continued from Chapter 4

The visiting citizen center had been his first destination after he had entered the city earlier that day. He had stopped by the center to find out exactly how to get to the street address of the family's home. He had known the address of their house here before he left his home town. It had taken him quite a while to find it: first he had tracked down some old friends of Dal's, then he had searched their house while they were away. He had wandered through their belongings, being somewhat careful not to leave the place ransacked. He found a piece of mail on their kitchen counter with the name of Dal's wife on it - Teres. He took it, and that was the address he carried into the visiting citizen's center.

Naarka's father had helped him to get access to their dwelling. He had arranged with another citizen to get the helot out of their house for the afternoon on some piece of work. This particular helot was named Mik. He was Dal's older brother. He didn't have any kids, and had never married. He had never been very attached to Dal's family. He never took Dal's boys on outings to athletic events. He had almost ignored Teres since she and Dal had started dating. But after Dal was killed, Mik felt a great responsibility for them, a feeling that pulled him back to Dal and Mik's days in secondary school. Mik, as the older brother, had felt very responsible for Dal then.

Mik was just enough older to be able to hear about his younger brother from the school grapevine and occasionally to see him around campus. When Dal was being picked on by some kids in his music class, Mik had cornered these kids after school and destroyed their instruments in front of them. Although Mik didn't regularly include Dal in his circle of friends, he would occasionally invite Dal to get high if his friends were smoking up at or near Mik and Dal's family house.

They had drifted apart in adult life. Mik would come over to Dal's house on holiday occasions -maybe three or four times a year. But since their parents had died in a transportation accident when they were in their mid and late twenties, there was no real center of gravity to keep them together.

But that changed when Dal was killed by Naarka. Mik was the first one that Teres contacted - not really for her sake, but for Dal's. She figured that Mik was Dal's next of kin - after herself and the boys, of course, and thus deserved to know. And he might be able to tell whoever else needed to know - might in fact know who those people were. Mik was the one who had realized that Teres, Cal and Bil might be in danger themselves. He had helped them pack and helped them get on the road. He told them not to tell him where they were going, but to contact him later - anonymously if they could. He also promised to take care of wrapping up their affairs after they had left. He would consolidate their property, sell it, and keep the proceeds in trust for them. "Just contact me after you get settled," he had told Teres, "and we'll try to figure out from there how to make the contact two-way."

He put them in touch with the underground railroad, with which he had some minimal contact through his work. He was a landscaper, and employed a lot of temporary help. Some of that help were obviously helots on the run. They came through his friend Luc. Luc would occasionally ask him to employ people. Mik did so, without asking questions. Often they had no landscaping skills. Sometimes they were children or old women, and Mik would just sit them in the truck while the rest of the team worked.

Mik called Luc up on the latest number he had for him and asked to meet. They met at a kaff house and after buying some drinks to go, Mik asked him to come with him to look at some properties. They were staring each other full in the face, and they each knew that whatever conversation they had in a shop in front of other people was meaningless. They got into Mik's truck. They still didn't speak. They drove to a corporate campus on which Mik worked on a regular basis and got out to stroll the grounds. Mik explained Teres' situation.

Luc nodded. "Okay. This is where I'll meet them." He gave Mik an address and a time. "You won't come with them when they meet me there. You want to ask me about communicating with them after they leave, about their property at least. Well. I'll take them first to a house, the people of which will know who you are. Your friends will be instructed to address all correspondence to this house, and this house will then forward it on to you. That will be for the first message. They will drop this message at your house, or somewhere else they will be sure you will get it. You will not meet or even see the people from this house. They will not handle any further communication between you and your friends, not even a reply to your friends. They or someone else along the way may give your friends advice on how to handle communication - but the advice will probably be not to attempt it. In any case, it will be largely up to your friends to figure it out and then give you instructions. In most cases people designate a trusted third party in whatever community they wind up in to whom you can send messages, and they will then forward it on to the party who has left." Luc shrugged. "But again, it's entirely up to your friend. She may decide to entirely write you off, which if you ask me would be the safest course of action. So don't wait for the first 'I'm safe' message. It may never come. If your friend is smart, it will never come."

But the message did come. And Teres had not found in her new city a third party whom she could trust to relay messages. In fact she felt very alone in the new city. She felt that she had been just dumped with no support network to help her get settled. And the people along the way, most of them, were not actually that friendly. Perhaps they had seen too much tragedy. She was happy not to deal with them any further. So she had taken the risk of sending Mik her address in the new city in the message which her final deliverer had reluctantly taken from her to take back along the chain of couriers and safe houses through which they had come.

The messenger had shown up a week after she and her boys moved into her home, to collect the letter. He just showed up at the door, and said "Do you have it," looking bored, and watching the end of the street. She didn't bother to invite him in, or offer to give him a drink. She had been warned to have the letter ready by this day. She went and fetched it from under her mattress and handed it to him, and he was gone. She made a point of closing the door immediately and not watching which way he went down the alley. And this was the letter that Naarka found on Mik's kitchen counter.

In the letter Teres had, stupidly Naarka thought, written her address for Mik. So there was really no work that Naarka needed to do. He just needed to travel to the city where they were living, and find that address. And that wasn't hard at all.

to be continued

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