The Hideout
By: James Bates

Karen checked her backpack before leaving the apartment, going through her mental checklist to make sure she had the essentials: water, food and clothes. Then she added the most critical item, a box of air filters, one each for her husband Quinn and their son Matt's oxygen masks. The carbon dioxide level in the earth's troposphere was so high that a person would suffocate in minutes without the purifying power of the air filter pads. Place them into the air chamber of the mask and you were good to go. At least for a few days. Then they'd become clogged with impurities and have to be replaced.

Speaking of…Karen put a new pad in hers, shouldered the pack and left the apartment. She took the elevator down fifteen stories to the ground level and exited, slipping on her oxygen mask as she went outside. Instead of boarding a transport carrier to take her to work at her job as a biochemist at Millennium Microbial, she took a left and headed out on her own, walking. The earth's atmosphere was so thick with dust and other air born particulates that the sky was perpetually light brown. No one ever saw the sun, or clouds for that matter. After the buildup to global warming nearly two hundred years earlier and with the subsequent dying off of so many plant, animal and insect species, the earth's temperature had stabilized at sixty–eight degrees which was about ten degrees warmer than it had been.

Karen didn't have time to think about any of that. She had about two miles to go to get to where Quinn and Matt were waiting in their hideout. The streets were nearly deserted, and she had little trouble avoiding the few pedestrians she encountered. Most people preferred to travel by transport carrier or not travel at all, choosing instead to be in the controlled environment of their apartment or place of employment. Her plan was to drop off the supplies with her husband and then board a carrier and go to work. Maybe.

As she hurried the bleak city streets, she was conscious of the security cameras mounted nearly every one–hundred feet on the sides of buildings. She avoided looking directed at them, knowing that their recognition software could be used identify her. Or maybe not. She knew that many of the cameras were inoperable and hadn't worked right for years. They were only used as a ploy to keep citizens in line. Well, she'd just have to chance it that the ones she was passing weren't watching her.

Karen's husband and son had been hiding out for nearly twenty–four hours. They had ended up on the third floor of an abandoned concrete building near the outskirts of the city after Quinn had kidnapped Matt during a field trip to the regional History Center. It was at the History Center that Matt told his dad about the abuse going on at the dormitory where he was being raised along with all of the other five–year olds in the region.

As Quinn heard about the abuse, he became more and more appalled and knew he had to do something. So he did. He kidnapped his son with hardly any thought to the consequences. He knew he'd be in trouble with the World Order and their law enforcement arm, the Security Police, but he didn't care. In his mind the kidnapping wasn't only the right thing to do, but it gave him the perfect excuse to spend more time with Matt, something that he'd always dreamed of doing. After their escape through the city streets they'd discovered an abandoned building and spent a restless night huddled together on the cement floor, not really sleeping but resting fitfully.

They'd awoken early that next morning cold and hungry. The food Quinn had stolen from the history center's cafeteria they'd eaten the night before and it hadn't been nearly enough to quell their ravenous appetites.

"Dad, I'm hungry," Matt complained, rubbing his stomach. "I'm really hungry."

Quinn pulled his son to him and held him tight, rocking him gently. "I know. Just hang in there. Mom will be here with food, soon. Just try to hold on a little longer, okay?"

"Okay," Matt's tiny voice squeaked because his throat was so dry. They needed water, too.

Quinn took off his jacket and wrapped Matt in it. "Just lie here for a minute. I'm going to check outside.

Cautiously he went to the window and peered out. There was nothing to see but brown sky, gray buildings and a nearly empty street. He checked his phone for any messages from Karen but there were none. The time indicated on it was 6 am. Karen would have left the apartment by now and was probably on her way. He was sure of it. She should be able to cover the two miles to get to them in about half an hour.

"Mom will be here shortly," Quinn said, going back to Matt and sitting on the floor next to him. He had an idea. "Here, let's play that game I showed you last night." He took a small, rounded piece of metal out of his pocket and held it in his hand. "Okay, here's the prize." Then he put both of his hands behind his back. "Now…" he said, lowering voice and making it sound mysterious,"…which hand holds the magic coin?"

Matt giggled. He was thrilled beyond his wildest dreams to be playing with his father. At the dorm, sometimes called The Neighborhood, no one ever played with him because children weren't allowed to play with each other. Interactions were discouraged upon threat of punishment. Children were required to attend classes that indoctrinated them into the ways being good citizens for the World Order, the ruling and governing body in the year 2220. Any free time they had was spent watching instructional and educational videos. Playing together? Never. For Matt, playing a game with his dad was the most fun he'd ever had in his entire young life.

Matt giggled some more and pointed, "That one, Dad."

Quinn made an quick adjustment and then pulled out the hand Matt had guessed. He kept it closed and said, his voice still sounding mysterious, "Let's see. Let's see. Is it? Is this it?" Then he quickly opened his hand displaying the small coin. "Yes it is!" he exclaimed. "You're the winner!"

"Yea!" Matt cheered as he took the little coin into his tiny hand, the little prize which meant more to him than one could ever imagine. Then he threw his arms around his father's neck and hugged him. "Oh, Dad, this is so much fun."

Quinn smiled the biggest smile he'd ever had as he held his son tight. The World Order allowed parents only four hours a week visitation with their children, a rule that had never worked for paternal minded Quinn. He always wanted more time with Matt so the time they'd been spending together the last day was wonderful. It felt so good, so right. Just like he always knew it would be. "Yes, it is fun, Matt. It really is."

Karen turned the corner of the street where the hideout was located and took out her phone. She sent Quinn a message. "I'm here. Just down the block."

Quinn's phone beeped and he checked. Reading Karen's message, a smile appeared. He said to Matt, "Good news. Your mom's here."

"Yea!"

Quinn smiled. During their time together during the past day, he'd never seen his son so happy. No matter what happened, he was glad he'd taken Matt and rescued him from the dormitory. He sent a message to Karen. "Come on down the block. We'll meet you at street level, at the doorway." Then to Matt he said, "Let's go see your mom."

"Okay!" Matt ran across the concrete floor, dust lifting from his little footsteps. At the doorway leading from the room he turned and motioned, keeping his voice down like Quinn had taught him, "Come on Dad."

Quinn hurriedly joined Matt where the stairs were leading down to the street. He took Matt's hand and was about to start descending them when he stopped suddenly and listened. He heard voices. What was going on?

"Matt," he whispered. "Stand still and don't move," he commanded.

Matt obeyed immediately and turned to his father, a questioning look on his face. "What?" he whispered.

Quinn pulled him close and held him tight. "I don't know, son." He moved as close as he dared to the top of the stairs and listened carefully. He could hear Karen's voice. And someone else's.

Down on the sidewalk, next to the entryway to the building, Karen had been stopped by a big man dressed in dark blue overalls, the uniform of a World Order Security Police, WOSP.

She quickly collected herself. "Look, buddy," she said, trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice. "Just leave me alone. I'm not doing anything wrong."

The man was wearing a specialized helmet with a clear face guard. Around his huge stomach he wore a belt filled with canisters and weapons. He was eyeing Karen suspiciously.

"We'll see about that. What's in your backpack?"

"Nothing," Karen said. Their voices carried up the stairwell and Quinn could hear a slight tremor in her voice. She was frightened, but he bet she was doing a good job keeping her fear hidden. That's the way she was, confidently assertive without being overly aggressive. "Just some things I'm bringing to the Donation Center."

Quinn smiled at his wife's quick thinking. The donation center accepted used goods that were then distributed throughout our areas of the region. It was one of the few opportunities for citizens to actually add a day to their lifeline, instead of having one removed for any of a myriad of minor offenses. Like had happened to Quinn over one–hundred and eighty times.

"Really…" the officer said, skeptically. "Let's have a look."

Nothing was said for a few minutes while Karen's backpack was being searched. Next to Quinn, Matt became restless. "Dad…"

"Hush," Quinn whispered. "Mom will be here soon. Let's just listen. It's a game to see how long we can be quiet."

"Okay, Dad." Matt, agreed and grinned, mimicking zipping his lips shut, prompting Quinn to smile. Where'd he learn to do that?

Voices from down below interrupted his thoughts. It was the security guard's loud, authoritative voice, "Okay. This looks fine. I'll let you be on your way. Just be careful around here. There are criminals all over the place."

"I will. Thanks," Karen said, her relief palatable.

Quinn hurried to the window where he could see Karen hurrying down the street and around the corner. In a few minutes he received a message. "Is the coast clear?"

He sent a message back, "Yes. Hurry."

Five minutes later he and Matt met Karen at the street level entrance and quickly he led her up the stairs to the third floor.

When Karen entered the space she looked around and said, joking in spite of the gravity of the situation, "Home sweet home. I love what you've done with the place."

Quinn smiled. As serious as his wife normally was, she really did have a good sense of humor, and he appreciated that she now used it to help make things less intense for Matt. They kissed briefly but were interrupted by their son.

Matt had ran to his mom and grabbed her around the waist, "Oh, Mom, it's so good to see you."

Karen knelt on the floor and hugged him tightly, tears in her eyes. "Oh, Matt, I love you so much."

"I love you, too, Mom."

Quinn let Karen and Matt have their moment together and began to empty the pack. He set out the food, water and the clothes and the other supplies.

Then he looked at Karen as she still held onto Matt, "That was close down there."

"Yeah, it was. We were all lucky."

"We're safe now," Quinn commented, going to them and wrapping his arms around the two people he loved most in the world.

After a minute, Karen said, laughing, "Okay enough of the hugging. Let me get you both something to eat, you must be starved."

Matt grinned, "Well, I guess I am."

She gave Matt a protein bar and kissed his forehead. "Sweetheart, can you wait right here a minute?" She looked at Quinn pointedly, "Your dad and I need to talk."

"Sure, Mom." He started eating his protein bar and asked between bites, "Mom, this is really good. Can I have another one."

Karen smiled and handed him one. "Sure."

Then she lead Quinn over to the far side of the room and said, "We're all in trouble."

Quinn felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. "Why, what's up?"

"You know that WOSP guy? The guy who stopped me?"

"Yeah. I overheard everything. You did great."

"Well, you didn't overhear it all. Before he let me go he got kind of weird. He looked around all mysterious and I knew right away something was up. Then he asked me if I'd seen someone. I asked, 'Who?' He opened one of the cases on his belt and took out a wanted poster. He showed it to me. 'This guy.' I almost fainted."

Quinn felt beads of sweat break out on his brow. This wasn't going to be good news. "Who was it?" he asked, knowing her really didn't have to. He knew the answer.

Karen took a deep breath and let it out. "Quinn, it was a picture of you. A recent one they got a hold of somehow. And he had one of Matt, too." She looked her husband in the eye. "We've got trouble, buddy. Big trouble. They're looking for us."

Out of all the thoughts just went shooting through Quinn's brain, one had stood out. And it wasn't a thought so much as a statement. Karen has said, 'Us.'

"Us?" He asked. What do you mean by that? They should just be looking for me and Matt. Not you."

"Yeah, well, not anymore."

"What do mean?"

"Karen took a step forward and hugged her husband. "Here's the deal. We've been married six years. We have a five–year–old son. We're a family and families stay together. Right?" She paused and leaned back and looked him in the eyes. "I made a decision on the way over here. I'm going to be stay with you."

"What?" Quinn was incredulous.

"Yeah, that's what families do. They stick together and I'm staying with you."

Quinn was almost speechless but not quite, "What about the WOSP?"

"Too bad about them. Me and you are smart. We'll figure out a way."

Just then Matt came over and asked, "Mom do you want something to eat?"

Karen hugged her son. "Sure." She looked over his head at Quinn who was looking pensive. "Don't worry. I'm working on a plan. We'll figure it out." Then she took her husband and son in each of her hands and said, "Let's all get something to eat. We'll do something like they used to do in the old days. It was called a picnic." She winked at Quinn and then looked at Matt and said, "It'll be fun."

"Oh, goody," he said, as the three of them sat down together.

Quinn decided to put his worries aside. Like Karen had just said, they were a family and families stuck together and that's what they were going to do. They had time later to figure out what to do. Plus, Karen had said she was working on a plan, and when Karen got going on an idea it was always a good thing. They'd talk later. For now they were going to be a family, and they were going to have a picnic.

So they did, they had a picnic and none of could remember ever having had such a wonderful time.

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