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Runner, Part 1
It’s been three years since the revolution that led to the Reforms. These Reforms gave the government permission to do anything they found acceptable to protect the populace. For three years, we have lived under the tyranny of an authoritarian government. Soldiers patrol the streets daily, and “pacify” any troublemakers. For three years, we have been oppressed for “our own good”. For three years, the word “freedom” has been but a faint whisper of the past. For three years, the Government of the New States of America has rules with an iron fist.
No longer. Now, we rise.
I think the reason I signed up to be a Runner was the thrill. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t like dashing across rooftops and through alleys just to deliver packages? It always came natural to me, the running part. I never wasn’t running. My ma will always tell me, “Erick, you came outta the womb runnin’.” And frankly I believe her. So that’s how I ended up enlisting in the Runner Corps, and getting myself stuck in midst of a rebellion.
I remember the day that everything kicked off. It was a hot day; some news bloke said it was “record-breaking”. My partner, Selena, and I were delivering some nondescript package to Governor Lacey, who ran our state. His wife wanted us personally for the job. I had heard that from my boss, and I swear I stood a foot taller that day. In any case, the job was simple enough; go to Governor Lacey’s office around noon, deliver the package, say it was from a secret admirer, and leave. One of her more specific directions was to make sure he was alone when he received the package. Now, part of Runner doctrine is you cannot open parcels or interfere with deliveries, but this package made me a bit interested.
I shook off the thoughts of what could be inside the small box after tucking it into my pack, I then tied the final knot on my shoe and stood. Giving a last look around the grimy apartment building our city’s Corps of Runners called home, Throwing on a cap to cover my eyes, I turn and shout,
“Selena!” After a moment, Selena pops her head out from her dorm room down the hallway and gives me a grin and a thumbs-up. Selena is a Watcher. Every Runner is assigned a Watcher after passing initiation trials. Watchers were the Runner’s guards, and made sure nothing got in the way of a Runner and a delivery. Walking up to me in a quick, bouncing stride; she slapped the rim of my hat down and says,
“Ready for a race, Pre?”
I had acquired that nickname for being one of the best longer-distance Runners in the Corps. Pre, or Steve Prefontaine, was a talented American distance runner. I got the name at trials, when our Corps manager had called me it for completing the four mile course at the top of my class.
“Pre is always ready, and Pre always wins,” I reply to her, lightly punching her shoulder and jerking my thumb to the bag on my back. “I got the package right here, you all set?”
She smiles again and nods, while bouncing on her heels. We turn heel and walk up the stairwell to the roof, exchanging quick formalities with the door guard. Since the Reform, military blokes have been assigned to patrol streets and enforce curfew. Governors are assigned to each one of the thirty-two states, and each Governor runs that state from its Prime City. I live in Bercols, the Prime City of the state of Voxen. For the most part, Bercols is a safe city. The poor are content and live fairly well, and the rich live in their decadent towers. For the most part, it’s a serene life. For the most part, nobody has any issues.
As I double check my laces for any faults, and check the exterior of the package for any damages, I turn to Selena and wink before sprinting forward and leaping off the edge of the building to the next rooftop. I hang, airborne, for a few moments before crashing down onto the rooftop. In the next instant Selena follows, but I am already up and running again; moving towards the light pole at the edge of the building. With one final stride, I leap again and grip the bar of the pole. Swinging, I fling myself into the next building through an open window. A woman shrieks as I vault over her dinner table and slip out the door. Taking a hard right, I bound towards the hallway window and hop onto the lip. Looking back, I watch Selena exit the apartment and follow me. I smile at her before hopping out of the window and onto the fire escape. Climbing down quickly, I gather myself before looking around for Lacey Tower. Spotting it isn’t hard, it’s sheer height combined with the dazzling flashes the sun reflects off of its glass makes it the centerpiece for the city. I must have stared at it too long, because I hear behind me,
“Erick, you good?”
“Yeah. Let’s keep going.” I reply, starting forward with a light jog down the street. Weaving through the mid-day traffic of Bercols’ sidewalks, I turn into an alley the first chance I get and scale a fire escape back onto the rooftops.
Selena and I make good time to the tower this way, and once we reach the front doors I once again check the package for any damages. Finding none, I nod and motion Selena forward before stepping inside.
It was never any secret that people disliked the Reformed government. Nobody is private about their discontent with the new system. And for anybody that wants to act on this discontent, there is the Saviors. Rebels is the best term to describe us, and we seek the downfall of the Reforms and the government that backs them.
And today, the Saviors’ grand operation begins in the city of Bercols.
Killing someone never bothered me, I was always very matter-of-fact about death.
“If you don’t kill them, be sure as h*ll they’ll kill you.” I would say. And that’s why Commander Doran put me on today’s assignment. It was a fairly simple plan: Get inside Lacey Tower under the guise of janitors, take the elevator up to the penthouse, kill Governor Lacey, record his death, and bring the tape back to our headquarters in the Poor District. That was the facet of the plan I was involved in, but the whole design is to broadcast the recorded video as propaganda.
As I suit up on my bunk for the operation, I talk idly to the squad of guys coming along on the mission too.
“Honestly, I don’t know why we waited you guys waited three years to actually start rebelling.” I mutter, looking at Bear. The Savior veteran looked at me blankly, grunted, and stuffed a pistol in his holster before answering.
“Have you ever thought that it’s not exactly easy to organize a rebellion? Just to establish a base you need enough people that believe in your cause, weapons, and something to actually rebel against. People were actually content with the government for the first year after the Reforms. They were afraid of another string of riots, and they thought the G.N.S.A would protect them. It was only when the soldiers remained on the streets after the government had deemed them safe that people realized this was the way things were gonna stay,” He said, zipping up the janitor outfit and slapping on a cap, “And when soldiers started shooting proposed ‘chaotic citizens’ people were terrified. Nobody wanted to be the next corpse with a grave that read ‘Rebel’. It was amazing that Doran even cobbled together enough resources and men to even think about beginning operations. It still is.” He finished, and motioned the squad forward. I looked over myself in the janitor outfit, which was at least two sizes too big, before following him. On the way out of our apartment-building-turned-military-base, one of my buddies, Aaron, nudged me.
“How’s it feel being the only girl who’s manly enough to go out on these missions?” He asked, teasing me because of my muscular form and soldier mentality. I grunted and ignored the question. It was true, though. I am the only girl in the Saviors who isn’t assigned to medical, cooking, or cleaning duty. As we all piled into the truck, I contemplated how well the front desk of Lacey Tower would receive a teenage janitor. Let alone three. Bear was the only squad member above eighteen, and he was old enough that we bet how many wives he’s had. As we drove away, I looked out the window to see two Runners running across the rooftops.
It wasn’t my first time inside Lacey tower, but nonetheless the sheer grandeur of it almost took my breath away. For someone who was used to tiny apartment buildings and shantytowns, Lacey Tower and the Rich District was always a refreshing view. The front desk was made of oak, which was so well cleaned it glinted in the sun. Above the desk hung an elaborate painting of Governor Lacey, and it’s eyes stared right at you as you entered the building. Around the desk, three elevators, with gold-painted doors, waited to carry passengers up and down the buildings. I took every detail in before looking at the receptionist. She was a warm contrast to the pair of stony-faced soldiers that flanked the desk. They carried assault rifles and a pistol, and stood so still I pondered whether they were statues or not. The receptionist smiled at me as I approached the desk, and asked,
“Hello! Welcome to Lacey Tower! May I ask your reason for visiting?”
I placed the delivery for the Governor on the table, and placed my Runner I.D. on top of it. She took the I.D., looking at it, then me. Nodding, she then motioned for Selena’s I.D., and when content with both of us she smiled again and looked at the soldier on her left.
“Mister Josephs, please let these two through.” She said, still maintaining her perfect smile. The soldier grunted, looked us both over, and let us through. As I pressed the button for an elevator, I turned to watch four janitors approach the front desk. As Selena and I entered the elevator, they were let through. Before the elevator doors closed, I watched as the oldest janitor reach into his uniform and draw a pistol and call for an elevator.
We had gotten through the front desk without a hitch. Our superiors could not have done a better job scheduling the mission, because Lacey Tower was expecting cleaners the same day. I looked around as we passed the front desk. Three gold-painted elevators waited along a blank wall. As I opened my mouth to ask for the riders of one elevator to hold the door, Bear drew his pistol and pressed the button for another. I nervously glanced at the two soldiers that had their backs to us, and as the elevator signaled its arrival I rushed inside without a second glance. Once inside, Bear snapped a magazine into his weapon. The rest of us drew ours, making sure they were loaded. I was smart enough to suggest silencers, and as we attached them Bear looked at the squad.
“I won’t ask if everyone’s ready, because this is happening ready or not. The only advice I can give is this: once we’re out of this elevator, we shoot first and ask questions later,” He paused momentarily to allow these words to sink in, then turned to me, “Dawn, get the camera ready.”
I nodded and reached into the jacket pocket of my uniform. Command had provided a small camera for the mission. Procuring it, I looped it around my ear and twisted the head of it. A light illuminated from the corner of my eye, which I assumed meant that the device was recording. Twisting it again, I turned it off and leaned against the wall of the elevator. None of us spoke, and the only sound that could be heard was the quiet hum of the elevator. I felt myself break out into a nervous sweat, and my heartbeat began to race.
Control yourself. This is a mission like any other. Nothing special about it. Just do your job. I said to myself. But I questioned whether or not that I actually believed that. Unfortunately, I had no time to ponder.
With a quaint beep, the elevator opened and we filed out.
Raleigh, North Carolina
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