WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
The boot Noah eased through the window left a bold, wet print behind once he was inside the apartment building. He snapped the window shut and gave the APD men in the other building a wink. When he turned around, he froze. On the couch of the family room he had just broken into was an elderly woman. She stared at him with large, watery eyes--surprised.
“But the rain…” she whispered.
On the TV she was watching, the channel cut out. Whatever program she had been watching was replaced with a news castor. Noah didn’t stick around to listen. After the emergency broadcast beeping from the TV caught her attention, he bolted for the door. She didn’t follow him.
Out in the empty hallway, he looked both ways before seeing the elevator. He pushed the call button for the elevator, then quickly tucked his gun into the back of his jeans. While waiting, Noah quickly rolled up the sleeve of his wet shirt up to the elbow. Tattooed on the inside of his right forearm in a long, neat row was a series of numbers. He pressed the number 3 with an audible click.
A button beneath his skin, just under the tattoo, activated the phone he had had grafted under his skin. The number began to glow a light blue color. Then, from the edge of his ear, along his jaw and to the corner of his mouth, a long line of blue also lit up, forming the shape of a phone headset in lights.
“Vienna?” Noah asked, “You there?”
After a short pause, there was a response.
“What do you want now?”
“I’m in a bit of a bind,” he said. At that moment, the elevator opened with a little ping. He walked inside, trying to ignore the wet sound of his shoes on the tile as he entered.
“Give me a break, Vi. It’s not like I called the APD and said ‘here I am, come arrest me’.”
He pressed the button leading to the garage. The numbers above the elevator doors flashed mutely as he descended.
“I’m looking at the GPS from your phone now. You’re just down the block. At Sandy’s, right? Did you find her?”
“I’ll tell you all about it once you get your ass over here.”
“Marcus,” she said, “Make a u-turn when you can, Noah’s being chased at Sandy’s place.”
He could hear the deep sound of Marcus--Vienna’s Runner--speaking in the background, then the sound of tires squealing.
“I can’t believe I’m saving your ass again, Noah. You owe me,” Vienna said as she redirected her attention to their conversation. Noah jerked as the elevator beeped and the doors opened.
“Save the gloating for after you save me.”
“See you soon,” she said, “I’ll keep the line open if you need it.”
Noah walked out into the parking garage. Unlike the garage from the other building, this one was smaller and attached to the building through the basement. He could see the gate leading outside at the far end of the garage. The little security booth had its yellow, mechanical arms lowered.
He looked for another exit, but every other door appeared to lead back into the building. Noah hurried towards the nearest parked car, hoping for it to be unlocked. The moment he touched the door handle, it started to let out a frenzy of beeps and flashes. The commotion set off the next car, then the next, and Noah cursed.
Up ahead, he saw the security guard lean out of his booth and look his way.
Noah backed up from the car, hands up.
“Hey, buddy! Back away from the cars and stay where you are!” The guard called from across the garage as he started to jog over.
“Sorry, I thought it was my car,” Noah said, quickly walking towards the entrance and the security guard, “They all look alike sometimes. My bad.”
“I said stay where you are!”
Noah kept walking, eyes darting to the entrance every now and then.
“Hey, are you listening to a word I’m saying?” The guard snarled just as the screech of tires wailed from the front of the garage. Noah and the guard looked up just as one of the arms attached to the security booth shattered against the windshield of an entering APD vehicle. The huge black SUV--high beams on--swerved into the garage and hurtled past the lane of parked cars towards Noah.
Noah quickly shoved the guard into the gap between two cars, then bolted in the other direction. The SUV slammed on its brakes as Noah weaved in between parked cars, heading for the exit. He could hear the guard yelling, but didn’t stop. On the other side of the lane of cars, he could see the SUV reversing down the garage after him. The passenger window parallel to him lowered, and an APD officer took aim with a pistol.
The sound of gunfire echoed, barking loudly. The side view mirror of a car exploded, then a window. One bullet missed Noah by inches, but he never stopped running. As he passed that last parked car, he saw the SUV swerve out, stop, then shift into drive. It gave Noah just enough time to run out of the garage and quickly turn the corner, sticking close to the building where the SUV couldn’t just run him over. With another loud snap, the remaining security arm flew across the road and the SUV screeched after Noah.
He knocked over anything along the sidewalk that he thought might slow down the car. Trash cans, restaurant signs, anything, each causing the SUV to swerve along the road after him. With all the rain, there was no one else on the road or the sidewalks. Everyone was safe inside, unaware of the drenched young man running for his life.
“Vienna!” Noah yelled, nearly out of breath, “Please tell me you’re close!”
“We’re heading south on Industrial Boulevard.”
Noah sprinted across an intersection and looked right. On the street parallel to him, he could see an old, green van speeding along--Vienna’s van.
“I see you!”
“You need to make it to the next intersection, Noah. We’ll get you there.”
Noah didn’t look behind him, he couldn’t risk disorienting himself trying to figure how close he was to getting run over. He just ran faster, thighs burning and legs pumping. Rain pelted against his skin as store fronts and apartments blurred by. He could hear sirens beneath the heavy wheeze of his own breathing.
He knocked over another trashcan. Unlike the other things he threw behind him, this one connected. With a loud crunch, it hit the front of the SUV and exploded onto the road. Noah tried not to think about how that could be him being ripped to pieces and ran harder. The collision slowed the SUV down, but not much as Noah would’ve liked. Despite the gunk littering the windshield, it sped on. Gunshots ripped up the pavement beneath Noah’s feet, but didn’t connect. Noah looked ahead to see that the intersection was close. From somewhere out of sight, he could hear the sound of the Vienna’s van speeding. He hoped it was close. If this wasn’t timed perfectly, he’d miss the van, or worse, get hit by it.
Noah ran into the intersection just as the green van came hurtling towards him, side door wide open and arms reaching out. Bullets ripped into the side of the van, spraying sparks and biting deep into the metal.
He fell into the van heavily, jarring his shoulder painfully against the floor where seats should have been, but were removed. He vision flashed white as his ankle slammed painfully against the side of the van, not quite completely making it in. Noah could feel hands scrabbling at his clothes, pulling him further inside. He tucked his ankle in close.
The SUV, however, didn’t make it out so well. The black APD vehicle had been mere seconds away from catching Noah--intent on crushing him into the van if necessary--and because of it, it didn’t have time to turn. Smoke burst out from the burning tires as the SUV slammed on the brakes, but it was going too fast. It slammed through a small bakery in a shower of glass and pastries, then fell still with a hiss.
Once Noah was completely inside, Vienna leaned over him and tugged the van door closed. Even though the SUV was taken care of, Marcus kept speeding. Somewhere far off, they could hear the sound of sirens and until they were in the Ports District, no one was safe.
Noah could hear Marcus talking through the van’s communication system, informing the base of what had happened and what to expect when they arrived. Noah turned until he was on his back and stared up at Vienna. She was covered from head to toe in slim black tactical gear from the Agency. The material was thin, not made for repelling bullets, but rain. With her helmet and gear on, she had less of a risk of being exposed to the elements, not that it wasn’t impossible.
“Alright,” Noah wheezed.
“Alright what?” She asked.
“You can gloat now.”
They had to park along the road and duck beneath the windows once to hide from an APD patrol unit, but eventually they made it back to the Ports District and the Agency base. The rain was beginning to let up now, but still no one dared to go outside. After years of this lifestyle, putting everything on pause for the rain was typical. No one would venture out until the emergency broadcast signals stopped playing.
The van drove down a long, thin road that led behind to a large building. During the first days of the city’s construction, this building had been a barracks for disease free workers. If one good thing came from the biological attack of 2012, it was that it helped flush new jobs into the economy. Construction workers, architects, electricians, doctors, military and more were all commissioned by government and volunteer agencies alike to help build the island city of A.R.C.. A city to protect and contain.
Now, the abandoned barracks belonged to the Agency. No one came close to it for fear of the docks and shoreline mere yards away, making it the perfect cover.
The green van splashed through a puddle, then paused just outside as a large garage door slowly creaked open. Then it eased inside and parked. Marcus turned off the ignition and got out. He went around to the side and opened the door.
“Getting a bit slow in your old age, Noah,” Marcus smiled, his teeth bright white in his dark face.
“I’m younger and faster than you. I’d like to see you try and make that leap any better with all those freaking muscles to slow you down.”
Marcus laughed, broad shoulders shaking.
“I don’t doubt that you’re faster than me. I’m just saying that you used to be faster.”
Noah straightened his leg out with a hiss, then relaxed.
“Did you guys manage to find Chase?” He asked.
“We didn’t get to his apartment. You called us before we could, and you’re damn lucky we were where we were. You need a body guard, Noah. Every Runner does,” Marcus said.
Noah shrugged. “I don’t need someone to protect me. My job is to be fast. To get in and get out as quickly as possible. I can’t run as fast as I could knowing I left someone behind just because the Agency told them my life was more valuable than their own. I’ll work with people, not human shields.”
“It’s not like that—”
“—Did you find Sandy?” Vienna said, cutting Marcus off. He gave her a peeved look, but she ignored him.
“Yeah. It’s why I was asking about Chase. I found Sandy dead in her own bathtub. Someone replaced the supplemental government water with natural water.”
“She reacted to it. Her body was deteriorating from contact with the water. No gunshot wounds, no other sign of a different cause of death. She died from the disease,” he said.
“That’s impossible. She was immune. I mean, come on. She was a Runner. The Agency tested her just like they tested all of us,” Marcus said.
”I’m just telling you what I saw, guys. Sandy was dead. Her body guard didn’t protect her from whatever did that to her and she died in a bathtub full of water. Real water.”
Vienna eased herself out of the van, then leaned over Noah’s extended leg.
“We can figure out what happened to Sandy and Chase when you report to the commanders. Right now, we need to get you inside,” she said, “If we wait much longer your ankle will be too swollen to easily remove your shoe or sock.”
”Alright,” Noah said, “Help me up.”
Marcus leaned down and slung one of the slimmer man’s arms over his shoulder. Even though Noah was a tall man, Marcus had to lean down for Noah to be able to stand properly. Were Vienna not so short, she’d take his other side. Instead, she pulled off her helmet--dark hair plastered to her head from the gear--and put it inside the van.
Together, they slowly hobbled through the garage past motorcycles and vans to a small elevator in the back.
The elevator doors opened to a large, underground bunker and a hall full of people already waiting. An older woman gestured for Marcus to help Noah into a wheel chair that lay waiting. Two men were standing on either side of her. One man was immaculate--dark hair, sleek clothes, all of his skin hidden beneath fabric and gloves, except for the neck up--and the other looked like as unruly as his scruffy blond hair.
The blond one sneered.
“Told you he couldn’t handle being on his own.”
Noah glared at him from over Marcus’ shoulder as he was gently lowered into the chair. The woman immediately kneeled down, knees popping, and checked over the ankle.
“One mess-up is hardly enough evidence to prove that, and if the call I received is anything to go by, he was hardly alone,” the other man said, eyes on Noah, “Please return to your bunk, Curt. We’ve got this under control.”
Curt gave the man a cold look.
“We have protocol for a reason,” he said.
The man said nothing. Didn’t even look at Curt. With a growl, Curt stomped away.
“How bad is it, Miranda?”
The doctor stood slowly.
“He bruised the bone, it looks like. Maybe fractured. I won’t know the extent of the damage until we take him to the medical wing. Shall I, Commander Valentine?” She asked.
“Of course. Just one moment,” he said, “Noah, did you find her?”
“Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.”
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"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011