Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 14

Chapter Four

Fine, misty rain drizzled down from a dim, gray sky. The brisk wind drove the droplets in billowing waves, almost (but not quite) like fog, and the air was cold, its edge sharpened by the approach of winter. The battered old ground car’s side windows had been patched with tape, drafts probed through its interior, and its aged heater’s valiant battle against the chill was dwindling toward defeat. Water splashed against the vehicle’s underside as it jolted down the potholed surface road, and the passenger side’s old-fashioned wiper blade was frozen uselessly in place.

Indiana Graham hunched forward in the driver’s seat, leaning over the wheel and bending down to peer through the lower portion of his side of the windshield where the equally old-fashioned fan-powered defroster had actually managed to produce a very inconveniently placed clear patch. His coat was thick and reasonably warm, although it was also badly worn, but he wore neither hat nor gloves. The slender young woman huddled in the passenger’s seat who looked enough like him to have been his sister (because she was) was wearing gloves, but she had her hands tucked into her armpits, anyway. Her breath steamed slightly, and she looked thoroughly miserable.

The car splashed through a deeper, wider puddle, throwing up wings of water on either side. Some of that water splashed in through the tape-repaired rear side window, and she grimaced as it hit her right cheek.

“Ugh! Do you think you could’ve found a deeper puddle, Indy?” she demanded, wiping the muddy water off her face with a gloved palm.

“Sorry, Max,” the driver took his eye off the road long enough to dart a smile at her. “I’ll try, but it’ll be hard. Would you settle for one that’s just a lot wider? I only ask because I see one coming up ahead.”

“Very funny.” Mackenzie Graham leaned over to look through his side of the windshield, and her eyes widened. “Indy, don’t you dare!”

“Sorry,” her brother repeated, perhaps a shade more seriously than before, “but the only way across is through.”

She glared at him, but she couldn’t seem to produce her customary voltage. Probably because Indiana was obviously correct. This pothole stretched clear across the road, and while the security fences that paralleled the roadway were old and neglected, sagging with age, they were still sufficient to confine the decrepit old ground car to the paved (more or less) surface.

Indiana gave her an apologetic smile and tapped the brake, slowing down as they approached the wind-rippled expanse of muddy water. The front wheels dropped into it with a splash that jolted both of them, and the car’s motion took on a distinct floatiness. More water sprayed up on either side, although not so high this time. Then the rear wheels dropped into the same hole and Mackenzie was afraid they were going to lose traction entirely. But they continued churning forward with a lurching, muddy sort of determination, and she grimaced and raised her feet as water found its way in through small rust holes, flooding the floorboards. The incoming tide rose to almost a centimeter in depth, they slowed still further, and she braced herself for the thought of climbing out in the middle of their own private lake when the car finally bogged down. But then — with one last, bouncing sway — they broke free of the pothole and regained solid ground.

“I was really afraid we might not make it that time,” Indiana said, as if he’d read her mind and was voicing her thought for her. She gave him a speaking look, and he shrugged. “Hey, I didn’t pick the spot for this meeting, you know!”

“Yeah, I do know,” she agreed.

She didn’t look any happier, and it was Indiana’s turn to grimace in acknowledgment. She was the organizer, the one who kept track of details, but she was also the voice of caution. He was the natural born point man, the fellow who just had to get out in front, couldn’t seem to leave well enough alone or settle for a life of grim, gray obedience to their “betters.” Their father had been like that…which was how he’d ended up sentenced to a thirty-five-T-year term in Terrabore Maximum Security Prison.

So far, Mackenzie had prevented Indy from joining him there, and he was in favor of keeping things that way. All the same, both of them realized that at least some risks had to be run if they were going to do anything about getting their father (and several thousand other prisoners) out of the none-too-gentle arms of General Tillman O’Sullivan’s Seraphim System Security Police.

Among other things.

“I only wish I knew why the meeting got moved all the way out here,” Mackenzie went on after a moment. “I don’t like how easy it would be for O’Sullivan or Shelton to just ‘disappear’ us in a place like this without anyone ever noticing.”

“Believe me, the same thought’s occurred to me,” Indiana said. “On the other hand, they don’t really need to get us out in the country to do that, do they? In fact, the more I think about it, the more sense it would make for them to do exactly the opposite. Come in with all sirens screaming and bust us in the middle of the capital, I mean. SWAT teams everywhere, scags on the rooftops.…Think about the statement that would make!”

Mackenzie shivered with more than just the cold as her all too lively imagination pictured the scene her brother had just described.

“Golly gee, thanks, Indy,” she said sourly. “That ought to be good for the odd nightmare or two.”

“Well, there is a counter argument to their doing anything of the sort,” he said cheerfully. “If they bust us publicly, they’re effectively admitting there’s a genuine independence movement cooking away under the surface. I don’t think they’d want to do that — especially after what’s been going on over in the Madras Sector.”