I finish up the job quickly and am back home in record time. I toss my bag on the floor upstairs as I run to the door that leads downstairs into The Corral.
“Hey now, dontcha be leaving your tings up in ‘ere,” comes Violet’s voice from further within the house. “You an’ I both know what’ll happen if’n dose Patrol boys decide to come in and check on us with your bag up in ‘ere.”
“Hey Vi, nice to see you too,” I remark sarcastically as I trudge back to pick up my bag. “Hope you’re enjoying your stories.”
“Hey now,” she yells back, “you know mah stories end at two-terdy.”
“Right, sorry, game shows then,” I say heading into the depths of the building instead of waiting for a response.
The Corral, our headquarters, our barracks, and The Geek’s personal warroom, is really nothing more than a spot we claimed for ourselves in the basement of our house. At first glance you’d think there’s not much special about it, but you’d be dead wrong. This place has everything a smuggler needs to keep themselves ahead of the Patrols. And the best thing about it is that since it’s also our bedroom and me and The Geek are both under the AoA, the SPs can’t even step foot across the threshold. We’ve got more surveillance equipment down here than most government buildings and not even the most brazen of Street Patroller can do anything about it.
As I open the door at the bottom of the stairs, I can’t help but grin. Sure, The Geek probably doesn’t have anything better than the job I just completed, but still, it’s another job and I’m really not ready to give up this life. Not yet.
I step around the pile of old computer monitors and see The Geek sitting in his normal spot in front of his five flat-panel computer screens, all flashing different information. On the bottom left I see the usual feed coming from the camera placed on my hood. The Geek is already turned to greet me as I enter.
“That was a good run,” The Geek smiles.
I look up at him, still out of breath from pushing myself so hard. “You think so? What’d I get, five minutes a mile?”
The Geek’s smile grows. “Four minutes fifty and thirty-four for an average. That’s counting your first third mile, which you took much slower than necessary. Excited much?”
The Geek’s one of those kids that never had many friends. I find myself worrying about him much more than I’d like to admit. He’s my little brother, you know, just a kid. And here he sits, alone, in this basement, day after day. It has to get lonely down here.
Sure, he’s got Violet, our government-issued nanny, but she’s nothing more than someone The Agora placed in our house to feed our boys in blue the news that we’re doing all the stuff we’re supposed to be doing and none of the stuff we’re not. Based on how many times I’ve actually laid eyes on the lady, I can’t imagine she comes down here very often, if at all. And even if she does, I’d hardly consider her to be any form of true social interaction, seeing as all she does all day is sit on our parents’ couch and watch television.
Don’t tell him this, but that’s the whole reason I asked him to be my manager. I thought it might give him something to do, allow him to feel important somehow while he lives his life alone in The Corral.
He was only six when I started running, hardly the age of having the mental powers necessary to provide me much help, but he needed something to do outside of sitting in front of his computer every day for his web classes.
Of course, the kid somehow managed to quickly become one of the most important pieces of my smuggling arsenal. Within a couple years, he began making contact with people all over the nation who would be able to provide whatever we might need for help while I ran all over the place.
And it also turns out that he’s an electronic genius. He’s self-taught, but still manages to produce things that I don’t think anyone else is currently doing, at least in the running trade. For instance, he did some pretty intense research and somehow managed to find a radio frequency that the Street Patrols would never even think of using. Based on that, he created the awesome earpiece I’m always wearing. This one simple device changed how I’ve run ever since and is quite honestly one of the main reasons I’m so good at what I do.
He’s also the one who pieced together my music player, which also has a non-trackable GPS unit inside of it. It seems there’s absolutely nothing this little device can’t do and he also made it to be water-proof, weather-proof, and whatever-else-proof. The kids a genius. Just don’t let him know that.
It’s probably needless to say, but if it weren’t for him, there’s no chance I’d have anywhere near the record I do today. This little freak of a kid has managed to create an amazing network of people all across the nation, having an ear out for even the most obscure jobs available. He’s the sole reason I’ve managed to stay employed as long as I have.
But seriously, don’t tell him I said that.
“Kid, the only thing I’m excited for is a hot shower. So, you gonna tell me what this big thing is or what?” I ask, shooting him a knowing smirk.
“Straight into business, huh? No hugs and kisses for your little brother? Did you at least bring me something from your trip?”
“Get on with it already, nerd. What’d you get? Is it another one of those stupid runs for The Agora Gamblers, or did you find something interesting for a change?”
“What makes you think that I’ve found another job at all?”
“Well?” I ask. The Geek seems to have mastered the skill of getting on my nerves. If there were an award for most annoying brother of the year, he’d win hands down.
“Absolutely not, Geek. If you think I’m going to play your stupid games, you’ve got another thing coming. If you don’t want to tell me, fine. I’m going to take a shower.” I say as I walk to my room on the other side of The Corral.
Once I enter my room, I can’t help but feel overly curious about what he’s keeping from me. I stand inside my door and tap my foot impatiently, hoping he’ll give in and come tell me whatever it is he’s got. After three minutes of this, my curiosity finally gets the better of me and I storm back into the command center.
“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” I say through gritted teeth. “What is your big surprise, O Master of the Corral?”
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” he laughs. “You sure you can handle this? It’s pretty exciting. You might want to sit down.”
“I called you the stupid master already, so tell me what the–”
“Jeez, fine, calm down already. I was just having a little fun. But get ready to bow down to the master, because I did the impossible. I found us a cross country.”
I glare at him momentarily and then storm off to my room.
“I’m serious, Cy. The pick-up is out in the Bay Area and delivery is all the way out to Boston.”
I stop in my tracks and pause for a second before turning slowly to meet his eyes.
“Geek,” I say slowly, “you and I both know that there is absolutely no one in their right mind who would hire me for a cross country job right now. So, either tell me what’s really going on or I’m going to take a shower.”
Cross-country runs are a pretty big deal in the running community, as well as being almost completely unheard of nowadays. But they’re also incredibly risky. Since I’m only a few weeks away from hitting AoA, there’s no chance anyone would be dumb enough to try and hire me.
They are by far the most dangerous runs to perform. Very few people ever even try them without getting a “did not finish” on their record. And if you have a DNF on your record, you’re even less likely to get one than if you’re nearing AoA. Guess who just so happens to have a DNF on his record as well.
“The course should take you over thirty-seven hundred miles. At your absolute fastest, meaning full-power the whole way, minimal breaks and no sleeping, it would take you at least 20 days to get there.”
“Which puts me over the AoA before completion, which means, once again, that you are completely full of crap, so if you don’t mind, I’m–”
“Not to mention the fact that SP HQ is in Boston. So–”
“So quit lying to me and get back to doing something useful, like seeing if Mrs. Chesterfield will need more chocolate before my birthday. Maybe she’ll bake me a cake.”
“I’m serious Cyrus, this is a real job. I’m not pulling your leg or anything.”
“Well, then someone’s definitely pulling yours, because there’s no chance someone’s offering us this kind of job.”
“They’ve already put down a deposit.”
“Yeah, I know, almost no one puts down deposits anymore. They obviously really want you.”
“Okay, so, fine, whoever’s trying to fool you put down a little bit of money to seal the deal. I mean, how much of a deposit could they really have given?”
“Our full cross-country fee,” The Geek says solemnly. “All $100,000 of it.”
“What?” I scream. “That doesn’t even make any sense. Why would they pay our whole fee before I even do the pickup?”
“Because they’re offering another $200,000 upon completion.”
“But that’s three times our normal fee.”
“It’s a whole heckuva lot of money, Cyrus.”
“That’s for sure. So, you’re saying that this is like a real, for real, type of thing?”
“As far as I can tell. I haven’t even filled out all of the paperwork and the money’s already cleared the bank.”
“From the bay to Boston, you say?”
“All thirty-seven hundred miles of it.”
I stand in front of The Geek in stunned silence, considering my options carefully.
“So, what do you think?” The Geek says. “I mean, not like there’s any chance you’re going to turn it down or anything.”
“Well, how can I, if they’re offering us that kind of cash?”
“Since when have you ever cared about how much they’re paying?”
“I don’t know. Never I guess. But still, with that kind of money, couldn’t we do something big, like, you know, pretend I didn’t meet AoA or something?”
“You wish,” The Geek snorts.
There’s still something bugging me about this whole thing. Why me? Don’t get me wrong, this is the kind of run I live for and I’m the best there is, but, they have to know my record, right? And the fact that I’m almost AoA. Whoever it is, I’m sure they’ve got a lot more to lose than I do if I fail. Not that I’m going to fail.
“I did a background check on the recruiter. Nothing out of the ordinary came up, so I have a hard time believing it’s a set-up by the SPs.”
“Have we done a run for them in the past?”
“Nope. Even cross-referencing the recruiter database, I’m not seeing any connections with anyone we’ve ever worked with in the past. However, I did find a very loose connection to one of Eve’s early runs.”
Eve. The one person working for The Agora today who can even come close to being as good as me. We’ve been competing for jobs ever since I started contracting for the Agora. Our stats are almost exactly the same, except she completed both of her CC runs. No DNF on her record.
“They’ve got a history with Eve? Why not go with her then?”
“The connection’s pretty thin. Plus, Eve’s got a few more months before she hits AoA. She’s probably not quite as desperate as we are.”
“I have a hard time believing Eve would turn anything like this down.”
“Me too. Who knows, maybe she’s already out on a run?”
“Her loss, I guess. When do we start?”
“You’ve got 21 days until you turn eighteen. It will take you at least 20 days to get there, and that’s if you are somehow able to run without stopping. When do you think we should start?”
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love my brother, but sometimes I just want to place my hands on his neck and squeeze.
Go to Chapter Three