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Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Fragments of Hope


Sometime earlier on in my life I had made the mistake of assuming that dying meant that the pain went away. Only now; now that I was experiencing death itself, did I realise that that was not the case. Everything burned; every inch of my body was on fire. There was no end to the inferno that consumed me. Maybe there was a hell after all. Maybe I was in it. All I knew was that I would do anything—anything—to end the pain. Death was not meant to be like this. Death was not meant to be so black, and hot, and stuffy, and painful.

I needed air—I needed air so badly, yet I couldn’t get it, no matter how hard I tried. Why did I need air? I shouldn’t need air, not anymore. And it shouldn’t hurt. Why was there so much pain? Where was it coming from?

Screams rung in my ears; screams from a distant time. I recognised them; they were a voice I knew. Maybe they were my own. Outside of the screams I was deaf to all else, and blind, totally blind. I was dead. This was it. This was the end. The screams were fading. My breaths were fading. Even some of the pain was fading.

And then I realised, as I slipped further and further into the nothingness, that my right foot was cold. Whilst the rest of my body burned and choked in smoke and ash, my right foot, and ankle, could feel something resembling fresh air.

Perhaps I was not quite six feet under after all.

My eyes flickered open, even though the world around me was just as black as it was when they were closed. A warmth that strangely resembled life began to spread through my limbs. I discovered my fingers, my toes, my right ankle. I could feel them, burning still, but now the burning was a little more concentrated. And then, as I wriggled from side to side, trying to loosen the compacted earth around me, which actually wasn’t as compacted as it should have been, I realised that my left arm was able to move. And my right leg, if I lifted it, could just about move a few inches before it hit something. My left leg, which was in searing agony, and my right arm, were both trapped.

Touching my left arm to my face, I felt hot, wet blood. Pushing it further upwards, I realised that whatever was on top of me was loose. It was also surprisingly light. Using all my remaining strength to force it sideways, it suddenly clattered off my body, and I was left gasping and squinting as my face was exposed to bright, white light and almost fresh air.

This glimpse of light and oxygen made me hunger for more, and with a new sense of urgency, I pushed more smaller pieces off me. In a few moments, my entire left side down to my waste was free. As I kicked my right leg about, I managed to dislodge a piece of white rubble which freed it up to the knee.

I was desperate now. My left shoulder hurt every time I moved it, but I had to get out. I was hot and dizzy and aching all over and searing with agony in parts of my body. Blood seemed to coat every inch of my skin. I was trapped, and I didn’t like it. Pushing more and more rubble off me, I managed to free my right arm, which was now able to move, but in a lot of pain.

‘Fuck,’ I murmured, rubbing at it with my left hand. I couldn’t bend it at all at the elbow—it felt as if it had been blown off completely, but I only had to glance to the side to realise that it was still there, just about. I then set to the task of removing more rubble from my stomach, so that I could sit up properly, and then carefully lifted a piece off my left leg. It was the largest piece yet, and it wouldn’t budge easily, so I had to get all my force behind it, my back protesting with agony in the process, just to get it to slide. And yet, once it did, its weight toppled it sideways so that it fell to the bottom of the pile and, besides a few smaller pieces and a lot of ash, I was out!

I had to lean on the rubble to get to my feet. My left leg was almost too painful to move, and noticing how my trouser leg was ripped and blood soaked, a memory of an earlier time; of a painful wound, and of bandaging it back together again, flashed into my mind.

It was like a dam had been broken. Memories surged back, and in an instant, I remembered everything. The Run, the traps, the delirium, the exit.

Simeon made it out. But I was still here.

So why wasn’t I strapped to an Operating table? And why had the wall fallen down?

Only as I stood up properly and my head began to stop spinning did I realise that it was not just any wall that had been blown to pieces. The hole that had exploded was quite a few metres wide, and beyond it was a dimly lit, tiled pathway, about the width of a corridor, and not looking like any path throughout the rest of Martyr’s Run.

I hoped I knew what this meant.

It was an outside wall that had been blown apart.

And that left me with a way out.

I took one step forward and fell. Most of my limbs hurt too much to move, and they were laced with cuts and bruises. Pulling myself back up and holding onto the wall for support, I continued on slowly. Limping out into the tunnel, practically dragging my left leg, I glanced left and right, but both directions, curving round slightly, looked the same. I opted for the right, and began pulling myself along, leaning against the wall to keep my balance. My head was spinning and every cell in my body ached, but if I stayed, I was going to face the Operation. Maybe I was facing the Operation anyway. Maybe this was just a strange way of getting me out. But if there was even a fragment of hope left in my life, I was going to cling to it. The Operation was the end of everything. Things could get no worse than that. So any way I had of potentially avoiding it, or at least prolonging the wait, had to be a good thing.

‘You’re going the wrong way.’

The voice was curt and belonged to a male. Turning, my vision blurring at the peripheries, I saw two men standing down the left of the passageway, both in matching uniforms and carrying guns.

‘Come on,’ one of them said. I limped towards them, not resisting. I was too tired to resist. I didn’t even speak because I wasn’t sure I still possessed the ability to do so; my throat felt so clogged up with ash and smoke that I doubted I could form any words if I tried. Even coughing seemed hard.

When I reached the guards, they took one of my arms each and, with a rather begrudging expression, as though they were unhappy about helping me, wrapped them round their shoulders and began to laboriously walk away from this nightmare.


The guard called Simms returned into the room, looking a little alarmed.

‘They’ve found him, ma’am,’ he told Hartnett.

‘Good,’ she said curtly. ‘Get them to bring him out.’

Simms made to leave, and then reconsidered, and turned back to us again.

‘What?’ Hartnett demanded impatiently.

‘Well, ma’am,’ Simms pulled a face. ‘If you’re merely expecting them to bring you a body, then you may be disappointed.’

Wild hope surged through me. He wasn't saying...was he?

I looked at Tim and Rina, who possessed the same demonic desperation as I was sure I did.

‘Mr Simms, are you saying—‘

‘The boy is alive, Ms Hartnett,’ Simms blurted out suddenly.

I could have laughed. I could have cried. Before I could do anything, though, Rina’s arms were flung tightly round my neck, pulling me close. Anything I had said to her had instantly been forgotten.

‘He’s alive?’ she shrieked joyously. When she let me go, realising that I didn’t have enough strength left in me for these continuing embraces, Tim had a shocked expression plastered onto his face.

‘Wh—?’ he whispered, knocked breathless. ‘He was blown up.’

‘Well,’ Hartnett said, intruding on our little celebration, ‘it seems that Mr Montez is a very lucky man indeed.’

‘He’s coming with us.’ I said it as a statement, not as a question. I wasn’t giving her any room for compromise.

‘Well Mr Stryder, if you talk to me like that—‘

‘Please,’ Rina added curtly onto the end of my statement. None of us wanted to say it.

‘He can go with you,’ she said. ‘I don’t want any of you in my country. Let Europe deal with you. I think, though, that you won’t find it quite like the utopia you’re envisaging.’

‘I don’t care!’ I told her passionately. Right now I didn’t care that the burn in my side was excruciating, or that the many gas attack marks all over my body seared every time I moved, or that I had dried blood plastered down my face and a throbbing gash in my forehead. We were leaving. We were getting away. We were going to what, ridiculously enough, felt like home.

The automatic doors slid open. We all fell silent as a man in a cleaner’s uniform stepped through, pulling a second man in after him.

‘Jake!’ Rina shrieked. Instinctively running towards him, she realised just before throwing her arms round his shoulders that he probably wasn’t up to that kind of contact right now.

He was alive, but barely. Swaying unsteadily on his feet, he staggered backwards and resorted to leaning against the wall. He was covered from head to toe in a thick layer of ash, dirt and debris so that his entire body looked as if it was covered in a grey veil. The stuff was matted into his hair and practically embedded into his skin. As well as that, he was covered in too many patches of blood for me to count, and even more bruises, and his clothes were hanging off of him in ripped shreds. His eyes were blank and unfocused; even when they looked at me, I got the impression that he wasn’t fully awake and aware, and when he eventually righted himself, I noticed how he was not just limping anymore, but pretty much dragging his left leg along the ground.

‘How...?’ I whispered, lost for words. ‘What happened?’

He shook his head slowly, his dry lips cracking as he smiled.

‘I don’t know what happened,’ he choked in a rasping, ragged voice that suggested he had swallowed rather a lot of ash and dust. ‘It’s all black and...I don’t know.’ He held his hand to his head, which had a fresh trail of blood running down it, hugging his hairline.

‘Oh God, Jake!’ Rina was crying again, but they were happy tears this time. ‘I thought you were dead!’ Slowly, cautiously, realising he could snap at any moment, she slid her hands round his shoulders and, after an initial gasp of pain, he held her back.

When they broke away, he leaned back against the wall again, coughing loudly.

‘Thank you,’ he said to Tim and Rina. Even though he couldn’t possibly know how the bomb had been detonated, his incredible mind was already assuming.

Tim smirked—considering the situation, Jake should, logically, hate them right now.

‘You’re welcome, mate.’

‘Freedom,’ Jake murmured. For the first time, he seemed to notice that Hartnett was in the room with us.

‘Oh, go with them!’ she snapped in a brisk, business-like manner. For a moment, Jake was unable to comprehend what was going on.

‘See,’ I said, unable to stop my smiles for any longer. ‘We both made it out in the end, didn’t we? For the first time ever, the Maze has two victors.’

‘I wouldn’t shout about it if I was you,’ Hartnett said curtly. For a moment, we all stood, no one quite knowing what to say. Everyone was ecstatic, but it was such a pure, untainted emotion that they didn’t quite know how to express it.

‘Now, you two can go and shower,’ Hartnett said. One of her endless supply of security guards came through the door with a sack, which he handed to me. Peering inside, I found piles of clothes. When my eyes questioned her gratitude, she just muttered something about ‘well, we don’t want the car seats getting dirty’ in that perpetually irritated voice.

‘After that,’ she continued, ‘you’ll go straight out to the cars. There’s not long until the plane departs.’ It was so strange. Suddenly, after all this darkness, our end result was almost too good to be true.

‘So what, we just leave?’ I asked, astonished that we were just getting away with this.

‘Yeah,’ Hartnett said. It was almost as if she didn’t care. ‘I can’t lie; that would make me as bad as your lot. And I said ‘no catches.’ You may not like me, Stryder, but I am an honest woman, and I am proud of it. So yes, you can leave. I don’t want you ruining my country anyway. Just don’t ever expect to return.’

So it was Operation or banishment...suddenly, it still somehow felt as if Hartnett had won.

‘And if we stay here?’ I challenged. ‘Tim and Rina never wanted to leave in the first place.’ The way she was almost making us leave made me automatically want to fight back. Tim and Rina didn’t want to be going. If I could help them stay, then I would.

‘You’ll be tracked down by the government.’ She said it so smoothly, without a hint of emotion or guilt. ‘If you stay, we’ll give you until morning. And then the government will be after you. We don’t want rogue terrorists roaming America.’

I looked at the other three. Up until now, I hadn’t been scared of leaving. I had welcomed the opportunity with open arms; I had run towards it. But now I was scared. We were venturing off into the unknown.

‘Tim?’ I asked softly. ‘Rina?’ I knew they didn’t want to come.

‘We’re coming,’ Tim said.

‘Of course we’re coming,’ Rina added.

‘After all, look at what happens to you two when we’re not around,’ Tim joked.

‘Good,’ I said. ‘I don’t want you staying here. It’s too dangerous.’

Hartnett shook her head, smiling mockingly. ‘I don’t know what you’re expecting from Germany.’

‘Something better than what we’ve got in America,’ I told her bluntly. That shut her up.

‘So, don’t Sim and Jake even get medical treatment?’ Tim challenged suddenly. Now that we were in a position that almost resembled power, we were going to use it.

I could see anger flash across Hartnett’s face.

‘Mr Roth, I am allowing you to escape to your freedom when, by rights, you should all be straight into the Operating Theatre!’ she snapped. ‘I wouldn’t push things if I were you.’

Tim said nothing more.

As the guard led me and Jake out of the room, both of us supporting Jake between us, I heard Hartnett begin to address the guards that still remained in there with her.

‘I don’t think this is a good idea,’ I heard one of them saying.

‘Are you questioning me, Winten?’ she demanded.

The doors shut before I could hear Winten’s response.
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So...I made you think Jake was dead. How cruel of me. :P