"I don't know these roads. Did you grow up back here?"

"No. I'm from Maryland. Just living here." She doesn't look at me. Which is careful on this warped road. Thin trees jump in front of the headlights like witches in a haunted house. "Since last year. Got a job at the big warehouse."

"The one nearby?"

"Yeah. Pushing carts. Pay's great, though. $15."

She seems older than me. "What'd do you in Maryland?" Her eyes leave the trees and shine at me. I tense up. Because of the trees. But she swings the next turn instinctually.

I narrow the question, hoping it gets her to look away. "What'd you do as a job?"

Her shoulders untense as she turns. "Junior security analyst. Federal contractor."

I don't know what to ask next. The next question's worryingly obvious. To her, too, so she answers it. "Fed work sucks. I wanted to change. So I moved up here."

"'kay. You hungry? Where're we ending up? Park? Your house? Apartment?"

She smiled. An actual smile. It warmed me. "You're the guy. You have the responsibility of picking the date."

"But you're driving. You picked me up at my place. Chivalrously." I smiled. She didn't. "But, I'll choose. Let's catch a late movie at the bar near the college. They project it onto a bed sheet. The regulars are cool, so it won't be too loud."

"Alright. This your special bar? Your safe harbour?" I chuckle agreement. She gets excited. "Thank you. For wanting to share it with me. Bold for someone you met tonight. Can I share with you? There's a place on the way. A park. Clear view. Stars, city, everything."

My back, pressed hard against the seat, slides down a little. "Cool."

We move through the trees. She stays on back roads. A lot of turns, some on what have to be just paths worn by ATVs. I keep scanning for deer in the woods outside my window. Yellow-green dots reflect her high beams. I see more and more as we keep driving and talking.

She walks me through the basics of computer security. I get the basics, but it's not very interesting. I don't say much. She doesn't take the hint.

"Say you clicked a link, and it downloaded an app, and that app clawed through your info. Like, emails and phone numbers of your friends and family. What sites you've looked at. What's on your phone. And it sent that info to somebody you don't know. And sent emails to people you know. Emails crafted to make them curious, curious enough to click the link and also download the app."

"A virus?"

She jams a fingernail into my shoulder. "Ow! What the fuck?!"

"Exactly! A virus! And that's every modern app. Your email. Your browser. Your fucking solitaire!"

I'm not in the mood for computer philosophy. "The movie starts in half an hour. Are we still going to the park?"

Her leg's shaking up and down. "Yeah. We're here. No worries."

Another turn onto an unnamed trail. This one goes up. Now she's quiet, and I wish she'd keep talking. About anything.

The trees thin out and stars fill the gaps. The silence is nice now. She parks and turns off the car at the top.

I unbuckle and lean forward to look up through the wind shield. "I forgot how many stars there are. Haven't seen them since camping as a kid."

"I want you to live with me."

The sudden shock of adrenaline hurts. I keep looking at the stars. I can't look at her until I figure out the right answer. The answer's worryingly obvious. But not to her.

"At your apartment?"

"Don't have one. House, either."

My arms and legs get cold and the muscles tighten. I turn toward her more calmly than I'd expect of anyone in this situation. My fingers slide along the bottom of my window until they're pinching the lock. It barely pokes out of the hole.

"Let's finish the date first, yeah? You might hate me by the end."

"I need to act. And we're not going back in town. Picking you up was a big enough risk. The towers. The fucking towers."

"I don't live near the city's towers. We can get back without going by them." I have no idea how to think. I need to calm her, guess her worries. But I know her thoughts aren't guessable. They're weaving roads I've never known.

She sees the fear in me. "You can say no." She shifts forward. The overhead light reflects on something in her left hand. "But I gotta be safe. It's the most important thing. It cost so much to get here. And any mistake is permanent. I want you to say yes. You're smart enough. We mesh well. It'll be easier together. A real life."

She offers the syringe up to me. I recoil without any more fake calm. She continues like nothing. "But you can say no. I'd just need to do this last favor. It'll keep us safe. They know me. And if they know you, you won't be safe either. So this will stop you knowing me, and they'll never have to know you."

Her green eyes water. Her hand shakes. The dark tar in the syringe drags itself down the glass. I grab her hand, forcing the fingers closed. My grips twists her knuckles sideways, and they pop.

She's screaming as I unlock the door and fall out. I get up and crash through the leaves. I only know it's freezing because my lungs are searing cold. My foot hits a mound of clay under the leaves at the tree line. My palms hit roots and open. The clay rolls under my stomach.

I twist, afraid she'll be running at me. But she's crying in the car, trying to turn the ignition key. A blue logo on orange cloth looks at me from the pile of leaves under my hip. I push myself up, smearing blood on the dirt and cloth under my hands.

I look down at the pile of people. Some have pale blue skin. Others have shrivelled brown skin. All of them have a black and burst lump on their arm.

I half run, half fall down the hill. My shoulder slams a tree and dislocates, but I don't know that until the next morning.

The sun starts shining more through naked branches. I sprint as much as my legs let me, then squat against a tree. My eyes lose to sleep for maybe half an hour. Then I wake up and repeat.

An old guy and his kid in a pick-up see me along a road at night. They wrap me in a tarp and drive me to the hospital. H never contacted me again. But I couldn't sleep long enough to dream. Fear of being caught, and of what I'd dream.