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Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run



‘If he’s going to attack us, we’re better prepared if we stay in here,’ I explained, casting a sideways glance out the window to confirm that the man was still standing there. Normally, it would be Jake explaining this sort of thing to me—he was always the logical, sensible one. But tonight, he was possessed by an idea, just like I was on the night of the thunderstorm when I’d been near enough out of my mind. And an idea could be a very dangerous weapon.

‘Well come with me then,’ he said casually.

Ideas could be very hard to reason with.

‘Whatever,’ I muttered. ‘Just to stop you from complaining.’ I got up and crossed the room, slipping on my shoes at the door and grabbing the key from the hook.

The temperature of the night had dropped considerably, and I was relieved that I’d thought to pick up my jacket. I was reluctant to leave the balcony; whoever was out there could surely see us better than we could see them. Behind the motel was a path that led to the stairs, then a small, gravelly space, and then a collection of rather sparsely spaced, slightly scruffy trees; a pathetic attempt at a wood.

Still, the trees were thick enough to be able to hide someone.

And that was what I was secretly worried about.

‘D’you think we should warn the others?’ Jake asked. Now that we were out here, alone in the dark and unarmed, he didn’t sound so sure of himself.

‘No, don’t bother,’ I said. ‘It’s probably nothing.’ Even as I spoke I knew that, as usual, Jake was almost certainly right. There was going to be someone out here, and I would have bet a fair amount of money that they weren’t going to be friendly.

‘Lock the door,’ I told Jake. ‘Don’t want anyone touching the laptop.’ I knew that, ordinarily, no one would steal anything from us. Stealing was a crime sometimes punishable by death. At the very least, it would earn the thief a long sentence in prison. Besides the Dreamers, who had no other option, no one ever stole anymore. And even then, no matter how careful the Dreamers were, there were always a few who didn’t come back. Usually, they went to the Institutions for re-education, but sometimes they really were just executed.

But there were Dream-Snatchers around now. And everyone knew that if you wanted information on a person, their laptop was a good place to start. I didn’t trust leaving the door open.

‘Do we not have any weapons?’ Jake asked, looking at my hands, empty apart from a torch, in disbelief.

‘You know the penalty for carrying a gun,’ I said. That was another thing that would get us either re-educated or executed, probably depending on the mood of whichever police officer caught us.

I took a step down the staircase which made a metallic clanging sound under my foot. Now the person would be able to hear us as well.

‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ I asked.

‘I’m not going to be able to sleep if I know there’s someone out here watching us,’ he insisted.

In other words, it was a really, really bad idea. There were just no other options.

I reached the bottom of the staircase and moved across the scrubby gravel at the back of the building towards the woods.


I towel-dried my hair, sitting on the bed and looking at myself in the mirror opposite. I didn’t look good, it had to be admitted. Even after showering, I still somehow looked dirty. I was tired looking and pasty, with sallow, blotchy skin. I couldn’t remember the last night that I’d actually had a full, unbroken eight hours of sleep. At least my hair looked better now; it had begun to get greasy after not being washed for a couple of days.

Tim walked out of the bathroom, smiling at me. I scarcely had the energy to return it.

‘You alright?’ he asked, coming and perching on the edge of the bed next to me.

‘I’m tired,’ I said quietly.

‘Sleep,’ he said, as though it was that simple.

‘I will in a bit,’ I said, ‘but I’m hungry as well.’ I picked up my bag and rummaged around for some food. Even after only a few days, I didn’t actually have a lot left. None of us had had that much to start with—we’d had a lot of other things to cram into those rucksacks.

‘Well eat then,’ he said, most unhelpfully.

I wasn’t in the mood for messing around, but somehow, it was impossible to dislike Tim.

‘You’re really not very helpful, are you?’ I said, managing a smile for the first time in hours.

‘Well it’s kind of obvious,’ he replied. ‘If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out.’ He pretended to think for a minute. ‘Or maybe it does, in which case, I am officially a genius.’

‘Genius?’ I scoffed. ‘You wish.’

As I stopped laughing, I sunk back onto the pillow. To any normal person, this would hardly be a comfortable bed—the pillow was flat and the quilt was thin, but to me, it was as good as heaven. I would happily sleep in this bed for years if it meant that I was actually guaranteed a bed to sleep on. Right now, I just had to take every day as it came; sometimes I would get a bed and a decent night’s sleep; other times I wouldn’t.

‘I think I have insomnia,’ I mused quietly. ‘You guys all fall asleep so easily.’

‘Not always,’ Tim said. ‘Only last night, and that was ‘cause I was shattered.’

‘I was shattered too,’ I replied, ‘but I couldn’t sleep for hours. I must have got maybe three hours at most.’

‘If you go to bed now, you can get a head start,’ he suggested. ‘Look, it’s not even eleven o’clock. Even if we leave at seven you can still get pretty much a full night’s sleep.’

I already knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was exhausted, yes, but I was so paranoid and scared all the time too. Every footstep or creak or whisper was a Dream-Snatcher or a police officer, hunting us down, ready to take us away to the Institution...to the Operation.

What Simeon and Jake had said earlier today about Martyr’s Run had given me hope, but I knew it would never be true. If Janice Hartnett was campaigning for not all Dreamers to have the Operation, she was only doing it for the money; the more Dreamers she had in the Run, the more times she could show it on TV. And the more times it was on TV, the more viewers she got. And this time, she wouldn’t even need to bore the sick, twisted public with Low Stakes; every single episode would be High Stakes alone. Operation or...

Or what? Letting them go? That would never happen; they’d never just release a Dreamer back into civilisation once they’d been caught. Perhaps they’d be re-educated, and then released.

Anyway, chances were that one TV channel manager wasn’t going to change anything. Hartnett may be powerful in media, but she was nothing in terms of the actual country. Whatever the president said, she had to do it. If the president told her that the Run was going to go out of business, she’d have no choice but to let it happen. Quite honestly, if the president told her to go and shoot herself in the head, she’d have to comply.

I sat up, my head spinning slightly. Suddenly, I was cold, and I wrapped my cardigan tighter around my shoulders.

‘You don’t look so good,’ Tim commented.

‘Wow, you’re full of the compliments tonight,’ I muttered sarcastically.

‘I’m serious!’ For once, as I looked into his light eyes, I realised that he really was being serious. He took off his jacket and leant closer to me, draping it gently around my shoulders. It was a lot warmer than the thin piece of material I had been wearing all day.


I could feel myself blushing. ‘Yeah. Thanks.’

We fell into an intensely awkward silence, where I stared at the blank, off-white wall as though it was the most interesting thing ever, coughing once or twice just to break the tension.

‘It’s gonna be alright, you know,’ Tim said, rather unexpectedly.

I looked into his eyes. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean this; all of this.’ Once again, he was being more sincere than I had ever seen him. ‘We’re going to get to Germany.’

I sighed. ‘I wish I could have your faith. It’s just all so...impossible. It’s such a big world.’

‘It is a big world,’ he agreed, ‘but that doesn’t matter. We can still get there. I didn’t believe at first; I found Simeon’s idea beyond ridiculous but, well, it’s kind of grown on me.’

‘I love his enthusiasm,’ I said in way of agreement, ‘but I just don’t see how we’ll ever get there—past border controls and customs and onto the plane when we don’t even have any money.’

‘We’ve got passports,’ he said.

‘Fake passports,’ I corrected him.

‘If they don’t do extensive checks, which they won’t do unless they have reason to suspect us, then they won’t notice they’re fake.’

‘Tim,’ I sighed in disbelief, my voice rising in pitch, ‘we’re fugitives from the government. Of course they’re going to suspect us.’

‘We’ll find a way,’ was all he said. As much as I doubted everything, hearing him speak with so much conviction was somehow all that was needed to give me enough confidence not to give up. Was I really the only one falling apart at the seams here? Or were they all feeling as awful as me?

The phone in Tim’s bag began to ring.

Both of us jumped several inches into the air. We’d managed to get two phones off of the LA Dreamers; Tim had kept one, and Jake had kept the other, but we’d agreed only to use them in emergencies. After all, phone calls were way too easy to track.

For a moment, Tim just stared at his bag, eyes wide, looking thoroughly confused.

‘Well answer it then!’ I snapped, suddenly afraid. If we were only meant to use them in emergencies, did that mean that Simeon and Jake were in an emergency situation somewhere upstairs?

Tim fumbled for it for a moment, his fingers trembling as he pressed ‘accept.’

‘Hello?’ he asked, eyebrows lowering.

‘Tim!’ Jake’s voice on the other end sounded urgent. ‘You need to get out of there!’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Tim sounded bitter; I knew how irritated he seemed to get around Jake.

‘Just do it!’ Jake snapped, equally irritable. ‘Both of you, get out, and get to the car!’

‘Why?’ Now I was afraid. I was really, truly afraid.

‘Where are you?’ Tim asked.

‘We’re, uh, in the woods behind the motel,’ Jake said.

‘What?’ we both asked simultaneously. ‘Why?’ Tim added.

‘We’re kind of being chased by a Dream-Snatcher. And he has a gun.’