Echo, Part 18

“Can you please move with some haste?  There is still a chance you can get back onto schedule.”

“No.”  Charles was surprised with the conviction in his voice.  He was annoyed, yes, but he wasn’t sure that was enough on its own.  Then he felt the squeeze as Veronica lent him some extra strength and he realized where it had come from.  It was because he wasn’t alone anymore.  Together they were stronger than they had been on their own.

“No?  What do you mean?”

“I mean, we will take our tower.  Shower.  Eat breakfast.  And then we will get in the car and you can send us where you will.”

The line went silent.

Charles looked over to Veronica and she smiling at him.  His heart soared.  How interesting and wonderful it was to have connected with her on such a level when he hadn’t been looking for that connection, when such a thing had seemed the furthest thing from a possibility when they were thrust together.

The voice clicked back on, “Please hurry.”

Charles nodded towards the house and Veronica opened her car door.  They slid out the same side, still holding hands.  As the entered the kitchen, Charles headed towards the fridge but Veronica stopped his progress.  He looked towards her and she arched an eyebrow at Charles and then winked before leading him back into the bedroom.  The bed welcomed them back in an embrace of tangled sheets and disheveled pillows but, as far as Charles was concerned, nothing had ever felt so divine.

When they were done, they went and showered together before making it back to the kitchen.  Charles threw together a large breakfast that they took their time enjoying.  Then one final walk through to see if there was anything worth taking with them, and two hours later, they went back to the car.

“We’re ready,” Charles said while engaging his buckle.

The system did not respond but once Veronica had buckled in a moment later, the garage door opened and the car started.  It moved out in the bright sun of midday and their temporary shelter was quickly left behind.  It hadn’t been much but it had served them well.  He briefly wondered if he would look back on it fondly in the years to come as the place where he had fallen in love.

The car merged onto a freeway that Charles didn’t recognize and he let the landscape fade into the background.  He turned to Veronica to ask her a question but she shook her head and tapped on her ear.  The system was listening.  As long as they were in the car she wanted them to be careful about what they said.  She was right, of course.  Just because the system was helping them  now didn’t mean it always would.  They should be mindful about what information they divulge.  The system already knew a lot about them, was setting up their lives going forward, but that didn’t mean the powers behind the system needed to know everything about them.

“It’s a beautiful day,” she said, winking at him.

Charles looked back outside and agreed, “It really is.”

An hour later the system finally spoke up again, “We have managed to reschedule your rendezvous for the credentials.”

Neither Veronica nor Charles responded.  When the ordeal had first started he would offered his thanks whether he felt grateful or not.  Now he was through with playing the game like that.

Instead, he turned to Veronica and said, “Yep, beautiful day.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed.

The rest of the trip passed in silence.  The car, being controlled by the system, weaved through a network of freeways and city streets that all blurred together for Charles.  He had no idea where they were, where they had come from, or where they were going.  He supposed it didn’t really matter.  He hoped to not need to make a second trip wherever they were going.  One new start was one more than he’d ever thought he’d need.  Then again, with his current strengthening misgivings over the system itself, perhaps it would be wise to be able to figure out how to get new papers on his own.  He started reading the signs they passed and looking for other landmarks he could use.

A few minutes later the car turned a corner and slowed to a stop in front of a restaurant.

“Go inside and ask the greeter to be seated in Walter’s section.  Order what you would like, the food is included in the service fee and we are picking up the cost, of course.”

Charles detected a hint of spite in the voice and once again wondered who or what was behind the system.  Could a computer feel anger?  Could it feel like it had been disrespected by Charles and Veronica earlier?  And if not that system, if there were in fact people helping them behind the code and algorithms, behind the artificial intelligence, then how long would it be before they made a mistake that truly did cost Charles and Veronica and all the others their freedom?

After pausing for a moment, the voice continued, “After you are done with your meal, your new identifications and everything else you need will come with the receipt.  Your waiter will show you to the exit out the rear of the building where a new car will be waiting for you.  The directions to your new home are programmed into it.  Your voices will be used for authentication before it takes you there.  We will do our best to leave you two alone until we have come up with a strategy for getting you your old lives back.  If you have need of us, turn on the system connection in the new car and the line will be opened.  Again, your voices will ensure authentication.  Do you have any questions before you start your new life?”

Veronica exited the vehicle without saying anything.  Charles lingered a moment longer, caught between being ready to start this next chapter and feeling like he should show some gratitude for all that had been done for him.  Then he followed her out without a word.  In the end, he decided that even if wanting to do the right thing was part of why they had helped him and the others, the system had its own agenda and no thanks for necessary for something they chose to do on their own.  He hadn’t asked for their help.

Once he was out of the car, Charles looked around to make sure he would recognize the restaurant again if he needed to get back to it, then he took Veronica’s hand and the two of them walked in.  Their new lives, separate and together, waited.

And, begin:

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