Hanu walked through the tunnel now, meandering toward his destination. It wasn’t like anyone was waiting on a timely appearance from him, so he decided he might as well save his energy. He didn’t even worry about the fact that he brought no food or tools at all. He stopped two or three times to rest, knowing that once he was on the surface he’d probably be running for his life, as usual.
He waited at the tunnel entrance now. Sounds of children squealing came from above, so he knew it was daytime. He thought it was genius that they hid the entrance in plain sight- right under the rocks in the children’s play area. The last time he was here he couldn’t really appreciate the boldness of it, but now that he had nothing to do but think, he couldn’t help but be impressed. Hanu shoved his hands into the cool soil, keeping his hands busy in hopes of giving his mind a rest.
When it was completely silent he emerged from the tunnel and into the coffeehouse yard. The door was heavy, covered in rocks as it was, so it took quite some time to get it open. Once the hole was wide enough, he slowly raised his body out of the ground. Then he admired the brilliance again, as he covered the entrance back with a thick layer of rocks. The play area was enclosed by large, overarching bushes, giving him coverage from all sides of the street. Once he was satisfied, he jumped over the little picket fence and into the cool night. He found the sidewalk and walked away from the school, toward his apartment.
There was a time in his life when Hanu was afraid of walking this path alone. He remembered when he entered the first grade, his mom made him start walking to school by himself and it seemed like such a journey. He remembered worrying about getting lost. There were so many different twists and turns, but by the end of the school year he knew the route by heart. After seven years, though, he was kind of rusty.
It wasn’t necessarily that things had changed. The Water Distribution Center was still up ahead and he could see the supply store off in the distance where he was to take a right. It was just hard to remember anything else after that. He had been gone for exactly half his life, so he’d forgotten all the little details that he used to know.
Hanu wandered around his neighborhood now, like a ghost. It didn’t even matter that he didn’t know where he was going anymore. There wasn’t a scout in sight, and nobody else was on the street. It’s not like anyone would notice him anyway, he thought. He remembered watching the people on the streets through the window of the Convoy. Nobody really saw anyone else.
Hanu found a familiar sight- four apartment buildings in a row. He looked to the third one over. The lights were all out. Maybe it was too late to visit, he thought. He didn’t want to draw any attention to himself, so he decided he’d wait until morning. Hanu sat in the shadow of a massive tree and got comfortable for the night. He didn’t dare sleep while out in the open like this, so he kept watch.
The building was quiet all night as everyone slept. Hanu thought about his family in there, living life without him. He wondered if Kait still slept with the green unicorn she had as a baby. Many nights he wouldn’t go to bed until late because she would demand that he make the thing sing her to sleep. It was a nuisance at the time, but now it was a fond memory.
All Hanu had of his family now was memories, really, because it had been so long since he’d seen them. His mom used to come and visit him at the Flush every weekend, then every other weekend, and then visits dwindled until it was just once every couple months. Eventually she stopped visiting and just sent letters, but even those stopped coming after a while. Hanu was understanding, though. He knew it must’ve been hard enough for her to work as well as raise a toddler, let alone visit another child hundreds of miles away regularly. But at the same time he barely knew them now, and he was wondering what would make him want to try so hard to save these strangers.
When the sun rose over the trees behind him, he knew it would be time for the children to start walking to school, so he tucked himself further into the brush and watched. One by one, but then in droves, they emerged from the buildings and headed toward Neoma Prep. Hanu knew his mother and sister were awake, and that this would be the perfect opportunity to hide amongst the crowd as he made his way in, but he was just too nervous. He couldn’t make himself move just yet.
Soon, the neighborhood was alive with people. He knew that if he waited much longer his family would leave for the day, too. So he straightened himself up and dusted off his corduroys, giving himself a pep talk. But just as he was stepping out from behind the tree he saw his mother emerge from the lobby. She wore the same brown overcoat she always had, and her long hair was pulled back into a bun. She smiled into the sunlight, and strode off down the street. She looked so carefree, he thought. Hadn’t she heard about what was going on with her first child? Surely they had come to her, at the very least to lie and say he’d joined with the Dissenters and committed some heinous crime. Surely she knew that the Council was hunting him down. If she were worried at all about Hanu, she hid it well as she walked peacefully into the breeze.
Hanu decided he’d allow her to have a good day at work today; he would save the visit for when she came home. And since she was already leaving, that must mean that Kait already left for school. She passed right by him and he didn’t even recognize her.
He waited until his mom had completely gone before moving into the building. Then he walked through the lobby, hoping nobody would recognize him. It was unattended.
Hanu climbed the stairs to the second floor, and with each step, he grew more anxious. He realized he was clenching his jaw- he’d been doing a lot of that lately- so he shook himself, trying to relax. When he got to the second floor, he found the door that read 817. Would the code still be the same? He punched it in: 031985.
Hanu stood for a while with his hand on the doorknob. It was strange to be here. He felt like an intruder. But it’s my home, too, he told himself. He pushed the door open. But then he was suddenly nervous.
He realized his sister could still be home, and it wouldn’t do well if he just barged in on her like this.
He stepped in and closed the door behind him. Their apartment changed so much in seven years. They still had the same red couches, but there were new throw pillows. There was also a new kitchen table. And more pictures on the walls, too. He saw a two year old Kait, and a six year old Kait. In one of the pictures she posed in a ballerina’s leotard and sunglasses. He smiled, remembering being silly with her when she was just a baby. He thought about what kind of personality she had now. And his mother as well- he wondered how they might have changed in all this time. As he looked at the pictures he started feeling something else, too. There were so many pictures, and he wasn’t in very many of them. They looked so happy. Maybe they had moved on without him.
He went into his bedroom. It was exactly how he remembered it- from the stuffed animals on his shelves to the solar system night light he had hanging from the ceiling fan. He sat on his bed, sending a cloud of dust into the air. She didn’t even bother cleaning his room every once in a while. Hanu tried to keep his feelings in check, but it was getting harder.
He thought better of it, being as he was already upset, but he went into Kait’s room anyway. She had a four poster bed now, with pink lace draped across the top in a canopy. She also had a vanity mirror on her wall and little knickknacks adorned her dresser here and there. She was like a princess. Hanu was clenching his fists again as his chest got heavy. He tried to reason with himself that Kait had just grown up and he’d been away. But as much as he wanted to be rational, he couldn’t help but feel abandoned.
Hanu closed her door and went back to the living room. He figured there was nothing he could do but wait for them to return. He had come this far, so there was no point in overreacting before he even had a chance to speak his peace.
Hanu laid on the couch, deciding what he would do with himself after he spoke with his mom. Well, it largely depended on how the talk goes, he reasoned. What if he told her everything and she brushed it off as legends and myths, as Paula said? What would he do? Now that he was a little calmer, he realized that he’d put himself in a really bad position. With a sudden twinge in his gut, he thought about the fact that there was absolutely nobody else he could go to for help. Toni was out of the question and Harris was gone.
Of course he could always just go back through the tunnel to Deprogramming and try to find his way to the Underground himself. That was probably his best bet if things turned for the worse here. And what if things turned out for the best, he thought. He didn’t even know what he was trying to accomplish, so he wasn’t sure what the best would even look like. Would his mother realize that he was right and commit to joining him in spreading truth? Would she hide him at home while she went to work, or better, agree to become the new ferry or operator of Deprogramming? Now that he was actually here, he realized how childish he was being. But he had to try. If there was the slightest chance he could save his family from this farce, he would try.
Hanu dozed on the couch. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall asleep completely, but he laid back and tried to relax his mind. He’d been thinking so much for the last few days that it felt like he would catch a brain cramp. He thought about the illustration of the brain in the Tome of the Earth. He wondered if humans could actually get cramps in their brains, but the Tome never mentioned it. Then he thought about the strand of DNA and the picture of the other races. He thought about the creature with the whiskers- Galedeus.
“Why don’t you help me!” he heard his own voice. Then he sat up, startled. He forgot he was on his couch at home.
Hanu decided he’d keep his mind occupied with something constructive. He reached over and grabbed a book from the coffee table to read. It was a dictionary. He figured that since he had some time to kill he’d just learn some new words. He opened the book to a random page and pointed: Gallant, adjective, 1. (of a person or behavior) brave or heroic. He knew that one already. He flipped again and pointed: Meticulous, adjective, 1. showing great attention to detail; very careful and precise. That’s a new one. Hanu thought about how he might use the word in the near future. Then he thought about a word he’d been meaning to find the definition for. He flipped back and ran his finger down the page until he found it: Martyr, noun, 1. a person who is killed because of their religion or beliefs. Verb 1. kill (someone) because of their beliefs.
Hanu thought back to his dream. He tried to remember the exact words, so that he could put it all in context with the meaning he now had. And besides…I don’t want to become a martyr, he had said.
Hanu laughed. Well, a lot had changed since that dream, he thought. Nowadays, he pretty much had been avoiding death at every turn because of his beliefs. He supposed he was a martyr, or at least well on his way to becoming one. But Hanu didn’t really want to die, even though he may have been careless lately.
He put the book down and went to the kitchen for some food. He wouldn’t think about that. He would just focus on staying alive for his beliefs for now.
Hanu was sitting at the kitchen table when his family came home. The girls clamored through the door and chattered happily as they took their shoes off. Then Kara stopped midway through taking off her overcoat.
Hanu wasn’t sure of what to say when she got there. He thought about just starting off strong and letting it all out as soon as she walked in, but he didn’t want to seem like he actually was crazy, so he figured he’d keep it simple. She stood in the doorway, staring into the kitchen, unbelieving. Kait hid behind her.
“It’s me, Hanu.” He felt a little insulted that his sister would hide from him. Had his mom told her that he was just some reckless psychopath?
“I know my baby when I see him,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry to just drop in like this. I’m sure you heard that some things have been going on with me,” he said, standing up now.
“No it’s just fine.” She walked into the kitchen, arms outstretched. “Look at you!”
He hugged her tightly, letting tears fall on her neck. Kait stood at the door, unsure of what to do.
“Let me just use the bathroom, baby. I’ve been holding it all day,” she said, smiling through tears. Then she left Hanu alone with Kait, still in the doorway.
“So you’re in the third grade by now, huh?” he said, trying to make small talk. He wanted to sound as normal as he could, so as not to scare her.
“Second.” She didn’t seem to want to talk to him, which made him more upset.
“Don’t you remember me, Kait? You used to sleep in my bed with me and I would make your green unicorn sing to you and…” Hanu stopped talking. He knew he must’ve sounded like a crazy person now. She was looking confused.
“I’ve been away, Kait, but I’m still the same old me,” he said. Kait stood in the doorway, quietly watching Hanu struggle at the table.
“Come on, Kait, and sit down with us,” his mom said. She had come back from the bathroom and was pulling up a couple of chairs for them.
“Now tell me, what’s going on with you?” she asked. Her face twisted into a concerned scowl.
Hanu didn’t know where to begin. Now that she was here his mouth was incredibly dry. He had so much to say before, but now he couldn’t even think of a single thing. But he was here now, and this is what he’d been waiting on, so he opened up his mouth.
“Mom, I know you’re a geneticist and you’ve been to the district to work on children.”
“Okay, but what does that have to do with what’s been happening with you, Hanu? I’ve heard all these crazy things- that you’ve destroyed a Convoy and ran away. People were hurt. Tell me you have an explanation.”
“Well that did happen, but it wasn’t me. I was there, but... it just happened, mom. They were taking us in for override!” Hanu stood up. This wasn’t going as planned. He didn’t imagine she would just jump down his throat like this before he even had a chance to talk. He paced the kitchen now, glancing out the window.
“Mom, I need you to listen. There’s something important I have to tell you. These people- the Council- they’re just using us. They take the kids from the Flush to do these experiments, mom.”
“I know that, Hanu! That’s part of the job description. We work to help children like you. You should’ve just gone in for testing!”
“No, mom. You haven’t seen the conditions they keep us in. You don’t know what they did to me, mom. They’re torturing kids in there!”
Hanu was furious now. He stopped pacing and crossed his arms, looking at his mom. She wasn’t even trying to hear him out. He looked at Kait, who was watching him with sorrowful eyes. He didn’t want her to think he was crazy, to feel sorry for him.
“Mom, they’re acting on the orders of the Ancients, but the Ancient Ones aren’t who they say they are. They’ve been lying to us. When I was in the District, one of them told me that they lie to other races from space in order to steal what they want from them. He admitted it to me, mom!”
“Hanu, there are no other races in space. We’re the only ones, baby. The Ancient Ones created us, and us alone. Whatever they’re doing, we have to trust in their wisdom because they know things that we don’t.”
“You’re right. They know a lot of things we don’t, mom. They know that humans are evolving and if they let us evolve naturally they won’t be able to lie to us anymore. We’ll be able to see the truth for ourselves,” he said. Hanu was feeling more confident now that he had gotten into a flow. “And there are other races out there- a whole bunch of them! I’ve seen them in the District, too.”
There was an abrupt knock on the door, making Hanu jump. Kara stood up now, too, and walked over to the door.
“Baby, you’re sick, and the Dissenters brainwashed you. I called the scouts to come get you. Please go with them and get your tests done.”
Hanu didn’t plan on this. He thought at the very least, that he would just storm off after she decided not to hear him out. Now he didn’t even have that luxury. Without even thinking, he darted to his room. He heard his mom yell something down the hall, but it was undistinguishable. Maybe she thought he would just jump in his bed and refuse to go. Well, at least he could take advantage of her ignorance.
He would sneak out of his window and hide in the shadows between the two buildings, then be off before the scouts even entered his room. He unlocked the window and tried to lower himself down gently, but he fell, banging his head on the sidewalk.
Hanu tried to pick himself up. Now wasn’t the time to lose his senses. He rolled over onto his knees and tried to stand, but he couldn’t make out what he was looking at. Dizzy, he tried to at least move himself into the bushes. Thoughts were flashing in his mind now, as he tried to remember why he was running. He thought about rolling around in the Convoy as it crashed onto the sidewalk, then he thought about Aric punching him to the ground.
“Why… don’t… you…” he stammered. “Why…”
Hanu pricked himself on the bush he was crawling into. “Why don’t you… help me?” He grabbed at the bush, remembering now that he was outside of his house, and that scouts were coming to take him back to the District- or worse, to kill him.
He looked around now, blinking hard. They hadn’t come out yet, so maybe there was still time to put distance between himself and the scouts. He shuffled down the sidewalk. Darkness was falling, and he would soon have the advantage. He looked for his trademark escape route- an alley.
“Again!” he yelled to nobody. He was running again. Always running. It’s always me, he thought to himself.
“Why don’t you help me?” he shouted into the setting sun as he ran through the neighborhood. He thought about what Paula said: ‘You’ll always have help if you know how to call on it.’
But no help was coming and he knew it. He ducked into the nearest alley, but before he could even think about his next move a scout had entered through the other side and was running at him full speed. His face was as charming as ever, but Hanu knew what he was capable of. What they did to Harris… he wanted to break that stupid face of his for it.
He sprinted toward the scout now. This would be the last time that the Council would make him run, and he would make it count. He growled as he came for the scouts face.
“I’ll be a martyr today!”