I gazed distractedly at the white card as I spun it between my thumb and forefinger. The bold black numbers printed across one side faded to gray. Sarah had slipped it to me while her parents were distracted, folding it into my palm so they couldn’t see it.
The clicks of Mouse’s fingers flying across the keyboard blended into a low drone, helping me concentrate. Thoughts flew around me as I contemplated things I couldn’t bring myself to mention aloud; would the others be safer if I wasn’t here? Was James right in saying I was the one they wanted most?
Mouse made a faint sound of triumph and jolted me out of my trance, but continued staring at the screen without a word.
I slouched further into the seat, stretching my neck to loosen the kinks. I’d slept surprisingly well, probably due to the combination of painkillers and the soft bed.
Although I should have been feeling significantly better, my body decided it was still going to hurt as though it had been hit by a truck…or a tsunami. Who would have thought water could hurt so much?
The car trip probably hadn’t helped numb my aches and pains. We’d driven southeast for hours without stopping until we’d reached whatever town we were in now. The journey seemed to take forever, probably because of the sluggish pace forced on us by the thousands of cars attempting to leave the coastline far behind them.
“Any luck?” Nicole slipped into the dim internet cafe, carrying several brown paper bags.
“Yep,” Mouse said distractedly. She didn’t lift her eyes from the screen or elaborate.
“I don’t think they’d ever seen so many customers,” Nicole handed out the small packages and sat against the wall. “The line was out the door.”
Inside the bag was a sandwich, I bit into it without even looking at its contents. No one spoke as they ate. We’d been moving along in a state of awkward silence all morning. Briana refused to acknowledge us, Mouse seemed to be in her own little world, and I couldn’t find the energy to try and start a conversation.
“Have you guys ever heard of laser tag?” Mouse asked suddenly, startling me enough that I bit the inside of my cheek.
I shook my head, so did Nicole. Briana pretended to be so engrossed in her sandwich that she didn’t hear; she couldn’t fool me, though.
“It’s a recreational activity. People use guns that shoot harmless lasers instead of bullets in war-game simulations,” Mouse explained.
“What’s the point in that?” Briana asked scathingly.
“Briana,” Nicole warned, before turning to Mouse. “What happened to finding out who Kayla spoke to on the phone?” she asked Mouse.
“Oh, I’ve done that. I found someone who can do it in Santa Fe. It won't add much time to the drive” She turned around to look at us before continuing. “I was trying to figure out ways that we could make money and I found a laser tag tournament with a cash prize in Nashville. If we’re heading that way anyway, we should stop and try it out.”
Briana lifted her head to look at the mention of money.
“And you think we could win?” Nicole asked.
“Well, judging from what I’ve found out, I’d say we have a good chance. The guns may take some getting used to, but it seems to be a safer version of what we’ve always done.”
“When is it?” I asked, wondering if my hand would be useable by then.
“If you think it’s a good idea, we may as well give it a shot,” Nicole said.
Mouse hit print and the computer whirred, following her instructions. She cleared the browsing history of the machine and plugged a small USB stick into a slot on the side.
“I swiped it when we left,” she said at our confusion. “It’s a program I wrote to completely erase someone’s digital ‘footprint.’ They’ll never know we were here.”
The main road passed directly in front of the internet cafe, packed with cars. They sat nose-to-tale, barely moving. With the overnight announcement of a possible second tsunami, people were getting as far away from the coast as possible.
Mouse took the driver’s seat, and I curled up behind her in the back. She turned into the queue and we made halting progress forward for the rest of the afternoon.
In the early evening, when Briana took her turn behind the wheel, she and Mouse switched sides without turning off the engine. Once again, the traffic had come to a stand-still.
As the sun lowered behind us, sending scarlet streaks across the high clouds, a helicopter hovered above. Men hung from the doors on either side, surveying the cars that lined the street. The occupants looked like military, but the helicopter was shiny and black, with a corporate logo on the side. I cowered slightly, pulling back under the protection of our roof.
Nicole must have noticed because she reached out, patting my thigh absentmindedly. I tried not to tense or gasp when her fingers found a particularly tender bruise.