Chapter 7

Even in sleep, I immediately registered the sudden weight on my chest and I snapped awake. Jondy's wide, intense blue eyes gazed down at me from where she sat straddling my torso, sitting daintily but noticeably on my stomach.
"What?" I whispered, glancing around the barracks. Everything was alright, the others were asleep. Even Max was grabbing a few hours of slumber. I looked back to Jondy and asked again, "What?"
"Why are my eyes blue and yours are brown?"
I considered her question. "I don't know."
"Tali's are orange. Cade's are green."
"I know, Jondy."
"Why are we different?"
Irritated at having to repeat my confession of ignorance, I instead slipped my hands under Jondy's shoulders and deposited her firmly but gently on the ground, sitting up at the same time. "Go to sleep."
Jondy smirked. "Me?"
"I'm tired."
"I'm not. Why are we different, Tinga?"
"Why are you asking me?"
Jondy reached out slowly and stroked her hand lightly against my half-inch of dark hair, making me shiver a little. "You don't know," Jondy whispered sadly.
"No," I answered, slightly uncomfortable. I watched Jondy turn her head and followed my sister's gaze, our eyes resting on Syl's empty bed.
"When's she coming back?" Jondy asked.
"I don't know," I answered softly. "Soon."
"She had brown eyes."
"Go to sleep, Jondy."
"What if she doesn't come back?" Jondy asked, turning back to me.
I hesitated. "She will," I said finally, and Jondy straightened, her expression calm.
"If she doesn't come back, I'm going to kill the Colonel," she said calmly. Then she turned on her heel and walked back to her bed.
Jondy and I leave Zack in a snowy little city on the mainland of British Columbia called Prince Rupert and crossed the border back into the USA around noon. It's a mountain town that I know Jondy hates because she hates the snow. It reminds her of the escape, our feet leaving soft footprints, the cold not bothering us for a long time, and then suddenly biting into our bones, chilling us until the undersides of our fingernails turned red. I wonder briefly how Jondy lost Max that night, but I would never dream to ask. It's not that I don't care about things or that I don't get curious- I just value my privacy, and strive to make sure my siblings maintain theirs.
"Hit me up with one of those pretzels," Jondy says to a vendor in South Market, Seattle when we stop for provisions. I move away from 'Jake's Traditional New York Confectionary' and order some teriyaki chicken from an adjacent booth. "Traditional New York pretzel my ass," Jondy says as she rejoins me, looking disappointedly at the twist of bread in her hand. "I lived in New York. This tastes like shit."
"Most things do nowadays," I say with a smile. "I'll make pretzels for you sometime."
"That's what I love about you, Tinga," Jondy answers. "You can cook."
"And the black market connections don't hurt either," I add. I look at my watch. "We should head back to the car if we're going to hit Oregon before nightfall."
Jondy rolls her eyes but she starts back to the car with me. "Can't we hang around Seattle for a while?"she asks. "I want to check out the Space Needle."
"It's not that great."
Jondy shrugs. "Still, I bet it's one hell of a High Place."
I shake my head. "No time." Jondy shrugs again and throw the pretzel away as we head back to the truck we stole after crossing the border. I let her drive because she likes to, and I like to stare out the window and think, which usually doesn't make for very safe driving. We drove for about an hour in silence before I felt Jondy's eyes on me every few moments. I turned to her and gave her a questioning look.
She smiled. "Sorry... I'm trying to think of random conversation we could have. But I'm drawing a blank, so do you want to listen to music?"
"Sure," I answered, though I didn't really want to that much. Jondy switched on the radio and started scanning the stations.
"What do you like?" she asked.
I glanced over at her. "Classical."
Our eyes met and then Jondy turned back to the road. "Wow," she said. "I'm so glad I'm driving." I couldn't help chuckling a little at that, and then Jondy stumbled onto a techo station. The song that was playing was oddly familiar, and as I listened I realized that someone had taken Mozart and warped it into some sick form of rhythmic dance music. Jondy seemed quite impressed with herself, as though she'd found a nice compromise. I reached over and turned off the radio.
"No."
"No?"
"Definitely not."
Jondy shrugged and turned back to the road. "Fine, I won't be diplomatic," she said with a smile. I let out a long sigh, thinking about what was to come, worried about what would happen when I reached Portland, what I would tell Charlie, if I could finally work up the courage to explain everything to him.
An hour short of the Washington-Oregon border Jondy pulled into the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store. "I'm starving," she said. "And I want a new car... preferably one with a CD player this time."
"Do you have CDs on you?" I asked as she parked the car and we got out.
"Okay... rephrasing. Preferably one with a CD player and a pack of CDs in it," she said with a wide smile. I rolled my eyes.
"Whatever you want," I said as we entered the convenience store. "I'm going to grab some fruit if they've got it."
"Good luck with that," Jondy said, heading for the self-serve coffee bar. I managed to find a couple of bananas and an apple, and grabbed that as well as a package of trail mix. I met Jondy back at the counter, who had a half-dozen chocolate bars and a double-americano heaped with whipped cream.
"Oh God, you're a health freak," she said, looking at my food. I shrugged and we unloaded on the counter. "I've got this," Jondy said, getting out her wallet as the clerk rang up our food. He glanced at me and did a double-take, which I rolled my eyes at, hating being so beautiful sometimes.
"Aren't you the girl from the milk carton?" he asked, wide-eyed.
I stared at him. "What?" I exchanged a look with Jondy and he left the counter to go to the fridge in the back. Jondy lifted some money from the till as he rummaged around, and then he came back to them. He handed me a small milk carton and I turned it over until I saw what he was talking about. The colour drained from my face. "Yeah..." I managed. "That does look like me..." I handed it to Jondy and she raised an eyebrow at it before putting it on the counter with the rest of their stuff.
"We'll get this too," she said, and paid with some of the money she'd just stolen from him. We went back out to the car and didn't say anything until we were in it. I took the milk carton from Jondy as she started the car and looked it, recognizing my face from a picture that Charlie had taken of me and Case a few months after his first birthday.
I closed my eyes briefly. "I should have seen this coming," I muttered, angry at myself for overlooking the obvious fact that Charlie would search for me after I didn't come home. Jondy pulled the car onto the road and we resumed our drive toward the state line.
"It's done," Jondy answered. "We're going to have to deal with it now." She paused in thought, then added, "It's safe to say Zack doesn't know shit about this."
I nodded. "I doubt anyone in the family does, unless they came upon it like we did."
"And if they did," Jondy answered for me. "Then they probably think you've gone back."
I shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Zack might have kept them informed, or not. I really don't care. I have to find my husband and son before Lydecker finds this."
Jondy turned the carton over in her hands and read the fine print under the listed ingredients and nutritional information. "I think it's a safe bet to say he already does," she said. "This milk is at least two weeks old and who knows how long the ad was running before then." I briefly considered calling Charlie and warning him, telling him I was okay but that he needed to get Case out of our apartment immediately. But the thought was fleeting, gone almost instantly. I knew that Lydecker would have taps on the phone, people nearby watching. I had one chance to get my family out or we could all end up back at Manticore, and I wasn't going to let that place touch my son.
We drove in silence for a while, as I prepared myself for what was ahead. I managed to convince Jondy to let me listen to my own music for a while, and I found a classical station on the AM. I held the milk carton in my hands and studied the picture, the smile on my face. I heaved a sigh and Jondy glanced over at me, giving me a small smile. I gave her one back, but I was far too preoccupied to even bother to make it reach my eyes. My gaze was directed back at the carton almost immediately. I glanced behind me into the backseat and caught sight of Jondy's large duffel.
"I'm assuming you've got some weapons in there?" I asked her. At her nod I explained, "I didn't have time to gear up while we were jumping from one place to another in the land of peace." I gave a snort. "Could I use you as a dealer for now?"
Jondy nodded. "Help yourself to what I have. I've got a long trip ahead of me and I can pick up more on the way."
I nodded back to her. "I'll get strapped at the state line," I said. "We're almost there now."
It was less than twenty minutes before we reached the turnoff to the state sector checkpoint. Jondy pulled onto the shoulder and down a soft incline on the side of the road, as close to the treeline as possible, killing the engine to minimize anyone's visibility of our vehicle. I crawled into the backseat and raided her duffel, taking a varied arsenal, not knowing exactly what kind of conditions I would be up against. We both got out of the truck and concealed the weapons in the hood and under the body of the truck, then I took the keys from Jondy and she smiled at me.
"Good luck," she said. I nodded and climbed into the driver's seat, starting the engine.
"Take care of yourself, baby sister," I said to her. "Don't spend too much time with Ben."
Jondy nodded, understanding what I was saying. She took a step back and tapped on the roof of the truck. "I'll see you," she said. I drove the truck back onto the road and went through the checkpoint without a hitch, driving over the bridge and into the state of Oregon, my nerves immediately tensing to the knowledge that I was now entering enemy terrority.