Even at the very end, when it seemed almost hopeless to everyone else, I still believed there was a small chance they’d make it. I fact I’d held onto that belief — stubbornly, I admit, and without logic — since the beginning of their journey.

Of course, I’d had no way of knowing who they actually were when I accepted the gig. All I knew then was that there were five of them: two adults and three small children, ages undefined. But there was something about one of the adults that caught my attention — a kind of glitch in the statistics cascading down my device’s screen — that caused me to ignore our otherwise strict and unmoving protocols, for the duration of the mission at least.

It started out bleak and cold, as expected. Early-morning traces in midwinter are rarely bright. Each of the five subjects’ vitals indicated sleepiness and lethargy. Only the youngest had slept for anything like the number of hours recommended for an ordinary day — let alone a long journey.

They emerged from the house before dawn, their blurs of dark clothing highlighted momentarily beneath each working streetlight, each snapshot shape crowned with drizzling rain. The taller of the adults dragged a suitcase in one hand, a child with backpack in the other. The second adult — the one whose vitals had piqued my curiosity the night before — pushed the pram containing the youngest child, while herding the third child down the slippery path.

They arrived at the first of the day’s destinations, a bus stop, ahead of schedule. The adults sat the two backpacked children on the bench, somewhat out of the rain, and angled the pram into the corner of the shelter. I traced them from the dry warmth of my vehicle, noting that the brief pause in their onward journey had no discernible effect on either of the adults’ body battery levels. In fact, they were already decreasing.

Presently, a red bus arrived and I handed over tracing to whoever was already onboard. I watched as the adults entered the bus by the back door, wrangling suitcase, pram and children into the zone reserved for parties such as theirs. The doors of the bus folded inwards with a wet squelch and they were gone.

I thought they’d make it easily but as it turned out I was wrong. Still, in that instant before their vitals disappeared from my console, I couldn’t help wishing it had turned out differently. That they’d managed to catch the connecting bus, then the train, the second train and the ferry.

But my reverie was interrupted by a fresh notification from my device, and my vehicle’s ignition engaging automatically. For a time, we followed the bus’s red cat-eye lights, but then the vehicle peeled off at a t-junction of its own accord, and I lost sight of them for good.

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