With death in fast pursuit, Jeneka kept her feet moving. She’d been running full out for over 30 city sections. Her lungs burned, her legs cramped, and tears leaked out of her eyes making it impossible to see much. She’d attracted a lot of attention along the way, too. A frightened 16 year old running for her life was bound to catch someone’s eye even in the worst sections of the metro, even if no one had offered assistance. She couldn’t help it, her every instinct urged her forward even though her mind told her to slow down and try to think.
At first she’d just run with no clear destination. She tried dodging here and there to get rid of the men trailing her, but it didn’t work. She’d tried taking an airway car to a different sector, but they were waiting when she got off the car. She kept going, until she suddenly realized exactly where she was headed. She didn’t like it one bit, but her body didn’t care. Her body said that was exactly where they needed to go and took her there despite what her head thought about it. Through all the internal arguments, adrenaline kept her moving.
As she neared her destination, Jeneka paused to catch her breath. She bent over double, hands on her knees, and focused on just pushing air in and out. Behind her, a never ending river of street lights and air cars. In front of her, the most dangerous section in the entire eastern section of Metro. The Historic District. Declared a historic landmark over 400 years ago, it was all that was left of the old cities, the old ways, the old United States. Even law enforcement avoided it. It was anarchy. Sure, the laws applied, but nobody was about to go rushing in to enforce them. Most people figured if you walked through the entrance of a cesspool you deserved whatever you got on the other side.
All sorts of rumors floated about. Gangs. Riots. Drugs. Sex. You name it, you could find it there. But they didn’t like money in the Historic District. A basket of food might get you at least 10 feet inside the gate unharmed. A pair of good shoes might score you a blow job. Liquor? You might lose your head. That was something to fight for.
The buildings rotted from the inside out. Brick and mortar fell off in chunks. The last brick was made 100 years ago; nobody was ever going to repair them. But, somehow, they managed to stay upright. It must be a good way to build, to withstand all that. Why did everything have to be shiny and new, anyway? There was a certain character in these old buildings. She liked how they didn’t block out the sun. She liked how nothing was flying overhead. And she liked how she was probably going to be able to get rid of the people following her, simply by crossing the gate.
Jeneka looked behind her. In the distance, she saw three men running toward her. The white they wore stood out against the black and steel structures behind them. She shook her head. Stupid. They weren’t even trying to blend. Arrogant. Assholes.
As she regained her breath, one hand flew to her chest to double check. Yes, the necklace was still there, tucked away underneath her shirt and bra. She could feel her heart pound against it. She looked at the gate again. A few more steps and she’d be…safe? Wasn’t it ironic, that the one place she could think of to seek sanctuary was the one place guaranteed to kill her? In her panic, she thought she’d be safer with the gangs and drugs and whatever else might lurk there than out here, waiting to get caught. Whatever these guys wanted, they had killed her guardian to get it. She had a feeling they’d kill her too. Certain death running toward her from behind, near certain death waiting for her ahead. Some choice.
She took a deep breath. Shame she didn’t have money or even food to barter. She took a step. She let out her breath. Steeling herself, she forced one foot in front of the other until she’d drawn even with the gate. An empty street stretched out in front of her. 4 or 5 story buildings lined broken sidewalks as far as she could see. Nothing grew. Nothing moved, but she knew eyes watched. She took one more deep breath, and plunged across the gateway before she could change her mind.
Her breath caught in her throat as she waited to be attacked. Nothing happened. The street remained quiet. A sigh of relief escaped, and she turned to look behind her. The men still followed her, but they’d slowed their pace. They wouldn’t cross the gate. Or would they? Just in case, she turned and started to run.
She ran smack into several pairs of arms. They grabbed her and pushed her toward a very large chest. Before she could scream she was hustled off the main street by the biggest man she’d ever seen, down a dark alley and through a small door into a dank, unlit room. A metal door clanged shut behind her. Darkness and silence enveloped her. Her eyes struggled to adjust to the dim lighting even as her ears strained for any sound of pursuit. She heard nothing but the sound of several people catching their breaths, and the beating of her own heart. Gulping, she tried to speak. A large hand covered her mouth. She felt hot breath, smelling like garlic of all things, on her ear.
“Keep it shut.” The words, mixed with the darkness, scared the pants off her. She shut her mouth and tried to steady her breathing.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she began to see people-shaped shadows in the darkness. Everyone remained motionless statues. What were they waiting for? Were they going to kill her? Rape? Sell her to the men chasing her?
Would they let her live?