Engedi’s green eyes looked to the blonde-sand eyes of Gamma, calm, steady. He had decided to have the RFID tag removed from behind his ear to be sure the Municipality couldn’t track him, and the Outlaw Gamma was the only person he knew who could cut it out.
The two of them were sitting in Gamma’s truck on a moon-lit dune a few miles outside of the City. Engedi had tracked him down earlier that afternoon as the cherry-orange sun was setting while the Gamma had been buying Sativa from Mamma Don. His roommate had been shot, he had nearly been killed himself, and a stuffed rabbit had been following him since he woke up to find Aeron in a pool of his own blood.
“I haven’t really liked today, Gamma. I know I’m not going to like being cut into. But I can’t stay in the City any longer, and Mamma Don said your Chief was the only one to trust around here.”
Gamma looked into Engedi’s eyes, the moon light washing the color from their faces.
“I would have to do it here. The lighting is poor.”
Engedi shook his head. “I don’t care. Get it out. I want to get away from this place.”
A heavy sigh escaped Gamma’s throat. The stuffed rabbit sat placidly in the bed of the track, staring at the moon rising in the east while the Outlaw mulled over the possibilities. Engedi watched him, waiting for him to agree and take him away from the mess he had always known in the City.
“Alright, I’ll do it. You’re lucky that I brought my supplies with me; normally I just bring a first aid kit when I make Sativa runs.”
He reached over Engedi’s knees to the glove compartment, pulling out a small leather satchel and motioning for them to get out of the truck. They walked around to the bed, Gamma dropping the tail gate as the rabbit doll just watched them, boredom on its blank face.
“Just lay down here,” Gamma instructed. Engedi laid down on the tail gate, Gamma brushing the brown hair away from the back of his ear as he searched for the thin scar that would show him where the RFID was. He felt around for a few moments, fingers seeking the tough tissue of healed skin.
“Let me see the other ear.”
Engedi rolled around to face away from the Outlaw, Gamma searching for the bump behind his right ear while the doll cocked its head, curious as to what the two humans were doing.
“I feel it, but I need more light…,” Gamma said, “Hold on.”
Green-eyed Engedi stared at the back of the cab while Gamma walked around to the passenger side of the truck, rummaging behind the seat until he found what he sought.
“Flashlight ought to help,” he said, coming back around to his patient. There was a whirring sound as he wound up the flashlight for a minute. He then looked at the doll and wondered for a few moments.
“Hey, you,” he said to the rabbit. The doll looked back at him. “Can you hold a flashlight?”
The doll nodded and got to its feet, taking the light from Gamma and walking over to where Engedi lay.
“Useful,” Gamma noted, rejoining Engedi and pulling a knife and a bottle of rubbing alcohol from his satchel, along with a bit of gauze and medical tape. He disinfected the blade with the alcohol and motioned for the doll to shine its light on the side of Engedi’s head. His fingers felt for the bump where the tag was embedded, light shining from the flashlight onto the scar.
“Right,” Gamma said, “here we go.”
The blade of the knife glinted in the light for a moment, then Engedi hissed in pain as red blossomed from the incision Gamma made. With a subtle grace Gamma pinched open the wound to show the tiny sphere of an RFID tag, covered in blood yet recognizable as the tracking device every Civilian had. Using the tip of the blade Gamma nicked it free from Engedi’s body and tossed it to the dusty sand beneath him.
“Almost done, just hold still,” the Outlaw said, cleaning the wound with alcohol and patching it with some gauze and a bandage. “Good thing the Municipality started using smaller tags a few years back.”
Gamma nodded in the dark.
“That’s what happens when you ask for freedom. Nothing is free. It’s done though.”
Engedi sat up, looking to the doll which still held the light, staring at him.
Gamma looked away, feeling his heart skip a beat from the rush of adrenaline.
“You’re welcome. It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but it was a shallow cut. Be careful with it for the next week or so.”
“Yes sir!” he said, saluting Gamma and smiling.
The Outlaw nodded, taking the light from the rabbit and washing the blood from the knife with more alcohol, the red staining the desert floor.
“I’ll load the pipe. It will help with the pain.”
Gamma packed his supplies away and put the brown leather sack into the glove compartment, returning to the tail gate with a glass pipe and a bag of Sativa. He broke the fragrant nuggets, dried and compact, then packed them into the bowl of his pipe. From his pocket he pulled a lighter and put a flame to the herb, drawing through the stem before handing it to Engedi.
“Thanks,” he said, taking it and hitting the pipe, spicy blue smoke filling his lungs as the familiar buzz coursed through his body.
“No prob,” Gamma exhaled, taking the pipe from Engedi, “Mamma Don carries good weed.”
“Yeah…,” Engedi agreed, looking into the distance where the light flooded from the center of the City, several miles away. “I’m going to miss him.”
Gamma’s dark face smiled, teeth throwing back the pale-white moonlight.
“It isn’t like you aren’t ever going to see him again.”
“I know,” Engedi said, watching Gamma toke the pipe, “But things are different now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve never been outside of the City before.” He took the green-glass pipe from Gamma and drew a hit.
Holding the smoke in his lungs, Engedi looked out across the rolling, shifting dunes of sand in the benighted desert. It was fitting, he thought, that there was nothing here but the sand, and like everything in life, it was blown from one side of the desert to the other by winds that none could see, none could control.
“It isn’t so different from what you’re used to. You still work. You still eat.”
Engedi looked to Gamma’s blonde eyes, realizing that there was a subtle light drifting from them. For a moment, cold fear struck his chest, some demon breathing on his skin to raise the goose-pimples.
Gamma cocked his head and looked to Engedi.
The Sativa Runner looked away, unsure of what to say, the pain of his incision still throbbing from the antiseptic behind his ear. He handed the pipe back to Gamma.
“Oh,” Gamma said, looking at the glowing ember in the bowl of the pipe, “No. I’m not completely like you.”
Both young men looked to the moon that was halfway up the eastern horizon, stars constellating in the black-ink of space. Engedi had heard of the modified soldiers, the experiments the Municipality had done to elite Gunners, the hidden places in the City where genes were spliced, but he had never known more than that. He didn’t even know what a “gene” was.
“My father was a Modified. My mother was on her sojourn.”
Engedi nodded, taking the pipe after Gamma had taken another drag. He had lifted it to his lips when suddenly Gamma leapt off the tailgate.
“Time to go.”
Engedi bounced to his feet, toking the pipe as Gamma closed the tail gate and they got into the truck.
“You might want to enjoy the last of that bowl. It’s going to be a ride from hell.”
“Huh?” Engedi asked as they slammed the doors shut, the doll tapping at the back glass of the cab. Engedi looked to see it jumping up and down, gesturing behind them whence came flashing blue lights.
“What are they doing?” he asked, Gamma cranking the truck.
“They know your tag was taken out. Vitals quit registering. Time to go, Engedi.”
There was the gentle scratching of sand on the underside of the truck as he took off, the sounds of police sirens chasing them across the desert as they raced between dunes where the sand was more level. Toking the pipe as Gamma pulled a tight turn around a high dune, Engedi looked back to see the doll holding a hammer and waving it angrily at the police cruiser behind them.
“Oh great, my doll is egging them on,” he noted.
“Hold on, it gets bumpier from here on out,” Gamma spoke, Engedi watching as the desert ahead of them became more stony, rocks littering the ground as the truck bounced. The cruiser behind them was slowly gaining, occasionally losing ground as its driver had to skirt some of the larger rocks that Gamma’s truck ramped with ease.
Another tight turn threw Engedi against the passenger window, the pain from impact adding to the pain from his surgery and causing him to scream out.
“Just toke the damn pipe and be happy!” Gamma yelled, pulling a donut to kick up dust around them. Engedi did as he was told, the ember burning orange as the force of the turn kept him against the window. In the bed, the rabbit was bracing against the tire well, hammer still in hand.
Finally Gamma straightened the wheel, truck flying forward and out of the dust cloud as the Outlaw turned and gestured at the dust.
“Settle!” he spoke, the cloud immediately collapsing on the cruiser, caking it with dirt. The Gunner was getting out of his car to fire at them, but as they drove off Engedi watched the doll hurl the hammer with such force that it beaned the Gunner in the forehead, dropping him faster than a ball tap.
“Good job!” Gamma hollered to the rabbit as they drove off into the night, into the freedom of being an Outlaw in a world where surveillance was the law of the land.
Smiling, Engedi handed the pipe to Gamma as he enjoyed the feeling of Sativa rushing through his body. As Gamma took the last drag, Engedi looked to the stony wasteland around them, feeling as though he had left a bad dream behind him. Freedom might mean he had to live among the Outlaws, that he might have to outrace and outwit any Gunners that would chase him down, but if he had people like Gamma and the rabbit doll that was now dancing happily in the bed of the truck, liberation might not be such a terrifying thing after all. Maybe that was the trick of freedom, you had to cut it out from the world and run off with it into the night.