‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Against the World


There was no particular reason for staying with these two other men, but we followed them all the same. As much as anything, it was nice to have some company. Jake had shoved me through the firing line and dragged me out the door just moments before the entire auditorium seemed to explode, and I had feared that we would be the only ones to make it out alive. As it happened, we were more fortunate than I could have hoped. The two guys, Simeon and Tim, seemed friendly enough. I could see that Jake didn’t trust them, but that was only down to the fact that, pulling me from the burning building, he had been given what sounded like his first opportunity ever to be the alpha male. Now, that was being stripped away from him by tall, muscular, natural leader Simeon and brave, good-looking joker Tim.

We walked until the rain stopped, mostly under cover of trees, through the woods that I was pretty sure spread out east from the Institution. It was probably several hours before we came to a brief standstill, but none of us had any way of telling the time, so we were operating on pure guesswork.

When we did stop, I sunk down against a tree, giving my legs the first chance to rest all day.

‘You alright there?’ Tim asked, chuckling as he looked down at me.

‘We can stop for a bit,’ Simeon said, relaxing now that we were further away from the Institution. ‘They won’t come out looking this far; not for a while anyway.’

‘Now does anyone have any food?’ Tim asked somewhat sarcastically as he sat down beside me, running a hand through his weird, dishevelled but actually quite sexy white-blonde hair.

‘I got a three course meal in my pocket if you like,’ said Simeon even more sarcastically. He didn’t smile, but I could see the joke in his expression.

‘Funny,’ Tim said, clearly unimpressed. I laughed, mostly just because of the fact that I hadn’t laughed for the last two months.

‘I am starving though,’ Simeon said once the joke was over. ‘D’you reckon there’s anywhere to eat round here?’

‘We’re a bit in-the-middle-of-nowhere to just come across a diner,’ I pointed out. ‘Maybe we should head for a town.’

‘Too dangerous,’ he said, putting on the serious mask from earlier. ‘Maybe there’s a fruit tree round here.’

‘Yeah,’ Tim added, ‘we’re in Cali, there’s gotta be an orange tree around here somewhere.’ I guessed by the casual stereotype that he wasn’t originally from round here. That didn’t matter though: neither was I, or Jake for that matter.

‘Just don’t eat those mushrooms over there,’ Jake said, glancing apprehensively at some fungus growing at the bottom of a nearby tree.

‘Wow, you’re an expert on bombs and mushrooms,’ Tim cried enthusiastically, laughing, ‘that’s insane!’

This made Jake smile for near enough the first time today. He may not be the best looking or the most confident or the most athletic guy in the world, but what he did have was intelligence. Or so I’d gathered, from talking to him back in the Institution.

We’d been brought in on the same day, purely by chance. I’d been caught stealing from a supermarket, and he’d been on a raid into a Dream-Snatcher base in Mexico and been captured. When we’d first gone into the rec room, we’d been like the only two living people in the land of the dead, so naturally we had bonded, spending near enough every day together for two and a bit months. Thankfully, today was a ‘good’ day for both of us—we had both been due doctors’ appointments later today...until we had escaped.

Escaped. I still couldn’t quite believe it.

This was incredible. Aside from all the tragedies that had happened today, I still felt so lucky.

‘Seriously though,’ I heard Jake saying, ‘where do we go? Is it safe for me to travel all the way back to Mexico?’

Simeon laughed, but at first I wasn’t sure why.

‘I wasn’t quite thinking like that,’ he said. Tim and I, partially preoccupied with our own thoughts, looked over.

‘What are you thinking of then?’ Tim asked.

‘I was thinking a little further than Mexico,’ Simeon said, almost mysteriously. The way he spoke made my stomach lurch in fear and anticipation.

‘Where?’ Tim persisted, growing impatient.

Simeon raised his eyebrows. ‘Europe?’

For a moment, I thought I’d misheard him.

‘Europe?’ I repeated.

Europe?’ Jake echoed.

‘And how the fuck do we get to Europe?’ Tim asked.

‘From what someone back in San Francisco told me,’ Simeon explained, ‘there are two airports in the US still doing regular flights out of the country. They don’t usually transport passengers, but they do take cargo. Of course, we’re still trading with Europe—even after the Revolution, we still needed stuff from them, and they needed stuff from us. Naturally, though, both of those airports are on the east coast.’

My stomach plummeted. ‘What?’

‘You’re kidding, right?’ Tim smirked grimly, unable to believe what he was hearing.

‘We can’t,’ Jake said, ‘it’s impossible.’

‘And who told you that?’ Simeon asked, not exactly angry, but his passion making him sound rather abrupt.

‘Well...no one,’ Jake admitted meekly, ‘but we were debating whether it was even possible to get into northern Mexico. And you’re suggesting Europe, after trekking across quite literally the entire country?’

‘Why not?’ Simeon said with a casual shrug.

I shook my head regretfully. ‘We can’t.’ I didn’t want to be saying it, but it was true.

‘It’s impossible,’ Jake added. ‘We won’t make it. We don’t even have any resources. Look: let’s get to the Dreamers in San Francisco or Phoenix, and then we can regroup and decide how to proceed.’

‘This is crap,’ Simeon mumbled, his fire doused.

‘Come on, man,’ Tim insisted, his optimism raising us all up. ‘Things could be a hell of a lot worse. We could be back there.’

The Institution really did feel like a distant horror story. All those days I had been living with only half my mind intact, practically blind and totally disorientated. It was all over. We were out.

And yet, as happy as I felt about it, it was hollow. I knew there had been other people that had gotten out, and the bomb surely wasn’t big enough to kill everyone, but there was still so much destruction. And the ones that remained were the most unlucky of all. I was positive that I would rather die than face the Operation no matter how much death scared me, and those poor souls weren’t even going to get a choice in the matter. I could only pray that somehow, someway, someone could save them. But it was at times like this you realised just how powerless we were. There were supposedly thousands of Dreamers in the US, but that was compared to over one hundred million citizens who still supported the government, or at least lived in fear of them.

‘I guess,’ Simeon mused.

‘In a way, we were lucky that all of this happened when it did,’ Jake said. I glanced over at him, a little confused as to what he was saying. The other two looked considerably more perplexed.

‘How do you mean?’ Tim asked. ‘I can’t say I’d ever consider condemning the Dreamers to the Operation lucky, regardless of when it happened.’

Jake sighed. ‘No, of course not. But my point is that a few days ago, some people came into our block; block one. We weren’t supposed to know they were there, but I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I overheard what they were talking about.’

I knew of the story he was telling, but Simeon and Tim did not, and they leaned in a little closer to listen to the rest of it.

‘What were they talking about?’ Simeon prompted.

‘They were looking for new contestants for the Maze,’ he said darkly. Simeon and Tim exchanged worried glances. ‘Low Stakes obviously,’ he continued, ‘—well, for Rina and I, that is, but if we’d been punished with another three months in Hell, well...look where we’d be now.’ He mimed slitting his throat, though we all knew that a zombie impression would be a much more accurate representation of the Operation.

We all fell into quiet contemplation. The Maze. Well, the government called it the Maze. That’s what it was listed as on the TV showings, mostly because the executive of USBN didn’t possess enough imagination to come up with an original title. It went by various names, though. Non-Dreamers called it the Maze. As for the Dreamers, well we knew it better as Martyr’s Run.
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A proper description of Martyr's Run/the Maze will follow very shortly. But unfortunately, this was the only half-decent place to end the chapter.