Authors: David Estes
Book Two of the Slip Trilogy
Copyright 2014 David Estes
Kindle Edition, License Notes
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Discover other exciting titles by David Estes available through the author’s official website:
or through select online retailers.
Young Adult Novels by David Estes
The Dwellers Saga:
Book One—The Moon Dwellers
Book Two—The Star Dwellers
Book Three—The Sun Dwellers
Book Four—The Earth Dwellers
The Country Saga (A Dwellers Saga sister series):
Book One—Fire Country
Book Two—Ice Country
Book Three—Water & Storm Country
Book Four—The Earth Dwellers
Book Three—Burn (coming January 2015!)
The Slip Trilogy:
Book Three—Flip (coming early 2015!)
The Evolution Trilogy:
Book One—Angel Evolution
Book Two—Demon Evolution
Book Three—Archangel Evolution
Children’s Books by David Estes
The Adventures of Nikki Powergloves:
Nikki Powergloves—A Hero Is Born
Nikki Powergloves and the Power Council
Nikki Powergloves and the Power Trappers
Nikki Powergloves and the Great Adventure
Nikki Powergloves vs. the Power Outlaws (Coming soon!)
Karen Benson, this one’s for you.
estiny’s been running for a long time. Her entire sixteen years of life, actually. That’s what Slips do. They have no choice. Run or die.
Even now, she doesn’t know how she’s managed to stay a step ahead of the Hunters. An old drunk homeless dude who let her hide in his tent once said her name might have something to do with it. At the time, the alcohol fumes were so strong on his breath that she didn’t take him too seriously. But now…
She doesn’t know what to think.
Not ten minutes ago they had her. “They” being agents of the Department of Population Control, or Pop Con, the government organization responsible for locating and terminating Slips like her. The Hunters were closing in on her from three sides, no doubt guided by a Hawk drone hovering invisibly high in the sky. Momentarily forgetting her empty stomach, she bolted from the convenience store, nearly crashing into a teenage girl about her age. A girl who was carrying a shiny new pair of hoverskates.
Like fate. Or, well, like her name. Destiny.
They’re the same hoverskates that are now on her feet, propelling her safely away from the Hunters, who tried to scramble back to their aut-cars to pursue her. Some of them fired shots, but there were no direct hits. At least she doesn’t think so. She’s never been shot before, but the pinprick of pain she felt in her back didn’t seem nearly bad enough to be a bullet ripping through her flesh. More like a ricochet—a shard of shrapnel spitting from the ground beneath her.
She can’t help the laugh that escapes her lips. Maybe the drunk dude was right. Maybe her parents had a premonition when they named her. Could they have known she would survive far longer than she was supposed to, dodging bullets and Hunters with remarkable success?
She shakes off the thought and tries to concentrate on guiding her skates down the thin alley between the row houses. Hovering a meter over the glass-speckled cement she pushes off against the air, each thrust speeding her up, until she almost feels out of control.
As she flies past a toppled-over garbage can, she narrowly misses clipping the metal frame, which is crawling with rats. Out of control. Almost. Just missing the garbage can is like a metaphor for her entire insane and unauthorized life.
Directly ahead, a group of ruffians plays baseball in the alley with rocks and sticks. Slashing past them, she steals one kid’s cap right off his head. She slaps it on her scalp and ignores the protests from the kids. She doesn’t feel bad about stealing. How can you feel bad about something you’ve done your entire life? How can you feel bad about something you have to do to survive?
Hunger claws inside her belly, and she wishes the kid had a bag of food pills on his head instead of the cap. Habitually, she clenches her abs and pretends that being hungry is the best thing in the world. The uncomfortable pang slowly ebbs away, leaving her feeling just empty again. Empty but not hungry.
She pushes herself harder and harder, cutting a sharp turn down another alley, this one free of ruffians. Her dark skin is sheened with sweat and her muscles are tight, but she knows she’s still too close to the store where she almost got caught.
That word seems to be today’s theme, she thinks wryly. Almost caught. Almost out of control. Almost safe again.
If there was a Hawk, it might still be tracking her progress, sending her changing location back to the Hunters. She has to get under cover. But where?
The houses that flash by could offer a place to hide, but the likelihood of picking one that’s unoccupied is slim. Plus the Hawk would know exactly which house she entered, so she’d need to find a way to sneak from house to house, each time magnifying her chances of getting caught. She could keep running, but eventually they’d catch her. Running is only one half of the equation of her life. Hiding is the other half.
Then she sees it. An open manhole. There are barriers around it, warning pedestrians to steer clear. She hears laughter, and a moment later spots men wearing orange vests eating lunch nearby. The manhole is unguarded, save for the waist-high barriers.
She charges for the opening, gauging the height of the barriers as she approaches. Her skates are hovering too low—she’ll have to jump. At the last possible second, she springs upward, watching the barrier disappear beneath her, replaced by a gaping black circle of emptiness. With a deft turn of both ankles, the hoverskates slide across the air to a stop, and she uses her heels to switch off the hoverpower.
Although she expects it, she gasps when she drops, her stomach flying through her chest and into her throat. As darkness closes around her with wet, icy hands, she reengages the hoverpower and her skates stop her fall before she crash lands in whatever muck occupies the bottom of the sewer drain.
She waits…one beat, two. No shouts. No protests. The men were too engaged in whatever story or joke was being told to see her slick maneuver into the hole. The Hawk wouldn’t be so easily fooled. It would’ve seen her, its cameras capturing her every move in stunningly clear three-dimensional holographs beamed back to some Pop Con command center. But now she’s off the grid, and although the Hunters will arrive soon, she has a chance to get far away before they do.
Flicking on a powerful white light built into her stolen watch, she races through the cement tube. She has to duck to avoid scraping her head on the rough ceiling, but it’s no problem for her. Brackish water meanders beneath her, bound for some unknown body of water or treatment facility.
Soon side passages begin to open up on either side and she makes it a rule to take every turn she possibly can. She knows she’ll get hopelessly lost, but that means her pursuers will, too.
Time seems to stand still in the dank sewer system, and she begins checking her watch regularly to measure her progress. Five minutes, ten, a half hour; still she soldiers onward, her stooped back and neck growing sore as she cuts a zigzagging path through the town’s underworld.
After an hour has passed, she starts looking for a place to hole up for a while. Everything looks the same, however—gray and wet and miserable—so she searches for another thirty minutes. She’s just about to stop anywhere and do her best to find a dry spot to sit, when a random turn brings her into a small, square space. She slews to a stop, checks the floor—which is surprisingly dry beneath her—and drops. Her hoverskates clack mildly on the cement, the sound echoing further than she expected.
The skates also have wheels, a sort of throwback to when people used to skate on the ground rather than in the air, and she tentatively rolls around the space, feeling awkward and clumsy. Her watch light shows three walls constructed of concrete blocks, solid except for the gap in which she entered, a sort of door. The fourth wall, however, is much more interesting. It’s a panel with flashing lights and colorful gauges and levers and buttons. A control panel, likely used to change the flow of sewage and storm runoff throughout the town. She doesn’t touch it for fear that she’ll break something and draw attention to her location. Someone might come down eventually, but for now it’s as good a place as any to rest.
She lowers herself to the floor, resting her back against one of the walls, and slips off her backpack. Placing it beside her, she ignores it for a moment as she removes the hoverskates. It would be smarter to leave them on, in case she needs to take off again quickly, but she can already feel the blisters forming on the sides of her toes. She pushes off her shoes, too, letting her sockless feet breathe. The cool air hits the sweat on her skin and she sighs with relief.
Her comfort is short-lived when she feels a sharp sting in her back. The shrapnel from the gunshot, she remembers, reaching back to feel for the wound. She sucks in a breath when she touches her lower back, her nerves firing. Her fingers come away moist with blood. But it’s dark red and thick, already congealing. Clotting. The injury might be painful, but it’s not serious. She’ll live. It could’ve been so much worse, like a real bullet in the back, not just a metal shard or splintered rock or whatever penetrated her flesh.
Wiping the blood on her pants, she adjusts her position so her back doesn’t touch the wall, and uses an old shirt from her bag to put pressure on the wound.
Next she rummages through her pack, trying to find her last food pill. Ah! There! She pinches the pill between her thumb and forefinger and shoves it in her mouth. She barely tastes the chicken parmesan, swallowing quickly to get the nutrients to her body, which is starting to tremble with weakness. The food pill will do little to quell the void in her stomach, but at least she’ll have energy again.
She shouldn’t linger, but the thought of donning the hoverskates on her sore feet makes her cringe. Just a few minutes more, she thinks. Once again, she reaches a hand inside her pack, hoping to find another food pill she missed, or forgot about. As if. She never makes mistakes when she inventories her meager supplies.
Instead, her hand closes on two pieces of paper, connected by their folded-together top left corner. They feel weird and crinkly against her fingers. Paper isn’t used much anymore. Most authorized citizens use their portable holo-screens, or holos, to communicate, to get news, to entertain themselves. Many of the unauthorized people she’s met have them, too. Diggers and Jumpers. Even a Slip or two. They stole them or stole money to buy them. But not Destiny. If she manages to steal a holo, she finds a place to sell it as soon as possible. Holos can be tracked, and she doesn’t trust those who say they can remove the tracking devices.
Smoothing out the paper in her lap, she reads what she’s already memorized. First, the top page. The article she found on the street, possibly printed by some news junkie who prefers reading on paper to reading on screen. It’s about a Slip in Saint Louis, which is the capital of the Reorganized United States of America, or RUSA. She’s lived near Saint Louis her entire unauthorized life, but she’s never been there. Like her, the Slip is sixteen, and he, also like her, has managed to evade Pop Con’s Hunters for many years. In fact, they only just discovered his existence at all.
The media is making a big deal out of it, like they always do in the big cities. Slips are these scary criminals, and everyone freaks when they find one. What they don’t seem to realize is that there are dozens of Slips in small towns, most of whom go unreported. Long ago, Destiny found out why when she was hiding in a pile of garbage. The Hunters chasing her stopped not a meter away. She overheard their entire conversation:
“Should we call it in, boss?” one of the Hunters had said.
“No. We never call it in,” the other Hunter, presumably the boss, said.
“We don’t have the resources the city units have, kid. It’s not possible to catch every Slip the way they can. If the top dogs in Saint Louis knew how many Slips were really out there, they’d freak. We’d all lose our jobs and they’d take over. We just do our best to catch and terminate as many unauthorized kids as we can, and forget about the rest. Okay?”
“Understood,” the new Hunter had said.
So although Destiny understands why the Slip in Saint Louis is such a big deal, it still makes her laugh every time she reads the article. At first they thought his name was Benson Mack, but then there was this huge breaking news story about how he’s really named Benson Kelly, and his father, Michael Kelly, was the Head of Pop Con. Not like a unit head, but like the overall head.
top dog. Somehow Michael Kelly had managed to keep his unauthorized son secret for all these years. Something went down at Pop Con headquarters and Michael Kelly was shot and the Slip, Benson Kelly, escaped, along with his twin brother Harrison, mother Janice, and a street rat named Lucy Harris.
Inwardly, Destiny always cheers when she reads the article. It’s a nice article, but she only became obsessed with it two days ago, when she received the second piece of paper. The note was shoved into her hand when she was “shopping” at the store where she stole the chicken parmesan food pill she’d just eaten. The kid was gone before she could even think about stopping him, his hat pulled so far over his eyes that she couldn’t make out any of his features. Like the Saint Louis Times article, she has the note memorized, and yet she can’t help but to flip the page and read it, relishing the hand writing and the knowledge that someone real wrote the hope-filled words.
Tired of running?
Come to REFUGE.
Safe for Slips, Jumpers, Diggers.
Safe for all.
She’d come across other illegals before, some of whom mentioned a magical place called Refuge, but to her it was always a load of crap. A myth. Stupid kids creating a stupid place that they could stupidly dream about. A fairy tale to give them hope until they were caught and killed.
But now she’s not so sure she was right in her skepticism. The article, which explains how the Saint Louis Slip “disappeared into thin air,” combined with the cryptic note shoved into her hand, makes her wonder whether there is a safe place for people like her.
So she’s been moving from small town to small town, talking to anyone she can about it. Gathering information. Everyone’s heard about it. Some laugh it off as some big joke, while others swear to the heavens that Refuge exists.
But the one consistent message is that it’s somewhere near Saint Louis. A coincidence? She’s never believed in coincidences, and she’s not about to now. And although she continues to question the truth in her mind, in her heart she knows Benson Kelly found the place of myths and legends.