As my little brother so clearly put it, we don’t have time to waste. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Usually, we would have more time before a run to prepare and more time during the run to actually complete it. In this situation, we have neither. And a CC run isn’t a normal run to begin with.
While The Geek shoots some messages to the recruiter for specifics on what I’m supposed to be transporting, the pickup and drop-off locations, and all the other Geek stuff, I head off to take a quick shower. I’m still covered in sweat from my morning’s run and although I’ll be back to sweating in no time after I begin, I still feel like I shouldn’t start off a run feeling so gross.
There’s something special about a shower after a run, even a short run like I had this morning. The water soothes my muscles, washes away the stink, and basically does what showers are intended to do, but there’s something more to it. It doesn’t feel like a run is over until I finally have the chance to wash it away and watch it all go down the drain.
I step out of the shower and into the misty haze of the bathroom. Wiping the condensation off the mirror, I look at myself as I run my hands through my short red hair. If this were a normal long-distance run, I’d probably be scheduling a haircut right about now. You may think it’s unimportant, but it’s a part of my ritual for long distance runs.
I rub my towel over my head briskly before wrapping it around my waist and heading out to get dressed. As I exit the bathroom, I overhear The Geek in full planning mode. If I went out to talk to him now, we’d spend the next three weeks discussing his plans for the run. Instead, I sneak through the command center to grab my bag. The Geek is too busy to notice me.
In order to keep my runs fast, I have to keep from carrying anything unnecessary. Even most of my necessities, like food and water, are gathered along the way.
That’s what the splits are for. They’re spots set up by the Agora to take Runners in and provide for them. They’re usually pretty shady places, but the prices aren’t bad and they provide a safe haven while we run, even if they are filled with some of the most wretched scum around. You know, people like me.
So my bag, which is just a red slim backpack, is used mostly for carrying whatever I’m delivering. Since Agora deliveries are almost always done by the Runners, the items have to be kept small to keep us light and fast. If the buyer wants something bigger than can fit into our bags, they have to be broken down into smaller pieces and delivered separately. I heard once that The Agora delivered a tank from North Carolina to Kentucky. According to the rumor, it took over 100,000 runs to get the job done. That had to have been one expensive delivery charge. Kinda makes you wonder what they were using the tank for.
The Geek didn’t mention what I’m actually delivering, but I’m sure I can make space for a couple of my own things. Things which might help me along the way, somehow.
Things like my Taser. Sure, it won’t really do me any good if I’m up against a couple of SPs, but there’s no telling what you might come up against on a run, especially a cross country run. I’d rather have something around to protect myself, if the need arises.
The second, and don’t tell The Geek about this, is my Flash action figure. He gave it to me as I was leaving to go off on my first solo run. I guess he had thought it would be cool if people called me The Flash as a nickname or something. I don’t know. He’s all into that superhero stuff. The name never stuck, which I’m totally okay with, but even so, it’s been my companion on every single distance run I’ve done except one. That one just so happened to be the one run I got a DNF on, so it seems like the closest thing I have to a good luck charm out of anything.
And if there were ever a time I needed luck, this would be it.
I head over to my shoe closet to pick out a new pair. New shoes are the absolute worst to run in. Give me a good old broken-in pair any day of the week. Unfortunately, with a run like this one, an old pair runs the risk of falling apart while I’m on the way, which is even worse. If I’m stuck out thirty miles from a split when they give out on me, that’s a long way to run without footwear.
I pick a pair of red Chuck Taylors. Most Runners prefer shoes with all sorts of padding and special insoles, created specifically to produce the best “ride” one can get. I’ve always preferred a much simpler shoe, something that allows me to feel the road under my feet. Chucks are the best for that.
I shrug on a new hooded sweatshirt as well, picking red to match my choice in shoes. A pair of jeans and some socks round out my running uniform. Well, maybe uniform isn’t quite the right word. I like to keep my clothing choices simple. Don’t want to give the SPs any reason to pay attention to me.
Just as I look around the room to see if I’ve missed anything important, I hear The Geek calling for me from the Command Center. I sling my bag over my shoulder and head out to see what news he’s got for me.
All five of his screens are flashing brightly as I enter the Command Center. It’s as if The Geek’s got every single contact of his involved in this run. Leave it to The Geek to be prepared even when there’s no time for it.
“Good, looks like you got everything ready to go,” The Geek says, fidgeting with a device in his hands.
“All I need is a good pair of shoes and my music player. You know that,” I smirk. “Looks like you’ve been busy.”
“Yeah. I’m pulling every favor I’ve ever been owed for this one. I’m still waiting to hear back on most of them, but I’ve gotten a couple of positive responses.”
“Awesome,” I smile. “What’ve you got?”
“Not much that’s set in stone, yet. Well, except for one thing.”
“Yeah? Anything I’ll care about?”
“Oh yeah, you’ll love it.” The Geek turns around and types rapidly on his keyboard. Images pop up on each of the screens. They all look an awful lot like train routes. He points to the center screen. “It’s from the recruiter. Turns out, there’s a train that runs from here to the bay.”
“Didn’t the train systems all get shut down years ago?”
“That’s what I thought too, but I guess there’s some anti-government group out there who’s been running goods between here and the bay. They used to use Runners, but had too many people getting caught, so they went with something a bit more covert.”
“Great, just what I need. A whole bunch of idealistic dummies thinking they can do better than our government. Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?”
“Do you really want to talk politics with me right now?”
“Do I want to talk politics with you ever?”
“Right, so I guess the recruiter’s already in pretty good with them. He says he’s gotten the all-clear for you to use it. This would take at least a day off the trip and, at this point, we could use any extra time we can get.”
“I don’t know kid, you know how–”
“I know you don’t like help and you’d rather run, but I don’t see how you can turn this down, Cy.”
“Okay, whatever. So, when do these turncoats leave the station next?”
“The only train leaving today heads out in about an hour. But, it’s up on the north end of Sunland Blvd.”
“Sunland Blvd? That’s all the way on the other side of town.”
“If you don’t think you can make it, we can definitely—“
“Watch it, kid. No one said I couldn’t make it. It just means I’m going to have to go through Verdugo to make it on time.”
“And even then you’re going to be cutting it close.”
“Then what am I doing sitting around here talking to you for?”
I bend over to tie my shoelaces as The Geek stands. The kid’s short, something I forget about considering how often he’s in that chair of his. Of course, he’s short because he’s still just a kid. He’s twelve now, old enough to be a Runner himself, but with how much time he’s spent in that chair, he’s in no shape to run, unless the shape needed for running is a circular one.
I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen to him once I’m forced to take on a real job. He’s left alone in this house enough already, well, you know, outside of Violet. School doesn’t give him any social outlets. The only thing he’s really had going for him these last six years has been working as my manager and those days are numbered.
Maybe I’ll get lucky, somehow, and end up with a government job that lets me stay at home. I’d be willing to bet money I’ll get a job on the road, like our parents, considering the feds are already aware I’m a Runner. They love putting Runners back on the road. If that’s the case, I’ll be away from home even more than I already am and not able to keep in contact with The Geek while I’m gone either. The kid may annoy me, but I have to admit, he deserves more than that.
He pats me on the shoulder. “Cyrus, no matter what happens out there; I want you to know I’ll be alright.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, shrugging away my feelings of pity for him.
“I’m just saying you don’t have to worry about me.”
“Why is this suddenly all about you? I’m the one going out and risking my life; shouldn’t I be worried about me?
“Well, yeah,” The Geek pauses, seeming hurt. “I mean good luck out there.”
“Come on, kid,” I say as I punch him lightly in the shoulder. “You know me. I don’t need luck. I’m the best Runner the Agora’s got. Why else would we have even gotten this job?”
I catch a look on The Geek’s face. He’s been wondering the same thing.
Go to Chapter Four