The Escape Plan
A while ago I saw a picture that had been posted to a Facebook group that focuses on Black Sci-Fi fans, artists and writers. The picture was Afro Steampunk and beautiful. The image of a little black girl, maybe seven or eight in a beautiful green field holding a yellow balloon on a bright spring day. Beside her, holding her hand was the skeletal form of a robot. It struck me as both beautiful and compelling. Then the question posed itself. Was the robot protecting her or was she protecting him. I write a lot of stories where delicate young women, the supposed victim are never quite what they seem, never as naive and innocent as they are portrayed. This story is a cross between Afro-futurism, Steampunk and Sci- Fi/Fantasy. But I love the idea of this world.
They stood on the curb in the growing shadow of Flynnwood Academy as the sun rapidly descended. Ms. Chester looked at her watch nervously, her delicate features twisted with worry as time seemed to whiz by. The street was emptying quickly and soon they would be cast in darkness, alone. It wasn't safe.
If it had been any other child, she would have had them wait in the building or she would have driven them home herself. That would not do with Zendie Dolhonda, she was not to be taken anywhere without a proper escort. Her driver and guard being late was not something that was tolerated , but due to the circumstances, it was understandable. It was a historic event, Ambassador Dolhonda's return planet side after eighteen months on a foreign world was historic. The streets had been blocked off, traffic rerouted for the parade. The mandatory curfew had been lifted for those who'd registered to attend the parade and Leisl Chestwood was not one of those people.
She looked at the girl beside her, her worry intensifying. Zendie, with her thick curly hair in two puffy pigtails, wore her pristine white uniform dress and shiny black Mary Jane's played a game on her comm-bracelet oblivious to her surroundings. She was a beautiful child, with skin like deep brown velvet , hair as dark as night, she was petite and looked much younger than her thirteen years. Chestwood thought of bringing the child with her if the car didn't arrive soon, she would have to face the consequences later. She watched the girl, her attention focused on the colors and sounds at her wrist, like that she looked at any other child. Truth be told, Zendie Dolhonda made her uncomfortable.
"It's coming now." Zendie spoke in her soft, aristo-class accented speech that Chestwood had become accustomed too teaching the children on the elite society. Zendie looked up at her with eyes that were as dark as midnight and hinted at an intelligence that frightened many. Chestwood opened her mouth to speak when headlights illuminated the two of them in the dusk. The car advanced soundlessly coming to a stop inches from them, the back door opening to allow the little girl entry.
She gave Chestwood a wave before sinking into the inky darkness of the interior, the door closing behind her. As they pulled away Chestwood felt unease, but shook it off. She only had thirty minutes before full dark,thirty minutes and the marauders would be out lurking the streets for easy prey. She looked after the car once more, watching the brilliant red taillight fade into the distance before jogging to the relative safety of her own waiting vehicle.
"Who are you? Thomas is never late and he would get out to open the door for me. You do kind of look like him though, from a distance. You even had me fooled for a moment. Only a moment." Her tone was low and even, showing no real emotion other than slight annoyance. " So who are you?" Zendie asked as they pulled away from the school. "And when is the other going to sit up?" She mumbled without looking up from the game she was playing. The driver glanced at her in the rear view mirror, then shook his head. "I can smell his stinky tobacco." She said.
"So, you're as smart as they said you are. Don't worry kid, just cooperate and you will get out of this just fine." He sat up, turning to look at the child in anger a barrel of a gun aimed at her head.
"I'm not worried. Just mildly irritated." She said finally pausing her play to look at her captors. "So, what's the plan? Is this some political statement on colonization of alien life forms? Or am I a sacrifice, an example that speaks to the excesses of the aristoclass? Some psychotic plan to make you famous? Or is this just a money grab?" She asked calmly, looking from the man with the gun to the man posing as her driver.
"The way I figure it, your Ma will pay a pretty penny to get her precious angel back home. I mean look at you, if you were my kid I would do whatever I had to to get you back. Pretty little thing that you are. So just sit back cutie and enjoy the ride. This should be quick and painless. Then you can get back to your big fancy house and all your nannies and butlers." He chuckled nastily.
"Are you a pedo? Sick." Her face twisted in disgust. "Gross."
"I'm not now, nor have I ever been a pedo." He growled, throwing an elbow at the driver who stifled a chuckle.
"Whatever. You aren't going to give me back." She said. "If your plan was to return me safe and sound, you wouldn't have let me see your faces. Now that I can identify you, you have to kill me. Oh, you won't do it right away, at least not until the drop is made. I mean when we get to where ever we're going, you're going to have to make the call. And since my mother isn't a stupid woman, she's going to want proof of life. You'll let me talk to her, but only for a moment. But the problem with that is I could pass her a message, something subtle that only she and I would understand. It could be such a little thing that you could never be sure, not really. Of course , you could just cut off a finger or an ear and send it to her,but that would expose you. Sure, you could get a courier, but they would crack as soon as a little pressure is applied. The feds are experts at applying pressure. And you don't trust each other enough to let one of you do it. Because, if either of you get caught you'd sell the other out in a heartbeat. I can say that I won't tell, that I will play dumb, say I was blindfolded and I never saw your faces or heard your voices but you both know you can't trust me. And you know that as soon as you attempt a swap or exchange, the feds would be all over you. Your only viable option is to kill me. So, I think I'll just have to escape." The men shared nervous looks but said nothing. Zendie returned her attention to the thick silver bracelet she wore and began swiping the screen.
"She's fucking spooky." The driver mumbled.
"Your comm won't work in here, kid. We have a cell jammer in the car, no emails, no calls, no texts." The one with the gun said, ignoring the driver who's hands had tightened on the steering wheel. She glanced up briefly and smiled. Shadows inside the car and the eerie light from street lamps cast a yellow pallor across her skin giving her angelic face a sinister gleam.
"I'm not calling anyone. I don't have to." She said with a grin. "I told you, I have an escape plan. It's been successful so far. And with this amateurish operation, it will be successful again." She continued swiping her game , vivid colors and shapes filling the dark interior of the car. Her captors looked at each other nervously, but said nothing else.
"You can't believe that you're the first to attempt this." She said after a long pause. "Others have tried and they had pretty ingenious plans. I was going to be hung in effigy when mother was first announced as Interplanetary Ambassador. That was planned by a bunch of graduate students who felt that inviting extraterrestrial life forms to the planet would lead to genocide. They took me from a park where I was at a birthday party with friends. It didn't end well for them."
"We never heard of that-" The gunman said.
"Of course not. But you did hear about six grad student murdered in a house on the edge of Crest Park about three years ago. It was horrific, no motive, no suspects, just six dead kids." She mumbled, concentrating on her game play. The men looked at each other, the driver's face creased in memory.
"I remember that." He whispered to the other. "It was gruesome, Danny. Like the worst murder in the history of Crest Park." The driver said
"She's just trying to spook us. Don't listen to her." Danny mumbled.
"Yea, don't listen to me. What would I know." Zendie nodded her agreement and chuckled.
"She's just a smart ass little rich brat. That had nothing to do with her. We woulda heard about it. It would have been all over the news."
"Unless my mother didn't want it all over the news. Then there was the crew who wanted to extort seventy million dollars from mother just before her launch. That debacle only lasted three hours, I mean , snow addicts are not the most organized group and thinking seventy mill could fit in a suitcase..." She laughed shaking her head at the memory.
"But you two pure bush league. Did you even do any research before you planned this great coup?" She asked, a long low whistle coming from her comm as her game ended. "Did you ever wonder why I don't have a bodyguard like the other kids at Flynnwood?" She asked, looking at them steadily. "Don't you find that to be a little weird? I mean I have one of the wealthiest and most influential families on the hill. Don't you think that's strange?"
As she spoke, the driver noticed that the car was slowing on its own. He pressed his foot on the accelerator, but nothing happened. There was only a slight whir of the engine as it slowed then stopped completely. He pushed the start button, his foot pumping the pedal to get the car moving again but nothing happened.
"What are you doing, Gus?" The one called Danny asked.
"Nothin. It just stopped. It died. I need to check under the hood." He mumbled, reaching for the handle to open the door, finding it locked. He tried to release the lock only to find that it no longer worked. Neither did the windows. They were trapped on a desolate street in the middle of nowhere. Danny reached into his pocket for his phone and began dialing.
"I'm guessing that jammer was not the brightest idea." Zendie said with a smirk. The two men remained silent, but she could feel their anxiety rising, a nervous heat filling the car. In the distance, the clink of metal on concrete could be heard moving toward them at a rapid pace. The clink-clunk,clink-clunk moved faster in the disrupting the silence that shrouded the night. Something very large was coming toward them.
"What the fuck?" Danny mumbled as he saw what was approaching through the side mirror.
"What is that?" Gus asked, turning to look over Zendie's head out of the rear window. It was large, silve, moving like a bullet train down the empty street toward them.
"I don't have a guard because I created my own escape plan." She said pointing over her shoulder. "His name is Thomas."
The driver's side window exploded and Gus was pulled out into the darkness. His screams echoed in the night, blood curling screeches accompanied the sound of flesh being torn and bone being twisted. Blood splattered against the windshield and Danny let loose a tirade of curses, before turning to glare at the girl in the back seat. Zendie returned his glare with a glint of malevolence in her midnight dark eyes. Danny fought with the door, trying in vain to free himself, before finally shooting out the window. It took six bullets before the heavy glass crackled, the sounds of Gus' screams becoming muted grunts and gurgling until they stopped altogether.
He leaned back and began kicking the shattered glass, trying to make a hole big enough to shimmy through. His sneaker clad foot finally broke through. He seemed to sigh with relief but that was short lived, as Thomas reached in, pulling him out feet first. Danny screamed, clawing at the soft leather of the seat as Thomas yanked him through the window and into the street.
"Call him off, kid! Call him off !" He turned firing shots into the dark until the gun was empty and there was only the click of him continuing to fire an empty gun. His screams only lasted a moment stopping abruptly after what she assumed with the sound of Danny's neck being broken. There was a loud crunch, then a squish before she heard his body drop onto the concrete with a muted thud.
Zendie swiped at her comm bracelet and the engine roared back to life, the doors unlocking with a soft snick. There was a loud snapping as the windows replaced themselves and rolled up , just as Thomas opened the door and slipped behind the wheel.
"What took you so long?" She asked. He turned, his chiseled features serene and beautiful in their simplicity. His eyes were a soft brown, his skin a tawny brown and his smile radiant. He wore his usual dark suit, his shirt unbuttoned at the collar, his dark hair cut short and neat. He looked as if he could have been her older brother, his eyes twinkling in the darkness.
"There was interference from the jammer. It interrupted the signal from the locater chip in your comm. It was only a minute or so. Besides, I wanted to give you time to play. I know how you like mind games, Miss. Let's go. Your mother will be expecting you when she arrives." He said in his highly trained aristoclass accent. He grasped the steering wheel, a glint of silver catching in the light for a moment before his synthetic skin knitted itself back together.
"I think that was a new record." Thomas said as he turned the car in the direction of their home.
"Less than twenty minutes." Zendie confirmed. "That is a new record."