A high-pitched wailing cry pierced the air. Maurice inhaled deeply and felt a thrill run throughout his body.
Instinctively, people everywhere in the plaza emptied their pockets of everything-receipts, credit cards, pens, watches, necklaces, even cash, and immediately laid it down. He hesitated, even though he knew this would be classified as unusual behavior. They would scan him, and later…what would they do? Take him to the Sweep Patrols? What was there to hide? Surveillance cameras covered over 98% of Goshen. Still, he hesitated, thought better, and pulled out a wad of cash and a handkerchief, and shoved it in a crack in the nearby concrete wall.
“Of all the times for the Call-it had to be now,” he thought. “I should have known better than to take a stroll through the plaza.” Most took taxis, but he liked wandering the plaza’s cobble-stoned streets with their quaint little shops-careful not to buy anything lest he arouse the Sweep-Patrols.
The countenance of everyone had changed at this latest Call. Everybody looked like hippies in a drug-induced stupor. . .hypnotized. And they all proceeded methodically towards the Hives. He felt ridiculous leaving his money out for the entire world to see. But everyone knew the Law and the Sweep Patrols were always more than happy to remind you.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not going to the Hives.”
In short time the plaza was nearly deserted. A few stragglers hurried past, but other than that, nobody remained. The many shops surrounded the brick-lined square remained open but empty. He walked in the opposite direction from the Hive complex keeping his head down to avoid suspicion. Not everyone, he noticed, headed towards the Hives.
Maurice picked up his pace, and came to a deserted street. He felt the Presence. It was the same Presence he felt during his dream about the great stone giant in his dream. This time he knew its name.
“Velkladdeur is coming. He’s at the end of the street.”
Maurice’s uncanny intuition dramatically increased at the siren’s call. He felt Velkladdeur, the chief of the Prime Minister’s secret police, approaching in his mind's eye.
His hair stood on end. His skin crawled. He turned and walked back towards the shopping plaza.
The plaza was empty. A wave of nausea hit him. He gulped and ran towards the only door left open. Too late. It snapped shut.
“This is not good,” he thought. “Hide. I must hide.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tarp-covered park bench adjacent to a construction site. Velkladdeur’s presence was gone, but something else approached. Drone. A flying Z-Tech globe that detected motion. A flying machine, basketball-sized, that sensed the smell of blood. He felt the flying droid hovering around the corner. He turned towards the tarp and nearly ran into a homeless man-the Can Man.
The Can Man was a balding fellow with short, curly, greasy, brown hair. You smelled him before you saw him. The Can Man was recognized by his clothes, since he always wore the same thing; faded blue-jeans, tee-shirt, and faded denim jacket-even in the middle of summer. People said he had a wardrobe full of identical outfits, sort of like a regular Ernest P. Worrell of whom he bore a slight resemblance. The Can Man walked around the city with a black garbage bag collecting aluminum cans to get insulin money for his diabetic wife. There was a slightly devious look in his eyes. Not enough to commit a big crime like murder, but perhaps a pickpocket or two.
Maurice glared at him and then grinned.
“Sorry,” said the Can Man in his soft timid voice. Maurice ran on.
He dropped to the ground and rolled under the tarp. Seconds later the drone rounded the corner and hovered over the very spot Maurice stood. It paused for a moment as if sniffing the air, and then silently buzzed through the air zigzagging to detect the subtle change in the air temperature. It hovered above the tarp-covered picnic table. Maurice froze. The flying drones, some no bigger than a sparrow, detected humans by heat and movement. Lay perfectly still and there was a chance one could avoid detection.
“Steady. . .steady, Maurice,” he told himself. “Don’t move.”
Every muscle in his body relaxed. He could feel the faint metallic clicking of the man-hunter probe slowly ejecting from the drone.
He sensed rather than felt the tip of the long, snaky probe rest against the back of his neck. He wasn’t sure if the probe registered his existence or not. An alternate thought struck him.
“It thinks Mr. Can is me.”