What Miss Hansen thinks of this development could prove very important eventually... (no pressure there Aubrey).
I must have fallen asleep,
or else been knocked unconscious during the ride, because I awoke to
feel the van still. The bag came off my head, and through my blindfold I
could tell that there was not much light in whatever room I was.
Then a voice I once knew came to me, as though from beyond the grave. "Hello there, Phil."
I had difficulty remembering it. I hadn't heard it in what felt like years. It had left us so long ago.
"Welcome to Standard Pizza Parlor."
To the escape place?
"Sorry about all the trouble. We had to make it seem like a regular capture."
Cea's voice came in. "For the love of it man, take off her gag and stuff. Do you really expect her to respond still gagged?"
"I just don't want her attacking me. She's a spirited one, unless she's changed."
"I didn't know her as long ago as you maybe, but I would bet she hasn't changed. Maybe just got a little more extreme."
"You untie her," the voice from my past said.
"She isn't going to kick you in the face."
Cea's hands undid my gag first. I was so glad to be able to breathe normally again. That wet rag had been nasty indeed. Then she undid my hands and feet, even the handcuffs. Lastly she took off the blindfold.
There he was. A year older but looking like several had past. My old classmate Stanyard stood there looking me up and down.
"Yep, it's me, Phil."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what I wanted to say. I wasn't sure I wanted to say anything. He had left us. Signed the file, was adopted out, and had never sent a single message back. What were we doing with him? I looked at Cea, all my questions written on my face.
She just looked at me nearly blank. Her look only told me to be polite and respond. So I did. "It's... It's good to see you again, Stanyard."
"Oh come on, I know it's not, but thanks for saying so."
Cea interjected, "It's good to see anyone who doesn't wear a United officer badge."
Stanyard smiled and shrugged. "If that's the standard, an awful lot of people are good sights."
I still sat silent.
Stanyard squatted down against the wall opposite me. "Look, Phil, this isn't our high school. Just say what you want to say, so I can know what you're thinking. It's worse for us both for you to just sit there."
I swallowed and said back, "You left us." A stupid thing to say, it being so obvious. But he understood.
"Yes, I left you, but thank God I never left the faith."
"You signed the file."
"And it was the worst mistake I ever made."
"You never sent back any messages."
"It might surprise you to learn that Outsiders aren't allowed to contact Unaccepted, especially not those adopted out, at least if you want to get your citizenship by good behavior."
"So you're a citizen of the United now."
"Yes, complete with all the rights and privileges. And costs."
He was able to say it all too easily. "You signed the file. You left us. You never spoke back. Everyone at Street 17 figures you might as well be dead to us."
"And it is for all of our best that it seem that way."
I couldn't take that. I stood up. "What do you mean? Your dad has hardly seen the light of day since you left. His attitude has grown only more sullen. Everyone in our school watched as two of their leaders, two of the oldest, sold out and went for the world. How is that better?"
I looked down and saw that Stanyard was crying, through a smile. "Because God is bigger than my stupid mistakes. He turned me around after I got out." He stood up next to me.
"How?" I snapped at him.
"How many of us do you see here?"
It hit me. I asked shakily, looking down into space right through Stanyard's body. "Where's Mira?"
He shook his head. "Not even I know. She hasn't sent a word to me in months."
"Sent? She doesn't live with you?"
"I moved out of the adopted family as soon as I could, when I turned eighteen. She moved out even faster."
I didn't get it.
"She met some guy from the United peace-keeping military. I don't think I ever got his name. Ran off with him before it was even legal."
"So... so that turned you?"
"I saw what I was just like, just in a slightly greater degree. I wanted to keep my faith but not my practice. When she did that, I saw that it couldn't last much longer. I either had to live by my faith or let it die."
"So what did you do?"
"So here I am. I run an underground unit, one of the finest I know of. All kinds of malcontent sons of the United, Unaccepted and Outsider alike follow me." I looked into his eyes with a mix of amazement and admiration. He went on. "That's why it's best I seem dead to Street 17. If they knew about me, if I used my covert methods to converse with you, I'd be found in an instant. Now both sides think I am dead to them."
We stood awkwardly next to each other for a moment, I swallowing his story, he my reactions. Finally I let myself hug him, and we both cried for it all.
The next part is Philli: Part 26