I ran for about a few long seconds before it even occurred to me I needed a direction. Just running anywhere wasn’t going to help. The best way to get away from these people was to get to the Island. These streets were wide, grid-like. They were formed from the gaps between towering office buildings and department stores. I needed alleys, twists and unpredictable bends. Places you can’t get to with a vehicle. Somewhere local knowledge trumps resources, man-power and good health.
For once in my life, the Island represented somewhere safe. It was a refuge. It’s twisted backstreets, dangerous gangs, and secret shortcuts were a blessing to me now. But it must be a twenty minute walk to the river. Was that a ten minute jog? A five minute sprint?
That was a lot of minutes.
I orientated myself using a particularly hideous post-modernist concrete monstrosity of a building. It gave me a direction to start sprinting, ignoring the shouts, ignoring the pain in my shoulder.
I saw an opportunity and cut diagonally across a square, leaping railings and taking steps five at a time. There were few people at this time of night. No crowds of shoppers to push through. Those saw me stared as I ran past. I didn’t dare look behind me; I was expecting to be tackled to the ground at any point.
I gasped at the elusive air with screaming lungs. My legs burned, but I had to keep pushing.
An uneven slab of paving caught on my foot, throwing me to the ground.
I felt something land atop of me, tripping over my body. His foot striking my shin with a sickening pain. I thought for a moment it was broken, but it subsided rather than exploded in to the teeth grinding ache of a fracture.
It must have come as a much of a shock to him as it did to me. I attacked before I even registered what was happening. My arms near useless; I bit at his outstretched arm, sinking my teeth into flesh. I lashed out with the what I had available at whatever I could reach – trying to do as much damage in as little time as possible. My vicious attacks allowed me a chance to twist myself out from under his mass. I screamed involuntarily with pain, my dislocated shoulder being wrenched.
Just get the fuck off me!
Finally my knee connected with something soft and I got a satisfying grunt in reply. It gave me the split second I needed to scramble away. Looking up gave me a view of a second figure –must have been a slow one. He was out of breath, not paying attention as he carelessly ran at me. His once-neat uniform was dishevelled and uneven. The badge at his breast caught the pale white light of the street-lights, flashing across my vision.
I had a handful of seconds.
As he pressed down on me I fell towards him and swung out a clumsy kick at his legs from my position on the floor. He didn’t have a time to evade and his momentum carried him into the hard paving with a sickening crunch.
I was on my feet running before either could recover.
* * *
Minutes had passed, but I’d been forced to change direction twice to avoid the presence of MCPS marked cars. As far as I could recon I was no closer to my goal.
Tires screeched to my left, I thought it was going to hit me, that they were trying to kill me. Either they were bad at aiming or they wanted me alive – the car slammed into the wall in front of me, peeling away a section of bumper in a screech of metal and a cloud of mortar dust.
I couldn’t slow down fast enough. I hit it. Knees first. I managed to twist, slamming down onto my uninjured shoulder rather than my face or dislocated one. The impact still took the breath out of my lungs and sent sparks jumping around my eyes.
I didn’t even notice the pain anymore; it was beyond just hurting – moving my arm didn’t add to what was already too much for my body to even register. I rolled, uncontrolled, onto the hood. It took me a second to work out the plane of the ground, but I managed to orientate myself as to which way was down just in time to kick at the head of the cop who’d jumped out of the car.
He grabbed my foot, trying to pull me off the hood.
I kicked again, with my free leg, catching him in the face.
He let go.
The bridge I was aiming for was the disused maintenance access I took to school. Cars couldn’t cross. It was single file, little known. It was my best bet at getting away – but I was hardly half way there… I heard another vehicle approaching. I couldn’t outrun a fucking car!
But… I maybe I didn’t need to run.
I was sitting on one.
I jumped down; the cop I’d kicked was writhing on the ground. I stepped over him and slid into the driving seat.
Ok. Driving is easy right? I’d seen Miss Gregory do it. There were two pedals: go fast, go slow, and a wheel to point it.
I pressed what I guessed was go fast.
It jerked forwards into the wall.
Ok, I need a go-fast-in-the-opposite-direction. My eyes scanned the cabin as the other car screeched to a halt behind me.
There! I smashed my fingers into the ‘reverse’ highlighted on the one of the displays just under a useful flashing warning.
The car announced in a calm even-toned female voice, “it appears you have had an accident, would you like us to call the emergency services?”
I ignored it and mashed both feet into the pedal. Wheels span and it thrust the car backwards, ramming into the one behind. That was fine, he’d already got out. He was clawing at my window.
“You have not responded. Please wait while you are connected to your local control centre.”
I switched it back to forwards and, gritting my teeth, span the wheel using my bound hands.
Driving was easy!
* * *
The crash must have ruptured the power cell, because the cab was slowly filling with the smell of burnt metal. Liquid metal batteries weren’t that dangerous, as long as they didn’t leak onto someone, or something flammable.
I kept telling myself that, trying not to imagine the thing turning into a fireball at any moment. These days they had so many safety features it almost never happened. It was a surprise the systems didn’t just shut everything down.
But I wasn’t going far, as I felt the motors begin to strain against the dropping voltage I saw the gate that led to my favourite place to cross the river. I jumped out before it had even stopped rolling, skipping to keep my balance on the uneven tarmac.
I felt a thrill, running towards the bridge.
I was enjoying this. There was a crunch of metal on mortar from behind me. Sure it hurt like fuck, but the exhilaration of the chase, the rush of adrenaline, the driving cars into walls.
Did that mean I liked hurting people?
The screeching of brakes of a second car brought my mind back into the here-and-now. It wouldn’t be any fun if I died at the end. Run you idiot!
I slid down the dirt slope, clutching my arm to my chest. It was meters to the chain link gate with the broken-off padlock. God I hope no one replaced it. I’d be cornered; I didn’t think I could climb like this.
To my relief it was half-open when I reached it. The view of the two hulking industrial pipes crossing the river opened out in front of me, the snaking walkway hanging from its rusted supports. Open to the elements, to the spying eyes of my enemies.
Just a quick sprint across an exposed walkway… I had no choices. No other options. My feet touched the metal grate and the structure shook, resonating with each footfall. What could go wrong?
Half way I found out.
The sound I’d feared since all this shit started.
The crack of a gun.
Did it hit me? There was a stinging sensation in my gut. A bullet? It felt like… like nothing. A scratch…
Then blackness. The now-familiar void.
That’s not right…