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Chapter 5

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Ger tried to help Isla clamber down from the ventilation shaft but she was having nothing doing. Pushing past him, she staggered out onto the rooftop. Rain fell still in a toxic curtain as Ger shrugged and raced to cover under the overhanging stairwell entrance leading down.

He scanned the rooftop rattling the handle of the door leading out. Locked. How are we gonna get outta here? ‘It’s locked.’

‘Thanks, I guess.’ said Isla as she hip-bumped him out of the way trying to open the door to the stairwell. Her thumb popped up and down on the latch. Told you.

‘Yeah, You’re right. It’s locked,’ she said as she lashed out at the metal door. Her steel toe Doc Martens clunked against the metal as Ger paled at sound of the kick. Echoes of her strike rumbled through the night.

‘Don’t help us any, GNGR. It’s not like anyone’s looking for us.’

Water dripped from Isla’s hair as she started to shiver. Up here on the roof of The Emporium the wind cut through sharply blowing hard against the night.

‘Isla, it's Isla, I told you. Not GNGR.’

‘You’ll always be GNGR to me.’

Ger pointed at her wet hair and she smacked his hand away.

‘What?, Ger protested. ‘It’s the color of your hair. K?’

‘How are we gonna get off this roof, already? I’m freezing?’

Ger clucked his tongue thinking. Moving to the door, he mashed the latch again and darted about for a keypad.

‘Hey, I got us this far. We could hang out here for a bit and then drop back down when the cop 'bots have split and then get out when everyone’s busy with business. No one will recognize us.’

Isla slumped to the ground zipping up her jacket. Miserable.

‘How’d you know about that ventilation shaft?’

Ger shrugged. He always had an exit strategy and one of the first things he did at any location was to map a way out in case of emergencies. If he’d learned one thing, it was to always know how to get out. Anywhere. Anytime.

‘Prep. I’d scoped it out before and it was my bolt-hole in case of emergencies. Like now.’ He looked around and slumped down next to the angry girl.

Even mad and wet, she still looked great — and this close, for the first time, he could smell whatever perfume she was wearing. Fruity. Like bubblegum or some kind of flower.

‘Look, it could be worse,’ started Ger. ‘At least we didn’t get arrested, and we can stay here safe and it’s not that bad,’

‘I’m already cold.’ Glaring at Ger, Isla pulled her comm-link from her bag and started texting. Ger grabbed her device and flipped it over.

‘Hey, I was using that.’

Ignoring her, he popped open the case snagging the chip-card inside. He snapped it in two and tossed the communicator back to her.

’Dude. Trackers. If they know who you are, they can track you.’

Isla punched Ger in the arm — hard.

‘How are they gonna know who I am, spaz?’

Ger rubbed his arm as he stared out into the rain.

‘You swiped to get into the club, right?’

Isla nodded.

‘Right about now, they’re cross-checking the records and the people in there. When they come across you, and can’t find you — they’re gonna trace you.’

‘What about you?’

‘What about me,’ snapped Ger. ‘I’m a ghost. My card is encrypted. I don’t exist.’

‘Why?’ asked Isla.

Ger pushed out into the rain, not answering her, walking to the edge of the building.

From this vantage point he could see the teeming street below and the authority wagon parked in front of The Emporium. Sirens sounded in the distance. A lot of heat incoming.

The back of the large police vehicle was open and two metal tracking dogs loped out of the van. HT’s. They’ve got HT’s.

‘HT’s. HT’s… we gotta move.’

Isla looked puzzled. ‘What are you talking about?’

Ger dashed to her side and pulled her out into the rain.

‘Hunter-Trackers. Robo Dogs. These things don’t give up. They must really be pissed. We gotta bounce.’

Isla paled as she raced to the side and sneaked a peek over the edge.

Shining in the rain, the two mechanical dogs glistened as they stepped inside the club. Even from up here, she could hear the screams of the customers inside as the mechanical beasts padded inside and everyone got a first look at them.

BANG! A loud noise sounded from deep within the ventilation shaft.Ger raced across the rooftop to Isla.

‘GNGR, we gotta go.’

‘Where?’

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

Staccato hammer-blows sounded from the inside of the shaft.

Getting faster. Getting closer. The HT’s! They must have got a lock on the chip before I PWN’d it.

Ger pushed across the slippery roof as Isla followed. We are so trashed. So trashed. If they find my VPN, they’ll know I was hacking and that’s gonna be cube time now. I’m not a little kid anymore.

‘There.’

Isla stood looking out opposite the building next to where they were.

Standing wet and forlorn across from them, the next roof was only six feet away — but it was ten stories up. It was a jump anyone could make on the ground. But up here, any slip could be fatal.

Ger stared at Isla. ‘You’re kidding, right?’

Stepping back, Isla took a deep-breath and ran towards the building edge. She flew through the air and neatly landed on the other side — and kept going. Ditching me? No, I don’t think so.

Ger took three deep breaths and ran towards the edge of the building too. Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.

He leapt up and out into space and closed his eyes as he arched onto the next roof, slipping hard on landing and splashing to a stop.Looking about, Isla was nowhere to be seen. Great. I save her from the cops and then she bails on me. Perfect.

<ARRRH! ARRH! ARRRH! YOU ARE UNDER ARREST. DO NOT MOVE>

Ger spun to see a bristling metallic HT poking out through the ventilation shaft — its snout snapping to get his attention. Razor sharp steel teeth clanged twice to show the strength of the police dog. It pushed itself out onto the rooftop opposite Ger and faced him down.

Ger froze on the spot. Unsure of what to do. His heart hammering in his chest.

‘Ger! Over here!’

Isla was vaulting over the edge of the roof climbing down an old steel fire-escape. ‘Hurry Up.’

Ger didn’t have to be told again as he shot over to Isla on fear-stoked overdrive. Behind him, the lumbering HT started up an ear-piercing siren and immediately began to give chase.

Leaping over the distance between the two buildings with ease — lasering in on Isla. Fast.

<ANDERSON, ISLA. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE CIVIC INTERNET ACT. >

It was Isla they were after, not me?

Ger slipped over the side of the wet building, his feet sliding on the slick steel fire-escape.

Isla was already a level below and was booking fast.

‘Isla, Go! Go! It’s after you! Don’t stop.’

Ger shot after her as he grasped the wet handrail and pushed himself down the stairs, his feet clanging every step. Fear drove him forward as he tried to keep up with Isla.

<ANDERSON, ISLA. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE CIVIC INTERNET ACT. >

Above, Ger, the HT reared as it stopped at the edge of the roof. Reaching out a metal paw in an attempt to navigate the closely packed stairs, it slipped and fell to one side howling in frustration.

It can’t use the stairs. It can’t get down.

Ger pushed himself faster on the fire-escape. Seven. Six. Five

‘Isla, hold up. It can’t get down.’

Ahead of him, now two levels away, Isla thundered to a stop, panting, clearly out of breath. Clouds of steam billowing from her in the rain-soaked night, her eyes wild in fright. Ger flew down to her — unable to slow himself in his mad rush to catch up.

His feet sliding out from under him as he tried to slow his descent.

<FREILING, GERALD. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE CIVIC INTERNET ACT. >

The HT was back on its feet and leaning over the railing above. A bright searchlight shone from the head of the tracker and blinded Ger as he looked back.

Ger turned to see the HT. What? Me? How do you know who I am?

The searchlight switched to dazzle — pulsing bright in crowd pacification mode, creating a flash of light over and over in a frenetic disco-gone-mad light display. Blinded, he smashed directly into Isla knocking her over the edge as Ger flew over the guard rail out into the street below.

Isla hung from the wet handrail kicking frantically into thin air. Rain thundered down on her. I’m going to die. I’m going to die.

Above her, the bright flashing light of the HT continued to pulse, blinding her. I can’t hold on. I’m going to fall.

She screamed in terror as her fingers slipped from the rail and she fell into the alley below.

THUMP!

Am I dead?

Isla opened her eyes, finding herself buried inside a large shipping container of crushed wet cardboard boxes. Lying next to her, Ger was sprawled face down in the soggy garbage.

‘Ger! Ger! Are you okay?’

<ARRH! ARRH! ANDERSON, ISLA. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE CIVIC INTERNET ACT.  REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE.>

Isla looked up as the HT moved off the rooftop heading back downstairs.

‘Ger, wake up. Wake up.’

She shook him hoping to get a response. Anything.

‘Wake me up at ten, Mom. I’m gonna sleep in,’ Ger muttered from beneath her.

‘Dude, wake up. We gotta go.’

Ger turned and smiled at Isla. Who is this guy? Even now, wet, smelling like garbage — he’s got a lovely smile. What’s with that?

‘Where’s the HT,’ Ger asked as he shook himself awake.

Groaning as he dragged himself up, Isla winced as she clambered over the side of the container.

They both fell to the street looking for the HT’s.

Distant sirens sounded, moving closer to them.

‘C’mon,’ said Ger. ‘I gotta place we can chill and figure out what to do.’

‘I gotta call my Mom or something. This has gotten way out of hand.’

‘Really? You think so,’ muttered Ger as he staggered off into the alley.

A locked-chain link fence stopped off-world squatters from using this alley and the cardboard that saved their lives was a valuable commodity today. Isla was amazed that they had made it down in one piece and her heart-rate was off the charts.

‘Look, I booked a coffin a few blocks away and we can get dry and figure out how to handle this. They’ve got your name — and my real name somehow, so we gotta have a game-plan. You don’t want to go inside without a plan.’

‘Go inside?’ quaked Isla. OMG he’s talking about cube time. I can’t do jail. That’s crazy. I haven’t done anything wrong.

Isla followed Ger out to the fence as he started to climb over the chainlink. Razor-wire topped the fence as Isla watched from below.

As he reached the top, Ger rolled out of his jacket and used it to push down the sharp barbs on top making a clear pathway over.

Shivering in the rain, he reached down to Isla offering her a hand up.She grabbed his hand as he pulled her up and over the barricade and she swiftly slide down the other side.

Ger dragged himself over dragging his jacker behind him tearing holes in it. Ouch.

The sharp barbs tagged his skin and Isla could see the weals of blood scratched in his pale body. He dropped alongside her, shivering in the rain, his teeth chattering. Ger stripped off his jacket to get them both over the barbed-wire? Who does that?

‘You okay? That was smart, Ger.’

He shrugged, looking away, his head dipping. Not used to compliments, I guess.

She watched him doing the math in his head when he looked up. Eyes blazing. He’d made a decision.

‘I’m going, Isla. I gotta get out of this rain — I’m freezing — and I’m not going back inside anywhere. You don’t want to either. Trust me. Let me help you figure a way out of this and we’ll both be better off. Or you can go home, right now. I’m sure there’s already a car at your place and your folks are being questioned by the cops. It’s up to you.’

Isla froze, her heart pounding, palms clammy. I don’t know what to do.

Ger sighed and turned. Walking off. Making the decision for her.

Isla’s breath caught. She had to do something. 

He’s right. There’s probably a droid or two with Mom right now and I can’t even call her. But I don’t know this guy — and he wants me to go up to his coffin.

Ahead of her, Ger stopped and smiled at her. ‘I’m offering you a vid-call home if you want and a chance to get warm. They’ve got decent vending there and we can figure out what to do next. No funny stuff. I promise.’

Isla weighed her options. Ger didn’t strike her as the kind to take advantage. I could take him if I had to.

Behind them, the sound of sirens breached the night as Isla’s decision was made for her.

She raced off after Ger losing herself in the street ahead crowded with Megacity citizens.

 

The Nagatomi still stank of old burnt plastic and skanky fire retardent on their floor. 

Ger had booked his coffin there knowing that the fire damage and waste water would make it less desirable for those used to booking the capsule-like rooms. Isla had seen the tiny rental pods on broadcasts but had never been in one before — especially with a guy she barely knew. She pushed herself into the corner of the tiny sleeping area and watched as Ger plugged his VPN into the computer link. He looks as tired as I feel. I’m exhausted and I’ve got to call home. If I don’t, Mom is gonna totally lose it and I’m already in enough trouble.

‘Okay, it’s done. I’ve hooked up the router and blanked the screen so your Mom can’t see where you are. You can call her from here when I take a shower. Don’t tell her where you are, okay. It’ll only go bad — for both of us. Just tell her that the comm-link got broken and that you’ll be home soon. If a cop droid comes on, hang up. Okay?

Isla nodded, clutching her knees to her chest. Watching Ger with quick, doe eyes.

‘Relax,’ he smiled. ‘It’ll be okay. Tell ’em the VPN was mine or that you didn’t know it was on the computer and you’ll be fine. Blame me. I’m gonna  ghost anyway.

Ger slip off the bunk and dropped into the soggy hall. This level of the coffin hotel was still technically closed — but Ger had slipped them into a capsule two floors above the one he had actually booked. Nobody would notice them here.

Isla watched Ger limp off down the hall and she dragged herself over to the computer. She felt horrible, aching and tired but most of all scared. Hands trembling, she tapped in her her home contact info and waited for the connection. Mom must have been sitting by the comm-link. Inside the coffin, Marta’s panicked voice echoed as Isla breathed slowly trying to keep her own fear at bay.

‘Isla — is that you. Isla?’

‘Hi, Mom. Yeah, it’s me…’

Isla could see her Mother in her mind’s eye, pacing back and forth in the empty living room, worried sick.Tears burst from Isla as she stammered her reassurance.

‘It’s okay, Mom. I’m okay.’

‘The police were here, Isla. The police. They said that you were talking with that terrorist  and then resisted arrest. Did you do all this? Why can’t I see you? Where are you?

‘My comm get broken, Mom. I… dropped it in the rain and then it got stepped on.’

‘Oh, honey. You’ve got to be more careful. Where are you? When are you coming home?’

Isla paused.

What I say now would make a huge difference. She didn’t want to blame Ger and she didn’t want to get in trouble herself, or end up in jail or being re-educated. Stammering, she took three deep breaths, and started to lie. Not like it’s the first time.

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