November 6, 2028
Though the residents of the camp were technically free to come and go, in order to be allowed to return, they were required to check in and out at the aid stations. The evacuees were tracked with armbands containing a digital ID linked to a particular camp. Leaving one evacuee camp without returning to that same camp would disqualify an evacuee from receiving any future aid. The mysterious interference had allowed Bridge’s group to move in and out of a number of the camps, but he didn’t want to keep relying on that trick.
Shaky Peter had the in with a few of the less altruistic aid workers, which allowed him to pass a few evacuees in and out of the camp without ID checks. Bridge admired the simplicity. Aid workers were usually badly paid. Finding the few with a flexible enough sense of morality to perform whatever ethical gymnastics were required to allow them to profit off their altruism was a simple matter. Whether paid by corporation or government, the pay was just bad enough to encourage creative rule bending.
Leaving a few at a time, the escapees would wander in small packs towards a rendezvous point four blocks away. There they were met by a bakery delivery van. The driver ushered everyone into the back quickly, barely waiting for the last man to close the back door before peeling out. One of the escapees urged the driver to wait for their late friend, but he would have none of it. This coyote was on a schedule and he wasn’t about to deviate from it.
“Feel like I should be passing out tacos,” Stonewall quipped. Bridge raised a questioning glance. “Reminds me of the last time I went home.”
The ride was uncomfortably bouncy, the van’s suspension as tight as a drum, the route taken full of twists and turns. Bridge tried to ascertain their general direction by staring through the windshield, but within minutes was utterly lost. The driver avoided the main highways, sticking to the lower roads of Denver until they reached the outskirts. The lights of urban Denver gradually gave way to the lower lights of the suburbs until with surprising swiftness, darkness swallowed the road whole. Bridge looked to either side of the road. They were still in the suburbs, houses on either side in neat, compact rows, but all the lights were dark. Nothing moved. No streetlights buzzed. No traffic passed. Wherever they were, it was a ghost town.
As the van’s lights began to flicker, it shrieked to a sudden, jarring stop. “Get out,” the driver said sharply.
“Which way?” Bridge asked as he climbed out.
“If you’re smart, you’ll go back the way you came. The first checkpoint’s about a mile that way. I’d suggest going around it. Now shut the fucking door.” The driver made a point of showing the pistol stuck in his waistband. Bridge threw him a mock salute and slammed the door angrily. The vehicle screeched away and just like that the group was alone in the dark. Bridge couldn’t help notice the silence. No buzz of electric air conditioning, no murmur of people and pets and children, no humming undercurrent of street lights, no distant sounds of cars, not even the chirping of birds or crickets or anything living broke the eerie silence. All he could hear was the labored breathing of the people around him.
Bridge could feel something now, something that had been growing more noticeable with each passing block. Something tugged at the jack in his neck. It grew stronger as he walked in one direction and weaker in the opposite direction. Feeling like a needle on a compass, he looked around at the escapees with him and pointed in the right direction. “Yeah, that way.” They all nodded in mute agreement and started walking. Aristotle and Stonewall exchanged uneasy glances. “If anybody gets nicked by the Army or the Rangers or whoever else they got out here, make like you’re just getting out of Boulder. They’ve got to help you get back to the aid stations, I’m sure.” It sounded plausible but based on what he’d seen so far, he wasn’t so sure.
Go to Chapter 11.5
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
November 6, 2028