Hanu toyed with the various buttons and knobs. He knew there wasn’t much time left and he wasn’t sure if he could drag the both of them through the building, let alone to the Ferris wheel. But he had come this far already, and luck had been on his side. He just had to find a way out through the back. Then they’d be closer to the wall, and the hole that Andy would blast through it.
Maybe once they were outside the twins would realize how close they were to freedom and snap out of it. He found the set of buttons that released the shackles. One by one the prisoners fell to the floor with agonized groans, too weak to catch themselves.
“What did they do to you?” he asked rhetorically as he propped one of the twins against the wall. Then he tried to wake the other.
“We’re free. All you have to do is walk through those doors with me,” he urged helplessly. “Please, your life depends on it. Let’s go.”
Grief was washing over him now as he backed away from the boys. There was nothing he could do. It was too late.
Andy blasted the hole in the wall. Hanu could feel the ground beneath him sway from the blast, and plaster crumbled from the ceiling onto them. Then the alarm sounded. Bright lights flashed along the hallway as the siren blared. This one wasn’t a drill, though. Hanu knew he would be killed if he were discovered down here like this. He ran back up the hall, but the double doors flew open and three scouts were running toward him.
Hanu panicked. Reggie and Andy weren’t here to get him out of this one, and he wasn’t sure if he could talk his way out of it. He reached for a door. It was locked. Then another, and it was locked, too. The third one he tried wasn’t, though. He pulled the heavy door open and slipped in, then he put all his weight on it to close it back. He leaned against the door, closing his eyes and bracing himself, waiting.
“What is this?” said a wispy voice from somewhere inside the room.