‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run



‘Right,’ I announced, standing on the desk nearest to where all the fearful workers were huddled, guarded by the other four. ‘You guys seem to rather like playing sadistic games.’ I gestured at the screen, where Simeon staggered, exhausted and bloody, down a path to back up my point, ‘so I have another one for you. I ask a question, and if no one answers me, one of you gets shot. Okay?’

There was silence.

Nissa pointed her stun gun into the masses. ‘Did you hear him?’

There was a general, pathetic muttering of ‘okay.’

‘Oh, and the other thing,’ I added, about to jump down from the table, ‘if you give me incorrect information, you also get shot.’

Rina strode forward, coming to meet me where I jumped off the table. Her face was deadlier than I had ever seen it.

‘Now, tell me, how do you get people out of the Maze?’ she demanded of the crowd.

There was more silence.

‘Did you hear her?’ Graham asked, pointing his gun in along with Nissa and the other girl.

‘There is no way.’ It was a dark-skinned girl, young compared to most of the others, who had spoken.

‘What do you mean?’ I challenged. ‘Come here.’ Hesitantly, she took half a step forward, and then a few more, growing a little braver.

‘I mean that the only way in or out is either through the entrance or the exit,’ she said.

I smirked. ‘So how do the cleaners get in then?’

Her eyes were beginning to brim with tears.

‘Answer him then!’ Rina cried.

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted in a whisper. ‘Maybe they use the exit portal.’

The rebel girl whose name I still did not know spoke out in a despairingly sarcastic tone.

‘That thing’s barely big enough for a person. How do they get the trolleys in? How do they bring out the bodies?’

‘I think...they clean it mechanically,’ the girl mumbled. ‘Please! I don’t know!’

‘Whatever,’ I muttered. I wasn’t completely heartless, and she seemed to be telling the truth. ‘So, who does know?’

Still, no one answered.

‘Right, said Rina, ‘supposing there was a fire, what would you do?’

‘We’d leave them in there,’ a man said. ‘The Maze is fire-proof.’

This was ridiculous.

‘I want a proper answer!’ I yelled in staccato fashion. ‘Come on, people!’

Rina ran round one of the desks at that point to one of the large tables which contained an interactive map of the Run embedded on its surface.

‘Okay, let’s try things another way, shall we?’ she said. ‘How can I take control of the traps and obstacles? How can I decide which ones should go off? How do I place items and useful equipment in there?’

‘Some are controlled automatically...’ a voice mumbled.

‘And what about the ones that aren’t?’ she demanded. I could see that she was seconds away from losing it. ‘How do I make the traps go off...or disable the ones that are programmed to go off?’

‘The computers,’ a man eventually said. His peers glared at him as though he had betrayed them all. ‘Different computers control different traps; different sections of the Maze.’ So it was as I’d expected.

I moved towards one of the computers, looking at it, trying to make sense of the confusing technical jargon on the screen.

I was interrupted by Rina.

‘Tim!’ she shrieked. I ran over to where she was poured over the large table; the one whose entire surface was a giant interactive, computer-like screen. ‘Simeon and Jake are on this map! They’re being tracked. And they’re close to the exit!’

‘Close to the exit,’ I repeated in awe. Then the truth dawned on me. ‘But they’ll only let one of them out. That’s what always happens.’

Her exuberant smile fell to a frown. ‘True,’ she mused. ‘Which computer controls the traps near the exit?’ she asked. For a moment, no one answered, and then a voice, accompanied by a pointing finger, said ‘that one.’

‘Well you’re gonna need to be a bit more helpful than that, mate,’ I said sarcastically. Looking at the screen, I realised we had thirteen minutes. There was not long left. We had to be quick.

The man stood up, pointing a little to the right of where Rina was standing.

‘The one at the end of that row,’ he said, looking at me with fearful eyes. Rina obeyed his directions, hurrying to the far end of the room where there was a slightly raised platform containing a row of computers, the one at the end the biggest of them all. I ran over to join her, looking at the confusing map on the screen in despondence.

She pressed buttons almost at random. There was a map on screen indicating various traps. Scrolling over them revealed details about them, and they were colour coordinated according to whether they were automatically programmed to go off or whether they had to be set off specifically.

And yet, it wasn’t so simple to just press a button and set them off. She tried every key on the keyboard, clicking about frantically. I had never seen her so panicked; she was always such a calm person.

‘I don’t know what to do!’ she shrieked at me.

‘I’ll go get that man,’ I said, determined that we weren’t about to fall at this final hurdle.

I was half way across the room when the automatic doors we’d first used to come in slid open and at least eight soldiers armed with guns strode in.

The reaction was instant.

‘Don’t move or we’ll shoot every one of them!’ Nissa cried dramatically. I was half way between the far end of the room where Rina stood at the computer on the raised platform, and the end of the room where the soldiers had entered, and where the workers were being held hostage.

The soldier at the front laughed. ‘With a stun gun?’

Nissa’s face flashed with murder. ‘You just try me.’

I pointed my gun at the soldier. He wasn’t watching me; few of them were. They were much more focused on Nissa, Graham and the long haired girl.

‘Uh, sir,’ one of the soldiers said, nudging his leader, his wary eyes focused on me.

The soldier looked up to face me.

I fired before he had a chance to react.

He staggered backwards into his comrades, screaming out in pain as the bullet hit him squarely in the stomach. Blood exploded like a grenade from inside him and he collapsed to the ground, barely alive, gasping for breath.

It was like I had set off a chain reaction.

Bullets and stuns and tranquiliser darts suddenly began to shoot across the room from all directions. Nissa, Graham and the other girl created a barrier between the soldiers and the workers, refusing to let the soldiers through without harming their colleagues. For a moment, they were at deadlock.

And then one of the workers broke free.

Making a foolish yet terrified dash for freedom, he sprinted across the room, almost in my direction, clumsily falling up a step as he charged towards one of the other doors.

My bullet dealt with him.

And then the riot-like fight started up again. Nissa was firing stuns repeatedly at the soldiers, who mostly just had tranquiliser and stun guns. I watched in horror as Graham collapsed down, hit by a stun squarely in the chest, knocked almost unconscious. I fired bullets in quick succession; at the soldiers, at the workers; at anyone but the three people who were still on my side.

TIM!’ Rina’s shrill voice pierced the air, and I instantly remembered what my real job was in here. I didn’t care what happened to me; I was here to save my friends. It was as if adrenaline had taken over all my fear. I was not afraid; not of pain; not of death; not even of the Operation. Not anymore. Simeon and Jake’s lives were on the line. They were the ones who were chasing a dream. They were the ones who were going to change our sick little world. And I was fighting not for myself, but for them.

I reached Rina, watching as she struggled futilely with the confusing computer, hitting keys almost at random.

‘Help me Tim, goddamn it!’ she shrieked, throwing her fists down onto the keyboard. I’d never seen her so angry. Hastily running the remaining distance, I clicked at things randomly, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

And then something got lucky.

‘Here!’ I cried, and she looked up, renewed hope in her eyes as I found my way onto a strange but altogether more promising looking page. ‘Come on...what do we do? What do we want to set off?’

The fighting was moving closer; they had made their way across half of the room now. The workers had either managed to escape or take cover as our three comrades realised that it was more important to protect us than keep their hostages. At least three of the soldiers were dead, which left five of them. Nissa was ducked behind a table, firing repeatedly. Graham was hiding behind a filing cabinet. The other girl was positioned furthest forward of the three, who were creating a vague barrier between the soldiers and us. The soldiers were also crouched down, further away, worse off strategically, unable to move much closer while the guns still fired.

I made a decision. We weren’t going to do much just with stunning.

‘Nissa!’ I yelled from as close to her as I dared to get, crouched behind a table. She looked round and I threw my bullet gun towards her. Skilfully, she caught it in one hand as it sailed too high, and then whipped round, full of renewed confidence.

Only then did I realise that there were more soldiers charging in through the doors at the back.

And with one shot, which crashed into a table leg and caused the whole thing to collapse, I realised that they, unlike the first round of soldiers, had bullets.

I ran back to Rina, but I hadn’t even reached her when a piercing shriek sent chills right through to my heart. Whipping back round, I watched in horror as the second girl; the girl whose name I still did not know, was shot down from her awkward position, blood pooling around her as she convulsed in agony.

A second bullet from a rapidly advancing soldier silenced her quickly.

And then he was ripped to pieces.

In vengeance, Graham leaped up, screaming, firing repeatedly, getting the other guard in the chest with his stun gun. Nissa was nanoseconds behind, firing bullets at the murderer until he all but exploded in blood and collapsed backwards with a sickening crunching sound as his head smacked against the ground.

Rina was staring in a sort of horrified trance, her other job temporarily forgotten.

‘I didn’t even know her name,’ she whispered, tears pricking her eyes.

We both glanced back to the computer.

‘Come on,’ I said.
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Gah, I love this ending so much! Although, there's a small part of me that can't wait for book four, because that's when all my other favourite characters return. :D As always, I would love to receive some comments.