The hard stone corner caught her shoulder and sent her twisting to the ground. Dust covered concrete, broken and cracked in so many places welcomed her into it’s harsh and bitter embrace. Now the pain in her feet was matched equally by the intense, screaming pain in her shoulder and right knee. The desperate will to escape the horde of Trolls pushed her back to her feet. She’d be dead if they caught her.
She couldn’t care that her special heavy black robe was soaked with dust now, and it didn’t matter that she’d exposed herself for a moment in rolling back to her feet. She wore nothing but the robe, not by choice, but as a lack of options.
Run. That was all she could do. Run. Run past the lost and hopeless faces of those that looked at the Prize whose fate was all but sealed as she fled by them. There were people all around her, but none of them could help her now. They were drones, mindless zombies obedient only to the chips in their heads that drove them. They had one purpose in life, and those on the north end of The Colony were not up to that task. So here they were, slaves to The Bird until they reached the Age of Freedom.
Her feet longed for her boots, and her body wished for the uniform that had been hers only this morning. Even as the grey stone cubes of Section E flew by her vision, she knew she had to do better. She pounded her bare feet against the cracked and dusty stone ground, demanding it to propel her further and faster than possible. A choking pain in her chest tormented her mind while the reality of her escape became increasingly dim. Like so much of the Colony, a filthy haze hung in the air between the buildings, depriving those that inhabited the alleys of even a decent breath.
Another corner, another straight run down the narrow alleyways between short buildings. She was a mouse, caught in an ever-tightening trap. There was only one real escape: The Portal, and her enemy knew it. What lay beyond it was hope, and probably death. Pounding, rumbling footsteps of the Trolls echoed off the filthy walls around her while her blood pounded in her ears.
Strong hands pulled her off-balance through a doorway, and she stumbled into and on top of her assailant as they both rolled to the floor in a decrepit room. Adrenaline and training had her rolling back to a fighting stance while her eyes searched for the target’s weakest points.
“Dexas, wait!” he whispered hoarsely, pulling the combat helmet off his head. “It’s me!” The tall, lanky man who was crouched on one old knee before her quickly turned his stubbled face down at the floor, “You might want to…” he gestured towards her, and she realized that her stance was not allowing the robe to cover her form very well.
She grabbed at the edges of her cursed robe, closing herself off and re-attaching the hooks that held it closed. It really wasn’t meant for combat. “Blake! What are you doing?” she demanded, gasping for breath. “They’ll be here any second!” She stole a glance back toward the door and found that he’d somehow closed it.
He started rummaging in the black pack on the floor next to him. “I know,” he admitted, and pulled two things out of his pack. “I can’t hold ‘em all off,” he pointed out, “but I can buy you some time.”
“What… are you saying?” she broke in, trying to steady her breathing, “You can’t…”
He forced a familiar helmet into her hands and grabbed at her left forearm. “This helmet isn’t registered anymore,” he explained while he used a tool to cut off the bracelet on her left wrist.
She looked around him at his pack hopefully, but he shook his head while he pushed the hood off her short blond hair. “Sorry, it was all I could get.” Those blue eyes of his were filled with tears as he looked directly into hers. “Love you little girl,” he whispered hoarsely before he cleared his throat.
“Huh?” she mumbled while her chest fluttered with something inside.
He blinked hard and grabbed the helmet from her hands to push it over her head. In a flash, her world became filled with the familiar target reticles, nearby troop movements and more. He pressed a pistol into her hand and turned her toward the opposite doorway. “Now, head for Generator zero-one-zero,” he instructed firmly, “there’s a service access that leads outside there. You’ll need the blaster to get through the locks,” he called out, pushing her toward the door. “Now go!” he added, stooping down to rifle through the black pack on the floor again.
Dexas shoved the door open to another trash-lined alleyway, her mind swimming with clean air and everything he’d just said. She whirled around, careful to avoid stepping on the disgusting refuse at her feet. “What did you…”
“Go!” he commanded, pointing his strong finger down the alleyway.
Instinct and training had her running down the alley to the next intersection before she could protest. Inside her helmet, her compass direction was displayed in pink letters above her main field of vision, while a map that rotated with her head occupied the lower left corner. In that map, a dozen or more yellow triangles had converged behind her, each one with a unique letter and number combination. Blaster fire filled her ears shortly before an explosion shook the ground under her feet. A heatwave surged from behind that forced her to stumble before a thick cloud of dust consumed her vision. The helmet protected her hearing, as well as filtering the dust, but she’d felt the heat, which meant it had been really close. The group of yellow triangles that had been closing in behind her blinked from orange to red and then faded out of existence. One of those triangles had the designation “B52” in the center of it.
Blake was dead.
She broke with the onslaught of emotion and caught herself against a wall to keep from falling. Tears burned her eyes, her chest felt like someone was squeezing it from the inside and her whole body was on the verge of collapse. “Commander!” she shouted, knowing it was futile.
Her mind wandered to workout sessions with him, pushing her to do more, be more…
Dexas shook her head. “You have your orders Lieutenant,” she parroted, recalling Blake’s tone to force herself onward. “Helmet, set destination Generator Zero-One-Zero.” There was no time to wonder about what he’d meant. No time to figure out what ‘love you’ even was. The Trolls were going to keep coming…
Were the Trolls blowing up buildings to get her?
Didn’t matter, she reasoned as the map rotated and displayed a blue line overlaid on the pink road lines. A yellow triangle with the number “A122” appeared only a block away to her side. Then another, and then ten more as the map blurred. She wanted to scream, run back and find him. But the Trolls were still coming for her, and she hadto escape now. She couldn’t let Blake die for nothing.
She reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes and her hands bumped into the solid helmet that she’d forgotten was there. She blew out a quick, “Dammit,” and blinked hard a few times to clear her eyes. If she was reading this image correctly, she had about six blocks left before she would be at the Generator.
“Move it Lieutenant,” she muttered and sprinted for two blocks to get some distance between her and the Trolls that were probably digging through the mess behind her. Her bracelet was still in the rubble, so the Trolls’ maps would still be pointing them to the explosion site.
Two yellow triangles, with the codes B142 and K137 flashed into view along her path in front of her, only a half-block ahead. “Are you kidding me?” she muttered, coming to a halt near a slimy old concrete wall. This section smelled like a toilet. A really big toilet. She hated the North End. Too bad her helmet couldn’t filter out the smell…
She did a quick little move that Blake had taught her and tipped her head around the corner only for a quick second to take in the scene. Then she dissected the image in her mind. It was a good way to keep your head from getting blown off while trying to see what the enemy might be doing. Two men, long weapons on their straps from shoulders. That meant rifles, which meant long range. They were lookouts, stationed to cover an area. The fact that the rifles were slung on their shoulders meant that they were confident she was nowhere nearby. They would be looking at the orientation maps in their helmets, watching for her I.D. to show up from the bracelet that Blake had broken off her wrist just minutes ago. There had also been a low wall between them and her current hiding place.
Dexas got low and scrambled on her feet to roll up against the wall. Her mental image said they were just behind her now by a dozen yards or so. She looked around in front of her for a reflective surface, anything that might give her a sight line and found a chunk of glass. She couldn’t take the chance that they might see her, because while her helmet would disguise her face, the black robe she wore would announce who she was if they saw her.
The two soldiers were bored and looked like it in the chunk of glass she was holding on the ground like a mirror. It wasn’t a great image, but it was better than showing her face. They were right in line with were the map was taking her toward, milling about and it didn’t look like they were going to move on anytime soon.
“Helmet: New route,” she whispered, ducking down once more. The map, which was now floating in the wall in front of her, blinked twice, then projected a new blue line that ran to the East from here. That’s when she noticed a message symbol at the bottom of her vision. She started to give the instruction to play the message, then reconsidered. If the audio was loud enough, it would attract the attention of B142 and K137…
“I can’t believe it,” a very pissed male voice muttered in her ear, giving her a start. “That whore never shoulda been there in the first place.”
It was Brian 142’s cocky voice, which was way too close. Was he on the other side of the wall now? The glass in her hand wiggled a little, but she could still see that they were several yards away.
“Yeah, but…” 137 started to say.
“I can’t believe there’s already a waiting line for her,” Brian bit out. “I turned her in! I should get the prize,” he complained.
Her body shuddered involuntarily, even though she tried not to think about what he was implying. At least she was only tapped into their radio feed, and he wasn’t literally standing next to her. Her map line took her around them, so as long as they didn’t move, she was in the clear. They had both turned away from her hiding spot for a moment, so she scrambled to her feet and peeled off to the East. Now she was picking her way slowly down a particularly nasty alleyway full of garbage and foul odors that wrenched at her stomach even more. Why did her only escape have to run through this section of the Colony? At least the Rejects were in hiding right now, and not here to point the Trolls after her.
Turning North again, the debris lessened for the next two blocks. Then she was at the edge of a thoroughfare, a wide roadway that was used for equipment and vehicles. Across from her was the one-story brick structure that ran all the way around The Colony at the base of the dome that curved up into the haze above. She knew the brick structure housed all kinds of stuff for the environmental systems and such, but she’d never been inside. The map instructed her to turn left down the roadway for two blocks, but that would put her right back where B142 and K137 were whining about their lot in life. Across the roadway, shinning like a tarnished brown beacon, was a door in the brick structure. The map was practically screaming at her to run down the road, but her good sense and training told her to take the door she could see. There was no way to know if that door connected with the old generator station from the inside, but all she had now was hope anyway.
All the times she’d ridden in a transport around the colony on this outer roadway, she’d never even considered that she’d be one of the huddled forms on the side of it. Except that none of those huddled figures ever wore the robe that marked them out as a prize. Hers was a special robe, made of black fabric with purple accents throughout the garment that marked her as a new conquest. No matter how dirty she got it, she’d be spotted immediately. She’d trade it with someone if she could, but no one would want it. At least, not what went with it.
The road was clear, but for how long? The blind corner could have a transport lurking behind it even now. Not to mention the…
The heck with it! She sprinted across the smooth pavement, hoping that her H.U.D. was correct. A sharp pain in her left ankle pulled at her stride as she planted her right hand on the handle…
Trapped like a rat, she was out in the open, right next to a major road! She looked left, then right. A long knife shot up her left leg suddenly, buckling her knee. The locked door handle that was keeping her out in the open obediently held her up as she gripped it to keep from toppling over. Had she broken her ankle running on this hard pavement without boots? There was no time! She had to…
The pistol in her hand aimed at the handle, but her mind screamed NO!before she could pull the trigger. At the corner of her vision, a long rectangle began to slither across her H.U.D. towards the center at a rapid pace. Transport! She had to do something! “Dammit!” she cursed, slamming the butt of the pistol on the door handle three times.
Shooting a fearful glance to her right, she grabbed at the handle again and shook it mindlessly.
The door swung toward her, nearly sending her to her butt. She quickly, albeit painfully, dove in through the dark portal and pulled the door shut behind her.