By Jeffrey R. DeRego
The limousine door opens as I run up the street. We’re barreling out of the city before I get it closed and struggle to catch my breath.
Alex Nova hands me a cold bottle of Union Brand Sports Drink. “How’s the arm?” He pokes at the bandages but whatever the nurse did has shut off my pain nerves.
I glare at him and drain the pink sickeningly sweet drink. He’s in a black double-breasted suit with a red handkerchief. I never realized the Luminaries were this much older than me. His hair is dyed yellow but shows silver/gray roots. Crows feet stretch outwards from his piercing blue eyes.
“Good work,” he says, “I read up on the whole contract negotiation thing —”
“You let them arrest me, taze me! I called for an evac and —”
He cocks his head. “You aren’t officially linked to The Union. But you would have been if Darksider had sent a jet to scoop you up.”
“They almost freaking killed me!”
“I was willing to take that risk. When the cops found the kid they had no choice but to return him, unharmed, to his father. That took all the wind out of InterCity’s negotiation tactics. Yet, with a mystery woman to pin the kidnapping on, InterCity looks like heroes. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending. You restored equilibrium to the city. How did you know who had the kid?”
“I took a guess.” I don’t even bother trying to hide the anger in my voice.
He laughs briefly. “I wouldn’t have given you this project if I didn’t trust your instincts.”
“What happened? Where were you? Six months is a long time.”
“You were never too far out of sight.” He pauses and leans in close to whisper, “Josie Juggs. We post-hypnotically prevented you from becoming a burglar, now we know where to expand those suggestions. We had to know what it was like outside. You of all people should know just how bad things are.”
“How do you think the Tribunal will react when they hear my story? How do you think it’ll make you and the rest of The Luminaries look?”
“And what makes you think you’ll be talking to anyone in the Union other than me? Your work is too important to jeopardize with that kind of disclosure. You’re the prototype, the template.” He pauses and grimaces as his face goes flush. “Hand me a water, will you? Maybe I can wash this goddamn heartburn away.”
We ride back to Boston in silence but the car doesn’t pull off into the city.
“Where are we going?”
“Manchester, New Hampshire. Big gang problem there. We’ve already got a place set up for you. New gear too.”
“And if I say no?”
“Antarctica is very, very cold every time of the year.” He stares at me. His face is rock hard.
We pull off the highway. Manchester looks eerily like New Bedford. Same brick factories, same three-deckers. Same streets. The limo stops in front of a nondescript white house in a tenement neighborhood. “Third floor,” he says, “R and R for a couple of months, heal up, get fit, then get back to work.” Nova hands me a key. “We’ll be watching.”
The limo pulls away as I unlock the back door and trudge up the dark stairway to the apartment. It’s nicer than the factory flat, they even furnished this one with a small washer and dryer beside the refrigerator.
I sit on a throw rug in the center of the small living room and listen to the whine of faraway police sirens.
Alone again, I start to sob.
Jeffrey DeRego was born in the seaside city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, one time home to both Fredrick Douglass and Herman Melville. A graduate of New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, He now lives in Derry, New Hampshire, with his children Ian and Margaret and the memory of his beloved wife Cindy. His wildly popular Union Dues stories have appeared in audio format at Escape Pod, and Clonepod. His post award-winning post apocalyptic tales of Pleasant Hollow are available at Tales of The Zombie War. His novels, Escape Clause and Fleas, are available wherever books are sold.
THE END … FOR NOW …