Or so people used to think.
Not that anyone understood was my great, great, great, great (I’ve lost track—there’s supposed to be eight [or ten?] great’s) uncle Leonard could do. He just seemed to have a good sense of intuition with those he was close to.
And he and his wife had a ton of kids. Ten or something like that. And their kids who also had a bunch of kids? They were the ones who were like their dad.
The real surprise happened when two third cousins met and got married. They hadn’t even realized they were related (I mean, think about it—do you know your third cousins?). Their kids were the first ones where people took notice. When the scientists stepped in. The government.
None of us have really been free since then. Not until two years ago when I broke out with the rest of the group.
I gripped the steering wheel with my gloved hands. The leather squeaked under the pressure. It was the only clue to anyone paying attention. I hated any accidental touch with a stranger.
Hate’s a funny thing though. The scientists back at the lab told me the original mutation had been some random fluke. That was how it always worked—an accident in their DNA. An accident that allowed them to hold us all hostage. To breed us like cattle. To force us to work for them. Nothing compared to the hate I felt for them.
I took a deep breath. Thinking about that too much left me with a raging headache, and tonight I had to keep my focus. I was on a supply run (first time I’d been allowed back in public). We needed things and I had to get out and get back without anyone tracking me, or guessing who I was.
Not that most of the public knew about us. Sure, a couple of generations ago there had been news stories. Wild claims about what we could do, strange comparisons to those impossible mutations that people glorified in comic books. Reality was so much less fun.
The store was still lit, just twenty minutes until closing. Just as I’d timed it. I parked next to a lifted truck with a bumper stick proclaiming that the driver hunted wolves. I resisted the urge to take my key to it.
I had to peel off my gloves when I walked through the sliding doors. It was a little too warm for that to be normal.
The list in my pocket, on a crumpled piece of paper, had twenty items on it. That allowed me to take the express lane, and anything more might tip someone off that I was up to something.
Canned goods first. Mostly veggies, and a few fresh things as well. My mouth watered at the thought of a baked potato loaded with everything on it. How long since I’d had something that filling?
Too long. But it was worth it. Better than being a lab rat.
The medicine aisle gave me some trouble. I had to walk through it several times until I found the right stuff. The cold medicine would be invaluable at the compound, if only because it stunted our abilities. In a community of mind-readers, that meant peace unlike most of us could hope for.
I threw in chapstick before I could stop myself. My lips cracked and bled every day or two and I couldn’t handle it any longer.
Finally, I walked to the front. This was the hardest part. I could load my cart without ever having to speak with someone, but this store didn’t have self-checkout lanes. Which was why I’d been the one sent here. It had things we needed the other stores didn’t, but there were so many risks.
My cart had a wobbly wheel that listed to the right and squeaked as I walked to the front. Five minutes until closing.
The woman behind the conveyor belt read a magazine and glanced at her watch as I approached. Unloading my cart, she began ringing up my items as the register let out muted beeps.
I managed a weak grin as I walked up to pay. I had five crisp twenties in my wallet, each stolen, but I didn’t like to think of it that way. I’d spent the majority of my life working for the scientists without any kind of compensation. Same went for my parents, and everyone else back at the compound. Taking what was my due seemed like a much better way to phrase it.
The woman was efficient. Already most everything had been settled into white plastic bags, ready for me to collect. She didn’t do much more than glance at me as I waited.
I hoped the sweat gathering in my pits, along my lower back, didn’t show through.
Finally, she finished and turned the little screen with the total toward me without saying anything. I counted out the twenties on the little counter and let her collect them. Her hands stayed a safe distance from mine.
My total didn’t register until she counted it out for me, bills along the counter, which I snatched up and replaced in my wallet.
But the change. The total had included three cents, which I didn’t have, and meant I had $0.97 cents to contend with. And no way was she going to scatter that across her counter.
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