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During the before, the journey from the Professor’s residence to Penn Station would have taken 10 minutes and been one of the easiest commutes in the city. The Dakota was conveniently located across from the West 72nd Street Subway Station on the Metro Transit Authority’s ABC line, a straight shot to midtown Manhattan with direct underground access to the United States’ largest train terminal. But Sebastian had just fallen out of an exploding airplane and spent the past few hours convalescing only to learn that his soulmate’s life was in danger. This was the after and the first leg of his escape from New York to DC would be treacherous.


In the after, intra-city transit of any kind in the US had stopped running. Too many buses and subway cars had exploded since the war had started. The congregation and movement of millions of people in dense urban cores had also resulted in endless protests that were becoming increasingly violent. Congress, before it was dissolved, had passed an emergency act to grant the President authorization to shut down public transportation systems nationwide. The rationale was that it would be safer for people within cities to walk or bike wherever they needed to go. By this time, taxis and car share services also were a long-distant relic of the past, the industry having gone completely bankrupt after gasoline rationing in aid of the war effort had pushed prices to astronomical levels and turned personal vehicle ownership into a luxury of only the wealthiest.


This was the reality that Sebastian faced as he began to execute on his plan to save Avery. Biking made Sebastian an easy target; walking would be his only means of absconding. Instead of a 10-minute subway commute to Penn Station, Sebastian would hustle down 8th Avenue for almost an hour barely incognito, a red baseball cap and the darkness of night as his only disguise. It was a bold move given that he was now one of America’s most wanted criminals.


There simply wasn’t time to prepare a deeper cover. Sebastian's train to DC was scheduled to depart at 01:03L (06:03Z) and the helos would be wheels up at West Potomac Park precisely at 07:47L (12:47Z). With little margin for delay, he would only get one shot at achieving his objective.


Sebastian better move.


While Sebastian had been sleeping, the Professor had cobbled together all of the necessary arrangements to facilitate Avery’s rescue. If it weren’t for her age, she was pushing close to 70 by this point, the Professor would be going with Sebastian too. Sebastian, Avery, the Professor- they were all part of the same community, a unique family of its own kind, one few truly understood or would ever have the fortune to be a part of.


Sebastian unsteadily gripped the burner in his left pocket and the fake papers rolled up in a wad of cash in his right. Moments earlier the Professor had helped him hurriedly bathe, an awkward encounter that had crossed a new threshold of intimacy for them both. It took almost 20 minutes to scrub off all of the blood caked on Sebastian's body that might expose his fugitive status. 


-You have everything?  




-I’ll always be with you.


The Professor gave Sebastian the biggest hug she could manage. Her frail, slender arms were shaking and could barely wrap around his trunk-like torso.  


-Thank you.


Sebastian wiped his eyes on the Professor's shoulder and bee-lined out her front door, intentionally choosing not to say goodbye, his eyes fixed at 30 degrees below horizon so as not to make eye contact with any passersby in the hallway as he departed at three minutes past midnight. He had an hour to catch his train.


The streets were less crowded than they had been when Sebastian had scrambled to refuge from the park earlier in the evening, but there were still enough pedestrians around for him to slip away anonymously. He bottled up whatever sadness or fear he should have felt into a box in his mind. Feeling in this moment would be self-defeating. Logic superseded emotion. The plan was set. He needed to go, and go Sebastian went.


Compartmentalizing emotions was a skill that Sebastian had spent his entire life trying to master. It didn’t come naturally to him.


Briskly striding toward the second act of his getaway at a pace bordering on cadence with a light jog, Sebastian kept refreshing the screen of the phone that the Professor had given him every few blocks or so. The imagery sometimes would freeze rendering, but when it worked it gave him a near-real time update showing where potential National Guard squads were patrolling so that he could alter course in the event that the search teams detected his location. So far it seemed as though he had successfully shaken their surveillance, according to analysis of the imagery.


Every time Sebastian looked at the teal blue app he marveled in quasi-disbelief. Years before the war one of the most ambitious tech startups in Silicon Valley had figured out a way to image the entire earth multiple times a day using a constellation of hundreds of small satellites the size of a loaf of bread and then built a mobile-based platform to deliver those images to everyone’s cell phones almost instantaneously.


The technological advance had made Sebastian’s job both easier and harder. Access to information that historically had been guarded by government sleuths was now accessible to everyone. After years of working in absolute secrecy, seemingly overnight, he was able to share insights more readily with those who needed to know. The flipside of this meant that there was a prodigious amount of extra data to sift through, and he faced more pushback every time he fulfilled his duty to warn of impending danger, cabinet secretaries and generals alike increasingly playing the role of amateur analyst themselves. 


Overall the change was for the better and Sebastian was grateful in this moment to benefit from the decades of American innovation and the previous generational push for greater transparency that he believed had made the world safer. It was only a matter of time before the current regime in power would censor the app, realizing that his people were now using it to hide.


Hopefully that wouldn’t happen until Sebastian could exfiltrate Avery.


Sebastian steamrolled toward midtown unabated until he reached Columbus Circle. A few blocks north of the circle he refreshed his phone for the umpteenth time and previewed the Red Cross mobile morgue that had replaced the car pileups formerly occupying the five-way roundabout. He could also see that there was some kind of checkpoint at the intersection of 8th Avenue and West 58th Street. Would the National Guard be providing security for the morgue? He wasn’t sure, so he briefly ducked back into Central Park while glancing momentarily at the gilded tower overshadowing the circle’s expanse, serpentining his way around from a distance. At the park’s southwestern edge he re-emerged from the brush and detoured down Broadway.


The lights steadily became brighter and brighter the closer and closer Sebastian got to Times Square. This area held a lot of personal significance for him. It was the first neighborhood in New York City that Sebastian had ever visited. He must have been only eight or nine when his granddad, who lived in the eastern hills along the Hudson River about an hour north of Manhattan by train in a small town called Garrison, invited him there to see his first Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof. If only Sebastian were a rich man, maybe he wouldn’t be in the position he was in now. Many shows with other family members, friends, and Avery followed. Sebastian associated the hundreds of dazzling billboards that shocked the night sky in the square with some of his favorite memories from childhood and his college days. It was there that his love affair with music began and he had started to become who he was.


Sebastian passed Juniors. His mouth began to water. Yum. He wished he had time to stop for a late night snack. He imagined arriving in DC ambushing Avery with a fresh blueberry cheesecake. Avery loved Juniors too. What a fun surprise that would have been.


At 00:52L (05:52Z) Sebastian arrived outside the 7th Avenue entrance to Penn Station. He was just about to barrel through the entrance's revolving door when the head of an elderly homeless man- a gentle, slim creature who had been curled up under a pile of newspapers immediately to the left of the door trying to sleep under the entrance's awning- exploded. 


Red droplets now coated the previously clear glass. None of the other travelers around Sebastian even flinched. Sebastian dared not turn around to confront the NYPD officer who had fired the shot. Everyone in the after knew what the penalty for homelessness was. 


Sebastian accomplished his mission with three minutes to spare. Rather than taking his seat, he locked himself in the bathroom. This was the first real moment of privacy he had to himself since fleeing Qatar.  


The carriage began to shake and jostle, Train 47 with direct service to Washington departing right on time. Sebastian sat on the toilet under the bathroom’s nauseating fluorescent light inebriated by the rancid odor of chemically treated piss and poop. He silently wept.




-People who pass through don’t even know they’ve been here. What do we leave? Nothing much. Soon we’ll be strangers in a strange new place.

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