I didn’t move. It didn’t even occur to me that I could. Listening felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. How could anyone argue with that voice? You just wanted to obey it.
I kept facing straight ahead, so I don’t know where Julie came from—just that she came from behind and to the left. I didn’t even know what was on that side of the street because Travis and I had been talking, and apparently neither one of us had been paying enough attention.
She stood in front of Travis and I, looking the two of us over.
She had changed out of the jogging suit I’d seen her in while we’d had lunch. Now that I wasn’t trying to avoid catching her eye, I could tell she looked different than I remembered—different than our Julie. She still had the same basic look—thin face and body, blond, and attractive, but not really beautiful. That’s where the similarities ended. She seemed older. I didn’t think she was much older, but her skin was drier, and she wore a blue suit with pants.
I don’t think I’d ever seen our Julie look that professional. Not that she’d ever looked scruffy, but I’d always pegged her as someone who dressed first of all to make guys look at her. This was different.
I’d have called it progress except in combination with her calculating expression, and the way the suit was worn around the cuffs, I couldn’t quite feel good about it.
It hinted at a harder, and more desperate history.
Plus her hair… OK, and I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of person who picks apart the appearance of people I don’t like, but she’d dyed her hair just short of white. You could tell the difference because her roots were coming in.
The color did not work with her skin, but I couldn’t tell her so. I was too busy “being a good girl and listening to Mommy.”
She shook her head, looking up at me, and then higher to see Travis. “What are the two of you doing here?”
Travis and I both started to explain simultaneously. She held up her hand and said, “Stop. Don’t talk until I say you can talk. I can guess anyway. You’re with Tara. She’s with the Stapledon program. So you’ve got powers. Both of you have powers. That’s interesting. You’ll have to tell me everything later.”
She smirked at us. “Because you will tell me everything. For now, let’s get your group together again. All of you follow me. We’ve got people to meet. Over here.”
We walked past the bus stop and around the corner. Buildings that seemed little more than mirrored glass windows lined the street.
Julie held up her hand, and said, “Everyone stop.”
Traffic passed, but not much of it—less than I might have expected for a four lane road downtown—just a few cars and a bus.
Julie checked her watch, and then pulled her phone out of her purse.
She didn’t dial. Instead, she held it up to her face and said, “Call Blue leader.”
After a moment, she said, “Hi. I’ve got Tara, plus a few more.”
A pause, and then she said more, this time a little louder. “No, you just get Tara. You’re in this for revenge, not profit, right? They’re mine.”
“Okay, okay. It’s your van, and your people are involved, so you can have a cut—ten percent.”
Julie gritted her teeth at whatever came over the phone next. “No. Not thirty. Look, any time I want, I can make your people drive away, take Tara, and sell her too. I’ll get more that way. Don’t kid yourself.”
A long pause followed. I came to myself just a little. I began to think. She hadn’t told me not to phase out. If I phased out enough, maybe I’d be able avoid hearing her next command.
I was beginning to push myself to try it when Julie checked her watch again. “Fuck!”
She pulled the phone away from her mouth. “No one move! Don’t do anything I didn’t tell you to do!”
So I stopped.
I’d like to say that some inner part of me was screaming, that it rebelled against being ordered around by someone outside me, but it’s not true. At that moment, following orders sounded like a good idea.
I couldn’t even manage to think enough to try to find loopholes, and I desperately wish I could have. The idea that someone should have that kind of power over someone else is simply wrong.
Julie put the phone next to her mouth again. “OK. Twenty percent, but no more. OK? Good. Then come pick us up.”
She clicked on the phone, and put it back into her purse.
“You’ll all be very happy to know that I’ve made arrangements for us to leave. Before the van comes, I’d like all of you to take off your CDPS’s, and throw them next to the wall there. Don’t throw them anywhere near me, or hard enough to go through the window.”
I unstrapped it from my wrist, and threw it. It hit the window, and slid down to the concrete sidewalk. Everyone else did exactly the same.
When a blue van slowed, and stopped next to us, one of the True stepped out. His uniform had blue accents on it.
“Step inside,” Julie told us.