Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
I made the bed, brushed my teeth, and washed my clothes in the
sink with hand soap. My pink wig lay on the floor where I’d tossed it, taunting
me. I growled at it and threw it into the garbage can on top of our breakfast
I turned on the TV and watched daytime soaps and advertisements
about the latest rage in domestic help: the humanoid. The machine washed floors
and windows, cleaned kitchens and baths. You could get female and male
versions, each with creepy, plastic faces that had stiff, fake expressions.
The time on the bottom corner of the screen told me that Noah
had been gone for almost two hours. I picked at my nails as worry swirled in my
gut. I moved off the bed to stare out the window, willing Noah’s form into
“Where are you?” I spoke aloud.
What if something had happened to him? What if he didn’t
Anxiety paralyzed me. I stood statue still as my mind went to
the worst possible places. Noah mugged, lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Or
captured. Someone had recognized him and turned him in.
How long should I wait? What would I do if he didn’t come back?
I had no plan B. I had no plan at all.
Then I saw a man approach. I wiped the condensation off the
window to make sure, and let out a long breath. It was Noah. He was hunched
over against the wind and held a package tightly to his chest.
I opened the door just as he reached it. Cold air blew inside
and a chill ran down my back.
“What took you so long?” I asked, hearing the scolding tone in
my voice. “I was worried.”
“I wasn’t gone that long.” Noah removed his coat, and then
unpacked his prize. “I had to scout down a used computer place and then
convince the guy to take cash.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and pinched my eyes closed
until I had my crazy emotions under control.
Noah opened the laptop on the table and booted it up. His brown
eyes brightened with expectation.
“You look excited,” I said.
His hands were red from the cold and he rubbed them together.
“It’s been awhile.”
I honestly felt a little spooked when the window went live.
“You’re sure it’s secure?”
He nodded. “It’s what kept me from getting back earlier. I
stayed at the shop until I was certain.”
His fingers flew over the keyboard, then he sat back and waited
for his blog to load.
“Well, hello there,” he said. “I’ve missed you.”
I hovered over his shoulder and stared at the blog banner: DOWN
WITH GAP POLICIES! A stark reminder of our baseline difference. I was GAP and
he wasn’t. Even if I renounced the policies myself, it would never change who I
was. I couldn’t undo my GAP status.
My genes had been altered before I was even born. It was why I
looked the way I did—my hair and eye color, my height, my skin tone, even my IQ,
were all chosen by my parents. This included gene manipulation for an extended
life. When Noah was old and bent over at ninety with no hair and a face full of
wrinkles, I’d still look like I was in my forties. This was Noah’s biggest
resistance to us becoming a couple in the first place.
Noah glanced at me and raised an eyebrow. I took it to mean he
didn’t want me staring over his shoulder as he worked. I went to the bed and
lay down; listening to Noah’s frenetic typing.
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m responding to comments. People are wondering why I
“What are you telling them?”
“Not the truth, obviously. Just that I had to leave town but
now I’m back.”
I got up to turn on the TV. The humanoid commercial I’d seen
earlier was on again. Noah’s typing stopped.
“Those things creep me out,” I said.
Noah rubbed his forehead and sighed. “For good or for bad,
they’re the future.”
“But don’t they freak you out a little?”
I sat up straighter on the bed and leaned against the wall.
“Pretty soon they’re going to be everywhere, doing everything. Then what?”
Noah scoffed. “Then it’s the end of the world.”
“So am I.”
The next commercial started and Grandpa’s face burst onto the
I pointed. “There he is!”
I jumped off the bed to turn it up and we listened to his
rhetoric: how he’d suffered personal loss and could relate to the common man,
how he had great plans to rebuild a country suffering from the ravages of
global warming and growing economic unrest.
I felt like puking. “I don’t trust him!”
“No kidding.” Noah’s fingers flew over the keyboard again. “I’m
working on a blog post right now. I’m also sending out a newsletter to over five
thousand people on my list, exposing Vanderveen for the criminal and fraud that
“He’s not going to like that,” I said.
Noah didn’t look up. “No, he’s not.”
I clasped my chest, surprised at how hard my heart beat after
seeing my grandfather’s image again.
I hated him. And I feared him.
I almost told Noah to stop.
Noah left again to get us food for lunch, and I paced the room
like a caged animal. I ran my hands through my hair, pulling at the roots and
let out a frustrated groan. I’d willingly ran away with Noah to be free from
Grandpa V and everything he stood for, but I felt more trapped and disempowered
At least Noah didn’t lag this time, and returned in short order
with a couple of greasy hamburgers.
“The weather’s improving,” he said when he finished eating. “I
should go deal with the battery now.”
“I’m coming with you,” I said firmly. I held his gaze daring
him to challenge me. “I’m not staying in this room alone again.”
“It’s a long way there and back, and it’s cold.”
“I’m okay with it being cold, and I’m in good shape. I can
handle the distance.
Noah let out a defeated breath. “Fine. It’s getting dark a
little earlier anyway. Just keep your head down.”
I brushed my teeth and put on a couple layers of clothing. I had
a jacket, but it was light, not really warm enough for this cool snap. I
strapped my bag over my shoulder and tucked my handgun in the back of my jeans
for good measure.
I didn’t feel safe going out, but I didn’t feel safe staying
behind alone either. I just had to get used to being scared all the time.
We walked quickly, sticking to the shadows, and I kept my head
down as promised. We passed the convenience store where Noah had bought my wig,
but after that I didn’t recognized anything. I was glad Noah knew where we were
going. Soon we left the streetlights of the suburbs into the darker stretch of
the road leading to the abandoned fuel station.
The dampness of the long grass soaked my shoes and the bottom
half of my jeans. I pulled my hands deeper into my sleeves to fight the chill,
unable to hold back the shivering.
Noah sprung the hood of the car up, messed around for a minute
and then shut the lid. The lunch-kit-sized battery hung from his hand.
“That’s it?” I asked.
There was a charging station on the edge of town so thankfully
the walk back wasn’t as far. I waited outside near the window while Noah talked
to the attendant. He had his cap pulled low and a shadow of a beard covered his
chin and half his cheeks. I hoped it was enough of a disguise.
We walked back to the car in silence. Would we ever have
anything to talk about again besides what a freak my grandfather was?
Noah had the car up and running in no time. I helped him push
it out of the bush and then I got in. It felt weird being back in the car
“Now what?” I asked.
Noah kept his eyes on the road. “Back to our room, get our
things and check out.”
“It’s getting late,” I said. “Maybe we should stay the night
and leave early in the morning. Unless you have a destination in mind?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know where to go. I just don’t like
staying in one place for too long.”
“We’ve only been here one night.”
. “I suppose we could stay until morning.”
We drove into the parking lot of our motel, our eyes
automatically darting to our room window.
My heart stopped. I swore I saw someone move the curtain. “Did
you see that?”
“Damn!” Noah slapped the steering wheel, giving me my answer.
He didn’t slow. He drove back onto the main road, leaving our
stuff behind, including our newly acquired laptop.
“Grandpa must’ve seen your blog,” I said.
“Yeah. He’s better than I gave him credit for.”
Noah’s eyes searched the rearview mirror. I swallowed, and
turned to stare out the back window. It didn’t look like anyone was following
us, but it was hard to be sure.
“What now?” I asked.
“We have to get off the grid.”
Farther off than we already were? “And how do we do that?”
“I did some research,” Noah said, running a hand through his
hair. “I think I know a place.”
That was a word I’d never have dreamed would be attached to my
name. Yet, here I was on the run in a used two-seater electric car with a weak
battery, and a beautiful girl in the passenger seat.
As we crossed into Utah, my eyes shifted from the I80 to Zoe,
whose head rested up against the passenger door window. She had her eyes closed
but I could tell she wasn’t sleeping.
The tear tracing down her cheek was a giveaway.
I cursed myself.
It wasn’t the first time I second-guessed my decision to steal
her away from her insane family.
I’d wanted to help her. I wanted her to remember, and she did.
But not really. I glanced at her again, still not used to her shorter brunette
look. She wasn’t anything like the strong, feisty girl I used to know. This
girl was fragile and damaged.
My pulse jumped as I recalled the shadow in the window of our
motel room in Reno. Damn, Vanderveen was quick. I was sure I’d secured my
connection. He’d broken in somehow. I must’ve really pissed him off.
I’d almost made Zoe stay behind at the room. My throat closed
up at the thought. They would’ve caught her if she hadn’t insisted on coming. A
part of me, a sliver-sized part, wondered if it wouldn’t have been for the
best. Maybe she should go back to her family. My gut squeezed with the idea of
them violating her mind again and that she’d go back to not remembering me.
Because despite everything that happened, despite everything
that Zoe no longer was, I still loved her.
I had to keep her safe.
I reached for her hand and threaded my fingers through hers. I
waited for the squeeze of acknowledgement—something to signal things could be
fixed between us, but it didn’t come.
A half-hour later I turned off the main road onto a rougher
side road that cut through a forest. The bumpy surface roused Zoe. She
straightened and yawned, pulling her hand free to cover her mouth. “Are we in
“We crossed the border twenty minutes ago,” I said. We’d driven
through the night and the horizon was just beginning to brighten. “We’ll be
there soon, which is a good thing, since the battery is low again.”
“Where exactly are we going?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “A place I found online that’s
supposed to be off the grid.”
The GPS guided me farther down a dirt road leading to an open
parcel of land with a large wooden structure centered on it. Dawn had just
broken and I hoped we weren’t arriving too early. I saw movement near the front
of the building. A guy wearing a flannel jacket and old jeans walked over to
“Sorry, folks, we’re shut down.” He motioned behind him and
that was when I noticed the building was boarded up. “They’re gonna tear it all
Another dead end. Zoe flashed me a worried look.
“Can you recommend somewhere else?” I asked. “Off the grid?”
“Off the grid, huh?” He smiled crookedly before giving
directions to another place two hours away. “I’ll warn ya, though. The folks
I thanked him and prayed our battery would make it that far.
Zoe reached for a water bottle rolling around by her feet.
“We’re almost out,” she said. She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her
“Another headache?” I asked. I worried that they came too
often. If I ever saw Jackson Pike again, I’d punch his face in for what he did
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Just tired.”
I fiddled with the media center. It didn’t respond to my touch
or my voice commands. “Nothing’s working,” I said. “Must be the mountains.”
tap, tap, tap
hit the windshield. More rain.
I switched the wipers on. “Or it could be the weather. The sky
looks pretty dark.”
Zoe ducked to peer out the front window and stared at the
brooding, gray clouds that had fallen into the valley.
She shivered in her light jacket. “Utah’s cold.”
“Take my hoodie,” I said. “It’s behind my seat.”
“Don’t you need it?”
“I’m not cold.”
She tugged the hoodie out from behind my seat and put it on
under her coat. I liked seeing her in my clothes; it was intimate somehow. I
hoped it reminded her of how she used to feel about me.
We traveled in silence and I was glad when the weather cleared
“This must be it,” I said as I turned onto a narrower, dirt
road. It had deep grooves and I had to slow right down to avoid bottoming out.
Dust ballooned behind us as we approached a very rudimentary wood building. It
had a porch with a straight-back chair, but nothing decorative. No shutters or
flower boxes. There were horses fenced off to one side. Everything looked hand