Sam lay back against the tree and looked up at the twilight sky. The first stars of the night were visible, or perhaps they were satellites. It had become difficult to tell in the crowded heavens. The exhaustion from his escape overwhelmed him.
He imagined one of the satellites trained on him, zooming in with a powerful lens. Instinctively he scratched the dried blood and scab on the side of his head where he had removed the tracking implant. The implant had been inserted at birth. It felt strangely liberating to know that for the first time in his life, no one knew where he was. By now, agents would have found the small device in the bottom of the dumpster where he had disposed of it.
Being outside the city walls didn’t scare him as much as he thought it would have. There were all sorts of folktales and scare stories growing up of those who had ventured out and never returned. Sam knew now that they were not myths or legends. It was how High Command dealt with agitators and defiers.
Previously, he had only looked down on the uninhabited landscape from the intercity transport shuttles. The green and lush grass and trees had filled him with a sense of wonder.
The quiet was the most unsettling thing. Gone was the constant hum of self-driving traffic. The persistent buzz of the delivery drones crisscrossing the sky was absent. There was still the odd one high above, taking goods from one city to the next. Whenever one flew past, Sam drew back closer to the tree, hiding in the shadows. High Command had access to all the cameras in the city, even those on the private mail drones.
He imagined he was in one of the old films his grandfather used to make him watch. A cowboy, out under the stars, living a life of stoic solitude at one with the natural elements. If only all he had to contend with was a corrupt sheriff or a band of outlaws. When the State came to tame the Wild West, the cowboys were powerless to stop them.
He eased back and closed his eyes. The cold bit into his skin, experiencing it’s first ever night without air-conditioning and heating inside the comfort of his housing cube. He drifted off to sleep.
The drone noise grew louder and closer. Sam snapped open his eyes. He saw the search lights sweeping the bushes and trees close by. He had to escape, but to stand up would be to reveal himself. He shrivelled up into a ball as tight as he could, praying the drone would miss him by some miracle.
There was a loud bang, followed by an explosion and a metallic thud as the drone crashed to the ground. Sam felt the warmth of the fireball on his face as he peered out. A strong hand grabbed his arm. A bag was thrust over his head and the gloom turned to pitch black.
‘Welcome to the resistance,’ a voice whispered in his ear. ‘Follow me.’ Other hands guided him away.