Unload. Of course. Now how do I get out of here before they unload . . .
Dinner! He said dinner! Oh man, do I ever want dinner!
He jerked his hand back as someone grabbed the drawstring.
He knows I'm here!
Whoever it was pulled out the packet, and walked away.
Or not. But why didn't he just have it in the cab with him? Why hide it in the load? Even if he's smuggling something, drugs probably, why put it back here?
Kit fingered the stiff fabric of the duffle bag. I wonder what this stuff is made of, that he thinks it's useful for smuggling? Maybe I ought to keep it.
The echoing noises died away, a hum and click of a powered door sliding closed . . . yes, still silent.
Kit shoved his pack forward, hanging onto the straps so it didn't fall as it cleared the edge of the sacks, and the truck bed. Stuck his head out. Just a big garage, with four bays, each with its own overhead door.
He slithered out and grabbed the sack under his and got his feet out and around. Landed without too much noise. Listened.
Right. No one's here. All I have to do is get through the next door . . . which has a key pad lock . . . with the one, five, six, and nine keys showing the signs of wear and tear. Don't they ever change the code?
Kit tapped them in order . . . red light. Reverse order. Green light. The door slid open.
A long hallway, unlit. A bright rectangle fifty meters straight ahead. By its light he could see doors on both sides. He stepped through and the door slid shut behind him.
He edged up to the first door . . . he ran a finger around the ordinary lock and the knob yielded . . . Dark inside. He stepped in and spotted the light switch. Let the door close before he clicked it.
A storeroom, half empty. It looked like mostly electronics, a lot of green duffle bags. He peeked in one and spotted a TV. How often do they need to replace TVs? And the green duffles . . . do they protect electronics going through gates?
His stomach growled. "Right. Dinner." He turned off the light and stepped back out into the hallway. The next room held clothes. Khaki uniforms on one side, blue shirts and pants on the back wall, Red shirts and white pants on the other side.
Kit fingered his old shirt, but decided he'd better get a look at the people and see what they were actually wearing before he . . . stole things.
I'm going to be a thief. A robber. The Bad Guy roaming the Multiverse.
It sounded a lot better before I was actually faced with stealing.
Not that I'm not a criminal already, Gating Across without a permit.
He stiffened his shoulders and stepped out to spy on those voices he'd heard . . . And almost ran into the blond kid.
The boy boggled, and looked him up and down, shot a glance back toward the lights, and shoved Kit back into the storeroom.
"Who are you? What are you doing here? How did you get here?"
Kit eyed the kid. Eight years old maybe? "I'm Kit. I'm running away from home, and hid on the truck that just got here."
"Oh, One! That's really cool!" The kid grinned and bounced. "I'd run away if I could!"
"One? Are you a Oner?"
"No, well, sort of. I'm the clone of an Evil Oner so I have to talk like one, so I can be a spy. When I grow up." An unhappy frown. "If they don't shut down the project."
"What will they do with you, if they shut it down?"
"We don't know . . . we're trying to find out . . ." The boy studied him. "I don't suppose you'd let six kids run away with you?"
"Six . . . well, that would be tough. I'm not sure how I'm going to get out of here. Umm, the air out there, and I don't know when the next gate will be . . ."
"Tomorrow at oh-three hundred." The kid looked around. "Change clothes. They don't keep track of us at dinner, and the drivers will be ogling the mataharis."
"The . . ."
"Pretty women, being trained to suck the secrets out of the Evil Oners and the Weirdo Fallen."
"Oh. Right." Kit turned to the red and white shelves and started looking for his size.
"I'm Henry." The boy dived down to the bottom shelf and pulled out some cheap white sneakers.
Kit stuck his foot out. "Too small."
"Yeah, you've got big feet."
Kit bundled his old clothes into his backpack, donned red and white, and hid the pack behind the shoes.
And followed Henry down the hall
There were people, adult types, sitting to the left at four of the round tables.
Nine men in khaki uniforms at two of them. Pistols, rifles slung over the backs of their chairs. Wow! There must be some dangerous prisoners here!
The people at the other two tables were in normal clothes. Three women, five men.
There were three empty tables, close to the serving line. A batch of young women in blue were delivering plates and glasses to the seated people.
Henry nudged him into line with five other kids. One boy taller than he was, one about the same, three girls. One girl who looked about ten years old, and twins who looked like kindergartners.
"Shhh!" Henry glared at the other kids. "He's hiding from the Bad Guys! Pretend he's one of us!"
The two tallest kids stepped back and Kit got in front of them, shielded from the gaze of the adults.
So the people in charge wear normal clothes or khaki uniforms. The servants wear blue and the kids wear red. Got it. I have escaped to a place even worse than the Social Services Residence House.
The guy behind the serving counter was wearing blue, a big tall guy with a blank expression. He loaded trays, yep, just like a school cafeteria, while the kids grabbed utensils and boxed drinks.
Kit did everything the other kids did and followed then to a table . . . with six chairs. He set his tray down, scooted two chairs apart, and knelt. took a bite. Blinked. That's pretty good! He strated eating, taking quick peeks at the adult tables, where something was bothering them.
The serving women were lining up and getting their trays, and sitting at two other tables. Nine of them.
The adults weren't paying them any attention. Their voices were getting louder as they argued. Kit focused and tried to hear what they were saying.
". . . invaluable experiments! We can't just . . ."
". . . not the first time we've had to start over . . ."
"But we're just starting to understand the genetic basis for . . ."
"We've had thirty-five years of hard work, successfully developing our cloning techniques. And sixteen years ago the first field implementation. Since then we've stuck to experimentation, and limited production, as we waited for confirmation of the success of the first infiltration."
"But . . ."
"So the . . . young ladies . . . will be leaving for some advanced training before they start work."
Several of the plain clothes types trying to all talk at once.
The other kids were quiet, their attention also on the adults.
". . . orders!" A gray-haired guy, standing to glare around his table, as well as the people at the next.
Henry leaned closer. "That's Dr. Metz. He's the Head of Research, the boss of all this."
One of the women was frowning. "But . . . what about the children?"
A lot of glances their direction, and away.
Guilty. Oh, this doesn't sound good at all!
Kit looked around the table, where eyes had widened.
"We will discuss this in the morning." Metz sounded cold and angry.
Kit wolfed down the rest of the food. It may be the last good meal I have for awhile.
The women in blue left their food half uneaten, and scurried around getting the bosses and the guards dessert, before sitting, again. The kids finished and Kit stood up with then and carried his tray through a door, and joined the rest in rinseing the plates, loading a huge dishwasher . . . and getting a second, clandestine dessert from the big dull guy.
They sat on the floor, out of the way to munch.
"Thanks, Jay." Henry waved at the big man. "Jay's the only nice grownup around. He's from the first round of clones. By the time they decided he wasn't spy material, he was so good at helping the cook they didn't . . . get rid of him."
Get rid of him? How? And does it happen all the time?
Kit looked at the kids. "Are you all clones? Do you know who you were cloned from?"
Henry nodded. "Yeah, we get their first initials. Mine's some boring guy named Harp. Everyone else has famous people."
"Mine's a prince!" The taller blond boy grinned. "Somebody named Garit, so I'm George."
"I'm Ian." The other tall boy. "My progenator's a really evil Oner named Inso."
"Jessica." The ten-year-old girl grinned. "Which is a whole lot better than Jiol."
Henry pointed at the two little girls, "Quick and Quirk are both clones of Q, the evil scientist. They have to sleep in metal rooms on asbestos pads."
"Q?" Kit sat up and eyed the girls. "Do you mean Dr. Quail Quicksilver? I don't actually think she's evil."
Six laser eyed stares.
"Well, I don't know her, but she's in the news all the time." Kit shrugged. "I wonder why they didn't clone Xen Wolfson?"
"Who?" A puzzled frown from Jessica. "And who are you?"
"Kit. Umm, Christophe Martin Antione, if you want to be formal. My Mom died two years ago, and I've been in foster kid hell since. So I finally decided to run away really far." Kit looked around. "I may have over done it."
They all snickered.
A clatter, as dishes hit the serving counter. One of the blue women looked over at them. "Up and at 'em, lazy brats!"
They all got up and got to work on this round of dishes, started the machine, wiped down the counters . . . Mom would have approved. "Army clean" she called it. My friends said I had the cleanest bedroom in the World, and I heard Jaques's mom say they could do surgery on Mom's counter top.
Kit blinked back tears. And followed the kids out of the kitchen with cleaning supplies.
You don't see me, you don't see me, you don't see me!
He stuck to the tables and chairs furthest from the adults, and hoped it didn't look like a disembodied sprayer and towel wiping down the chairs. Henry wiped the table and Ian turned the chairs upside down on them.
Jay rolled out a floor polisher and turned it on.
Kit tossed the wipe in the trash, and returned the sprayer to the cabinet.
"Line up for bedtime roll call!"
Kit stayed low as the other kids left the kitchen and ducked down the hallway, thinking invisible thoughts.
The kids lined up in size order. The blue women struck silly poses, batting their eyelashes, and making kissy lips.
"Right. All here." That Dr. Metz guys sounded tired. "Firebugs? Metal room. March."
"No, please?" Quick backed up.
"We won't burn anything! Promise!" Quirk jittered in place, then turned and ran, her sister on her heels.
"Enough of this shit. Just shoot them."