‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

The Morning After


I woke up groggily to the sound of Jake’s voice. Rina was asleep beside me, her head tilted to the side, inches from mine. I tapped her gently on the shoulder and she began to stir.

It took me a moment to register where we were and why we were here, but the memories quickly came rushing back.

‘What now?’ I grumbled, in no mood to get up, but too uncomfortable to stay sitting in the awkward position I had ended up in. I could feel my back was stiff and sore from resting against the hard wall all night.

It seemed I wasn’t the only one. Simeon was rubbing at his shoulder as he stood up, swinging his arm backwards and forward in a pendulum motion to try and ease the stiffness. Rina was cradling her left arm as she rolled round to face me; she’d seemed to hurt it last night, but without any medical equipment or even decent beds to stay in, even Doctor Jake hadn’t been able to help her.

‘Let’s get out,’ said Simeon, shuddering with the cold and with a face looking like it had been carved from marble.

‘I’m only too happy to agree with you,’ I mumbled, laughing humourlessly.

It took over an hour to find the car. Getting out of the underground was the easy part; we found some steps out of the subway after less than ten minutes, emerging into a warm, sunny morning, before realising that we were in an unknown street in an unknown city. Conveniently, Jake had remembered the name of the high street we’d run through last night—sometimes I loved that guy—and we found our way back there after much confusion. The rest wasn’t too hard; we just retraced our steps from the night before until we reached the hotel, but everyone was in pretty foul moods by that point.

We looked a mess too. Surely we must be attracting attention by now. Rina was running a hand consciously through her straggly hair, terrified that it looked greasy after not being washed for a few days, and mine was no better. I brushed through it occasionally, earning disapproving looks from Jake each time.

‘You know you’ll only make it greasier every time you mess with it,’ he told me for at least the third time.

‘Shut up,’ I muttered irritably.

Simeon looked the worst. He had tried to wipe the blood spatters on his face off on the cuff of his jumper, but that left dirty red smudges all along the sleeve, and some of it had already dried onto his face anyway, so wouldn’t come off easily without water. His slightly shaggy hair was a messy bush—I’d discovered during the night that he definitely wasn’t a restful sleeper, and tossed and turned regularly, and he had deep purple bags under his eyes. Although, I imagined that I did too.

When we reached the car, Simeon begrudgingly offered to drive. He had slept the most last night, therefore was statistically the least likely to fall asleep at the wheel. The last thing we needed was to escape the Dream-Snatchers and end up getting killed in a car crash.

‘Where we going?’ he asked.

Naturally, everyone turned to Jake.

‘Head for Jefferson City?’ he suggested, glancing down at his seemingly beloved tracker.

‘Jefferson City?’ I retorted incredulously. ‘It’ll be the middle of the fucking night by the time we get there, and there’s no way I’m staying anywhere but a proper bed tonight!’

I didn’t know what the guy was playing at, but not every one of us had an endless stream of patience. The fact that he was always so calm and collected actually only succeeded in making me more uptight.

‘We can make it to Jefferson City by night, can’t we?’ said Rina. ‘It’s a fairly straightforward route.’

‘It’s also a long goddamn way,’ I snapped.

‘Well we can go via Topeka,’ said Jake coolly, not taking kindly to my outburst. ‘That way, if we’re running behind, we can stay there.’

Once again, Jake and his stupid army of logic was right, and it frustrated me. I wasn’t stupid; I had never been stupid; I just wasn’t as clever as the miniature Einstein standing to my left, and that inevitably made me feel stupid.

‘Whatever,’ I muttered, not in the mood for being around Jake, but also not in the mood for hanging around, standing out in the open. We needed to get moving.

I sat in the back with Rina today, and Simeon and Jake took the front seats. As Jake was the only one who had anything resembling a map, he was in charge of directions, and seemed rather content with his little job.

Today, like every other day recently, was sunny. The weather was warming up in preparation for summer, and, glancing round the city as we drove out, I could see the business people and early-bird shoppers getting ready for summer’s onslaught. When had people been given permission to wear shorts and skirts? I hadn’t even noticed it—it must have been whilst I was in the Institution, but now about a third of all the people I saw were walking around showing off their legs in one way or another, many of them having taken off the jackets and coats in favour of simple, short sleeves.

Of course everyone looked the same, though, and that was obviously bugging me. I couldn’t wait to get back to some Dreamers, somewhere, where individuality was encouraged and freedom was still actually free. I wanted to see hair dye and makeup and patterned clothes and jewellery and all the weird, eccentric things people liked to wear in the underground, but were forbidden from wearing in the real world.

I just wanted to be back with my people. I didn’t belong out here, on the road, in the car, with four people I barely knew. I was always an optimist; I was never like this, but right now, I couldn’t see how this quest could possibly happen. I knew how happy Simeon was yesterday after talking to Carl, but for me, the webcam did the opposite: it just made the distance so much greater, and so much more real.

Rina made a frustrated grumbling sound and stifled a yawn.

‘Go to sleep,’ I told her gently.

‘I can’t,’ she moaned. ‘I’m trying, but I just can’t get comfortable.’

Her glassy eyes flickered away from me and out of the window as she massaged her injured arm gently. I didn’t know how much it hurt—I didn’t realise she’d hurt it so badly—but evidently it was causing her pain.

‘I’m hungry,’ Simeon announced after we were well away from Denver; hopefully far enough away not to be pounced on by a load of Dream-Snatchers anytime soon. We’d all been starving all night, but we’d been in too much of a hurry to get away this morning to stop and sit in the car park and eat.

‘Me too,’ I agreed. Jake and Rina both added their agreements. After the disaster of last night, no one was really in good moods, but we drove away into the forest and found a quiet road before getting out and finding some old, slightly too-warm food from the boot of the car.

‘Cheer up, guys,’ I said, seeing their dismal faces. Food was putting me in a better mood, but Simeon, Jake and Rina all still looked as if they had been carved from rain.

‘I’m so tired,’ Rina moaned. She had never seemed like one for complaining, but that therefore made the situation seem more serious. ‘I feel sick.’

‘Sick?’ Jake repeated. ‘What kind of sick?’

‘Like, the kind of sick that you’re not gonna be able to help me with,’ she said. She wasn’t intending to be bitter; she wasn’t a bitter person, but it came across rather harsh all the same.

‘Oh,’ was all Jake said in way of reply.

Simeon was just staring down at his sandwich so intensely it was as if he was having a silent conversation with it.

‘What’s up?’ I asked him.

He shrugged. ‘Nothing. Just thinking.’

‘About Europe?’ I persisted.

‘Yeah. I wanna speak to Carl again.’

‘Again?’ Jake asked in a disapproving tone. ‘There’s no reason for it though, and it’s not wise to keep communicating unless it’s necessary.’

Simeon fixed Jake with eyes that were filled with thunder.

‘I want to talk to him, therefore it’s necessary.’

Jake was silent.

Simeon went to get the laptop from the car, and Jake did what he always did when there was an awkward silence: he got out the tracker. I had no idea how he was able to find it quite so riveting; there was only so much time you could spend looking at what was, essentially, a glorified map, but Jake seemed to love it. It seemed like his equivalent of a television or a book.

There were some people in life that I could never even hope to understand.