Wake of Deception

By Sasha Devore All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action

Fountain of Hope

It took several hours to get to their destination, but in order to avoid the street lamps, cameras and patrolling scouts they had to take the long way. On top of that, once they got to Harris’ apartment he insisted upon taking a shower.

While Harris was washing up Hanu inspected the man’s apartment. He had simple brown furniture and shaggy carpeting, and it smelled of oregano. His walls were covered in abstract art, but Hanu was more interested in his very large book collection. The shelf was stuffed to the brim with texts- half of which weren’t even written in English. In the window there were all sorts of plants in various sized pots. Some were spiky and others were leafy. He could tell this man liked to grow things the old fashioned way.

When Harris got out of the shower he packed a bag full of spare clothes, foodstuffs, and a small collection of the same oddly shaped objects he’d given Hanu. Hanu returned the one from his pocket, which Harris threw in the pack as well, then they finally set off.

Hanu was tired and sweaty from walking so long in the arid night, but they had made it safely. The two stood in the shadows of a department store that abutted the park. They strained their eyes, looking into the darkness for signs of life. Hanu could make out the place where the fountain was. He could see the silhouette of the statue, watching ominously over the courtyard.

“What now?” Hanu asked.

“We wait. They may not be here, or the place might be watched, so let’s not be too hasty,” said Harris.

Hanu shifted his weight. Then he slumped into the wall, allowing himself to fall into a sitting position. He knew he needed to rest, but he wanted to find the others. He could see a tinge of pink in the sky to the east now, and he knew they were running out of time. He was getting impatient.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked.

“A sign,” said Harris.

Then, in a moment, Hanu stood and turned to the courtyard.

“Haw! Ha-aww!” he called loudly.

“What are you doing?” Harris hissed, covering his mouth.

“I’m sorry, I was following an impulse,” Hanu explained. “I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Harris pulled Hanu back into the shadows, but that was the sign that was needed. Off to the north, they heard it come back.

‘Haw Ha-aww!’

Hanu was elated. Someone else had made it. He wondered who it was, and how long they’ve waited.

“Well I guess your impulses know best,” Harris said, pulling him into the park.

The two made their way to the northern end of the green space, right behind where the fountain was. They were sure to hide their movements in the shadows, ducking behind bushes and trees as they approached the courtyard. Occasionally they called out to make sure they were still headed in the right direction, and received a confirmation in return. As they approached the place where the other person should have been Harris stuck out his hand, stopping Hanu in his tracks.

“Let’s approach slowly. This could be a trap,” he warned. “We’ll check this person out first… see if you recognize ’em.”

“Alright,” Hanu agreed.

They slowly crept along a trellis, eyeing the thicket across the path that separated them from the other person. Hanu stood up to get a better view of the bushes across the way when he caught sight of something else- two scouts a little further up the path.

He dropped his body to the ground with such force he winded himself. He knew they were out looking for the escapees. And he might’ve shook the bush on his way to the ground. They had been caught.

“Scouts!” he hissed, hoping whoever was across the path would hear. Harris crawled up next to him.

“Did they see you?” he asked urgently.

“I think so, but I don’t know. They’re going to find me,” he said, panicking now. His heart was beating too fast. He knew he was going to die. He hadn’t had any sleep and now his heart was racing and his body was going to shut down right here in the bushes and the scouts would come and find him.

“Calm down, we need to get out of here quietly,” Harris said, digging in his bag. He pulled Hanu under a thick bush a little further from the path.

“Make yourself as little as possible under this bush. Make sure nothing is sticking out,” Harris said, and he placed what looked like a rock at the base of the bush.

Hanu’s heart continued to race as he hugged the inside of the bush. He was certain that the scouts would follow the sound of its beating straight to him. They were approaching now. He could see their boots on the path, facing where the other person should have been hiding.

“I will conduct a thermal imaging scan,” the first scout said.

Hanu’s heart was on the ground now. They were sure to find whoever it was that was over there. He held his breath.

“Confirmed,” said the other.

Hanu knew that the first scout was holding his arm up, palm open, and sweeping the area. At any moment he would apprehend somebody. There were way too many people in these bushes for them to not find at least one.

From his place in the bush, he could see that the light from the scan had caused the flora in the area to glow in yellows, greens and purples. It would have been a beautiful sight if it hadn’t meant certain death for Hanu to be caught in it. He was sure that he couldn’t outrun a scout in his current condition.

But then the lights abruptly disappeared.

“Thermal imaging scan complete. No significant sign of life,” the scout said.

Hanu exhaled. They hadn’t detected anybody.

“Confirmed and recorded. Let us move on to the business district,” said the second scout, and they moved on to the west.

The bushes were perfectly still for several minutes after the scouts left. If there were any cameras near, the scouts had activated them.

Harris pulled Hanu out of the bushes, silently signaling for him to follow. Crouching down, they slowly made their way across the path, careful to stay in the shadow cast by the trees. Harris kept watch over the courtyard.

“It’s me, Hanu. Are you still there?” he called into the thicket.

Hanu was afraid that whoever it was had been startled by the scouts and left, so he took a more direct approach in case nobody was there to meet with anymore. At least that way they could get it over with and find shelter before the sun was completely up. But then he heard someone behind him.

“Psst!”

Hanu turned and saw her nestled into a bush. Her hair was still slicked with dried blood, but her face was clean.

“Sadie! Where are the others?” Hanu asked excitedly. He knew she was too tough to be caught. He secretly felt like he wouldn’t be surprised if she was the only one who’d made it, but he hoped she would help the others to get somewhere safe.

“Shhh…” she said, quickly putting a finger to her mouth. She had a bloody strip of jumper wrapped around her wrist.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “What happened to you?”

“Don’t worry about it right now. Who’s your friend?” she said.

“Oh, I’m sorry, this is Harris,” Hanu said, introducing them. “He helped me to escape. Harris, this is Sadie.”

“Nice to meet you, Sadie.”

“Pleasure, I’m sure,” she said, eyeing him.

“Where’s Ester? The others?” Hanu asked. He was starting to get a little worried. He’d hoped to find them all there together, but he should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy.

“Ester and Vanessa are in the damned fountain,” she said, looking very annoyed. “And Zazi said she was going home.”

Then she stood up and dusted off her torn jumper. “The twins got caught,” she sighed.

Hanu wasn’t sure why, but he felt a little guilty for getting away, and he knew that Sadie was also remorseful. He had never seen her look so solemn. She looked over the green space, clenching her jaw.

Harris and Hanu stood up, too, and looked toward the fountain. They didn’t notice the two there before, but sure enough, the girls were splashing each other now as if that’s exactly what people should be doing at this time of morning.

“They must be either truly bold or truly certified,” Harris said, laughing.

“Watch it now,” Sadie said, testily. “And why are you still here, anyway?”

“Woah, I’m on your side!” Harris began, but Sadie had already switched gears. She cut him off.

“Cut the bull, old man, you helped Hanu for a reason. You followed him here to get to us, didn’t you? Well guess what, you ain’t taking me in!” she said.

“You think you can intimidate me, little girl?” he said, sizing her up.

“I’m just tryin’ to get some information. It’s not my fault you feel intimidated,” she retorted.

Harris laughed.

“You’re spicy,” he said, laughing again.

Hanu looked around, anxiously. This is exactly the opposite of what he needed right now. Ester and Vanessa heard the commotion and started walking over.

“Harris said there’s a place we can go to live. Somewhere safe for people like us,” Hanu cut in, trying to stop the argument.

Sadie looked at Harris, thinking. She had that violent look in her eye, but Hanu knew she was debating whether she could trust the man or not.

“We have no other choice. We can’t hide in the bushes forever,” Hanu reasoned. “I can’t go home ’cause my mom will just turn me over, and they’ll kill us if they find us. He said it’s someplace hidden.”

Sadie continued studying Harris. He smiled, knowing he was under her skin.

“Why are you helping us?” she said, and it was Harris’ turn to look serious now. The smile faded from his face as he considered his answer.

“I turned my daughter in,” he said, nodding his head at the confession. “Reported her when she was six years old. I thought it was the best thing to do for her. I thought they would fix her... send her back happy.”

Harris’ face was pained. He paused for a moment, looking off into the sunrise now with his tongue in his cheek. “They took her straight to the District for override. I realized after that, that she was happy. She knew what others didn’t, and she was free. I didn’t know what that was or how to address it, so it scared me. It forced me to face the fact that I wasn’t free,” he admitted.

They stood there in the quiet. Wind blew through the trees, sweeping Sadie’s long hair into a frenzy. Her face softened… saddened.

“I’m sorry,” Vanessa finally said. They didn’t realize she and Ester had arrived to hear his story.

“Come on, Harris. You’ll have to get back to work soon, so we need to get going,” Ester said, abruptly.

Harris laughed. “How do you guys put up with her being a know it all?” he asked, thumbing at Ester.

“Well, she actually never really spoke before yesterday, so it was pretty easy,” Vanessa said.

“It sure has been a huge help since then, too,” Sadie added, wrapping an arm around Ester’s neck and pulling her into a hug.

Everyone was so cheerful. Hanu felt like this was going to work- they were going to be safe. Well, everyone except the twins. He felt a pang of guilt for just brushing over them. Nobody offered so much as a moment of silence or anything for them.

“Alright then, if this is everyone, let’s get ready to go,” Harris said, clapping his hands together.

“Guys what about the twins?” Hanu asked.

“We can only control so much, Hanu. Let’s focus on what we can handle, and hope the best for them. We need to get somewhere safe,” Harris said, putting a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

“So where are we going now?” Vanessa asked.

“The Bathtub Resort. It’s in the Entertainment District,” Harris said, and he took off his pack and pulled an assortment of clothes out. “You guys need to change so we can blend in a little better.”

“Right here?” Sadie exclaimed.

“Well, you can get behind a bush, but do it quickly. Suns almost up and people will be heading to work soon. We need to blend in with the morning rush.”

Harris turned around quickly now, wide eyed, because Vanessa started throwing off her clothes, mid- instruction. She had often tried to strip down at the hospital, claiming that her uniform was a symbol of oppression, but the staff usually disabled her attempts pretty quickly. It amused Hanu to think that she was finally able to rip the thing off in peace. But then he remembered he should give her some privacy, too, so he also turned around.

“So Harris, we’re going to a bar?” Hanu asked, to make sure he understood correctly.

“Yes, it’s a bar.”

“We’re not old enough to get into a bar, though,” said Vanessa.

“I am,’ Sadie said, proudly. “I just turned sixteen.”

“Well, we won’t be doing any drinking,” said Harris, zipping his backpack back up and throwing it over his shoulder. “Come on. I’ll explain everything on the way.”

Harris knocked on the tiny door of the Bathtub Resort three times and walked away to where everyone was casually standing behind a holographic marquee.

“Look natural,” he said to the gang.

Hanu wondered how a group of random teenagers, all wearing helplessly mismatched clothes, could look natural on this street, but he tried anyway. He stood up straight and pretended to be very interested in the marquee. It read:

’Weekend Special: Any drink in the house, 1 point. 3 hours Holo-company, 12 points. Best deal in town.’

And it must’ve worked, because the people passing in the street did a good job of ignoring them. The door to the bar unlocked with a definitive click. Everyone looked up.

“Come on,” said Harris, and he walked in.

Hanu felt uneasy about walking into a bar, but he followed apprehensively anyway. Sadie helped him along by shoving him past the threshold.

“Calm down, Sadie, we’re not even drinking,” he said, playfully.

You’re not drinking,” she retorted.

The bar was quite large on the inside. It was one big square, dimly lit by neon signs, and had an assortment of empty tables dotting the room. There were three pool tables in the back, along with a very large bathtub, which held a bubbling liquid.

“Can we get some pool balls?” Vanessa asked, excitedly, running up to one of the tables.

“Won’t be here long enough, Vanessa,” Harris said, locking the door behind them.

“What is a bar open so early for?” Hanu asked.

“Well I don’t actually open up ’til 7:30, but I’m here all night to do different business related stuff,” said the barkeep.

Hanu jumped. He hadn’t noticed the round man sitting in the far corner of the place.

“But you’d be surprised at the amount of wretched souls that drag tail in here that early for a morning pick-me-up! Ain’t that right, Harris?” he said, slapping the table and laughing.

“Those are the ones who usually end up ordering The Harriet,” Harris said, smiling fondly. And they laughed together. The gang looked at each other with raised brows.

“So’s that what we’re ordering today, then, huh?” he said, looking at each of them in turn. “When we talked yesterday there was only one. What happened?”

“Well, you know, Toni…” Harris chuckled.

“These kids need some lemon with that?” Toni asked.

“All of them, yes,” Harris said. His demeanor was matter of fact, as he ordered drinks for the bunch.

“Look kinda young to me,” Toni said.

Hanu was both confused and worried. He was definitely under-aged, and he definitely didn’t want the Harriet- especially since they were supposed to be running for their lives. This was wrong on several counts.

He looked at Ester to gauge the appropriate level of alarm he should be feeling. Maybe she would give him some indicator of just how bad the situation really was. But her expression was just as placid as ever as she took a seat in one of the chairs near the bar.

“They came from the flush. Implanted their trades early,” Harris said.

Toni got busy behind the counter. He pulled out a box from underneath the bar and opened it up. From where Hanu stood, he could see a lever of some sort sticking out of it. The man tapped the lever rhythmically, and it made a beeping noise. Then he pulled out a cocktail class and poured a brown liquid into it.

“On the house, Harris,” he said. Then he walked to the kitchen doors.

“Be right back… gonna get that lemon ready,” he said as he disappeared through the doors. Hanu rounded on Harris. He would have to be the voice of reason here.

“Harris, now’s not the best time to be drinking,” he said urgently. “We really need to be going.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Sadie, and she picked up the glass of brown liquid. “He said it was on the house.” And she tipped the glass, pouring it all into her mouth at once.

“Aaaargh!” she yelled, spitting the stuff onto the floor and countertop. “This is disgusting, how do people drink this?”

The gang laughed as she gagged.

“Well first off, they drink it one sip at a time,” Harris said, taking the glass from her. He put it on the counter and took his backpack off. “Come on guys, gather around. We need to eat and discuss some things.”

Harris took a seat at Esters table and opened his bag, pulling out bread and cheese. Everyone grabbed for the food at the same time. Hanu wondered if the rest of them had been lucky enough to find food while they were all separated, but by the looks of it, they hadn’t.

“I need to explain what’s going to happen,” he said. Everyone sat, quietly chewing.

“You’re going to the Underground. Lots of people have moved there for various different reasons since these Ancients showed up on our planet. Whatever reason they find refuge there, there is one thing that is agreed upon, and this is the first law: the Underground is to remain hidden at all cost,” he said darkly.

“For this reason, the first thing we’ll do is remove those trades they put in your arms. The rest of the world cannot know where the Underground is, and those things will lead them right to it.”

Everyone looked around, nodding agreeably.

“I will tell you now,” he continued. “It’s not an escape to a magical fairytale castle where you’ll live happily ever after.”

“Good, cause I ain’t no princess,” Sadie said. And Harris cut her off, raising his voice a little.

“There, you will be pulling your own weight. You help to grow food. You feed and water the animals-”

“Animals?” Vanessa interrupted.

“Shhhh!” Hanu said. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, anxious to hear more.

“You take your turn caring for the children, and you learn a trade,” he continued, but Hanu cut him off this time.

“What do you mean, learn a trade?” he asked.

“I mean you learn to do something that contributes to society- furniture making, farming, healing, and storytelling- those kinds of things. It’s sometimes harsh, living in secret. But it’s a close-knit community. You will rely on each other to survive. You learn together, you celebrate together, you cry together and you heal together. It’s radically different from life up here,” he warned.

Hanu felt tears welling in his eyes. It sounded like something he could get used to. Especially if people like Harris were there. He hardly knew the man, but Harris talked to him like he was just Hanu- not Hanu, the mental health patient, or Hanu, the kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He could imagine the world Harris was describing, where everyone grew together, and he knew it was real. He felt like he’d been there before, and was simply returning. His eyes were stinging. A tear streaked down his cheek, but he didn’t care.

“Do people ever change their minds, Harris?” Ester asked. “You know, after living in the Underground? Do they ever come back?”

“You go to the Underground to find refuge... freedom. Once you find that, you don’t want to come back,” Harris replied. “Besides, if the Ancient Ones want you dead, you’re dead. There’s no coming back for people like you.”

“How do we get there?” Vanessa asked.

“It will take some time to get there,” Harris said. “First you’ll need to go to deprogramming.”

And at this they looked at Harris with furrowed faces, torn from the reverie.

“It sounds… unpleasant,” Harris began.

“It sounds painful,” Vanessa interjected.

“Look guys, whatever it sounds like, you need to go there first. Everyone goes there to make the transition. It’s to make sure you’re okay and to make sure the Underground stays secret and safe. No pain involved,” Harris explained.

Everyone looked at each other again. Hanu watched Ester. He didn’t know how, but she seemed to know the right thing to do. He decided he would go to Deprogramming if Ester went. It would be nice if Harris were there, too, he thought.

“So why don’t you come to the Underground with us?” Hanu asked.

“I have to go to work,” Harris said, matter-of-factly.

“Well, run away.”

“One day I will, Hanu, but for now I need to help others find it first. I kinda have a knack for it,” he said, leaning back in his chair and giving a little wink. Hanu smiled, grateful that Harris was the one who caught him hiding in that garbage pile.

“So how do we remove the trades?” Ester asked, looking at her wrist.

“Glad you asked,” Harris said as Toni walked back out of the kitchen holding a small pot. He walked through the liquid Sadie spit out and almost slipped.

“What’s this all over the floor?”

Inside the kitchen there was a large table covered with a white sheet. Various knives, bottles and cotton balls were lined neatly on a small tray, along with a small velvety box.

“Alright gang, did Harris tell you what we’re doing?” the man asked, looking around. He was pretty old. The hair on his head had relocated to the inside of his ears and his neckline, but his brown eyes were vibrant. Hanu could tell that he enjoyed helping people in this way.

“I think he left the details for you to explain,” said Hanu, looking at Harris nervously. He wasn’t too concerned about it earlier, but now that he saw the layout he knew that whatever the process was, pain would be involved.

“Well I think you can tell it won’t be pretty,” he said, gesturing toward the tools. “So I won’t sugarcoat it.”

“Thank you,” Sadie said. To the point, just like she liked it.

“First you’ll have to drink some of this. It’s a painkiller- my own special blend,” he explained. “It kicks in instantly, but only lasts so long, so I’ll immediately remove the trade with these tools. If you don’t move, it takes two minutes.”

“What if you do move?” Ester asked.

“You die,” he said simply. And he didn’t bat an eye before moving on. “Then I’ll bandage you up and you’ll have to drink this one.”

Toni opened up the small velvety box and pulled out a small vial for the group to see. It contained a yellow liquid, and Hanu could swear that he heard a chittering noise coming from it. It was as if the liquid were alive.

“This will disable the nanotechnology in your bloodstream. This is the lemon,” he explained. “I’ll tell you now, this is the worst part. You’ll know it’s working by the excruciating pain you feel right after downing it.”

“I ain’t got no nanotechnology in my blood,” Sadie said, shaking her head.

“We all do,” Harris said. “It’s released from the trade when they put it in you. It’s kinda like the maintenance crew for the trade, but it also happens to be traceable through GPS and other locating systems, so all of it has to go.”

“Wait,” Hanu said, changing the subject. “If that’s the case, why haven’t they tracked us all down yet? We’ve been all over this city and not once was anyone on our tail. Why is nobody looking for us now?”

Harris pulled his backpack off once more and grabbed his assortment of oddly shaped objects. He gently placed them on the table- four geometric figures and two rocklike objects.

“They are looking for you, but I told you, these tools scramble signals. Before that, when you were in the pile of garbage they couldn’t locate you the traditional way cause the nearest surveillance tower was blown, so they went to doing heat scans. You were just fortunate enough to jump into the hottest pile of garbage on the lot,” Harris said.

“So right now our signals are gone? You mean once you showed up at the fountain our signals were gone too?” Sadie said.

“Yeah, the more you carry the broader the range. But I don’t know what kept you ladies safe before that,” he said, eyeing Vanessa and Ester. He was no doubt thinking about them playing in the fountain.

“I knew it was safe to relax a little once you guys showed up. We had spent all night taking turns on guard duty,” Ester said. “But really, the twins gave the scouts a really hard time before they were caught. So while everyone was focused on the part of town they destroyed, we kind of slid by.”

Hanu felt another pang of guilt. He wondered if they were alive right now. But Toni broke his thoughts before he could get too disheartened.

“Look, guys, reminisce on the way to Deprogramming. We need to get this thing going…bar opens in forty-five minutes,” he said. “Who’s first?”

Harris walked back through the doors to keep an eye on the front as Sadie sat down across from the man. She unwrapped her arm. “I’ll go first. This should be easy enough- I did half the work for you,” she said, revealing a bloody gash on her wrist. Toni was incredulous.

“I’m surprised you’re not dead. You know there’s a major artery in this arm, right?” he said, inspecting the gash.

“In that case, I’m surprised I’m still alive, too,” she said, smirking.

“So did Harris tell you about the whole process? You know, Deprogramming first and all that?” he said conversationally.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” she said, wincing.

“Looks like you got the trade,” he said, and then he bandaged her arm. Then he scooped a ladle of the painkiller up for her. “Drink this, anyway. It’ll help with the next part.”

Sadie drank it in one gulp and then held her hand out for the vial, which Toni was uncorking. The liquid was definitely effervescing now. Then she drank that one down, too.

“At least this stuff is sweet,” she said. “Better than that crappy drink you served up there.”

Then a moment later she stood up, clutching her stomach. She looked alarmed.

“This won’t kill me, right?” she asked.

Hanu looked at Sadie. Beads of sweat were welling up on her forehead and nose, and her nostrils flared as she tried to slow her breathing. He’d never seen her like this before, she was genuinely afraid. And that made him nervous, being as he would be drinking that stuff, too.

“Nobody ever died from it, sweetheart. Some people do get diarrhea though, so the toilets through there if you need it,” he said casually, pointing toward the backdoor. “We gotta keep this moving, kids. Time’s not on our side.”

Hanu hesitated. He wanted to see how far this went with Sadie. So Vanessa went ahead and took her turn, sitting in front of the man. She drank her dose of the first medicine. Then Hanu had to look away when Toni picked up the knife. He didn’t want to see it until after his own turn.

It went quickly. She didn’t make a sound until after she drank the yellow liquid.

“Tastes like lemon!” she said, excitedly. Then her expression immediately changed. “Is it supposed to burn?” she asked, pushing back in her chair slowly.

“Yes,” Toni said, beckoning for the next person. He dabbed his forehead with a small cloth.

Hanu looked at Sadie again. She was silently crying, eyes and fists clenched. It looked as though she was using all the restraint she had to not punch something. Vanessa began bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet and looking around, possibly for that bathroom. He decided that since they weren’t immediately dying, he would go ahead and take his turn.

It’s not that bad, he told himself as he drank the medicine. And he was right. Hanu only felt a slight pressure on his forearm. The surgery lasted no more than a minute, then Toni was handing him an uncorked vial.

“Do it all in one gulp,” he advised.

As he tipped his head back he saw Vanessa, blubbering quietly with her head in her hands. The liquid was thick in his mouth, but it did taste like lemon. As he swallowed it down, though, his hands started shaking. He was anticipating the pain.

By the time it actually hit he was doubled over. His heart was already racing, and now his gut was being ripped open. The pain radiated from his stomach to his extremities, then he broke into a sweat. He was in a full on panic.

“I’m dying,” he said out loud. “I’m too young… my body can’t handle this,” he stammered. Then he heard the voices. ’Turn yourself in…You won’t die if you just turn yourself over to the Ancient Ones… This man poisoned you, but the Ancients know how to stop it…’

“Where did you get that stuff from?” he asked. “They made a mistake. It’s… not…”

Hanu couldn’t get his words together. He just had to leave. He pushed through the kitchen doors and ran straight into Harris.

“Harris, I’m sorry, I have to go. I have to get help. I’m turning myself in,” he said, trying to escape the man’s grasp.

Harris grabbed Hanu, hugging him and patting his back. Hanu felt like a baby, but it was just what he needed. He reverted back to his younger self now, allowing himself to be held. His racing thoughts started to calm. He stopped fighting.

“Hanu these guys program us from birth to be dependent on them. They tell you what to think and how to act. It’s a learned reaction to need them in a tough situation,” he said in Hanu’s ear. “Don’t worry, we have a lot of knowledge and experts on our side, too. You won’t die. As a matter of fact, it’s almost over, okay?”

“Okay,” Hanu said, quietly, grabbing Harris now. “Don’t let me go until it’s over.”

After a while Toni burst through the kitchen doors. Hanu pushed Harris away from him. He already felt bad enough for panicking and running out- he didn’t want anyone seeing him coddled.

“The girls are done in here, Harris. Ellie just showed up, too.”

“Come on, Hanu. It’s time to get out of here,” Harris said.

They walked back into the kitchen where the girls were sitting now, bitter faced. The refrigerator was pulled away from the wall, exposing a hidden door, which Toni was unlocking. It revealed a small room. All three walls were lined with wine racks, filled to the top with a variety of bottles.

“I call this my secret stash. It’s where the journey really starts, eh, Harris?” Toni said loudly, slapping Harris on the back. Harris stepped in and pulled a bottle of wine off of the rack.

“You get way too excited about all of this stuff, Toni, you know that?” he said, smirking. Then he flipped a switch on the wall behind where the bottle was and lifted the whole rack, pulling hard. The whole wall moved, opening to reveal a staircase descending to a fowl smelling tunnel. A very pale woman in a brown cloak was climbing the stairs.

“Hi everyone,” she said, giggling nervously. She was a very tall woman, and looked to be a little older than Toni. Her blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail on the side of her head, but Hanu could see that it was thinning. Despite being older, though, she had a very bubbly innocence about her round face.

“So these are our runaways?” she said, whispering ‘runaways’ loudly behind her hand. Hanu wasn’t sure why she was whispering, being as everyone here was in on it. Ellie looked around, smiling, as everyone greeted her in turn.

“Everyone this is Ellie,” Harris said, introducing them. “She’s a ferry.”

Vanessa snickered loudly at this, and everyone turned around.

“Not a fairy, with magic sprinkles, a ferry like something that takes people from one point to another,” Harris clarified. “She’ll be taking you to deprogramming.”

“Oh.”

Ellie smiled and waved enthusiastically at her introduction. “So did you message Paula?” she asked Toni, nodding her head vehemently for confirmation. Hanu wasn’t sure if he should trust this lady with taking them where they needed to go. She seemed… off. But Harris trusted her, and besides, there was no going back now.

“When they arrived, ’bout thirty minutes ago,” Toni said. “She’s expecting you, though. I’ll let her know you’re on your way once you guys get going.”

“If you guys move quickly you should be there by six or so this evening,” Harris said, handing Sadie a bag of food. “Now don’t forget to eat, and when you get there you’ll be able to get plenty of rest, so don’t worry about that. They’ll take good care of you.”

Hanu was suddenly sad to be leaving Harris. He thought about his daughter, and how miserable Harris must be to have lost her. He wondered if Harris was punishing himself by staying here and helping others escape. Maybe he was making it up to her by doing so.

“Thank you for helping us, Harris,” he said. “One day we’ll see you in the Underground, okay?”

“Sure thing, kid. I’ll look out for you,” he said, smiling. Then Ellie clapped her hands together.

“Alright, group, let’s move out! I’m so excited for this adventure. You know, I make this walk all the time, but it’s always so fun seeing new faces,” she went on, smiling brightly and nodding her head. Then she thanked Toni and Harris and started walking down the stairs, gesturing for everyone to follow.

Hanu took one last look around. Two days ago life was perfectly normal. Well, as normal as it could be for someone like him. And now he was walking away from everyone he cared about and everything he knew. Life will never be the same from here on out for him.

He turned around and followed Ellie down the stairs.

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