There’s a Ride waiting for me outside Tech. My dream girl told me it would be there after she disconnected me from my Assistant. After the quick procedure, she let me know it wouldn’t be long before Control discovered the broken link, likely as soon as the technician returned and realized I’m gone. I tried to ask questions, but she wouldn’t allow me to speak. “There’s no time now. Go. Hurry! Find your Ride before you get caught. I don’t have to tell you what happens if you get caught with a disconnected link.”
I hop in the back, close the door. The Ride speaks. Good Afternoon, Mr. Somnian. Your destination has been pre-programmed. Are you ready to depart?
I look back at the entrance to Tech. I can see a squad of guards headed to the doors, most likely looking for me. I can’t go back. “Go!” I shout. “Go, now.” The car pulls off. I look back to see my technician and his goons pour out onto the street.
Getting caught with a severed link is not as simple as having it reconnected. It’s illegal to tamper with the wireless connection between your wetware and your hardware. First of all, it’s proprietary, meaning that any required work has to be done by an authorized technician. There are a few out there that take the risk of jailbreaking their units, but if they ever get caught, we're talking about arrest and interrogation. Many have their units removed and taken away, then promptly dropped into a Red Zone to fend for themselves. It’s not a good life. Without an assistant, it’s nearly impossible to find work. Most major employers look at being able to get in touch with you at all times as imperative.
A few actually get accused of espionage or treason, accused of working on behalf of a foreign government or some shadow organization looking to overthrow the government. Those violators get the most press, their names and faces disseminated throughout traditional and social media, before they disappear, never again to be seen or heard from. The rumor is that these most dangerous of offenders are quietly shipped to Gitmo.
You have arrived at your destination.
Lost in my thoughts and anxiety, I didn’t pay attention to where I was being taken. I unbuckle my seatbelt and look around. I’m on a narrow street lined with tiny rowhouses. I think I’m still in the city, but where? I grasp the door handle when someone opens the driver’s side door and hops in the front. “Don’t move!” says the voice.
“Don’t speak,” she says as she begins to fiddle with the display on the dash. She’s in a hoodie, with the hood pulled up. Only her voice gives her away. I watch as she connects something to the display and gets busy tapping on the screen. “Okay, I’ve disabled all monitoring. We’re in the shadows for the next five minutes. I just have to remove any memory of your trip. It won’t take me long, so get ready to move.”
“Can you explain to me what’s going on?” I ask, solemnly.
“Not right now,” she says, “I’m a little busy.”
I don’t know what else to say. I wait.
“Okay, go now. Hurry.”
We open our doors, almost simultaneously, and hop out.
“This way,” she says. I follow her to an intersecting alley of nothing but connected garages. She turns down that alley and walks to one of the garages, reaches down, turns the oblong knob. The garage door flies up with a pop. Inside is a older car, a pre 21st century Impala. “Hop in,” she says as she opens the driver’s side door and gets in behind the wheel. I open the passenger side door and slide in next to her. By the time I close my door, the engine is running. By the time my seatbelt is on, we’re out of the garage, turning back toward the street we just left. The Ride is gone.
I lurch forward as the Impala stops abruptly. My driver pops the car into park and hops out. I watch her hustle back to the garage, fling its door back down, and hustle back into the car. We’re moving again. My heart feels too big, like it’s about to break through my ribcage. Only once we turn onto a larger street do I realize where we are, somewhere in lower Fells Point, not far from Patterson Park.
We get to Broadway, and neither of us have said a word. At this point, I have so many questions, I don’t know where to begin. Once we cross Broadway, she glances at me. “So, you’re the dreamer?”
“Dreamer? Not that I know of. I mean sure, but we all dream, don’t we?”
“Not quite like you, Solomon.”
She also knows my name. I’m getting tired of meeting people who seem to know me while I know nothing. Her hood is down. I finally get a decent look at her. She’s got a round face, cocoa brown, childlike, save for the scowl. Her hair is just an organic puff of tight curls, like a homemade crown. “Everyone seems to know me today, but I don’t know them. Who are you? What’s going on?”
“Sorry for all the cloak and dagger, Solomon. We have to be careful. We can’t afford for them to find you, now. I’m Asia. As for what’s going on, it’s not up to me to tell you. All I can say is I have to get you into the Red Zone before they track you down." Nothing she said makes my heart any smaller. On the contrary, once she mentioned our destination, my chest only got tighter.
As we approach the entrance to the Red Zone, we stop behind a line of other vehicles waiting to get in, about a block long. “Okay, I need you to hop in the back. Pull that center console down and squeeze through into the trunk.”
I look at her. “Is that really necessary?”
“Well, considering you need to show ID to get in, that you’re not authorized to enter the zone, and that by now, there’s an APB out for you, and you’ll be taken into custody at the gates, you tell me.”
Reluctantly, I undo my seatbelt, slither over the back of my seat onto the back seat, and pull the console down. I lurch as the car moves up the line. “Don’t dawdle,” says Asia. I squeeze my way through and into the dark. I reach an arm back through, grab the strap on the console, and pull it closed as the car lurches forward again.
I’m in pitch blackness for only a few minutes, the car moving along in short lunges, before I can hear muffled voices. I can barely make it out, a male voice asking for identification, Asia complying. The rest of the conversation is inaudible, until the male voice says, “I need to look in your trunk. Pop it!” I immediately start to shake uncontrollably, and am instantly coated in a layer of sweat.
“I can’t just pop it, man. I have to get out to open it.”
“Well then, you better fucking hurry. You’re holding up the line.”
I hear the engine stop, Asia’s door open and shut. I hold my breath, as if that was enough to make me invisible. I hear the key click into the lock, the lock pops, the trunk door squeaks as it opens. Light! None. I’m still in the dark. “We good?” I hear Asia ask.
“Move on.” the male voice replies. I want to breathe, but I can’t. So I try to remember how as I shiver in my now cold sweat. The car starts and we move forward with one last lurch.