Echo, Part 17

Despite their misgivings, the operations to remove their chips went fairly smoothly and nearly painlessly.  Veronica’s chip had been in a little longer than Charles’ so hers was a bit tougher to remove but it came out and neither of them were worse for the wear.  A small bandage covered the stitches and scar just above their right temples.  The doctor came, did his work, and left with hardly a word or sideways glance.  Whatever his deal with the system was, he seemed content to simply carry out his task and then depart.  Charles and Veronica were thankful for that.  It was awkward enough having him show up and do the surgery without him wanting to chat about anything.

After the devices had been pulled from their heads, the operator showed them the chips and then destroyed them by dropping them into a jar of acid.  The chips bubbled and dissolved to nothing.  And then he was gone.

They were being given three more days in their current location to recover from the procedure and then they were supposed to get back in the car and they would be driven to their new lives.

Charles and Veronica were both buzzing with excitement.  The prospect of getting to reenter the world had their nerves tingling and their thoughts flying.  The threat of being discovered and arrested still loomed large behind everything else but with each new day that began and they were still free those worries diminished.

They used the recovery time to mostly do that.  They lounged around the house and read stories they’d found on a large bookcase adjacent to the kitchen.  Charles braved the food that had been left in the fridge and cooked a couple fancy meals.  Veronica regaled him with tales of things she had witnessed, heard about, and had happen to her.  Her flair for the dramatic aside, Charles realized that if even half of what she said was true she had good reason to distrust the government and society as a whole.  He we feel the frown tugging at the corners of his lips and then she would smile at him and his worries, his concerns for her alone and the two of them together, would lessen a bit.

It was the second night, before they were potentially leaving the following morning if all went as planned, that Veronica invited Charles into her bed.  Though he was concerned about all the future implications, all the problems a relationship with Veronica could create in their new lives, he went anyway.  They spent the night curled in each other’s arms and chatting back and forth about their dreams for the future.  Some of those dreams were old and half-forgotten in the truths of the world around them.  Some of those dreams were new and shiny and dangerous.  They drifted to sleep sometime before dawn and woke to a voice echoing through the house.

Charles threw the covers off and bounded out of bed, adrenaline burning through him.  They’d been found.  They were going to be caught.

But then he recognized the voice and realized that the system was trying to contact them and was yelling at them from the car parked in the garage.  Veronica had joined him out of the bed and he grabbed her hand.  They quickly went to the garage to hear what the commotion was all about.

Opening the door, Charles heard a hint of relief along with a lot of annoyance in the voice.

“Finally.  We’ve been trying to reach you for a while.”

“We were sleeping.”

“It’s late.  You need to be on the road already.  You were supposed to leave an hour ago.”

Charles, having not looked at a clock in the sudden wake-up and then dash to the car, slid his gaze down to the digital display on the dashboard.  It was late.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept in so long.

“Are we in danger.”

“Not at this time, no.”

Veronica asked, “Then what’s the rush?”

“There is a tight schedule to get you your new credentials today.”

Charles didn’t want to seem ungrateful for all the system had done and was still doing to ensure his freedom but, now that the adrenaline was wearing off, he was getting annoyed.  What was the rush?  Why the urgency?  If they were truly off the grid, why was it so important that they leave at a specific time?  He wanted to ask all of these questions at once and when he opened his mouth his words jumbled up and he couldn’t get one to come out.  Veronica came to his rescue.


Her question was simple and yet still carried the weight of all the questions he’d wanted to ask.  He squeezed her hand to show his appreciation, only then realizing he hadn’t yet let go of it.  She squeezed back and he felt no need to stop the contact.  She didn’t move to pull away either.

The system did not immediately respond and Charles’ annoyance grew.  Understanding that a lot of what he was feeling was likely due to the emotional crash off the adrenaline spike, he took some steadying breaths.   He didn’t feel like being patient but by forcing himself to pause it would get him to the same outcome, allowing the system some additional time to reply.

Veronica did not take steadying breaths.  “Well?  We are waiting?”

“New identifications are not trivial matters.  Getting them is delicate.  Coordinating new identifications across multiple states with a whole slew of people has been beyond complicated.  We understand that you might be feeling off put by the changing plans over the previous week but please be patient with us for this final hurdle.  Once you are established in your safe house with your new credentials we hope to leave you in peace until we are ready to help bring you out of hiding.”

Veronica did not seem impressed with this response and Charles wasn’t either.  This whole ordeal had been one more thing after another and he had little faith that this ‘final hurdle’ would go as smoothly as the system wanted them to believe.  Plus, while he could appreciate that Veronica and he were not the only people the system was helping, he was tired of feeling like they were being jerked around.  The shine had worn of the rescue and now instead of being beholden to the fed it felt like he was beholden to the system.  He wasn’t actually free.

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