Wren Miller felt strange sitting in the passenger seat of what Malak called an SUV. It wasn't the vehicle itself that was strange—most of the higher ranking Directorate officers traveled in similar machines to this one—but Wren herself had never ridden in one. Home, in Sector 7, there had never been any need for SUVs, or any type of vehicle for that matter. Supplies were delivered on a weekly basis by HMUC helicopters, and the Sector itself was too small to require a means of faster transport from one side to the next. Wren's parents had always kept much to themselves, and their reservations had rubbed off on their children as well. There had been no need or inclination to interact with any but the closest of their neighbors, and now, Wren knew she herself had been much of the reason for her family's self-isolation.
Nolan was a year older than Wren and had never exhibited any...strange...traits like she did. The pair had grown up as one another's best and only true friend, but Wren had long suspected Nolan also harbored some intense resentment toward his sister. In their parents' near constant endeavor to keep Wren as anonymous as possible amongst the Sector's other children, her brother's own childhood had suffered. Wren could recall countless occasions in which Nolan had asked their father to allow him to visit a friend's home, but Vincent Miller had always denied the request. Friendships were tentative and needed to be supervised within the Miller household itself, lest the boy let something damning to Wren slip from his lips during any unsupervised conversation. Eventually he had just stopped trying, and the friendships seem to dissolve altogether.
Wren frowned to herself, understanding how difficult it must have been for Nolan being so consistently mistrusted by his own parents. He had never spoken of it to Wren, nor had he ever spoken a word against her, but she knew it had to hurt.
Sighing and resolving to continue her musings once her family was safely in Oleria, Wren glanced up to see the formidable southern wall of Sector 7 emerging from behind the thick layer of fog as they approached. It was nearly dawn, just bright enough that she could make out the towers marking the gate, as well as the agitated forms of the Directorate sentries dispersed across its front. The blonde woman's stomach knotted, and her heart sank.
There were too many guards. Many more than was normal. Her mind raced, trying to determine how to retrieve her family and manage to escape again with so many of the Directorate still stationed there in the Sector.
Malak slowed the SUV to a crawl as they approached the gate, while Wren's heartrate increased a tenfold.
"Good day, Sir," said the sentry that had come to the driver's side of the vehicle once Malak had rolled the window down. "Can I see some identification?"
Wren saw Malak smile and hand over a card. The guard studied it for a moment or two, turning it over in his hands, and then handed it back.
"What is your business here today, Sir?"
Malak gestured to Wren, whose brown eyes widened in alarm as he did so.
"Malak return that which was taken from the Sector 7," Malak replied in his accented voice. Wren focused on remaining calm in spite of her internal panic. What was Malak doing? She saw the sentry walk away from the SUV for a moment, and speak with a woman dressed in identical Directorate garb. When he returned, it was only to wave them through the gate.
Malak, obviously pleased, smiled and gave a somewhat mocking wave to the guards while they moved forward through the opening. As they did, Wren realized the female sentry was staring at her through hard, narrowed eyes. Nervous, the blonde looked away before the woman had any more time to wonder if something about their arrival was off.
Malak steered the SUV through the familiar landmarks of Sector 7, a smile still plastered on his face. Wren, confused, wanted to ask him what was going on, why he hadn't yet allowed her out of the vehicle, or why they were driving past the homes and instead heading towards the shopping district. Before she could, though, the spindly man stopped the truck in front of a sketchy building Wren hadn't ever noticed before. A man was standing outside, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared at the SUV. Malak turned to his passenger, a stern expression on his face this time.
"Stupid girl stay here," he said, scowling. "Malak have work to do. Malak help stupid girl live here."
Wren shook her head.
"I don't understand. My house is back there. I can just—"
"Don't be stupid!" came the fierce reply, and Wren sank back against her seat in defeat. Malak's eyebrows were raised, and grudgingly, the woman nodded. Her response must have satisfied him, because he promptly exited the vehicle—and locked the doors.