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Jon Moore

As we turned out of the alley, I called Lobo over the comm. “Inbound. We’re good to proceed.”

“I know,” he said. “I am listening over the comm, you know.”

I smiled. “Habit.”

“You trust that guy?” Lobo said.

“Yes, though it doesn’t matter if I do. If all goes well, we’ll be done with the transport before he could do anything to harm us.”

When we reached the landing zone where Lobo waited, we stopped talking and focused on moving as quickly as possible. I directed the transport to back up to him until it was almost touching him. Anyone watching might wonder why carts weren’t loading themselves, but they wouldn’t be able to see much of anything that moved between Lobo and the transport. Lobo would alert me if anyone drew close.

He opened a hatch.

I stepped inside him and began moving the unconscious kids into the transport as quickly as I could. I stretched out each one on the floor. When all ten were inside, I grabbed from the med room the drugs Lobo had prepared, ran back into the transport, and instructed it to close and pull away.

Lobo took off as soon as I was clear.

I called Chang, again keeping it audio only. She didn’t need to see her son still unconscious. This time, I didn’t let her comm know that I was the one calling her. I wanted to learn how she handled anonymous contacts.

She answered quickly. “Yes?”

Good. She offered no information. “Lydia, it’s Jon.”

“Is Tasson still safe?”

“Yes, of course, and very soon you’ll be with him.”


“Soon,” I said. “First, though, I need you to do a few things for me. Okay?”

She was slow to respond. “It depends what they are.”

“A wise answer. What I need you to do is help me return the other boys to their homes.”

“I don’t have the money to do that,” she said. “You know that.”

“I understand,” I said, “but that’s not what I need you to do. This won’t cost you anything.”

“Do I have to help you to get back Tasson?”

“No. I’ll bring him to you no matter what. I would, though, greatly appreciate your help—and so would these other nine children, and their parents and families.”

“Tell me what you want me to do.”

“I will, but first I need to know something: Are you in the SleepSafe?”

“Yes.” A pause. “Thank you for the room. It’s lovely. I’ve never slept anywhere quite so nice.”

“You’re welcome. Now, has anyone tried to contact you? The police? Any newstainment groups? Anyone?”

“A lot of people have called me,” she said. “Maybe ten, maybe more. As soon as I figure out that each one is not you, I disconnect.”

Crap. “Did you use my name to verify that fact?”

“No!” she said. “I’m not stupid, Mr. Moore. I know your voice, and even if I didn’t, they all introduce themselves. Most of them expect me to be impressed.”

“Any police?”

“No. Why? Will they be calling me?”

“Yes, but given that they don’t know where Tasson is, probably not until they have a better understanding of what happened at Privus.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Hold a moment, please.” I switched to Lobo. “Can you spot anyone watching the SleepSafe?”

“At least one person leaning against a wall across the street, drinking something and not even trying to pretend she’s not monitoring the entrance. We have to assume more are inside nearby buildings.”

“Nothing unexpected,” I said, “just annoying. What’s the status on the park?”

“A few people sitting, a few walking, no big groups,” Lobo said. “Surveillance cameras are focused on only the liability areas—play equipment, like that. The plan should work.”

I switched back to Chang. “I need you to leave the hotel, but not by the front door. Use the emergency exit chute near your bed.”

“Why?” she said. “Am I in danger?”

“No. Some people, probably newstainment groups, are watching the front door, hoping you’ll leave through it. They are unlikely to know all the exits. Once you get out of the chute, if you’re outside, stand where you emerge until I call. If you’re inside a building, go outside, and wait for my call. It won’t be long.”

“I don’t like this,” she said.

I hate dealing with amateurs. I understand their feelings, but in the middle of any operation, feelings are the last thing I want to deal with. I kept my voice calm as I said, “I know, and I’m sorry, but we’re almost done. Now, leave immediately.”

“Okay,” she said. She disconnected.

The transport was close to the SleepSafe, so I had it stay the course. We’d pass by the front of the building and continue until we knew where she was. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two—provided, of course, that Chang moved quickly.

As we were pulling close to the hotel, Lobo contacted me. “Got her. She’s waiting outside as you said, a block and a half from the hotel. Ninety seconds from your current position.”

He gave me the coordinates. I directed the transport to them.

I called Chang. “Stay where you are,” I said. “I’ll be to you in less than ninety seconds.”

When the transport stopped, I opened its rear door. Chang was leaning against a building across a sidewalk from me. “Get in,” I said.

She hesitated for a moment, then joined me inside. When she saw the unconscious boys, she gasped. I was pulling the door shut as she said, “What are you doing? Are they alive?”

“Please, Lydia, relax,” I said.

She dropped to her knees and cradled Tasson’s head in her arms; I’d put him closest to the door so she could reach him easily.

“Yes,” I said, “they’re fine. Just sedated. We’re going to wake them once we get where we’re going.” I instructed the transport to head to the corner of the park that Lobo had determined was free from surveillance. I hoped he was right. If not, at the very least, I’d be causing trouble for the man who’d loaned me the transport. At the worst, I’d be risking getting captured.

“What did they do to him?” she said.

I had no way to know for sure, but now was not the time for speculation. “Nothing beyond drugging him and, as you’ve probably seen on the feeds, displaying him.”

“Those men were going to buy him, as if he was a melon at the market.” Her throat and fists were clenched with her rage.

“Yes, but they didn’t. We stopped them, and now he’s safe with you. We’re almost done. I still need your help, though, to get these other children safely to their families.”

She slowly scanned the nine other unconscious kids. “They’re all so young. They must have been so scared.”

I said nothing.

She carefully returned Tasson’s head to the floor and stood. “They’re going to punish those men, right?”

“I hope so. We supplied them with a great deal of evidence.”

She looked up at me, her eyes locked on mine. “I wish you’d killed them all. I wish you’d hurt them and made them suffer and scared them and then killed them.”

I stared back at her. Seeing her love, her anger, I wished I’d had someone to come fight for me when I was a boy. I nodded. “I understand. I really do. I’ve been—” I stopped myself. “Part of me wishes I had.”

“I’m with her,” Lobo said over the comm.

I ignored him.

“You’re ten minutes out from the park,” he said. “Time to give them the drug. If I’ve calibrated correctly, and we both know that is an entirely rhetorical ‘if,’ because why would I make an error, it should wake them just in time.”

“What do we do next?” Chang said.

I pulled ten drug capsules from my pocket. “We carefully inject each of the kids with one of these.” I showed her one and bent to the girl beside Tasson. “Do as I do.”

She kneeled beside me and watched closely.

I put the small capsule against the girl’s arm and pressed its top. The liquid flowed into the girl.

I handed her one. “Now, you do Tasson.”

Her hand trembled as she took it from me.

“Relax,” I said. “It’s simple, as you saw.”

“I’m trusting you,” she said. She took a slow, deep breath and gave her son the drug.

I took the capsule from her and put it, along with the other empty one, in my pocket.

“How long before he—they—wake up?” she said.

“About ten minutes.” I stood. “You give one to each of the others. Give me back each empty capsule. I’m going to communicate with my team.”

I handed her a capsule, and she bent to another child.

“Why not help the poor woman?” Lobo said.

“Because keeping her busy is better than dealing with her fretting,” I subvocalized.

“Humans,” Lobo said with a sigh, “can’t live with ’em, can’t kill them all without more ammo than I can carry and without being really bored afterward.”

When Chang finished, I swapped the empty for another capsule.

In a few minutes, she’d done them all.

“Now?” she said.

“Five minutes to the park,” Lobo said over the comm.

“We’re going to arrive soon at this park.” I showed it to her on the transport’s control. “Do you know it?”

“Parthan’s? Sure.” She glanced at me. “Not exactly the best part of the city, but not the worst either.”

“It’s close to where we were,” I said, “and it doesn’t have surveillance cameras everywhere.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “The government doesn’t worry too much about the folks down here. What do we do now?”

“I want you to call back everyone who called you,” I said. “Audio only. Tell each of them the same thing: that a woman you didn’t recognize called you and told you to come to this park, that because you were desperate to see your son you slipped out to check, and that the children were waiting, just as the woman said. Something like that, however you want to say it—but short, very short. Make sure to say the park’s name. Tell them to come. Then disconnect and call the next.”

“How I would say it?” she said, “Right? Not the way you did.”

I chuckled. “Definitely.”

She nodded. She stared at Tasson for a few seconds. Tears filled her eyes. She thumbed up the first caller on her comm and connected to it. When she heard an answer, she started talking fast. “It’s a miracle! I got a call. She said my Tasson and those other kidnapped children were safe in Parthan’s Park. I ran out to check. They are! I’m with them. Come if you want to see them.” She disconnected and looked up at me. “How was that?”

“Perfect,” I said. “Now, do it again with every one of them.” Her comm vibrated. “Don’t answer any incoming calls.”

“Two minutes,” Lobo said. “I’m contacting the police and more newstainment groups.”

Tasson and the girl next to him moaned slightly and rolled over.

“Hurry,” I said to Chang. “We’re almost there.”

She repeated the call over and over, talking faster than the first time and disconnecting quickly.

We came to a stop.

She kept making calls.

In another minute, she finished.

“Whew!” she said. “Done.”

All the children were moving now, though none seemed to be conscious yet.

“There’s one more thing you have to do,” I said, “and it’s vital.”


“Watch these kids, and tell every newstainment geek who arrives who they are. More people will be coming than you called, many more. Police, too. Keep the kids with you, and tell them they’ll be going home soon. Between the police and all those corporations hungry to be the feed leader on a hot story, someone will find each kid’s family soon.”

She looked at all the children on the floor. “I can do that.” She faced me. “Where will you be?”

“Gone,” I said. “I was never here.”

She leaned into me and hugged me. “Thank you so much.” She squeezed me tightly. “So very very much. I wish I could pay you.”

I stood still until she released me. “You’re welcome,” I said, “and no need.” I moved to the front of the transport and motioned at the children. “Now, you have to take them out before they can remember anything about this vehicle or me.” I told the transport to open the rear door, and then I ducked behind the divider that separated the cargo area from the normal passenger seats.


I pulled back the divider enough to see that Tasson had propped himself on one elbow.

Chang dropped to her knees and pulled him to her. “Oh, yes, baby. I’m here. I’m so glad you’re safe.” She stroked his head a few times. “We have to go now, Tasson. I’ll help you walk. Come on now.”

He stood and leaned on her.

“The rest of you children, you come with me, too.” She led out the four who could walk. They all focused on her.

“How much will they remember?” I whispered into the comm.

“Virtually nothing of the first few minutes they’re awake,” Lobo said. “Standard human behavior for the type of sedative/wake-up combination we used.”

Chang returned and led out two more who were now able to stand.

The final four were stirring when she entered the transport again. She hustled them through the door. She stopped right outside the transport and turned toward me.

“If I can ever do anything for you,” she said, “you call.”

I mouthed, “Thank you.”

“Let’s all wait by this tree,” she said to the children.

I told the transport to close its rear door and drive back to the restaurant via a route Lobo had given me. We took off slowly but picked up speed as we left the residential area.

“Anything so far?” I said.

“No,” Lobo said, “but I wouldn’t expect any action quite yet. There are no nearby landing zones, so everyone’s restricted to ground travel. You should be safely well away before anyone arrives.”

“Good. Now, we have to hope these people behave as they should.”

“And we have to get away,” Lobo said. “Once everyone gets over all the excitement, they’ll start examining Chang’s story. Even if it holds up—and I doubt it will—they’ll want to find the rescuers and interview them, maybe arrest them.”

“So let’s hope we’re long gone before that happens,” I said.

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