The Rebellious Slave Ch. 21byHisPet21©
Author's Note: Thanks, as always, for all of your comments, suggestions, criticism, and ratings. They are appreciated and help me immensely. Seriously, keep the constructive criticism coming full blast! While the last chapter was rather short and mundane, I am now back to writing longer, more in depth chapters. I hope you enjoy the story, and let me know your thoughts.
Kara looked about her carefully, taking in the cramped contents of the van. There was hardly enough space for Kara and her three companions, so she was none too pleased that Mr. Cross' escorts had decided to toss a few boxes of supplies in with them. As it was, Kara had a hard time getting comfortable and finally settled on sitting with her knees hugged against her chest and her feet pressed against the crate in front of her. Once situated, Kara forced herself to take several deep breathes and relax into the confines of the van. It vaguely occurred to her that she was ending up in small, cramped spaces far too often these days. First, she'd been confined to a cell in Bremmington, then to an examination table during her memory enhancement, and now this. With a low grumble, Kara pressed herself into the side of the van and tried to curl up into a ball, so as to conserve heat. The plastic like material of the floor sapped the warmth right out of her and there was a draft coming in from one of the windows.
God, Kara hated those windows. Sure, they were tinted, but they still made her feel naked and exposed. Perhaps a flaw in the tinting would reveal her face to a guard at a security checkpoint or even to a pedestrian who recognized her from the evening news. True, she hadn't minded peeking out of the window on the way to Mr. Cross' sanctuary, but that had been earlier in the day when very few people were up and about. Once they left the warehouse, it would be midday and much busier. Not to mention the fact that they'd have to pass through a checkpoint to leave the city. Maybe if she tucked her head in a little, Kara could duck below the windows. It was worth trying, at least. But just as Kara was about to shift position, she heard a slight commotion outside and Greenwood—his face beet red—was crawling into the van with her.
"You have got to help me," Greenwood whispered hoarsely, situating himself across from Kara. It was impossible to see him with the crate in her way, but she could hear the anxiety in his voice and knew that he was embarrassed about something. "Seriously," Greenwood pleaded, bringing his knees up to his chest. "I am going to get roofied on this trip. I just know it. All of the women are after me. I mean, I'm not bad looking if I do say so myself. Still, you'd think the women could control themselves."
The tone in Greenwood's voice told Kara that he was half serious and she laughed, the outburst totally unexpected. "I'm sure it's not that bad, Greenwood," Kara chuckled, glad to have her mind taken off the cramped space and van windows, even if just for a moment. "What happened?"
"That elderly woman came onto me!" Greenwood cried, peering at Kara from over the top of the crate between them. "She slapped my butt, and she didn't even ask me if it was okay!" This time, Kara erupted into peals of uncontrollable laughter and almost fell over onto her side. The double could be a jokester at times, but she'd never thought of him as shy or prudish. "It isn't funny!" Greenwood insisted, his voice low. "And then Alyssa went and did the same thing, right in front of everyone! Promise me you'll watch my back and I'll make sure that Ben keeps his distance. Deal?" But when Alyssa and then Ben crawled into the back of the van, the double agent quickly shut his mouth and shifted back into position.
"Alrighty, ladies and gentlemen, here's the deal," Mrs. Timmons began, poking her head into the back end of the van and looking very slightly flushed. "In order to exit the city, we'll need to pass through a security checkpoint and thanks to you four, the guards are better armed and more riled up than usual." With a flourish, Mrs. Timmons tossed a black tarp into the van and watched as Ben caught it midair, confused. "When we reach the checkpoint, drape that thing over you," Mrs. Timmons explained. "We paid a guy off to look the other way. Not cheap, when the bounty on your heads is a whopping two million. As required by law, he'll have to do a thorough inspection of the van and that includes looking under the tarp, but don't panic. He'll ignore you and wave us through. The tarp will ensure that the security cameras at the checkpoint don't accidentally catch a glimpse of you when the back end gets opened up. Got it?"
But without even bothering to wait for questions, Mrs. Timmons locked the fugitives away and they were off, driving once more through Capital City. Kara could feel her heart tingling with excitement as they passed out of the diseased, distrustful portion of town and onto a major highway. The speed of the vehicle underneath her reminded Kara of a freedom that wasn't too far off, yet the fear of recapture still lingered in her mind and poisoned her thoughts, creating a constant backdrop of anxiety that she couldn't seem to shake. To try and distract herself from evil thoughts, she risked a glance out the window and looked with awe at the cars beside them as they whizzed by. Soon, the van had exited onto a busy street in the West Shopping District of Capital City and Kara imagined herself amid the flood of people glancing in on fancy window displays and purchasing treats from food vendors. It was remarkable to Kara that in just a few short days, she might be shopping in Nardia's capital, Nulme. But as the van stopped behind a long line of cars waiting to leave the city, Kara ducked down below the window panes.
The line was obscenely long and Kara groaned. The more time Kara and her companions spent in the city, the greater the risk of discovery and recapture. Clearly, security had been greatly increased since the fugitives' escape and the guards present were conducting more thorough searchers of each passing vehicle, resulting in a longer wait period. Up ahead, Kara could hear one particularly disgruntled citizen complaining loudly about the wait and being reprimanded for it. Curious, Kara peeked once more over the window ledge and saw several armed guards—rifles poised over their shoulders—marching along the line of cars and looking into them, occasionally stopping to open a trunk or talk to a driver. There were dobermans too, straining against their leashes and sniffing the air warily. As soon as she'd looked, Kara wished she hadn't and swallowed hard.
"Alright, then," Ben began authoritatively, and Kara almost jumped from the sudden noise. "I suppose it's time to get ourselves situated, don't you think?" With that, Ben spread out the black tarp and handed a hunk of the fabric to Alyssa and Greenwood, so that they could drape part of it over themselves. Once finished, he turned toward Kara with a friendly smile and offered her one corner of the large sheet. "You too," Ben insisted. "And then all we have to do is lay low and stay quiet." But when Kara didn't respond right away, clearly nervous, he paused. "I promise we are going to be fine," Ben offered, his tone revealing more confidence than he felt. "Just a little while longer and we'll be out of the city."
Kara nodded quietly, hardly daring to breath with all of the commotion outside. Tentatively, she lifted a corner of the sheet and tried to drape it over herself, but found it impossible. While in the seated position, Kara couldn't seem to get her entire body under the covering. Frustrated, she tried to reorient herself, but was still exposed. The tarp left her entire right side open to prying eyes. Then Kara felt Ben's hands on her shoulders and realized that he intended to help her out.
"Here," Ben whispered in her ear, and he gently pushed her toward the van floor. "If you lie down, then we should be able to fit all four of us under the tarp."
Deferring to his expertise in matters of stealth, Kara let Ben direct her until her entire body lay against the van floor. It was only then that she realized Alyssa and Greenwood were similarly situated. But with several small crates in the center of the van, Kara could only fit on the floor with Ben if she allowed herself to be pressed up against him, her pouty behind resting against the crotch of his pants and her arms crossed in front of her. At first, Kara found the position somewhat awkward, but found that Ben's even breathing calmed her nerves, like a gentle breeze whispering softly in her ear. Their bodies melted perfectly into each other and his heat seeped into her frozen core. In a moment, she'd relaxed into his form. There was nothing left to do then, except await their turn at the checkpoint and hope that Mr. Cross was as good as his word.
Several minutes passed before the fugitives reached the city gate and the accompanying security checkpoint. With that, a number of guards began barking orders at Mrs. Timmons and the van shook as several doors were opened and then slammed shut. Oh god, they'd started the inspection. Kara listened intensely as the security guards gradually made their way from the front end of the vehicle toward the back, rummaging through the fugitives' "camping supplies" as they did so. With each passing minute, they eased ever closer to Kara's hiding place and the anticipation nearly drove her mad. Soon, Kara could hear the back end of the van being opened up and all calm left her. Immediately, she could feel her heart beat quickening beneath her breast and she feared it would give her away. God, it was so loud! Was it supposed to be so loud? Surely, the guards would hear her and come to reclaim her...
But when rationality returned to her, Kara willed herself to relax and was surprised to find that Ben's hand was clasped in one of her own. He was squeezing it gently, reassuring her. Kara wasn't sure who had acted first, but it didn't matter. She squeezed back and noticed that Ben had eased his other hand over to the pistol in the waistband of his pants, ready for action at the slightest hint of danger. With that, the tarp was partially lifted and Kara winced in the oncoming light. Staring directly at her was a young man with deep blue eyes and brown locks, his unwavering glance piercing right through her. Kara stopped breathing then, unable to look away as his eyes raked over her entire body, his expression unreadable. For several seconds, she waited for him to scream out to his companions and sound the alarm or else to withdraw a pistol and arrest them himself. But nothing happened. Soon, it was over and the tarp was draped back over the four fugitives.
"All clear!" Kara heard a guard outside call, his voice irritable and impatient. "Come on, let's go!"
It wasn't until Kara felt the van beneath her move once more that she dared to breath again, a sigh of relief escaping her lips. But the fugitives weren't "out of the woods" yet, as it were. Cars driving along the highway near Capital City were still subject to random spot checks and on the off chance that they were pulled over, the four companions were instructed to remain under the tarp. It wouldn't be safe to emerge until they had reached the countryside to the north of Capital City, where most of the rural villages lay. It was quiet all around Kara as the van sped onward, the gentle rocking of the vehicle and the soft whirring of its engine soothing her. Combined with the stress of the past two days, they pushed Kara past the edge of exhaustion and she soon found herself drifting off to sleep, her body still pressed against Ben's and his warmth seeping into her skin.
When Kara awoke, she found that the tarp was no longer draped over her body, but had been tucked around her as a blanket would. It was warm and cozy beneath the black material, but there was something missing, although Kara couldn't quite put her finger on it. It was several moments before she realized that Ben was no longer pressed up against her and as she looked looked about, Kara saw that he wasn't even in the back end. The loss of his warm body and reassuring presence disappointed her, but as soon as she recognized the emotion, Kara pushed it aside. After all, it was a stupid, irrational emotion.
Kara liked Ben, there was no doubt about that. He was strong, determined, protective, and even a touch on the imaginative side. He was handsome too, by any objective standards. His cool gray eyes and sculpted body would surely make most women swoon, but Kara couldn't bring herself to see Ben the same way he saw her. She thought that, in large part, it was the timing. She'd just gotten out of a relationship—if you could call it that, Kara thought with a dismissive snort—and she had no real interest in men. But there was also something off about Ben. He had just met her and yet, seemed determined to get closer to her. That bothered Kara and made her wonder if Ben's feelings were genuine or imagined. Who was he really attracted to? Kara herself, or some imagined idea of her? Did he even know?
With a sigh, Kara sat up, taking the tarp with her and wrapping it around her torso. Looking about, she saw that Greenwood and Alyssa had fallen asleep, both in the sitting position and leaning up against one another. Greenwood was snoring a little bit and Kara snickered softly, unable to resist. It was kind of cute, in an old man sort of way. Then, quite by accident, Kara glanced out the window beside Greenwood's head. Outside, she could see long stretches of forest, the leaves of the trees a vibrant array of orange, yellow, and reddish pink. As they sped by, the colors blurred together and formed something resembling the scales of an exotic fish, shimmering and shifting in the fading light.
Ecstatic, Kara turned around and pressed her face to the nearest window, watching with fascination as the vegetation came into and out of view. She had grown up in the countryside and had spent many a glorious summer day in the woods, swimming in the deep poles along the creek and climbing the taller, older trees, just to feel the thrill of viewing the world from on high. All during her time as medic in Gardok, Kara has missed the countryside greatly and had missed it even more during her captivity. There was something serene and spiritual about the outdoors, a deep longing that could only be fulfilled by walking along a dirt road, feeling a gentle breeze, and smelling the warm air accompanying it. God, if only Kara could taste the air now, untainted by the pollution of the city and the smoke of factory chimneys.
As if on cue, Mrs. Timmons leaned into the back end from the front passenger's seat and nodded her head toward the window. "We're far away from most major cities at this point," Mrs. Timmons told Kara, an understanding smile lighting up her face. "You can open a window if you want. Hell, you can even stick your head out and howl like a madman. No one is going to find us out here."
Kara needed no prodding. In a moment, she had rolled down the window and was sticking her head out of it, so as to feel the wind as it whipped by them. The air was cold and cut sharply against her face, so that her cheeks started to go numb, but Kara didn't mind. The sudden onslaught of chilled air made her feel alive and well, in a way nothing else yet had. With a deep breath, Kara allowed herself to inhale the air, which was laden with the scent of smoke and softly decaying leaves and the oncoming snows of winter. It was a little silly, but Kara's favorite season had always been autumn, simply because she loved the smell of the air, spicy and bold. The annual Fright Festival in Telma was a bonus, as was the yearly apple cider and pumpkin spice soup her mother made. Then there were the wondrous sunsets—like the one gracing the sky beyond Kara's window—which were more orange than usual and oftentimes outlined in dark pink or shimmering gold. But, god, the smell of the fall...there was nothing else like it. Taking in another deep breath, Kara smiled quietly to herself, but the grin was soon transformed into a confused frown as they moved off of the road and into a clearing surrounded by trees.
Alyssa started then, awakened by the rapid change in movement. Instinctively, her hand moved to the gun holster at her side and she sat bolt upright, her eyes scanning the landscape beyond the windows worriedly. "Why are we stopping?" Alyssa hissed, withdrawing her pistol. With her other hand, she punched Greenwood on his good shoulder, hoping to wake him up. "Alan," Alyssa growled, her voice furious. "Alan, get up!" Then, the weapons specialist redirected her attention to the front of the van. "You two want to tell me why we're stopping? This was supposed to be a straight shot from Capital City to the Nardian border."
"Relax, lady," Mrs. Timmons sighed irritably, leaning into the back end once more. "Nothing to worry about. Just a small change of plans, that's all."
"You call stopping mid trip a 'small change in plans'? Really?" Alyssa hissed, her eyes livid. "Because I was under the impression that we were only stopping along the highway in the event of an emergency. So where is the fucking emergency and is there anything I should be shooting?"
"Calm yourself, Commander," Avery instructed. "You are far too jumpy for your own good." It was the first time Kara had heard him speak and she found his voice unusually deep for such a young man.
"How did you..." Alyssa began, her tone incredulous, but it soon returned to a low growl. "Nevermind!" Alyssa spat, narrowing her eyes at Avery. "Just don't call me that. I don't like being patronized."
But Alyssa's outburst only made Avery smirk, an odd glint lighting up in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Commander," the escort grinned, watching as Alyssa's face darkened. "It won't happen again."
"Avery," Mrs. Timmons warned, glaring at him angrily. "Will you shut the fuck up already?" With that, she turned toward Alyssa, an apologetic smile on her lips. "Sorry about that. Kids these days, right? They're all assholes. Anyway, there's another checkpoint two miles down the road. We have a man under our employ there, who has been paid to wave us through. But there's a small problem." Mrs. Timmons carefully pulled out her smart phone and began flipping through a schedule of names, stopping at one and showing it to Alyssa. "You see this?" Mrs. Timmons asked, and Alyssa nodded. "Someone is on to the fact that we're out of the city and are paying off employees for safe passage. So, they've started shuffling the shifts of all the security guards in Isleydor, trying to slow us down. Our man was supposed to be on tonight, but he's been moved to an early morning shift, so we'll have to camp out."
Begrudgingly, Alyssa nodded and crawled to the back of the van, opening it up with a sudden jerk and stepping outside to stretch her cramped muscles. Once finished, she placed her hands on her hips and surveyed the forest surrounding them, more analytic than anything else. "Alright, then," Alyssa began, looking back toward the van. "It's getting dark already. Who wants to help me scout out the area? And then we need to set up some tents, maybe get a fire going."
"No problem," Kara replied, stepping out of the van and helping Greenwood to do the same. With a cast on his arm, getting about was still awkward. "I can put up the tents and get a fire going. I used to go camping a lot, as a kid. And then when I was on the run in the Middle River Forest..." But Kara sharply cut herself off, determined not to dwell anymore on the past. She was rummaging through the crates in the back end—looking for the appropriate supplies—when Ben came around from the front of the van, where he'd been helping with directions after Kara had fallen asleep.