Part One- Daytime
That’s the thing about this city, you’re not safe. No has been for as long as I can remember. And every day is a constant reminder of that. The Broadcaster is on, but its volume is low so only I can hear it. The Reader announces that 3,000 Runners are tagged each day from the Hunts. 3,000 lives...gone. My hand instinctively traces the mark on my cheek. The thing that decided my fate when I was born.
I sighed and rolled off of my mat. Contemplating society wasn’t gonna help me stay alive. I went over to my Preserver and peered inside. Figures, I’d run out of food already. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to head over to the marketplace for at least 3 weeks to avoid a Hunt, but my snacking habits prevailed again.
I turned off the Broadcaster, the lights, and anything else in my room that was electronic. My room was already pretty plain, so it wouldn’t imply that anyone was living there (I hoped). I threw on my hood and grabbed my Hoverboard before climbing out of the window and riding away.
I glided down the semi-busy street quickly. I didn’t want to waste any time at the Marketplace. Even though Hunts only happen at night, it’s better to get everything you need quickly during the day and bunker down at night.
I could smell the marketplace before I could see it. Scents of steaming rice, curry, and warm baked bread with jam instantly filled my nose. Soon, the Marketplace came into view. Several stands fitting perfectly and randomly between buildings. I hopped off my board and locked it into place before walking into the market.
I strolled through the Marketplace, taking everything in. Even though Nightime was full of screams and shouts, Daytime was peaceful and happy. I spotted two men aggressively negotiating over the price over a box of Insta-Noodles. Two women to the side were repairing a blanket to throw over their stand. As I walked, a bunch of children ran past me with sticks and happily shouting at each other.
“Heyyy! Scooout!” a familiar voice shouted, calling me by my Runner nickname. I whipped around as Juno skidded past me on her hoverboard before slowly coming to a halt.
“What’s up?” I grinned at her as she locked her hoverboard and came up to me.
“Besides the tag-rates and the sky? Nothing much, but staying in my Room all day is so boring. I just had to get out of there.” she sighed and stretched.
“That’s...actually I’m not surprised. I just came here for some food, my Preserver’s already empty.” I replied with a shrug.
“I’ll go with you! It’s good to have as much food as you can right? Plus my Preserver is almost empty anyway.” Juno replied, grabbing my hand and dragging me further into the Marketplace.
“Oh hey, I forgot to tell you. You know Mav right? The Hoverboard repair lady?” Juno asked while we walked.
“Mhm. What about her?” I replied. To be honest I didn’t know much about Mav, only that she was nice, pregnant, and gave great Hoverboard repairs.
“She gave birth to her son last night” Juno replied in a hushed tone.
“Oh really? Runner or Tagger?” I asked.
“Tagger,” Juno replied sadly.
“Oh no! Poor Mav...was her son already taken?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yup. Only 5 hours after the birth. It kills me how many kids are growing up without their parents...” Juno said softly. She knew that pain firsthand, being born a Runner when both her parents were Taggers.
“Wow...well on the bright side he’ll be safe living in the Iron Towers? With actual fresh fruit, clean water, and no sense of impending doom lingering over him?” I tried to look on the bright side.
“Yeah, I guess...” Juno replied. Though I could tell what happened to Mav got her spirits down. It kind of surprised me that even though Juno had been living in this cruel world for so long, these things still surprise her. I’ve gotten used to them.
“Well anyway, I didn’t mean to turn the conversation depressing. So uh, let’s get shopping ok?” Juno rubbed her nose (she always does that when she’s trying to make herself feel better) and started walking to a stand selling dried meat.
“Yeah ok,” I replied and walked after her.,
About 2 hours of shopping, running, talking, bargaining, and borrowing later, I was standing outside of my Room with 3 bags of goodies in hand.
“Seems like Juno’s awful shopping habits rubbed off on me too,” I murmured to myself as I opened the door and stepped inside. I dropped my bags on the ground and grabbed the remote. While the Broadcaster played, I put all my food into Preserver and fell onto my mat.
“What time is it?” I wondered and checked my watch. Nighttime officially started at 7:00, and right now it was 6:02. I decided I could take a quick nap before preparing.
“Look at that ******, you have a baby sister,” Mom says, cradling the tiny baby in her arms.
“She’s so cute!” I reply “What’s her name?”
“Your father and I agreed on ***, do you like it?”
“That’s a great name! I love it. Hang on..what’s that on her cheek?” I ask confused.
Mom’s eyes fill with tears, “That’s a mark ******, that means your sister has to go to a different place. You see how your mark looks like an R and it’s blue? Her’s is a T and it’s red.”
Sharp knocks at the door. Men in grey pour into our room. I want to tell them they can’t have her, she’s my sister and I get to keep her. But I can’t, I’m frozen in place. She’ll forget me, she’ll grow up to be a Tagger and forget me. She may even be the one to kill me-
I jolt up from my mat, breathing and sweating hard. Did I seriously have another nightmare? I think to myself while rubbing my eyes.
“Pssst, Scout! It’s me!” I hear a whisper coming from behind me. I turn around to see Juno sitting on her hoverboard outside.
“Oh, it’s just you Flip,” I say groggily, calling Juno by her Runner nickname.
“No duh it’s me, you didn’t forget about our daily ‘Pre-Night Flight’ did you?” Scout asks.
Ah yes, the Pre-Night Flights. It’s an idea that Juno and I came up with one day. We fly around our Hoverboards just before Nighttime. It’s mostly for fun, but we also check in on other Runners to make sure they’re prepared for the Hunts. It’s a win-win.
“No, I didn’t forget. Gimme a few seconds ok?” I say. Juno nods and waits.
A few moments later, we’re both on our Hoverboards, gliding through the sky. Everyone’s lights seem to be off (that’s a good sign at least), so our only source of light is the headlights on our boards.
“Do you see anything?” Juno asks. I shake my head. The city seems to be peacefully quiet.
We fly around for a few more minutes before I hear a sharp yelp and a thud. Juno and I exchange a glance before flying down to see what the problem is.
We spot a middle-aged-looking woman on the ground. Her bags were tipped over and their contents were spilling out. She moaned in pain and held onto her ankle.
“Ma’am are you ok?!” Juno asked as we jumped down from our boards and locked them in place.
“N-no I am not. I went over to someone’s room to quickly pick up some food and as I was walking back I tripped on something. I think m-my ankle might be broken.” the woman stammered in pain.
Simple enough, we just had to get this lady home before the Hunts. I checked my watch and shuddered. It was 6:48, which meant we only had 12 minutes to get this lady back to her Room. Juno glanced at me, noticed my panic, and sprang into action. She reached out her hand and helped the lady get back on her feet.
“Scout, grab her bags and put them on your board. You’ve ridden with extra cargo before right, piece of cake?” she said. I nodded and quickly gathered up her bags and put them on my board. Juno helped the lady up onto her board and simply told her to sit down and hold on tight.
I checked my watch again; 6:51. “Ok Ma’am where’s your room?” I asked, trying not to sound desperate.
“Room 604, just a bit behind us” she answered. Juno and I nodded at each other before taking off. We soared down the road, Juno going a bit faster than I was.
It took us a few minutes, but we successfully dropped off the woman at her Room. She told us her name was Meg and I was a bit surprised she gave us her real name and not her Runner nickname since that’s what we usually do in the city. I didn’t pay any attention to it though, my watch read 6:56. We seriously needed to head back to our Rooms. If things were fair we could’ve just stayed in Meg’s Room, but unfortunately, the Rules say no one is allowed to share Rooms unless given special permission.
“Meg’s Room is really far away from our Rooms,” Juno said while we whizzed down the road.
“Yup, we may have to be outside tonight. And I don’t like the sound of that” I replied. Juno nodded and we kept riding together in silence. The feeling of dread didn’t cease however, it just continued to grow and we flew as fast as we could. I checked my watch again and felt a chill go down my back. It was 6:59, and our Rooms were at least a solid 3 minutes away.
Juno looked my way and gasped, “Are you serious?” she asked.
I nodded grimly as a loud bell rung throughout the city, signaling that Nighttime had begun. The gates dividing the worn, poor slums of the Runner City to the technologically advanced, shining Iron Towers where the Taggers lived opened.
Part Two- The Hunt
Several Taggers rushed out of the gate, cheering and whooping as if this whole thing was a game to them...I mean in a sense it is. They aren’t the ones being brutally killed every day.
Juno and I flew behind a building and sat down on our boards to catch our breath. We turned off the headlights on our boards and locked them into place. We sat there for a few minutes in silence before we heard voices very close to us. Juno silently unlocked her board and floated a bit closer to me. We held our breaths and listened to what the voices had to say.
“Man I’m so excited! I’ve never been on a hunt before!” one of the vices said.
“Anna shush. If a Runners hears us they’ll know we’re here and run away.” a second voice scolded.
“Oh, you’re right. Haha, sorry!” the first voice, I’m guessing their name was Anna, replied. A few other voices laughed. These must be more inexperienced Taggers that had decided to go off on their own.
“So...how do we do this again? Just look around for Runners and touch them?” a third voice asked.
“Mhm, simple as that,” a fourth voice said.
The Taggers continued to chat while Juno and I unlocked our Hoverboards and silently started to fly away. As we flew, I turned around for a moment to see what the group of Taggers looked like. There were 8 of them in total. One of them turned around and looked up right at me.
“Hey! I think I see some Runners! Up there in the sky!” they called.
“Crap-” I murmured to myself and picked up my pace. The Taggers quickly got on their Hoverbikes and sped after us.
“Go go go!” Juno cried as we sped through the city. Gliding between buildings, ducking under clothing lines and fire escapes. That was one of the advantages we Runners had. We knew the city way better than the Taggers did, which meant we had plenty of shortcuts and tricks up our sleeves.
“How are they so fast!” cried one of the Taggers.
“Luke, stop complaining. I told you to get that upgrade on your Hoverbike but noooo you didn’t listen!” someone said, the same voice that told the Anna girl to hush.
“Flip, I think I have an idea. I’m gonna try to lead them away while you head back to your Room ok? No offense but I’m a faster rider so maybe I can get them off our tail. Got it?” I explained
“No! I’m not gonna leave you, Scout!” Juno shook her head violently.
“Don’t worry, I got this” I gave her a slight nod and looked over at the Taggers.
“Hey losers! This is your first hunt, right? How about I become your first target?” I taunted. I knew Taggers pretty well, and they never turn down a challenge.
“You’ll be eating your words once we get you!” a new Tagger I hadn’t heard before answered, speeding up after me.
Juno broke away from me and headed over to her Room while I turned sharply to the left. The Taggers followed me on their Hoverbikes. I planned to head over to the Jungle, a part of the city filled with the metal frames of old Rooms from a long time ago. Riding in the Jungle is very difficult, and if you don’t do it right you could fall off your board and get seriously hurt. There was no way a Tagger would be able to make it through the Jungle, not with practice at least.
The Jungle grew closer, I took a deep breath and made my way into the twisted metal framework.
“Whooooa! What the heck is that?!” one of the Taggers, I think his name was Luke, called out. The Taggers started to slow down, except for one of them. A petite girl with her dark brown hair flying behind her.
“Hey! Slow down! Do you see that place! It doesn’t look safe” one of the other Taggers called behind her. She didn’t listen though, she simply shook her head.
“You guys keep looking! I’ll meet up with you in a bit. This girl’s mine.” she called back to them
This girl was certainly determined I’ll give her that, but there was no way she was gonna catch me in the Jungle. I flew faster, zipping and ducking and twisting through the maze of metal. The Tagger wasn’t going to give up that easily though. She sped after me like a pro, as if she flew through the Jungle daily. I didn’t have time to be impressed though, my life was on the line.
My heart was pounding in my ears so loudly I didn’t notice the beeping of my Hoverboard. My Board slowed down and started to sputter. I cursed under my breath and looked for a way out of the situation. That’s when I saw it. A flagpole extending sideways from an old “Apartment” (as the Oldies called it).
I took a deep breath and sped up quickly, before sharply stopping and jumping off my board as it died down and fell into the ruins below. I quickly clung to the flagpole and pulled myself up. The Tagger noticed what I did but was going way too fast to slow down and chase me. I jumped inside of the crumbling Apartment and looked around for a place to hide. I climbed up the stairs and glanced down the hall before going into a random room.
From the looks of it, I was in a child’s bedroom. The walls were covered in posters of people I didn’t recognize. I shook my head, I didn’t have time to stand and gawk. I searched around the room for a place to hide when I heard the soft hum of a Hoverbike coming from close by. I quickly dipped under the bed before I heard a thud. The Tagger was inside.
I held my breath as rapid footsteps came closer before the door of the room was thrown open.
“I know you’re in here Runner!” the Tagger yelled. I closed my eyes and stayed as silent as I could.
“Ah, I’m getting the silent treatment? That’s fine,” she responded. I could see her feet as they walked back and forth around the room. I waited for what seemed like ages, praying to no God in particular that she would give up and leave the room. Spoiler alert, she didn’t leave. Instead, she suddenly dropped to the ground and looked under the bed.
We locked eyes and stared at each other for a solid 3 minutes. I wondered why the girl hadn’t just reached out and Tagged me, but maybe she was scared. She looked pretty young, maybe only 14 or 15 years old. I guess the concept of taking someone’s life must be kinda scary. Her eyes even started to fill with tears.
“H-hey it’s ok. You need to Tag me to rank up in the Iron Towers n stuff right? You’ll be fine.” I said. Even when faced with death, I still felt the need to comfort people.
“N-no i-it’s not that. I know your voice, it was a long time ago but I remember it...” the girl said, her voice shaking.
“What do you me-” I started to ask.
“S-Selene?” she whispered.
My body went cold, she knew my real name. How was that possible? I hadn’t told anyone my real name, not even Juno. A thought crossed my mind unless she was…
“Lia…” I said softly. My own younger sister was about to kill me, just like I’d predicted.