What do you do when you’re being hunted?(8)
Aisleigh was making spaghetti and meatballs when she found the boy in her cupboard.
He was skinny, probably too skinny, and he was staring at her with wide, terrified eyes. He’d probably thought he was safe in the canning pantry. Certainly, everything in there had enough dust on it.
“What are you–” She dropped her voice as she heard the unmistakable sounds of the Force outside. Working on an instinct she hadn’t had to use in a long time, she closed the pantry door, taking only the tomato sauce she’d been looking for.
The Force was moving from door to door. She could hear their radios, the hearty chatter that was half-casual, half-intimidation, the way their boots hit on the sidewalk. Her hands were shaking; she reminded herself, carefully, that she was a legal citizen now. That she obeyed the law, paid her taxes, and owned her home outright. There was very little the Force could do to her, and she had cameras installed on her front and back door and the large windows, just to be sure they remembered that.
The knock on her door came while she was seasoning the sauce. She waited until she’d gotten just the right amount of parsley and oregano into the sauce and turned the burner off before she answered, wiping her hands on her apron.
She didn’t look like a threat, she knew. Even as a young woman, she hadn’t looked like a threat. It had served her well against the Force’s predecessors; she hoped it would serve her well now. “Sorry, I was in the kit- oh, hello, officers. Nothing’s wrong, I hope?”
She had a premature streak of white in her hair that she hadn’t dyed over, and she was wearing a ruffled apron over sweat pants and a Metallica T-shirt; she did not look like a soldier and she did not look like an easy lay. They barely glanced at her. “Looking for a fugitive, ma’am. Have you seen any? Just about 6’4″ tall, armed. Injured a Force Officer.”
Good for him. “Oh, no, I haven’t seen anyone that tall around here. Is he a runaway sub? I hear that happens some times…”
“Nothing to worry about, ma’am. Let us know if you see him.”
“Oh, but if there’s someone dangerous – you said armed, didn’t you? – then we really ought to know what’s going on in our neighborhood.”
She saw the moment the lead officer utterly dismissed her as one of those. People who said “really ought to” never actually did anything.
“It’s nothing at all to worry about,” he repeated. “Johnson, O’Malley, with me.”
Aisleigh waited until the sounds of them had passed the next three houses. She put the finishing touches on her sauce and dished it up with her pasta – one plate, but a large one. She “accidentally” pushed the complex 17-button sequence that deleted the last 24 hours of footage from all of her security cameras, and then the 24-key sequence that deleted that backup. She closed the curtains on the one window she’d kept open to let the sun in. And then she pulled a large, flat jewelry box from her safe.
It had been a while. Fifteen, no, eighteen years since she moved to Clinton. Three years since her last sub had moved on to other things. This wasn’t quite how she’d found the last one…
…he’d actually been running away when he ran into her.
She opened the pantry door and passed the box inside. “I’m not asking questions yet.” Her voice was quiet. Just because she’d swept for listening devices last week didn’t mean there wasn’t one she’d missed. “But you pissed the Force right off.”
She closed the cabinet and set the table. Normally, she’d eat in front of the TV, but company, even company in your pantry, meant doing things right. She sat down at the head of the table and counted to ten.
On nine, her pantry opened, and the boy emerged. He really was tall, and far too skinny, and, aside from that, quite good looking, in a pretty sort of way.
He took a look at the kneeler set beside Aisleigh’s chair. He was still carrying the box, glancing between it and the kneeler. Slowly, as if fighting against himself, he knelt.
“The thing to do when you are being hunted–” She had his attention already. She knew her voice sounded like a different person than had answered the door to the Force. She felt like a different person. “When you are being hunted,” she repeated, and watched him flinch, “you need to lie low for as long as possible. Predators can be very patient. But after a while, even they wander off in search of juicy prey.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. He opened the box and looked down at the silver collar sitting there, and the small matching rings that would fit Aisleigh’s ring fingers.
Aisleigh continued. “As a sub, you don’t exist legally. No paperwork, no name, no taxes. As a sub, you’re entirely off the radar – for as long as you need. When you’re being hunted,” she repeated, “you need to become invisible.”
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