Sergio thought he knew what tired was. He had no idea.
It had been over a month since he last saw his wife, Kat, and he was beginning to wonder if he would ever see her again. The last time he had seen her was before he had gone out to purchase some last-minute items for their trip, back when they were living with the Evans family.
That had been a mistake.
When Sergio had returned, he had found Invergence vehicles there. He quickly turned around and hid as close as he dared. He hadn’t seen his wife, but it hadn’t taken long for Invergence to clear out. The house went up in flames as they left. Sergio would later learn that all four of the Evans were found dead inside the house. It was the worst tragedy the little town had seen in over a century. And, Sergio realized, it was all his fault. He should have realized that Invergence would have found them eventually, and that anyone harboring them would be in mortal danger.
Sergio’s only hope came when he learned that Kat’s body was not found in the house. That meant that Invergence probably took her. That wasn’t much consolation, but it was something.
In that time, Sergio had kept moving, but always stayed in the general area, hoping to hear news that would lead him to Kat. But so far, he had heard nothing.
He knew that Invergence was still in the area, however. Once or twice, he had nearly let himself be caught by them. There were several times when he entered a superstore with added surveillance or got caught staring straight at the camera at a gas station. The last time this had happened, he only barely made it out before Invergence vehicles swarmed the place. The only reason they didn’t see his car leaving was because he had recently picked a different rental car. That was becoming common practice by now. He kept changing out the vehicles and it seemed to be helping. While Invergence could track his face through the local surveillance systems, they had trouble tracking his car. That was the only reason he was able to stay ahead of them.
Alice, for the most part, was the same as ever. She continually enjoyed the new sites and smells, constantly staring around her whenever Sergio took her out of the car for a break, or to feed and change her. Alice had started to eat certain baby foods, but Alice still needed milk. Without Kat, Sergio had gone to find a formula that worked for Alice. His first attempts had not worked well. Alice had been extremely irritable and her diaper was a wet mess. Eventually, Sergio had found something that worked well enough, but Alice still didn’t seem to be too happy about it.
And of course, there was the constant diaper changing and getting up in the middle of the night to calm his crying daughter. Without Kat there to help split the responsibility of caring for Alice, Sergio was starting to feel the effects of long-term exhaustion. There were several days when he would check into a hotel and simply sleep on again and off again until a few days later when it was time to go. But even then, Alice needed constant care. Sergio really began to have a deep respect for all the single parents out there. And the worst part was the realization that he might be a single parent from now on. He still heard no word about Kat or where Invergence might have taken her. He could only hope that she was still alive.
He kept working in circles, going in and throughout the state of Utah. He didn’t want to leave the state in case Kat was still nearby. On the other hand, perhaps she was long gone by now. And if she was, how was he ever going to find her?
These were some of the issues that clouded Sergio’s mind as, one Sunday, he decided he needed a break from it all. He needed a place to calm his nerves, to unload everything he had been feeling. As a child, his parents had often taken him to the local chapel in Argentina. It wasn’t a big place, but Sergio had many fond memories of sitting in the pews and having time to just quiet his mind and reflect.
So that’s what he searched for now. He was in Utah valley, and all he could find were Mormon buildings. He searched for some time, never finding a Catholic church. After an hour or so of driving, he finally decided to just pick a building.
So that’s how he found himself inside the chapel of a Mormon church. The building was quite busy, which wasn’t really what Sergio wanted. But he figured if he waited long enough, people would clear out, and he’d have a chance to just reflect and pray on his own.
So he was unprepared when he entered the chapel and was nearly knocked over by the horde of young women and not-so-young women who thought Alice was the cutest thing they had ever seen.
“Oh, isn’t she a sweet thing…”
“When I’m older I hope I have one like her…”
“Just look at those cheeks!”
Sergio didn’t really know how to react. Alice, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoying the attention. She clapped her hands and smiled at all the onlookers, which only made them react stronger.
One woman approached with a little girl in her arms, also blonde and about the same age as Alice. “Hi,” said the mother, “I haven’t seen you around before. Are you visiting?”
“Uh…yeah. Just visiting.”
“Oh that’s too bad, I thought maybe my little Rachel would have another friend to play with.”
Were all the Mormons this overbearing? He hadn’t been here for two minutes and already people were planning life-long friendships for their children.
“Eh, sorry,” he said. “We’ll be moving on after today. Just passing through town.”
“Okay, well it was so nice to meet you.” Taking her daughter’s tiny arm, she waggled it up and down. “Say bye bye, Rachel. Bye bye!”
Alice, who had been staring at the other girl, mimicked the gesture, provoking a chorus of “ahhs” from the onlookers. To Sergio’s knowledge, she had never really had another baby girl to interact with. Perhaps that was why Alice’s eyes had not left the baby since she first saw her.
Sergio did his best to remove himself from the crowd and found a pew at the front of the large chapel. It looked like mass, or whatever they called it here, had just finished and people were filling out the doors. Soon, only he and a few stragglers were left.
Without the crowd of people, Sergio thought it okay to let Alice crawl around for a bit. So he unstrapped her from the baby carrier he carried on his chest, and set her down on the floor.
Then he put his head down, and started to pray.
“Dear God,” he said, then paused. What exactly was he going to say? He knew many of the prayers his parents had taught him. But somehow, none of those seemed appropriate right now.
“Dear God,” he said again. “I don’t know what to do. My wife is gone, I’m on the run with my daughter, but I don’t know how long I can keep it up. I’m at my wit’s end.”
He tried to listen for an answer, a thought, anything that might indicate divine guidance. But he felt nothing. He glanced at Alice, who was trying to make her wait up the steps to the chapel. She wasn’t strong enough to climb steps yet, but that wasn’t stopping her from trying.
Sergio sat there for several moments longer, simply taking in the moment. At least Alice was happy. That was enough to lift his spirits, if only by a fraction. He bowed his head and continued praying. He mentioned everything that had happened to him, even though he was sure that God already knew those sorts of things. He talked of Kat and how he desperately wanted to be reunited with her. He talked about Alice, and her apparent destiny. A part of him wondered why their journey had been so difficult if Alice’s destiny was that important. So he mentioned that in his prayer as well. Why didn’t God send more help? Hadn’t the prophets in the Bible received direct help from God? Was Alice not that important?
He sat there in silence for a long time, hearing no answer. Well, he guessed there wasn’t really much point to it anyway. Perhaps Kat was right about religion. Wishful thinking on the part of humanity, which searched so desperately for meaning where there was none. But the moment that thought occurred to him, he pushed it away. No. He wasn’t ready to give up on God yet.
As he exited the chapel with Alice in tow, he let the crisp, dry air wash over him. It was already November, but they still had unusually warm weather today. Across the street, Sergio could see a large green field and a few kid’s toys. Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop there for an hour or so and let Alice play and explore.
So he crossed the street and approached the play area. As he approached, he noticed several of the Mormon families he had seen earlier. Apparently, they had had the same idea.
He found the swing set and began pushing Alice gently on the baby swing. She absolutely loved it, and Sergio was able to forget about his troubles temporarily. Seeing Alice giggle and squeal with delight had that effect. But his brows soon furrowed once again as Alice reminded him of Kat, and how much she would love to be here for this moment.
He saw other parents out with their babies, many of which were about the same age as Alice. For a moment, Sergio felt an intense feeling of jealousy. These people lived their merry lives, completely oblivious to what’s out there. Why did he and Kat have to run for their lives while these privileged families got to enjoy watching their children grow up without interruption? The unfairness of it all grated at Sergio.
Alice’s babbling and calling of “dada” brought him back to reality. In his thought, he had forgotten to push Alice on the swing, and she wanted more. She kept trying to look back and him and point to the swing.
He smiled and continued pushing her again. Well, he supposed, it wasn’t all bad getting to raise this girl.
“Sarah,” a voice cried out, “Sarah where are you?”
Sergio turned. One of the mothers was frantically moving in and around the small park, obviously looking for her daughter.
“Sarah!” she called again. Upon arriving close to Sergio, she turned and asked, “Have you seen my daughter? She was just here, about two years old, with light brown hair?”
Sergio thought for a moment. “I think I saw her earlier, but not recently.” He scanned the park for any sign of the girl.
That was when he saw the smart car.
Almost by instinct, Sergio immediately took Alice out of the swing. She tried to protest and Sergio did his best to silence her. The smart car was parked in the small parking lot only a few spaces from where Sergio’s car lay. A man had open the door of the smart car, and looked like he was placing something in it.
No, not something. Someone. Sergio caught a glimpse of a little girl as the man closed the door. That had to be Sarah.
Sarah’s mother, who hadn’t noticed her child inside the smart car, approached the man, asking if he had seen her daughter.
Sergio tried his best to look nonchalant and tiptoed his way away from the park towards the nearest buildings. There were enough people at the park that he was able to quietly slip away without too much difficulty. This didn’t make any sense. Why would they take a girl who obviously wasn’t Alice, and whose mother was obviously not Kat. Invergence knew exactly what Kat and Alice looked like. Well…at least they knew what Kat looked like. It had probably been a while since anyone at Invergence got a clear look at Alice’s face. But surely they wouldn’t mistake a two-year-old for Alice. She was not even a year old yet.
Yells and large commotion sounded from the park. Sergio peeked his head around the corner to see that another smart car had come to backup the first. Two men were actively taking any of the young girls they could find on the park. Parents, who reacted immediately to the threat, were screaming for their children and advancing on the men. One by one, the two men took down each of the parents with vicious blows to the head.
Sergio retreated again around the corner, holding Alice in his arms. What could he do? He had no idea how he was going to help, or even if he could help. Why was Invergence taking other people’s children now?
He knew he should probably run for it, but the continued screams of parents eventually prompted him to action. He couldn’t just let them kidnap children in an attempt to get at him and Alice.
He rounded the corner once more and prepared to face the Invergence soldiers. But they were already starting to move, getting in their cars and driving away with the children. One stayed behind, holding various parents at gun point. This man yelled something to the crying parents. Sergio thought he made out some of it. Something about if he saw any of their faces again, that their children would die. Once the others were clear, he too got in his smart car and sped off.
Sergio didn’t have much time. He needed to follow these men, despite the threat to the children. At least these men had not seen him among the parents, and therefore they probably wouldn’t do anything to harm the children if Sergio followed. Hopefully.
He passed a mother, one of the first to lose her child, Sarah. The woman had collapsed on the ground, staring in the direction of her daughter’s kidnappers. Her face was twisted with grief and anger, and her mouth hung open, but almost no sound escaped her. Probably in shock. Sergio could make out a faint whisper of her daughter’s name, repeated over and over.
He paused for the briefest moment, facing the woman. “I will get your daughter back.”
The woman looked at him in surprise, almost as if she just realized he was there.
“I’m going to get them all back.”
Without waiting for a response, he rushed to his rental car, placed Alice inside, and drove off in pursuit of the smart cars.
It was not the smartest thing he had ever done. He knew that if he was captured, then they would take Alice, and he would probably never see her again. But every time he thought about leaving and forgetting about Invergence, the helpless children kept coming back to his mind. No, he had to do something about them. He was tired of staying on the run. He wanted…needed to be proactive about something. The local police didn’t know about Invergence and wouldn’t be of much help. He thought about explaining the situation to them, but ever since his brush with the police in Texas, he had lost faith in trying to get them to believe him.
So he kept a distance between him and the Invergence vehicles, not getting too close, but close enough to tail them, all the while not knowing what his plan was. They were moving out of the city, towards a canyon between the mountains on the east. The road began to wind back and forth and traffic began to drop.
It wasn’t long before they were through the canyon and emerged into a slightly more open and rural part of Utah. They had been driving about an hour now, and Sergio was beginning to worry that they would discover someone tailing them. He could only see the one smart car now, the last one to have left the park. Where had the others gone? He needed to find them, since they were the ones with the children.
A moment later and he saw them again…behind him, bringing up the rear and cutting him off from behind.
Sergio cursed and sped up, but the smart car ahead of him had slowed down and kept him from passing. He thought about just ramming the vehicle. After all, those smart cars didn’t stand a chance against even an economical rental like Sergio’s car.
Before he could react, however, one of the cars from behind pulled even with him. He glanced to the side and saw one of the Invergence soldiers with an automatic weapon trained on him. Well, that complicated things. The solider waved the gun, indicating that Sergio should pull over.
Well, he wasn’t going to rescue the children if he was captured. So right now, he needed to get away as fast as possible and try a new approach. Without a word, he slammed on the breaks. The car beside him shot past, making the soldier miss his mark as he fired. The other smart car behind Sergio breaked to a halt. Sergio, moving as fast as he could, spun the car and went to proceed in the opposite direction.
A loud pop echoed and Sergio felt his car lurch to one side as a back tire blew. Invergence had targeted his tires. Smart move. He tried to keep going with one bad tire before another one exploded when a bullet hit it.
With two back tires now completely useless, Sergio wasn’t going anywhere. The three smart cars surrounded him and their occupants emerged with guns trained on him. Slowly, he raised his hands. Every instinct screamed at him to run, but there was nothing he could do. Rough hands dragged him from the car, and he could here Alice crying as she too was taken.
“Don’t you hurt her!” but his words fell on deaf ears. Within moments, a black bag fell around his face, his hands were bound and he was shoved inside of one of the vehicles. He tried to struggle, but that was a mistake. Something hard connected with his head, and blackness took him.
He awoke a while later, slowly coming to his senses and blinking under a bright light. His head swam and it took a moment to remember what had happened. With the memory came a flood of panic and his adrenaline spiked. He took in his surroundings. He was in a long but narrow room, with wavy sheets of metal lining the walls. No, it was not a room, this was the inside of a truck. The light came from a large lamp pointed in his direction. Chains bound him to a chair. He looked around and noticed equipment stacked behind him.
“Ah good, you’re awake,” came a voice behind the light. Sergio couldn’t quite make out who was speaking, but he recognized the voice. It sounded like his own voice.
The figure walked casually into the light. He was dressed in a warm trench coat and the light brought out a multitude of scars on his face, behind a mass of unkempt hair. It had been nearly ten months since Sergio had spoken to this man, but he would never forget him. It was Anti-Sergio, Sergio’s look-a-like from another dimension, one that bore a twisted resemblance.
“Sergio Rios,” the man said. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time. I must admit you’ve led us on a merry chase.”
“Where’s my daughter?” Sergio growled.
“Oh she’s safe, for now. She quieted down as soon as I held her. I think she thinks I’m you, which in one sense I am. Quiet a lovely girl.”
“You keep away from her!” Sergio sounded far more courageous than he felt. He was as powerless as he had ever been.
“Now I’m afraid that’s going to be quite difficult to manage,” said Anti-Sergio. “Quite difficult, yes.”
He walked to the back of the truck and gave an order that Sergio couldn’t quite hear.
“Where’s my wife.” Sergio called after him. Anti-Sergio paused and walked back to where Sergio was sitting.
He moved in close. “I killed her.” Sergio felt the blood drain from his face. “Yes, I killed her. She had no idea where you were, so she was of no use to us. A shame really, she really was a beautiful woman.”
Sergio tried to reply, but all that came out was a choke from an emerging sob. Tears rose unbidden.
Anti-Sergio continued. “We’re keeping you alive, just in case we need additional information about your daughter. But only until we leave this pitiful dimension of yours. I’ve just given the order to find a good place to camp and set up shop. Crossing dimensions takes a lot of energy as you can imagine. As soon as your…precious daughter has successfully crossed over, we will have no further need of you. And you will be able to join your wife then.”
“No…I, please don’t take Alice.” Sergio was having trouble speaking.
“Again, that’s going to be quite difficult. Not to worry. We will take good care of her.” Anti-Sergio grinned. He strode out of the truck and the backdoor slid shut. Sergio could do nothing but cry out, for Alice, for his wife.
No one listened to his cries. No one cared.