Katariina Rios ran her hands through her hair, completely at the end of her rope. Her husband had been shot in the leg, their car had stopped working, the sun was setting, the air was getting colder, and they were likely being pursued. Oh, and little Alice was hungry.
She had only given birth to Alice a month ago and was still recovering. And now all this. She simply couldn’t take it. Her breathing increased. Was she having a panic attack? But no, she could hold it together, and the moment that panic began to set in, it spurred her to action.
“Honey, can I assume you bought a first-aid-kit?” Her husband recently spent a fortune on survival equipment, all of which was stuffed in the back of the car. The overt spending was part of the reason they were in this predicament, but it might also save Sergio’s leg.
Sergio nodded through the pain. “In the trunk, under the sleeping bags I think.”
Kat opened the trunk and threw out the sleeping bags. After a quick search through the plastic shopping bags, she finally found a first-aid kit with bandages. It would do. She also grabbed a water bottle.
She hurried to the passenger side of the car where Sergio sat trying to stop the flow of blood. Alice’s cries called to her, but she had to prioritize. Gingerly she lifted her husband’s leg outside of the car. Sergio winced as she handled his leg, cut away the cloth with some scissors she found in the first-aid kit, and took off his shoe and sock. The wound almost made her gag. What am I doing?, she thought. She had no medical experience and yet here she was cleaning up a gunshot wound of all things. What she really needed was to get Sergio to a hospital. But the car wasn’t going anywhere, and she didn’t want to risk trying to wave down one of the cars passing by. They were still too close to the motel they had just left.
Taking the water bottle, she poured it over the wound to clean it. Then she took an alcohol swab and gently dabbed around the wound. Again Sergio winced, but Kat breathed a sigh of relief. There was an exit wound! That meant the bullet wasn’t still embedded in Sergio’s leg. And it was off to the side as well, meaning the bullet probably missed the bone.
After cleaning the wound as best she could, given the circumstances, Kat took a role of medical bandages and began to wrap it around the calf. She tried to be as gentle as possible, but Sergio still whimpered through the pain. No, he wasn’t just whimpering, he was praying. Kat never had understood Sergio’s deeply-held Catholic beliefs. Growing up in Argentina had instilled that in him. Kat hadn’t let religion get in the way of their marriage, but she now wondered why, if a God existed, that He would leave them in their current situation.
She was just adding a safety pin to the bandage when she noticed that someone had pulled over just behind them. Sergio noticed too, and he froze, fear evident in his face. This road was not heavily trafficked, and it was dark. Who would be pulling over?
The new vehicle was an old, rusty pick-up truck. It carried only one man. Kat couldn’t get a good look inside the car, but it wasn’t long before the door opened and the man exited. He was an elderly man, probably in his late sixties. His face and clothes were worn, but clean. He had silver hair and wore plaid beneath a weathered jacket and jeans.
His mouth turned into a warm smile. “Hello there!” he called out. Upon seeing Kat’s suspicious look, he raised his hands slightly. “Do you need some assistance?” His brow furrowed as he saw Sergio’s bandaged leg.
“Don’t come any closer!” was all Kat could think to say. She was surprised at how hysterical her voice sounded.
The man stopped walking towards them. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m not with them.”
It only vaguely occurred to Kat how significant that statement was. She looked around for something, anything she could use as a weapon. There was a crossbow in the back, but she’d never get it out of its packaging in time. Upon finding nothing, she stared back at the man, who still had his hands raised in a gesture of innocence.
“How do we know you’re not with them?” she said.
“I’m afraid I don’t have anything to prove it to you,” the man replied. His eyes were wise and held a deepness that Kat had only seen once before, in the blonde girl who had come to rescue them the night of Alice’s birth. She inexplicably wanted to trust him.
Sergio suddenly spoke up, “Kat, what are our options?”
Kat racked her brain. They couldn’t stay put for long. They couldn’t walk away with Sergio’s leg. They needed this man’s help, assuming he was genuine. They really had no other choice.
“My husband needs medical attention. Can you help us?”
He nodded. “I’m happy to help.”
He began to walk towards them again. Kat didn’t stop him. Perhaps this man was a member of Invergence, but they honestly had no choice but to trust him for now. Staying put would almost certainly result in capture by Invergence. It was this or nothing.
The old man approached and together, he and Kat helped Sergio to his feet, or rather to his one good foot. They hobbled towards the truck.
Simon tilted his head, hearing Alice’s cries from the car. “I don’t have room in the front for all of you. I think we’d be best to put this young man in the back while you and the baby ride in the front with me.”
Sergio agreed so Kat nodded. They helped Sergio sit in the back of the truck, slowly sliding him backwards until he reached the corner. Then Kat answered Alice’s cries that had been calling her throughout this whole ordeal. She opened the door and took Alice from her carseat, rocking her gently to try and calm her. But Alice was hungry and upset, so she continued to wail. Kat took her and her baby bag to the truck, leaving the rest of their stuff behind. The old man opened the door for her. He stared at the baby with a strange look on his face, but as soon as Kat saw it, it was gone. The man closed the door after her, circled round the truck, and got in the driver’s seat. Soon, they were off.
Kat wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but there was still something off about this old man. Everything was too convenient. And he seemed to have a knowledge of the danger the three of them were in. He kept checking his rearview mirror as if to make sure no one was following them.
“My name is Simon,” he said after they had driven for a minute.
“I’m Kat,” she said, before cursed herself for giving up her real name. This is what we have aliases for, she thought. But the old man still didn’t seem to be a threat, at least not so far. “Where are you taking us?” she asked a moment later.
“My home,” he replied, “It’s not a big place, but there’s room for the three of you if one doesn’t mind taking the couch.”
“What about him?” Kat gestured to Sergio in the back of the truck.
“I imagine you don’t want to call too much attention by taking someone with a gunshot wound to the hospital, correct?” Kat said nothing, so the man continued, “I have some basic medical training from my time in Vietnam. I should be able to patch him up.”
Again, Kat said nothing. This all seemed too much of a good thing. If this man could pull through like he said, maybe then they could talk. In the meantime, she took the opportunity to feed Alice, which helped enough to calm the girl down.
They continued on the winding road until Simon turned onto a small dirt path. Kat winced as the truck bounced on the uneven road, knowing how much that probably hurt Sergio’s leg. But soon enough they pulled into the dirt driveway of a small cottage. It was rustic and simplistic, but it looked quite lovely. Even with everything on Kat’s mind, she was impressed with the look of the place. It spoke of a quiet life.
They quickly exited the truck and helped Sergio out of the back.
Once inside, Simon took them to what looked like a spare bedroom and they lay Sergio down. Sergio breathed out a sigh of relief as he was allowed to rest his leg. Simon quickly got to work preparing to stitch his leg. He gathered the tools he needed, then began taking the bandage off.
Kat held Alice, comforting her as she cried, still too worried about her husband to feed the girl just yet. Simon seemed to notice this. As he started cleaning Sergio’s leg with water and rubbing alcohol, he said, “You can go ahead and take care of her,” he indicated the baby, “Your husband will be fine.
Kat hesitated, but on a nod from Sergio, decided to do as the man said. She left the room to nurse Alice. Meanwhile her thoughts raced. Who was this man? It seemed too convenient that he would just show up when they needed him. What was he hiding? Her mind was so busy with questions that she didn’t notice the time passing. Soon, Simon exited the spare bedroom, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Your husband is doing just fine,” he said, “the bullet passed clean through the leg, so he will recover. Right now he just needs rest.”
Kat nodded, “then I don’t suppose you would mind answering some questions?”
He returned the nod, “Naturally, I imagine you’re wondering how I knew to pick you up, or that you were being pursued by Invergence,” he said casually, “That’s right, I know them. I am a member of Argo Force.”
Kat’s confusion must have shown on her face because the man laughed, “I see you don’t believe me.”
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just that we pictured members of Argo Force to be…well…”
“More ‘super.’” His eye twinkled, “No, that’s just an elite group. Frankly, their ranks would be stretched too thin without people like me. You see, Kat, we have members all over the world, and all throughout time. I am only one of them. But we have no superpowers, we simply do our best to make the world around us a better place.”
“So who told you where we were? Another member of Argo Force?”
The man considered the question, “No. I admit I only felt prompted to meet you there. But the Lord works in mysterious ways. It wouldn’t be the first time I felt guided to someone that needed help.”
Kat didn’t quite know what to make of this, so she stayed silent, gently rocking Alice who was starting to look sleepy. The old man’s gaze rested on the girl. “Her name is Alice,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
Kat nodded. She wasn’t sure how the man knew Alice’s name, but she found herself trusting him anyway. Besides, if he truly was a member of Argo Force, and Alice was as important as it seemed, he might actually have heard about her.
“May I hold her,” Simon said suddenly. Kat hesitated. Alice was starting to go to sleep, and Kat didn’t want to disturb her. But again, she felt like she could trust this man. She gently handed Alice over.
He took her carefully, almost reverently. As he rocked her up and down, Kat saw him make the sign of the cross and mutter something. A prayer? Kat resisted rolling her eyes. This man was obviously deeply religious. How could he be into that stuff and also a member of Argo Force?
“You’re a religious man I see,” she broke the awkward silence.
“From time to time,” he grinned, “I have a small congregation that meets nearby. You’re always welcome to join us.”
Kat shook her head, “I don’t think you’d want me, I’m not much of a believer. Especially after all this.”
Simon looked up from Alice. “After all what?”
Kat shrugged, “After Argo Force, Invergence, the monsters. It all seems far too crazy for any of the religions I’ve seen to also be true. Besides, I’ve always had a problem with the conflicting doctrines. If a religion were true, wouldn’t it be obvious?”
“I would think that your discovery of Argo Force would have increased your faith. After all, if such things are a reality, isn’t it possible that there is a God?”
Kat nodded, “Possible, yes. But one improbability being true doesn’t mean this is too. Besides, if he is there, why doesn’t he do something about—” she indicated the room where Sergio was resting, “—all this. All the bad things that happen.”
The man considered her for a moment, “I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” he said finally, “but I promise you that there is a God. I know it.”
Kat let the matter drop for now. She didn’t want to argue, especially not with this man who obviously meant well. Simon seemed to reach the same conclusion, for he smiled and handed Alice back. “Thank you,” he said, “I’m sure she will grow up to be a wonderful daughter.”
Kat accepted Alice into her arms, kissing her on her tiny nose. Simon rubbed his hands together, “Now! I know it’s late, but I’m sure you and Sergio could use a bite to eat before bed. And I also have a small cradle sitting in the shed. I haven’t used it in years but never could get rid of it,” he laughed, in genuine good spirits, “I hope you don’t mind the couch?”
“Not at all,” Kat said. It was good to know they were finally in a place where they could rest. But one worry persisted, “Simon, what about Invergence?”
“Oh I highly doubt they will look for you here. And if they did, I am not defenseless.” He winked at her, then set to work in the kitchen preparing a small meal of baked potatoes with cheese. Within just a few minutes, the meal was ready. Simon took a plate into Sergio’s room first, then emerged a moment later. He grabbed a second plate for Kat.
“I’m sorry I only have leftovers at the moment,” he said begrudgingly, “I’ll have something better for you in the morning.”
Kat accepted the food gratefully. With everything that had happened in the last few hours, they hadn’t eaten in a while. In just a few moments, the food was gone, and Kat began to feel the pull of sleep. Simon, sensing this, brought in the small cradle for Alice, then excused himself and left Kat and her baby alone. After making sure Alice was fast asleep in the cradle, Kat laid down on the couch under a blanket Simon had also provided. It wasn’t long before she fell into a dreamless sleep.
She woke to the smell of bacon and pancakes. Simon was busy at work in the kitchen, and several steaming plates were arranged around the table. Simon greeted her cheerfully upon seeing her awake, “Good morning!”
“Good morning,” she replied groggily. She glanced down at Alice, who was somehow miraculously still asleep. She looked back at Simon. “What time is it?”
“About seven in the morning,” he replied.
Suddenly, Kat had a thought, “We need to go back to the car! All our stuff is in there.”
Simon brought a pan of bacon over to the plates on the table and began distributing each slice. “I’m afraid we’re past that. I went back a few hours ago. The place was swarming with Invergence and their drones. Smart cars everywhere.”
Kat felt a stab of panic, “Are they coming here?”
“They’re searching the area, but like I said last night, I’m not defenseless. You’re safe here, for now.”
Kat didn’t have much time to worry about their possessions that were now lost to Invergence, for at that moment, a door opened and Sergio emerged. He hobbled on one leg. Simon quickly put down his pan and went to help. Kat did the same. Together they helped Sergio make his way to a chair.
“It smells great!” Sergio said.
“You probably shouldn’t be walking about just yet,” said Simon, “I was going to bring you a plate.”
“Nah, I can’t stay locked up for too long,” responded Sergio, “besides, the rest of me feels fine.”
Kat inspected the new bandage on Sergio’s right leg. It had a few blood stains, but nothing too bad. Simon had obviously stitched the wound.
They started eating breakfast and sat in silence for a time, simply enjoying the hot food. Then Alice awoke and started making noise, so Kat went to her. She needed changing and they didn’t have any of her diapers from the car. They had left in too much of a hurry.
“Oh,” exclaimed Simon, “I almost forgot. After realizing that your car was lost, I ran to the supermarket and picked up some baby supplies.” he picked up a bag on the kitchen floor, “I’m not sure what all was needed, so I got a variety.”
Kat inspected the bag. Inside were diapers, baby food, baby powder, and more. It was all they could possibly need. She found herself tearing up. Looking up at Simon, she said, “We can’t possibly repay all your kindness.”
Simon shook his head, “You don’t have to. I wouldn’t be much of a Christian, or a member of Argo Force for that matter, if I didn’t help those in need. Especially when one of them is as important as Alice.”
Sergio perked up at the mention of Argo Force. Simon began to explain to Sergio everything he had mentioned
to Kat the night before. Kat, meanwhile, changed and fed Alice. She looked over at Simon and Sergio, both of whom were smiling and in deep conversation. She felt contentment for the first time since before Alice was born. They were going to be okay.
For now at least.
They made use of Simon’s hospitality for three weeks after that. Every morning he was up before they were and making breakfast. Then he’d leave to patrol the area around his home, making sure that no one from Invergence was on their scent. According to Simon, Invergence had a legion of drones that could think independently, and that was what worried him most. People were relatively easy to deal with. They followed rules, but the drones wouldn’t care about trespassing and had much more efficient technologies like facial recognition. If even one of them were to catch a glimpse of Kat or Sergio’s face, it would instantly report back to Invergence, and they’d be on the run again.
Sergio’s leg was healing nicely. In just a few weeks, the wound began closing up. It wasn’t long before he could put some minor pressure on his leg, though he still used a pair of old crutches Simon had given him. Simon estimated that within another month or so, Sergio would be able to walk normally, though he would likely have a limp for far longer.
The time spent with Simon was a much-needed relief for Kat and Sergio. Despite Simon’s frequent requests to baptise her baby girl, and Sergio’s reluctant agreement, Kat still loved her time with the man. She always declined the offers of baptism. She didn’t really see the point. Simon always brought it up before going to church on Sunday mornings, but he was always cheerful about it. He looked after them. He seemed almost eager for the company. Kat never asked, but she suspected that Simon had lost family in his earlier years. But he never said a word about this, so she didn’t push.
After beginning their fourth week of staying with Simon, he came in one morning with a frown on his face. That alone was unusual and Kat instantly worried. Sergio, who was sitting at the breakfast table also noticed and stood up on his good leg.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I think the drones might have found us, they’re probing my property and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Kat sighed. She knew that their time here was too wonderful to last. She didn’t want to leave.
Sergio looked equally disappointed. Odd that they would feel bad about leaving, not because of the danger, but because they had grown to love Simon in only a few short weeks. The thought of leaving was not pleasant.
And yet, they had planned for this. They knew Invergence would likely come eventually, no matter where they stayed.
“How much time do we have?” asked Sergio.
“I’d say no more than five…” Simon broke off. All three of them heard it: a high-pitched hum that sounded a lot like a large wasp.
Simon cursed and hurried into his room. He emerged with two shotguns. He handed one to Kat. “You’re better with this than your husband. Keep it. Go out the side door and take my truck. I’ve already prepped it with some provisions. Take it and leave; I’ll hold off the drones.”
Kat didn’t know what to say. Hesitantly she took the shotgun. She had practiced a few times with Simon, but never thought that she’d actually have a chance to use it. She looked back at Simon, not knowing how to thank him, not just for the gun, but for the car, the provisions, and the selfless care that he had shown them over the last few weeks. But Simon was already out the front door, his shotgun cocked.
Sergio reacted first, “I’ll get Alice.”
Kat nodded, she would go out the side-door to make sure the coast was clear. The buzzing had grown louder and seemed to be circling the house. Adrenaline started to kick in and her breathing grew more intense. Cautiously, she opened the side door and slid the gun through the opening. She didn’t see anything.
Suddenly, the drone was there, the buzzing loud as ever as it moved through its patrol of the house. On the one hand, it looked like an ordinary drone, with two small propellers on either side. But it’s body looked predatory, with large gun mounts, and a large red eye in the center of its chest, while menacing tendril-arms hung below its body. Rays of light emerged on all sides, scanning. Its red eye turned towards the crack in the door that Kat had opened.
Kat didn’t think. She fired.
The blast knocked the drone back, but it was still functioning. She fired again, and still only made a small dent. Sergio was behind her now, and the gunshot had upset Alice who was crying in Sergio’s arms. Kat was scared. She had to pause to load the shotgun, and the drone new exactly where they were now. It drifted towards her, sparks emerging from the areas where Kat’s shot had hit.
Suddenly, another shot rang out. It threw the drone to the side. This third shot seemed to be too much for the drone, for it fell to the ground. Then Simon was there. He ran to the side of the drone, and shot it point blank. It’s red eye dimmed.
“Go!” he yelled at them, “They are undoubtedly coming now.”
“What about you?” Kat asked.
“I have an older vehicle I can use to get away, but you have to go now!”
They didn’t stop to ask anything more. Kat placed the shotgun behind the seats in the truck, helped Sergio and Alice into the passenger side, and circled around to the driver’s seat. A few moments later and they had left the scene. They hurried down the dirt driveway, expecting at any moment to see more drones or members of Invergence confronting them on their way out. But they reached the main street in time. Soon they made it to Route 40 and continued on their way west.
“Do you think Simon will be okay,” Kat asked Sergio.
“I’m sure he will be fine,” Sergio replied, “He planned for today.”
Kat nodded. It was no use to worry at this point. She only hoped that they would have a chance to meet Simon again someday. He was the nicest person she had met, and he also understood their peril. She could only hope that other members of Argo Force, scattered through the world, were as accommodating.
They continued on Route 40 for several hours. Eventually passing through into Arkansas. By then, the sun was starting to set, but they decided not to stop at a hotel now, not with Invergence looking for them. So they found a secluded parking lot, parked in the corner, and did their best to sleep.