‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

The Institution

'Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?'
-Mahatma Gandhi


‘The way you’re going, you’ll end up in the Institution.’

That’s what people always told me. But at the time, it was my life. Since I’d first discovered imagination, the Dreamers had become all I had.

Well, perhaps they should take a look at me now.

The van was black and official looking. They’d put me in handcuffs; something I’d fought greatly, but I’d only succeeded in getting gassed.

Perhaps there was no way out now. Perhaps this was really it. I was going to the Institution.

I’d been one of the most reckless Dreamers in California, without a doubt. By some sheer luck, I’d kept myself out of the Institution for five beautifully long and glorious years. But now, my time was up.

Two days ago, they’d been waiting for me. I left the base, on a mission. It was a simple one, too—something that I was possibly a little too complacent about.

But they’d been ready. I hadn’t been out five minutes before I was surrounded by three uniformed, armed government officials. Their guns were pointed in my face and there was no way I could get out. Not alive, anyway.

I was handcuffed, and I was taken to the court. I spent the night in a cell and was taken into an interrogation in the morning. They strapped me into a chair and I resisted all I could, but they kept shocking me until I gave in. I was hooked up to a lie detector and, despite putting into practice everything I had learnt, it was quickly discovered that I was a Dreamer—they needed little proof of the Dreamers anymore. They knew we existed, and anyone caught working for an unapproved organisation or committing even the smallest of imagination-related crimes was accused of being a Dreamer. It was a bit unfair on the innocent kids, but they had plenty of proof for me, anyway.

It was my first strike. Technically, I still had one more chance, and then the Operation, but the rules had been getting harsher recently. The government insisted that they had to ‘crack down’ on us Dreamers. I was going to be stuck in the Institution for the next six months, but I had a horrible feeling that it wouldn’t be too long before they dropped a bombshell of a punishment on all of us.

They took me out of the building as soon as they were satisfied they had got everything they could from the lie detector—they hadn’t explicitly gained the location of our base from me, but I had a feeling they already knew, and I was handcuffed again and gassed because of my persistent struggling and thrown in the back of an empty van.

And there I was now.

I had no sense of time or distance anymore. We could have been travelling all day or just a couple of hours—I had no idea how long I’d been unconscious for either, but it felt like I’d been here for days. We could be half way across America right now and I wouldn’t be all that surprised.

Finally, the van slowed to a stop. In the movies—the exact sort of movies that had been banned thirty-seven long years ago, but the exact sort that Lee had discovered in the government Vaults on one of his most successful missions ever, the official bastards would come round the back, and I would jump and run at them, doing a few impressive karate kicks and martial arts tricks, then finally flip over the top of them and go on the run.

But this wasn’t a movie. So the back doors of the van opened, and three men stood there, two of them with their guns pointing inwards, and they beckoned me closer.

‘Get out,’ the only one not carrying a gun ordered. I bit my tongue to stop a retort that would only end me up in more trouble with the idiots, and stood up, stepping out, the guns never moving off of me.

The building was situated in its own grounds, far from anything else, big and grey and foreboding, with three floors and hardly any windows. The area was surrounded with reels of barbed wire, and I could only dread to imagine what horrors took place behind those impenetrable walls. It was getting towards evening now, the horizon-to-horizon sun beginning to sink low in the late autumn sky, turning a smooth, pale shade of blue. One of the most hurtful things was the simple notion that it was going to be six months before I properly saw it again. Even if they let us out for exercise, which I didn’t imagine they would, I would still only see it from behind chain-linked fences, the grey buildings blocking me from ever truly being exposed to the horizon.

The next bit was a blur. I wasn’t strictly scared; I’d anticipated this day since I first joined the Dreamers, and I was lucky it had come so late, so it wasn’t really a surprise or a shock. I just followed the guards in, and we went into a white and metal room that looked like something out of an old science-fiction movie, and they started talking to the woman at the desk, and then she started talking to me—all sort of patronising as though I was a mental patient, asking my name and birthday and everything. Then they unshackled me and searched me and told me to get changed and brought me back out into the white room.

‘Now, Mr Stryder,’ said the woman, still patronising me there in my grey jumpsuit-like thing, ‘which would you prefer: the easy way or the hard way?’

I shrugged. ‘Don’t care.’ I wasn’t fussed. I was in for six months whatever happened.

The guard pointed his gun at me once again. ‘Give me your hands.’

Reluctantly, I stuck out my hands, just to please him, and he cuffed them yet again. Two guards stood either side of me, grabbing an arm each, and began to march me down the corridor.

We entered another room, where I gave my full name and date and place of birth, all hooked up to a lie detector of course, and then they took endless mug shots and fingerprints and retinal scans. It didn’t bother me as such. I was barely there. Inside my mind, I was somewhere else—I was anywhere I wanted to be. After what felt like forever, I was re-handcuffed, and led out once again.

We went upstairs and along corridors, all decorated the same way—weird, grey, metal, looking all kind of high-tech, but not in a good way; more like a sick mental asylum. As we went, the fear began to set in. There were doors and cells and the few windows were dark tinted so it looked like night-time, and then we were in a bit where there were no windows at all, and it was all grey and metal and the lights were dim and I could hear voices and then the screaming began...

‘D’you think there’s an Op going on now?’ asked the left-hand guard to the right-hand guard. ‘They said they’d be incinerating some bastards today.’

His grin made me sick, and his words were like sharp, venomous bites in my side.

‘Don’t you talk about my people like that!’ I warned him in a roar, hoping to sound scary. The guard just narrowed his eyes.

‘Shut up you, or you’ll pay for it.’

I didn’t care; not really. As long as I was out in six months, my brain still intact, I didn’t care what happened to me in here. Because whatever happened; whatever those guards did to me, I would still leave and go and lead a far more fulfilled, enriching life than they could ever dream of. And that was satisfaction enough for me. I was proud to Dream.

They reached a cell, plugging a code into the little pad on the side, and the automatic doors slid open.

Inside, the cell was small and completely empty with not even a toilet or a bed, and it was white like so many things in here were, but not metal, just excessively padded.

‘You’re putting me in a fucking padded cell?’ I cried, suddenly outraged. ‘I’m not insane!’

‘You’re a Dreamer, mate,’ said one of the guards with a smirk. ‘You’re as good as mad to the rest of us.’

He unclipped the shackles and shoved me in. There was a straight jacket up against the wall, which they removed for my ‘safety’ as I walked in, and a light in the ceiling. Well, it wasn’t really a light—it was one of those high-tech daylight filters that they liked to use in these places to bring in some natural light but stop us from ever truly seeing the sky. Other than that, there was nothing in here at all.

‘Meals will be brought in every morning and evening,’ the guard announced. ‘You get an hour’s recreation in the afternoon. Toilet breaks are in the morning and during rec time. Lights out between eleven pm and seven in the morning. You’ll probably go to your tests every two days—brain tests, mental tests, Dreamer tests, all that crap—you’ll get your official time tomorrow morning after using the showers. Goodbye, Mr Stryder.’

‘Get the fuck back here!’ I roared suddenly.

The taller of the officers; the one on the left, turned and gave me a stern look.

‘Abusive and foul language against the government or the guards is forbidden, Mr Stryder,’ he threatened. ‘Punishment will follow if you persevere.’

The doors slid shut. I was left in silence.

First I was mad. I kicked and punched the walls, but it made no difference.

After a few hours, I broke down. The solitude in this dim, grey hellhole was already stifling, and it was only ever going to get worse.

At some time during the evening, they brought a measly meal of tinned food and water in on a tray. Some point a bit later, they let me out to use the loo, considering it was my first day so I’d completely missed rec time.

Then it was lights out, and I was left in darkness for a long and painful night.

I was here. I was in the Institution. And there was no way I was going to survive six months of this.
♠ ♠ ♠
Important: The beginning of this story actually starts before the beginning of Hurricane Heart. Later on, this story will be running parallel to the story of Hurricane and Arjan (it should become clearer later).

I know it's not a great first chapter, but I had to set the scene somehow. It'll get better - trust me!