June 14th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 04.50 local time
“Finally,” Louise mumbled.
She had spotted a crossroads ahead. On the right, she saw the corner of the fence. She had finally found the edge of the forest behind the presidential residence.
She turned to the right and scanned the street. There were spotlights mounted onto the fence every 20 yards or so. There was no place to hide.
Louise slowed down but kept driving, studying the fence. She didn’t expect to find any holes to crawl through. It was made from solid metal after all.
No, she was looking for an extra entrance, or rather an exit. There had to be another way out of the property apart from the front gate. A secret evacuation route was always built into important government buildings.
All Louise had to do was to find that exit. Well, and then force her way in. She hoped the badge she had stolen from the guard on the ferry would come in useful.
From behind the wheel, Louise didn’t see anything that could give her a clue where to go. The exit could be anywhere, of course, but her gut had told her to start here.
She parked the car on the other side of the road and switched off the engine. Louise opened the window and listened.
After she was sure she didn’t hear anything suspicious, she grabbed the backpack and pulled out a blue bandana she had found in it earlier.
It had taken her hours to locate the presidential residence. She had only stopped to rest once. That’s when she had checked what was in the backpack.
Not much, really. Just the bandana, an official guards cap, an old pen and some sort of communication device. She couldn’t tell if it was a tracker and she had thrown it out.
Louise tied the bandana around her head so it covered her mouth and nose. She put the cap on her head. She reached for the gun and swung open the door.
It was still dark outside but the birds were already starting to wake up. Daylight would follow soon. Louise sighed in relief. The fresh air was energizing.
She put the gun on her shoulder and marched to the fence as if she was on a security round. Her main worry was the cameras. She had no doubt there were plenty.
Looking as if she was part of the security team was vital. Louise made her steps a bit wider. With the big coat, the cap and the bandana, most would think she was a guy, she hoped.
She started walking parallel to the fence. From the corner of her eyes, she took a closer look at it. The metal bars were placed close to each other with a fence post every 5 yards or so.
She thought she might be able to stick a hand through but that was all. Climbing the fence was impossible because of the electric wiring on top.
Louise knew digging a hole and crawling under the fence wasn’t an option. The metal bars usually ran many feet into the ground.
There was not much to discover here, she soon realized. Louise switched the electric gun to her other shoulder, turned around and walked back to the car. She had to keep looking for the secret exit.
If she didn’t find it in the next few hours, she would go to the power plant where El would give a speech. Maybe she could find a way to talk to her there.
Louise was just about to grab the door handle of the car when she picked up on a new, unexpected sound. Was that…a dog barking in the distance?
She took in a sharp breath. Stucky! It had to be Stucky. She looked left and right, then hurried back to the fence. Another bark, closer by.
Louise knew her behavior would look odd to anyone watching the camera footage. She had to find something that would give her a reason to stay here.
That’s when she thought of the guard she had stolen the coat from. Her lips curled up into a smile. “If this works,” she thought, “I hope I live to tell El about it one day.”
Louise put the gun down, letting it rest against the fence. She lifted up her coat, fidgeted with her zipper and spread her legs wide. She held her hands in front of her crotch.
To make her act extra convincing, she started looking around casually like she had seen guys do while peeing by the side of the road.
It was hard not to laugh. She focused on the sounds coming from the forest to distract herself from the ridiculous pose she was in.
She could no longer hear Stucky. Shit. He had to be out there somewhere, though. El took him for a long walk every morning, didn’t she?
Woodward probably wouldn’t allow El to go outside, she realized with a grimace. Maybe someone had let Stucky out of the house by himself? Only one way to find out.
“Stucky?” she said, raising her voice just a little.
With the bandana covering her mouth, no one would see her lips move. She waited several long moments. No barking. No movement.
“Stucky!” she yelled while straightening and pretending to zip up.
For a second, she thought she had imagined hearing Stucky, but then he replied with an enthusiastic bark. He sounded much closer than before.
Louise prayed El was with him, however unlikely that was. The worst case scenario, of course, was if someone else was walking Stucky.
Louise needed to buy more time. She picked up the gun and brought it at eye level, to make it seem as if she had spotted something wrong with it.
“Stucky!” she shouted again. She was getting nervous about other people hearing her. A glance to her left and right told her she was still alone. For now.
A sudden rustling in the bushes nearby almost made her jump. She quickly put the gun back on her shoulder and marched in the direction of the sound.
“Stucky,” she cooed softly.
She could already hear his happy panting. Then, finally, Stucky’s familiar head poked through the leafage. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her, though.
“Shit, he doesn’t recognize me,” Louise thought.
She pulled the bandana down a little and whispered: “Stucky, it’s me.”
The dog still didn’t move. He did perk his ears up.
“Come on, you know who I am,” Louise tried again.
He finally took a step closer. Louise squatted down, putting the gun on the ground. She tugged at the bandana to reveal more of her face.
“Come here, Stucky.”
She held her hand close to the fence so he could sniff it. He stuck his nose in the air. After a long moment, Stucky’s tail finally started wagging.
“Yeah! Hey, boy!”
Stucky pressed his head against the metal and tried to lick her hand, whimpering happily.
“Where’s El, Stucky?” Louise asked. “Is she okay?”
He whined, still trying to stick his head through. Louise folded her fingers together so that her hand was as small as possible.
Then, she stuck it between two of the metal bars and reached for Stucky. Louise knew that anyone watching her would definitely be suspicious by now.
But this was the closest she had gotten to El so far. Okay, not El, but something close to El. She scratched behind Stucky’s ear.
“How are you, sweet boy? Are you out alone?”
He groaned like he always did and Louise chuckled.
“Tell your boss I’m on my way, okay?” she babbled.
Stucky groaned again. Louise felt tears stinging her eyes. The adrenaline must finally be wearing off. The grim reality was catching up to her.
“They killed, Hobbs. I know you probably don’t care but it’s bad,” she told Stucky, shaking her head. “Can you tell your mommy? Give her a message?”
The words rolled out of her mouth. But when she said the word ‘message,’ a jolt shot up her spine and her jaw dropped in surprise.
A message! Maybe she could somehow send El a message though Stucky. With a bit of luck, Stucky would go find El once he got back inside.
Louise’s mind was racing. It was a long shot, sure, but it probably beat her other plan. She didn’t have anything on her with which she could record a message, though.
“Maybe I can write one?” she considered. “Oh! I have a pen!”
Shit, she didn’t have anything to write on. No notebook, not even a scrap of paper. Had there been something else in the backpack or car she could use?
“Stay,” she told Stucky and withdrew her hand. “Stay,” she repeated and pointed at the ground. His ears perked up again. After a second, he lay down, panting.
Louise chewed on her lower lip while thinking. She accidentally caught the bandana between her teeth and spat it out.
“Wait,” she thought, looking down. “Can I use this?”
She could probably write on the fabric. If she tied the bandana around Stucky’s neck, El would hopefully notice something was off when he would run back inside.
“I need to go get that pen. I hope Stucky doesn’t run away,” Louise thought as she straightened up. She would have to hurry. Someone could call him back inside any moment.
Stucky whined impatiently. “Down!” Louise ordered sternly. She added “Please.” He put down his head without another sound.
She pointed at the ground again and widened her eyes at Stucky, giving him a final warning. Then, she jogged across the street and pulled open the door of the car.
Leaning in, she grabbed the backpack and emptied it on the passenger seat. The old metal pen bounced off the leather and nearly dropped onto the floor.
Louise quickly sat down so she was out of sight of the cameras. She took the cap off and tugged at the bandana until she was able to pull it over her head.
“What the hell do I tell her?” she thought while she flattened the inside of the bandana on her knee.
She didn’t have the time to give it a lot of thought. She pushed the pen onto the fabric and was delighted to discover it still worked.
Louise only needed 4 sentences to say what she needed to say. She signed with the letter L. On the outside of the bandana, she put a large E to grab El’s attention.
With the cap back on her head and the bandana in her hand, she returned to Stucky, jogging. He was still lying on the ground where she had left him.
“You are so getting a huge cookie once this is over,” Louise told him, kneeling down. “Come here!”
He obeyed and Louise stuck her hand with the bandana through the fence. Stucky was wiggling in excitement and it was hard to get the bandana around his neck.
“Sit still,” she muttered.
He whined a little but sat down just long enough for her to pull the bandana over his head.
“Awesome. Good boy!” Louise said, elated.
She pushed herself up, grabbing the gun.
“Go find your boss, Stucky. Go!”
He gave her a puzzled look. Louise pointed in the general direction of the residence. “Go, Stucky! Find El!”
Stucky barked, seemingly in acknowledgment, and took off. He was out of sight within seconds.
Louise ran too, back to the car. She needed to get out of this neighborhood as soon as possible. Her next destination was the B2 power plant.