Something about Bullet’s attitude rubbed me the wrong way, so I didn’t make a big effort to hurry. It didn’t matter. Half the people in front of us did.
Travis stood up before I even put my hand on the seat.
It didn’t allow either of us to exit the bus any faster—not with everyone getting up at the same time.
Eventually we did, and instead of being in a line waiting to get out of the bus, we stood next to the door, waiting to pick up our CDPS’s, split into groups, and step into an impossible place.
Why it took as long as it did, I have no idea. We’d been told which groups we were in before we’d even gotten on the bus. Plus it was cold. Standing on a grassy plain in the month of November isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone.
If I’d brought a notebook, I might have taken it out and drawn some of the soldiers, but I hadn’t. They might have confiscated it anyway. They’d told us not to take pictures with our phones.
I had a backup form of entertainment, but I didn’t feel like taking it out just yet.
Next to me in the crowd, Travis bumped me and looked down. Nearly seven feet tall and built like the football player he used to be, he could do that better than most people. “What’s with your purse?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I said, and pretended that looking at the back of the people’s heads was interesting.
About that time Bullet raised his voice again. Standing near the door he said, “Your small group leaders will give you your CDPS’s. And one more thing. I know some of you wore costumes under your clothes. Don’t change except in an emergency. It draws the wrong kind of attention. Trust me. Now let’s get moving.”
Then finally they did get moving, and the small group leaders, all of them near the end of their time in the Stapledon program, got out and started calling people over.
Travis nudged me, “Hey, Tara’s over there.”
I ignored him, but walked along anyway.
Tara, our leader, had unzipped her backpack, and had pulled digital watches out of it. She smiled at us as we walked up. “Rachel, and Travis, I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve got your CDPS’s. Here’s yours.” She put a watch in my hand. “And yours…” She gave one to Travis.
Tara reminded me of a Golden Retriever—she was friendly, energetic, and never seemed to have anything bad to say about anybody. She wasn’t a bad person, but I can only take so much breathless energy.
“Do you all know each other?”
The rest of our group had walked up. I didn’t know either of them, but I’d seen them with Cassie once or twice. Brown skinned with short, black hair, the girl looked like she might be Arabic, or possibly from northern India or Pakistan. She wore a gray, woolen coat that I decided I liked.
Just behind her, a blond, bearded guy in a black trench coat gave a wave. He looked like someone Nick might hang out with.
Tara handed both of them their watches.
To Tara, I said, “I know Travis, but I haven’t met anybody else.”
She zipped up her backpack and put it on her back. Then she said, “Samita and Rodolfo meet Travis and Rachel.”
Almost at the same time Rodolfo said, “Call me Rod,” and Samita said, “You can call me Sam.”
Travis grinned at them, and gave Rod’s shoulder a friendly punch. “You got it.”
The punch knocked Rod a small step back.
Tara reached out and touched my shoulder, and then Samita’s. “They’ve opened the door. Let’s go.”
We followed Bullet and the rest of the group through the door. When the last person stepped through, it locked with solid, metallic clanks.
We walked down the road to the inside wall. Soldiers got out of the way as that chain link door rolled sideways, letting us all walk in at once.
The first thing I noticed was the temperature. It was warm, and not warm for November—it was summer warm.
Then I looked around. Only the concrete wall looked like I expected it to.
Off to our left, two Quonset huts along with three jeeps stood behind a fence. Soldiers stood guard next to the fence, all of them carrying automatic rifles.
Ahead of us ran a long black road. On the right side stood some kind of Chinatown. Signs in big Chinese and English characters advertised groceries, a fish market, clothing stores, and restaurants. The buildings were all at least five stories tall, but looked like they’d been built at least a century ago.
People walked down the sidewalks carrying bags and talking.
Dark, gray buildings lined the other side of the street. The buildings had signs in Cyrillic letters–if they had signs at all. Most didn’t.
I didn’t see any people.
I nudged Travis. “What do you suppose is going on there?”
He stared at them. “I don’t know. You want to go over—”
Tara interrupted him. Pointing down the street, she said, “Oh my God, the bus! Hurry!”
A bus had turned around in front of us—a long, silver bus with words “Infinity City Transit” in white. It was slowing, and we couldn’t do anything but run after it.
It was only once we caught it and got on that I noticed one of the shops on the Chinese side had a sign that said, “Barbershop and Euthanasia Parlor.”
What the hell?