Anna didn’t remember leaving the police station. As far as she was concerned, her body had simply lifted itself into the air and floated out of the holding cell, through the hallway, into the lobby, and out the door. The sound of officers busy at work surrounded her as she passed, but none of it got through to her. Her mind was a million miles away, stranded on a small, lifeless island.
She quietly cursed herself as she walked. How could she have been so stupid? How did she forget the exams were tomorrow? She’d been looking forward to them for the last year! Of all the times to pull a stupid stunt like that, why did she choose now? I had to know, a part of her objected from the corner of her mind. We couldn’t just leave it alone!
Calm down, Anna told herself. She took a deep breath of the cold, sickening air. The scent of fresh foods had been left behind, now replaced by the bitter stink of the industrial district. The stink brought her feet back onto the ground. It wasn’t over yet. She’d figure this out. If she couldn’t, she wouldn’t make for much of an Operative.
Order was many things. A den for the weak was never one of them. Even in their early days, back when the United Earth Alliance was about as solid as a one-millimeter thick pane of glass, they only accepted the best. If an Operative couldn’t outwit a veteran tactician, beat down six or more master martial artists at once, or talk their way out of a vat of acid, then they’d need to find a new job. That hadn’t changed in well over a hundred years, and it likely never would. If she couldn’t sneak out of the German Sector into the Central for the exams, then she wouldn’t last very long with monsters like that. She’d simply have to take one more test than all of her peers.
The prospect of this made her smile. This was quickly turning out to be a blessing in disguise.
With no other destination to go until morning, Anna started on her way home. Her legs carried her on their own with the familiarity of a master chef with a knife, allowing her mind to think unimpeded. If she didn’t have a plan, she may as well forget about escaping the Sector.
If she missed this, she’d have to wait another year. There was no way in hell she was waiting that long. Not when her chance was right there in front of her.
Despite its size, the city of Unity was a simple one. It was divided into nine sectors; eight for the different countries and one in the center, which is entirely neutral. Each Sector is divided into districts: the living district, the market district, and the industrial district. At the northern and southern ends of each Sector were the transportation platforms, which would take the inhabitants to the neighboring country’s territory, provided they had enough Credits, Unity’s universal currency, and all the necessary papers.
All of which are operated not by the police, but by Order Operatives. Anna could practically hear opportunity knocking as she turned the corner, leaving the smog and distant echoes of work in the industrial district for the smog and silence of the living district.
Tall apartment buildings lined the streets, some with glowing windows that illuminated her ways. The architecture was designed to be reminiscent of how it was on Earth; harshly slanted roofs, colored red and black, all dotted with numerous windows. Small chimneys pointed from the roofs, though they wouldn’t billow any smoke until the winter came. Which, considering that it was currently the middle of the summer, wouldn’t come around for another four hundred or so days.
She considered going back to Gordon’s apartment and asking him for help. But she just as quickly through the idea straight into the garbage. If he couldn’t find the guts to distract a policeman, he wouldn’t dare to deal with an Operative. She couldn’t expect him to jump over a pothole; how could he take a leap over the chasm? No, she’d need to take care of it alone. No backup this time.
Though considering the sheer number of times she’d been arrested, maybe backup was never such a good idea. So much for everything her mother had told her.
Anna came to a stop at the building at the end of the road. It was significantly smaller than most of the others on the street. Mere inches were separating it from the walls, both those between the Sectors and the Veritàn jungle outside. No matter how many times she sees her home, Anna could never shake the feeling that she was living in a death trap. Though she would always shrug it off; the walls were well over two thousand feet tall, about a fourth as thick, and they were completely surrounded by an energy barrier. Chances of something getting through were slim. Still, she was less than eager to roll the dice.
Her legs carried her up the stairs to the top floor of the building. A sudden jolt shot through her body, snapping her out of her planning. She stopped dead in her tracks in front of her neighbor’s door. There were a lot of things she wanted to do at the moment; telling her father that she had been arrested again was far from one of them.
She considered sneaking past him and avoiding the confrontation. A small voice whispered in her ear, tempting her with the prospect of going straight to her room, and save the confrontation for after the rest of her problems were solved. But she just as quickly threw the idea away. That would only hurt more than it would help. Whatever caused her father the least pain would be the best. Unfortunately, the best thing for that was simply ripping the bandage off.
Which one of them would be hurt more, she didn’t know.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Anna slid her key into the lock, turned it open with a simple click, and entered the apartment. The room was small and simple, with a kitchen to her left, with a long counter serving as a short wall, and a small couch to her right, which faced a blank wall. She had expected for the holo-screen to be projected onto it, but she was pleasantly surprised to see it was currently dark. Aside from her, the room was empty.
A note sat atop the counter, written on a small sheet of paper. Anna knew immediately that it was for her. Her father loved that old fashioned way of making her feel bad. The small voice screamed in her head, begging her not to read it. But she continued to ignore it. She unfolded the sheet on the counter and began to read.
Anna, it read in thin, articulate handwriting. I’ll be pulling an all-nighter or two at work. I’m counting on you to take care of the house while I’m gone. Try not to get into trouble, will you? A small line was written at the bottom, in a much sloppier pen. P.S. You were on the news. We’ll talk about it when I get back.
The tiny voice sighed deeply in relief. That confrontation would wait until the beginning of next week. By then, she’d have passed the test. It wouldn’t be a problem then.
With relief washing over her, Anna took a seat on the couch and put everything into planning. She quickly started burning through possibilities in her mind. There was no way in hell she’d be able to walk straight into the Central Sector. She’d have to go through two checkpoints to get there. If the first one somehow let her through, the second would send her right back. No, she’d have to find another route.
Which would almost certainly mean breaking a law. Or several.
More ideas came to mind, but they quickly died. She considered running straight through but realized they would catch her by the time she turned the corner. She considered a disguise but remembered that she’d need an ID to get through. Besides, the best she’d be able to do was slightly hide the scars with more makeup. That wasn’t an option.
A thought crept through the back of her head. Her dad said he’d be gone for a few days. Which meant that his office, his desk, and everything in it was free game. And considering where he worked…
A smile crept across her face. She had a plan. Hopefully, she wouldn’t get her father fired for it.