The mix-up with their gym bags was an easy mistake for Even to make. The players had to share lockers during practice, and all of their bags were standard-issue from the Center. It was only a matter of time before Even pulled Robin’s bag out of their shared cubicle in the locker room. He unzipped the bag, opened it, looked down into it, and stared for about half a second, then snapped it shut with his hands like there had been a cobra inside. Even looked around the locker room. Everyone was still out on the gym floor, so no one had seen. He thought for half a minute, then zipped Robin’s gym bag back up and placed it back inside the cubicle. He got out the bag he had meant to get out –his own.
Even was mute as he changed and showered. The other players, including Robin, had joined him in the locker room. He glanced over at Robin a couple of times as he changed, but avoided eye contact with him. When Even was done showering, he walked by Robin, who was talking to some of the other kids on their team.
“Hey, I gotta ask you about something when you get done. I’ll be outside,” Even said to Robin, who nodded, and then went back to his conversation with their teammates.
When Robin joined him outside, they started walking towards the dinning hall. They cut through the park in the middle of the Center to get there. As they crossed an open soccer field, Even looked around to make sure no one was nearby, then he stopped and looked at Robin.
“Hey, I gotta talk to you about something,” Even said.
Robin stopped, and turned to look at Even, who was looking at Robin’s gym bag. Robin followed Even’s eyes down to his bag, and then looked back at Even.
“You pulled the wrong bag out of the locker after practice, didn’t you?” Robin asked.
“Damn. I knew I should have hidden those before I came to practice, but I was running late.”
“Rope and wire cutters,” Even said. “Either one is a prohibited item, and, together, it could look like you’re thinking about deserting.”
“I am,” Robin said.
Even looked around again to double-check that no one was around. Attempted desertion would get a pre-breeder sent to one of the Syndicate’s secret re-education centers. The rumor was that most subversive pre-breeders sent to a re-education center would almost certainly never be breeder-certified and would be euthanized once they reached eighteen. Even also knew that it was his job to report it, and failure to do so would result in discipline for himself, if it were ever discovered.
“How did you even get them?” Even asked.
“I bribed someone. I’ve got human money.”
“How did you get money? Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
Money was also contraband at the Center.
“What are you going to do now?” Robin asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’ve got my fate in your hands. We both know that. ‘Those who tolerate a breach of our laws are themselves lawbreakers’,” Robin said with a sarcastic tone of voice. “Are you going to tolerate my law-breaking? Are you going to report me?”
Without a thought, Even said: “No.”
“You could escape too,” Robin said. “My plan would work with one more person.”
Also without a thought, Even said: “No.”
After a moment, Even continued: “Where would we go? To live with the humans? We’re not like them. This is how we live.”
“Why? Why is this how we live?” Robin asked.
“Why is the sky blue? Why does the sun rise and set every day?” Even said with a dismissive waive of his hand. “You’re a smart guy Robin, but you’re too smart for your own good, sometimes. Besides, your plan won’t work.”
“Why don’t you tell me what my plan is,” Robin said with a smirk.
“You’re going to climb to the top of the wall with the rope, and then you’re going to use the wire cutters to get past the razor wire. You forget that there is a guard patrolling each of the four outer walls at night.”
“Not that many guards here at the Center,” Robin said, then turned and walked away from Even. As he walked he yelled over his shoulder: “Because most of the pre-breeders here are sheep, like you, and wouldn’t want to leave, even if they could.”
Robin didn’t show up for the next practice or the next game. Even would occasionally see him walking with Jeri after that, but they would walk in the other direction, with Robin never making eye contact, and Jeri looking at Even with a look of triumph on her face.