THE GETAWAY Six-month-old Jon, dressed in his onesie and wrapped in a small blue blanket squirmed in Ellie’s arms. The alarms are too loud. He’s going to cry. Through the open door, she watched as
Six-month-old Jon, dressed in his onesie and wrapped in a small blue blanket squirmed in Ellie’s arms. The alarms are too loud. He’s going to cry. Through the open door, she watched as other inhabitants of Station Okaasan emerged from their evenly spaced quarters on either side of the polished walkway curving off into the distance. Ellie knew the hall would eventually circle back to the cramped space where she lived with her parents, but as her father had explained, it would take more than an hour to make the roundtrip. They had never let her walk it by herself.
The glow of the recessed lighting in the hallway flashed red. Hidden speakers barked the warning This is a Level Five evacuation. Please move quickly to the docks, over and over. Ellie fought the crowd, holding Jon tightly, moving carefully through the growing number of people flooding the hallway. At four feet tall, she was one of the smaller ones of her group and was able to squeeze through legs and carryalls rolling behind their owners. There’d never been a complaint from her parents about her size.
Residents, dressed in pajamas, moved toward the main elevator shaft located on the other side of the station. Its lift would take them to Level 82 and the docks. Her father, an Identity Inspector, would be waiting there. She felt something she couldn’t identify, pride maybe, and imagined him guiding people to their escape pods as they exited the elevator with their passes.
She’d forgotten to bring their passes. Clutching Jon with one arm, Ellie patted her pajama pockets. She didn’t have them. Jon gurgled and drooled as if he agreed. Ellie turned and forced her way back through the crowd to their apartment. Just this morning, her mom had checked and updated Jon’s identity pass.
“Most people never need them, Ellie,” she’d said. “They’re for emergencies and contain important information about our lives. Who we are, how much money we have, what we’re allowed to own, where we can go. It’s all on these cards”. She showed Ellie the blue, zippered pouch then put it on top of the refrigerator. “We’ll keep yours and Jon’s here. If you have to leave in a hurry, you’ll know where they are.”
Ellie pushed toward her door, she could see it again, and weaved to the entry panel beside it. The noise of the alarm seemed to grow louder and the red lights brighter. She punched in the code and entered, sat Jon on the floor and moved a chair in front of the refrigerator. On top of the appliance, her small fingers moved through the dust until she found the pouch. She pulled it to her.
That’s funny. It feels heavier than before. While still on the chair, she unzipped the pouch and saw their flat yellow identity cards. She unzipped it further and saw her mom had added small tubes of liquid and several days’ worth of edible papers, folded flat. Ah, that’s it. Her mother had added supplies. Ellie didn’t notice the black felt bag nestled at the bottom, the other item her mother had put in the pouch.
Ellie zipped it shut then looped the cord around her neck and thought of her mom on Level-Fifteen, ten floors above in the energy collection rooms, checking and cleaning solar panels. Her mom loved the work, the silence, and the view through the clear walls into space.
“But what do you doooo?” Ellie’d asked her once.
“I dust. The universe is dusty, Ellie,” her mother had said. “There’s dust everywhere you go, even in space. Little pieces of us fall off. They make a mess and get into all the little cracks. It’s not good for our station. I keep the solar panels clean by dusting them.”
“And on earth? Is there dust there?”
“Oh yes. There’s quite a bit of dust on earth,” her mother had answered. Then she’d laughed while she moved a soft blue cloth across a panel’s flat, shiny surface. “There’s lots and lots of dust on Earth.”
By now the corridor was packed and the alarms seemed louder with the hallway filled with people. Please make your way to the docks-Please make your way to the docks repeated again and again. Ellie, with Jon back in her arms, entered the stream moving toward the elevators. A man pushed her out of the way and she stumbled into a woman pulling her own young child by the hand. The woman had a pouch looped around her neck like Ellie. Ellie felt the weight of her brother in her arms and knew this was a real emergency and not a game. Something shifted in her mind. The station was evacuating. Her paced slowed and several people behind her began to shout.
“Move it!” “Get out of the way!”
She stopped and closed her eyes. I must protect Jon. She thought of options as the crowd bumped and pushed around her. Fear wasn’t a choice, though she looked scared. Her muscles refused to move until she came up with a good plan to protect Jon.
Meanwhile…Fotios Greasen blended into the crowd like a shadow in a dark room. It would be difficult for the Fleet to pick him out of the surveillance footage from the crowd later, providing the station still existed. A sniffer-bot must have picked up traces of the explosives he’d scattered throughout the platform and tripped that obnoxious alarm. He checked his watch and his lips formed a thin line. The package must be captured or eliminated.
His lifeless dark eyes scanned the pulsing crowd, now fully clogging the hallway as they tried to push their way to the elevators. This is going to be close. Fotios had tracked the package for six months, too long to give up now. In his line of work, a close call was fair trade for what he wanted. Check that—for what his employer wanted. He pushed his way down the hallway, watching the red dot on his handheld. What he’d searched for, killed for, was a hundred and twenty meters ahead.
He was close.
“You’ve got to move, dear, or you’ll be trampled. Come on, I’ll walk with you.” Ellie recognized Aunt Jem’s voice before she looked up at the tall woman dressed in a utility uniform like her mother’s.
“I want to see mom,” Ellie said after a quick hug. The force of the crowd moved them down the hallway. Jem nodded and reached down to stroke Ellie’s back.
“I’ll walk with you to the elevators.”
Jem kept her hand on Ellie’s back, helping her stay focused as they waded through the river of people, sometimes guiding her to the left or right. Ellie whispered into Jon’s ear she’s taller than me and can see better. Hold on. We’re going to see mom.
The woman’s touch was comforting, and Ellie was less confused with an adult present. Jon wailed, and Ellie held her brother tighter. More residents pushed out of their quarters into the hallway and their pace slowed. Ellie counted doors as they passed. She was up to eighty. Forty if she only counted one side.
“I’m tired Aunt Jem.”
Jem patted Ellie’s back and said, “Just a little further.”
“Nooooo. I want to rest. Let’s go in there.” Ellie nodded at a door up ahead on the right. Its label read “185T-L5 – Quiet Area – Children and Minders Only – No Signals”. Each level had a similar room for the children.
“We’ve passed forty doors. It’s another two hundred and thirty to the elevators,” Ellie said. “Four hundred and sixty if you count by twos.”
“How do you know that,” Jem asked.
“I dunno. I just do.”
“We should keep moving, Ellie.”
Jon cried loudly and Ellie said, “But I’m soooo tired. And Jon’s too heavy.”
“All right,” Jem said. “But only for a minute.” She looked behind her and scanned the crowd. Ellie noticed.
“What are you looking for?”
“Someone I know, that’s all. Come on now. Let’s get inside.”
Ellie watched as Jem put her thumb on the print reader and the doors slid open. Ellie longed for next year when she could come alone, without a minder. Her parents said, “Next year, Ellie, next year.” They’d said that every year for as long as she could remember. Ellie wanted to put her own thumb on the small glass reader.
The door swooshed shut behind them.
“Rest,” Jem said. “But just for a minute.”
On the wall were large shutters. The playground monitor, Mrs. Jasper, opened them while the children rested, eyes front, a nutrition wire attached to each wrist as they lay side-by-side in straight rows on their mats. Ellie was older and allowed to sit by Mrs. Jasper who’d point and pick out the stars in the void beyond the walls. Ellie had learned them all.
Her Aunt Jem picked up a wire, bigger than a normal lead and wrapped its Velcro band around Ellie’s wrist. Ellie turned to her and said, “Watch this.” She pushed a button on the desk beside them and the panels began to shift. As they parted and slid behind each other, Ellie and Jem could see outside the station into the darkness of space. Jem uttered “oh…” as the first escape pods raced away. The distance to the next Platform, Otousan, was too far without a hyper drive. Platforms were isolated from each other in case of outbreaks. Escape pods were only good for waiting until the authorities arrived with a fleet cruiser for pick up, if they came at all.
“Ellie, we have to go.”
To Be Continued…
Check out The Getaway: Part 2 for this stories exciting conclusion.