“You have everything you need?”
I zipped up my backpack and closed the trunk. It was raining – a good excuse to have my hood up. “I hope so. Who knows?”
I resisted the urge to look up when a siren wailed by overhead – probably just someone speeding, or weaving between buildings off the approved flight paths. No one knew what I’d done, or what I was planning, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be looking for me among the ground transportation. I said a silent farewell to my beautiful black skycar – Hedy, I’d named her – parked back at home. I’d entrusted it, like most of my things, to Matt.
He looked up, but only briefly. The siren flew past, as I’d expected. Matt’s fingers tapped anxiously on the worn steering wheel. Whether it was impatience to get back to flying Hedy around, or concern for my safety, I couldn’t tell. “Someone’s picking you up there?”
Safety, then. Baby brother did care. “Yes.” I couldn’t say who – I knew her name and face, but that was all, and that was secret. She knew much more about me: when I was arriving, who my contacts were, what I offered.
Matt knew I couldn’t say more. He stuck his hand out the window.
“A handshake? That’s it?”
He made a face, the pinched smirk he always got when he knew he’d said something dumb, or gotten caught skipping chores. But he put the old sedan in park, jumped out, and hugged me tight.
“Be safe, Sara.”
“Kinda late for that.” I default to sarcasm when I’m frightened. Matt was not amused, so I squeezed his arm. He’d finally be taller than me if I – next time I saw him. “You, too.”
Headlights rounded the corner and I had to rush down the block. The bus was here. I had my backpack and three flash drives of stolen data and a burner phone and no more credit cards. A lone patrol bot trundled across the intersection and I forced myself not to freeze and stare at it. It kept rolling – it hadn’t even registered my presence. I was sweating, my heart racing, my hands trembling. I was terrible at this.
But this was who I was now.
I didn’t look back until I was safe on the bus, ticket taken, bribe paid to “lose” said ticket and scrub my face from the bus’s cameras. The bus was mostly empty; no one took ground buses anymore unless they had to, not if they could afford to make the trip by air. The other occupants avoided looking at each other. I wondered where they were all going, if their small bags were full of secrets like mine.
Matt was still sitting in the shadows, engine running, one yellow headlight glaring down the litter-strewn road. I couldn’t see through the neon gleaming on his windshield and I wished suddenly for one last look at him. He still had one more year of high school. He’d shown rare, earnest love and I’d teased him for it and those would be our last words.
I stared into that headlight until the bus lurched away, ancient engine growling. Matt’s face was still hidden. Not even the dread of punishment that kept me up some nights gnawed at me the way this regret did.
So I did what I knew I shouldn’t: I faced the window, letting the neon undercity lights and the amber street lamps expose me, and I waved. It was barely movement, just a showing of my fingers above the edge of the rain-streaked window, but I hoped he saw. I hoped I’d see him again.
Then he was gone – and so, I realized, was Sara. I draped my rain jacket over my front like a blanket and watched the patrol bots and the burned-out chassis and the blue-lit diners go by. Sara had left home burdened by fear and regret. Whoever disembarked, she might still be afraid, but she’d have left the regret behind. There wouldn’t be room for it in her bag.