Her breath was coming in terrified puffs, causing the baby to squirm and fuss. “Shhhh, shhhh, it’s okay.” Shae whispered as she slowly inched toward the window. Pulling aside the curtain, just a bit, she saw two men walking toward the house. One man was short and stocky, wearing jeans and a hat. The other… her heart lurched.
It was him.
Thinking quickly, she decided to see if there was a crawlspace on the second floor. Shae carefully crept up the stairs as fast as she could, making sure to keep the bottle in the baby’s mouth.
Poking her head into each bedroom, she was about to give up on the crawlspace and hide in a closet when she noticed a small door in the largest room.
Just as she closed the door to the crawlspace, she heard the front door creak open.
“We already checked that old cabin and it was obvious that someone had been living there. I guarantee you they’re nearby. Search the house.” It was a gruff voice that caused prickly terror to spread over Shae, like so many spiders. She hadn’t heard that voice in years, and yet it still caused an almost paralyzing fear to grip her.
Another voice answered. “I’ll search upstairs.”
Heavy boots pounded up the stairs, causing the flimsy walls to rattle. Shae scooted backward on the dusty floor and tucked herself and the baby behind some boxes.
Doors slammed against walls as the short man barged into each room.
Suddenly, the footsteps were coming toward her. She made herself as small as possible, silently petitioning the universe to help the baby stay silent.
The crawlspace door swung open, daylight threatening to illuminate the end of Shae’s foot. The man peered in for a moment, then slammed it shut. “Upstairs is clear!” He shouted.
As dusk fell, the farmhouse rose into view.
Gia blew out a sigh of relief as she reached down to pet Fuzzy, who was lounging on the porch. “At least now I don’t have to brave unknown forest animals in the dark.” She muttered, stepping into the house.
Immediately, she was almost knocked backward as a dusty and disheveled Shae threw her arms around her and sobbed.
Pushing her to arm’s length, Gia smoothed Shae’s blonde hair back from her face and stared at the girl with concern. “Shae! I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Calm down! What’s happened?”
“H-h-he’s h-h-h-ere.” Shae formed the words with difficulty, trying to overcome the shuddering sobs that wracked her body.
“What!?” Gia’s heart began to race. “Where is he? Here?” Her head swung around, as if expecting him to be right behind her.
“H-h-he was here with another m-m-man. They searched the house, b-b-but we hid in the crawlspace. They left.”
“Okay.” Gia began to pace, trying to stay calm and focused. She was more than a little unnerved by the fact that he’d found them. One of the guards must have seen her return from gathering supplies. “I found another abandoned house, this one is near a river. We’ll have to travel more carefully now that they’re here.” Gia rubbed her tired eyes, not sure how long she could keep going on no sleep. “I’d prefer not to be in the forest at night, but I don’t think we’ve much choice. We should leave now.”
Shae and Gia quickly packed their meager belongings and raced through the trees, hoping to reach the new safe house by dawn. Spiderlike fingers of awareness making Gia fear they weren’t the only ones in the forest tonight.
They made it to the safehouse just before dawn, Fuzzy bringing up the rear. Collapsing from exhaustion, everyone slept until evening. Suddenly, Gia sat up in the semi-darkness, startled, feeling as if she’d been awakened by a sound outside.
A shadow passed by the front window, and immediately the front door swung open.
Gia rushed the man in the doorway as Shae, still half asleep, grabbed the baby and stumbled toward the back door. The man was large, though, and easily pinned Gia’s hands behind her back.
“I mean you no harm, woman, please calm down.” The man’s gentle voice belied his size and strength. Earnest brown eyes peered into Gia’s own blue ones, and she saw sincerity. Looking down, she saw Fuzzy rubbing his head on the man’s ankle.
“Okay, please just let me go. Shae,” She turned as he let her go and put up one hand, “stay over there.”
Gia peered around the large man and noticed that he wasn’t alone. There were two more men and three women on the porch.
“Who are you? Where are you from? How did you get here? Do you know of the portals?” The questions tumbled from Gia’s mouth as the enormity of their presence hit her.
“Whoa, whoa.” The man held his hands up. “Let’s slow down a bit. We live here. Not in this house, of course, but in the settlement just east of here.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the settlement. “This house has been abandoned since Dumas and his family decided to go off-world, about six months ago.”
Gia’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Wait, you mean, you were born on this planet?”
“Yes. You weren’t?”
Gia’s story poured out as she spoke to the group, from her accidental discovery of the portals as a child, to the forced upgrades her people were experiencing. And how she and Shae were trying to help Shae’s brother escape.
One of the women was nodding her head, as if she knew exactly what Gia was talking about. “We’ve experienced almost the same thing here. It was discovered that the upgrades were triggering fatal illnesses. We feared it would be the end of humanity.”
“Yes!” Gia exclaimed. “But our government feels they’re ‘acceptable losses’. Trying to create the perfect human.”
“Same here.” Chimed in the other woman. “They couldn’t give up the control they had with the serum, too. Once we learned how to replicate the formula, though, we were able to form an uprising.” She frowned as she continued. “Unfortunately, the resulting war killed billions, and most of the survivors relocated to another planet. We’re an agrarian society, trying to rebuild and connect with the land.” She smiled warmly at Gia, “You’re welcome to stay with us.” Her kind eyes were almost more than Gia could bear, given what she’d been through.
“That would be wonderful,” Gia’s voice was shaking, “but the man searching for us has discovered the portals and he’s here. With weapons! We can’t stay. Our presence puts you in danger.”
The big man let out a short laugh. “You let us take care of him. We’ll hide you on Beta 12 until the situation is under control. We fought too hard and too long to allow this kind of thing to happen again.”Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in