In the Walls (Peregrine x BKenScout)

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      The Forgotten History of The City-
      No one remembers quite when certain people in everyday civilization began to develop supernatural powers, but such people began to pop up all over the world. One of those individuals was a man who developed the ability to absorb others. When he absorbed regular people his life would be extended, and he would become more fit and healthy. However, when he absorbed the gifts of other people, he would be able to use their gift for a little while, until it ran dry.

      He began to gather together a following, A group of people who were desensitized to the modern world, and longed for something different. These people saw him, their High Power, as a prophet, and the harbinger of the new era. He delivered upon their desires. Flawlessly. He and his followers overthrew the government of a small country and reigned supreme. For a time things were perfect, as the High Power went out of his way to create a utopia. However, when he silently provoked other countries into attacking his country, he used it as an excuse to utterly destroy the area around his city, and create a giant dome to contain his little pocket country.

      Gradually, the people who knew the past of the High Power began to die, and the re-education of the people began. History became a useless subject, even as the sciences were promoted. Eventually, people began to believe that the world outside this city was utterly destroyed and beyond salvation, due to the greed and ignorance of the previous people, and the High Power created this place of sanctuary for their safety. There is no other safe place in the world.

      To maintain this illusion, the High Power captured slaves, raising them as a lesser group of people, inferior to all humans. They were responsible for maintaining the sewers, for sorting through trash to gather recyclable materials, and, most importantly, for spreading a toxin outside the city that would kill all life, to make sure no one ever doubted that the land outside the city was nothing but a wasteland. These people are controlled by a limited, select few, who know of the slaves but are so convinced of their inhumanity that they feel no guilt keeping this information from those who might be swayed by temptation to believe these people were human.

      Ultimately, though, the main purpose of this city has become to make more people of power, for the High Power's consumption. Anyone who is identified has having a power is immediately moved to the second most affluent section of the city, where they will live a life of great luxury and wealth, the right to have as many children as they want (as long as it is with another person of power), and general good things. Unless, of course, they get selected to become a part of the High Power, in which case they vanish into His service, and are never seen again. No one knows what happens to these people, but it is generally considered one of the highest honors there is. Which isn't surprising, seeing as people worship the High Power as a god. Once a month there is a devotion to his existence, but for the most part people simply take several quiet, personal moments every day to admire his existence.

      Outside the city, other countries continued to exist. However, the few that attacked this country, whether out of some attempt to "rescue" the civilians, or out of fear of the High Power's.. power, were completely obliterated by the High Power. People go around the city and its wasteland, doing their best to forget it exists.

      The City Today-

      Inside the city, most people are happy. Every person has an identification number, which allows them access to different parts of the city, holds their banking information, and allows them to connect to the internet through an ARCH, Augmented Reality Contact Hologens. Every person who is legally born has one, and it is this number that grants people access to the places they need to go to work and play. This identification number is tied into the Citizen Network for Responsible Living, commonly refereed to as CeNtRL, which primarily consists of a single score that marks how responsibly an individual lives, based upon their work and health habits, social habits, and friend groups. This score affects a person's potential for employment, access to areas that would normally be off-limits to them, as well as the chance that they will get raised to the top of the waitlist for having another child.

      Every woman is granted the right to have one child. At puberty, all children are given a surgery for their health. For women, this means that they can only release an egg when given a certain chemical. This works like birth control, except backwards. Women can apply for that chemical whenever they want for their first child, but after that they are filtered through a system, which determines the people who are most likely to create more desirable children, both in terms of obedience and magical powers. No one is ever told they can't have a child, but the wait list can be as long as a person is alive. However, it is really easy to get a second child. Not that people know this. It just makes them feel special when they are "bumped to the top of the wait list".

      While there is definitely upper, middle, and lower class, there are no truly impoverished citizens within the city who adhere to the system. Everyone is guaranteed a certain standard of living, as long as they work and play by the rules. However, there are some people who fall through the cracks, either willingly or accidentally. These are people who are simply unimportant enough that the city doesn't care if they follow the rules. People avoid them, just on principle, and nothing really ever comes of them.

      The City also has police. These are different from the people who monitor people's IDs and citizen scores, since for the most part citizens handle the policing of themselves and each other. But there are always occasional exceptional situations. For the most part police in this city are like a special forces unit, who handle thing that get out of control, and the few rebels and terrorists that arise to try and buck the system.

      The city is divided into 26 quadrants, A through Z. A is at the center, while S-Z rings the edge. A is the home of the High Power, while B is the home of identified people with power. C is the home of high powered people. D-G is the home of all managerial businesses. H-L is the residential district for the middle class, while M-R is for the lower class. S-Z is the place for all industry, and is by far the largest part of the city.

      Because the City is limited in size, after everything filled up, the city began to grow up instead of out. At this point, most, if not all, parts of the city are buried at least 60 stories deep. In general, the taller the building the more affluent the people who live or work there. However, solar channels take sunlight from the high levels and bring them down to the bottom, so everywhere is illuminated during the day. For this reason, the districts are actually crooked, with the more high end districts having a much larger presence on the top, and the "lesser" districts having a larger presence in the bottom. Some districts have no presence at the top, while others don't descend more than a couple stories. Most to all travel is done on a monorail system, the Maglev, which will have several different levels of tracks that stop in a single building. There are certain expectations of the people who travel in the higher tracks. Energy is generated through solar panels that have been mounted to the dome, while a hologram system within the dome hides select things from the people within the dome, including the slaves who climb the dome to clean the panels, and any air transportation of the outside countries that may draw close to the City's airspace. Robots have a strong presence within the City, but never take human form and rarely, if ever speak in anything identifiable as a human voice. This maintains the unconscious belief of the people of the city that being human somehow makes them inherently superior, which is what allows the slave system to remain in place outside. Robots are pieces of specialized equipment that have just enough intelligence to adapt to a situation in order to allow them to continue their job.

      While for the most part people live and die in the district they are born in, that does not say there is no room for people to rise above. People take aptitude tests at the end of every section of their schooling, which will slowly funnel them into the place they will be most suited to work. However, every child is presented with three choices from the test, which gives the illusion of choice in their future. If they are exceptionally good at their job they will get promoted, but for the most part people say in place, which creates remarkable job security. Only really unusual circumstances will cause someone to lose their job
    • Peregrine:
      Secretary to the Prime Minister, a man of great public appeal but no true work ethic, Vera is the one who handles much of the day to day running of the city. There is very little of significance that happens within the City that she is not aware of. A quiet worker, Vera has no problem with allowing the Prime Minister to take all the credit for her hard work as long as she and her son are allowed to live in peace. The arrival of Jessica into her daily life is about to change that peaceful monotony.

      Handed over at a young age by his family, who were poor workers that longed for a better life for their Gifted son, Josh has the ability to psychically bond with others. What he didn't know is, when they die, he permanently gains a portion of their power, if they are gifted, or their strength if they are not. After his best friend in the Gifted community was committed in the service of the High Power, he learned the dark secret of the City, and may end up sharing it with a trapped courier in order to find a way to escape.

      A former gifted citizen with the ability to manipulate people's beliefs, Kara was released by direct permission of the High Power to work as a member of the police. Her appearance caught the interests of a group of IDless terrorists, who wanted to kill the High Power. With their help, Kara has become a bit of a celebrity among the police for foiling several "terrorist attacks". Her loyalty is entirely in question, but everyone believes she's firmly on their side. Suddenly getting pulled for the Mentor rotation for rookie Charles may put her at risk.

      A former high executive who ran many corporations within the industrial district, Luther's wife left him after their only son finally left home. Falling to drink, Luther's job performance rapidly fell, until he was let go altogether. Trying to pay off the debts he had garnered forced him to turn his house back over to the city. Now living as a homeless man, he survives off the occasional generosity of strangers, and a large bonus he receives for reporting unregistered gifted. A stroke of luck allows him to glimpse graffiti artist Jessica in an act of magic.

      Born to a once rich but disillusioned family, who came to realize that the Waiting List was not a list at all, Lizzie was an illegal third child, conceived by a black market drug. Born without an ID and therefore no ability to enter society, Lizzie spent most of her early childhood living in hiding, where only her parents and siblings would ever visit her. A few years ago she found a way out of her self-imposed cell, and she has since been acting as a rebel, breaking into people's houses to try and show them the corruption of the system. One particular adventure, though, leads her into the waiting arms of an underground society consisting exclusively of IDless citizens.

      Responsible for maintaining a population of slaves, Marcus believes with all his heart that the slaves are not human. However, his life is thrown into chaos when one of his slaves dies, and is replaced by a young girl who looks exactly like his recently deceased daughter.

      A young man discontent with the options given to him after graduation, Ryan works a secret side job as an underground runner with a team of other people. In the first arc of this story, he finds a way to enter into District B, and enters into an unexpected relationship with one of the people there, Joshua.

      A free-spirited underachiever, Jessica is also a hidden gifted, who uses her short-range teleportation ability to get herself out of sticky situations when she is caught in acts of vandalism. Unfortunately, an unexpected situation causes her to reveal her power in the presence of Luther, a man who reports undocumented gifted in order to survive as a homeless man, and she is forced to rely on the generosity of an uncertain ally, Vera.

      A recently accepted guard, Charles was paired with Senior Guard Kaya for his mentor. He is gung ho about his job, and walks the tight and narrow path. Unfortunately, he will soon find himself plunged into a situation of questionable legality and morality, where he will have to make a hard choice.

      Something of a celebrity within the City, Anthony is known for being the man to hold the highest CeNtRL score for the last five years running. He has made it his ambition to aid those with low scores and help them understand what a wonderful place they live in. However, his life is about to take a turn when he meets two IDless girls.

      When the City was first under construction hundreds of years ago, one country slipped in a group of gifted spies, in hopes of gaining information about the soon-to-be High Power. However, when he dome was created, these spies were sealed in tight, unable to escape. Now they live as a silent, underground network of IDless people, doing whatever is needed to survive. One such individual is Norah, a young woman who dreams of using one of the few known underground escape routes to leave the city. She ends up meeting another IDless, Lizzie, who dreams of very different things.

      A young girl who recently started working as a slave. She knows no life but that which has been forced upon her.

      The High Power - A god-king with the ability to absorb others, he rules with an iron hand over this city. Everyone worships him.
      Hand of the High Power - A boy raised from birth by the High Power, and who was fed the power of the previous Hand when he got old enough, the Hand is directly linked to the High Power by psychic bond. He is fed the powers of other gifted by the High Power, and acts as His will in the city.
      Prime Minister - A man who was practically born into his position, the Prime Minister is able to put on a front of exceptional studiousness and hard work. However, he is an incredibly lazy man, and foists everything he can onto his willing Secretary.

    The brilliant number glowed behind Joshua's closed eyes, slowing increasing in brightness until it roused him from a restless sleep. Once he would have rolled over in bed and tried to ignore the brightness, until his brain woke up enough to remember that ignoring his unobtrusive alarm would lower his CeNtRL score for the day. Now, however, it was a relief to finally be able to open his eyes, to set about getting ready for the day. It distracted him from the thoughts that smoldered within the back of his head, only needing the smallest bit of fodder to burst back into full flame.

    It was ritualistic, waking up. It always happened the exact same way. He would carefully roll over until he was at the edge of the bed, before tipping his feet over the edge and setting them down on the comfortably heated stone floor. He would then stand, ignoring as the covers of his bed slowly straightened themselves until it was once more perfectly made, and move over to the window. It only took a small tug at the edge of the curtain to get it to slide open and allow sunlight, real, natural sunlight, streaming down from the curve of the dome, to enter and illuminate the rich cream walls of his room. Once, when he had been a small child, such light would have been a luxury beyond his wildest imaginations. Now it was rote, nothing but a tool used to make sure he didn't run into his dresser.

    He casually selected from the clothes, all of them neatly folded, and in the shades of grey and blue he normally favored. With the fabric draped over one arm, he stepped into the shower, quickly setting the temperature at the recommended 108 degrees. It was one of the few luxuries Josh still honestly enjoyed, for the warmth of the water always seemed to empty his mind of all thought. Only the prompting that appeared on the wall, letting him know he was getting close to using up his daily allotment of shower water, prompted him to get out. Despite the water purification systems built into every building, clean water was a valued resource. Exceeding his limit would severely impact his score. For a moment he considered the thought that it might be worth it to not think for a little while longer, but he quickly banished that notion, turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower.

    Underwear, pants, shirt, socks, all neatly pressed and without a single crease. When the evening was over he'd drop them down the chute to the laundary space. They'd be back in his dresser before tomorrow morning, as clean and perfect as they were today.

    Josh's flat was large compared to the standards he'd known growing up, but for an individual living in sector B it was considered quite compact. His friends, when they came over, called it "cozy". He guessed it was more out of respect for his feelings than any true belief that the term applied. It consisted of his bedroom, a master bathroom, and a combined kitchen and living space. Both the living space and the bedroom had access to a large balcony, which overlooked the gleaming and carefully tended spaces that made up district B. Other than the size, his living space was desirable in many ways. It was on the top floor, which meant it contained specially designed skylights. During the day, he never required additional illumination. Perhaps even more importantly, his balcony looked directly towards district A, where the High Power resided. Josh had meticulously set up a small space on the porch, hemmed in on all sides but one, where he could kneel on the ground and silently contemplate the glowing residence of their Savior, ruler of the City. This space had somehow become well known throughout the district, and it wasn't uncommon now to see similar spaces set up on balconies throughout the space.

    Josh had set it up about a month ago. He had needed something that looked good, something he could use to mitigate the dead feeling in his heart whenever he caught sight of that district. He had quietly worshiped the High Power, just like the rest. Now, he could barely even stomach the thought. This place saved him the need to pretend in front of others. That the trend had caught on only aided him, in more ways than simply having it affect his CeNtRL score.

    Passing through the arched opening that connected his bedroom to the rest of the flat, and heading towards the kitchen, Josh settled in the single chair at the small wooden table. If he had guests over the table would unfold further sections, and more chairs would be brought in from somewhere in the building. Most of the time, though, Josh preferred the space to pretending his was popular enough to need a large table. Once he was settled his eyes flicked up, engaging the ARCH, and the table in front of him was slowly replaced by a web of glowing letters, similar to the ones that had woken him this morning. Eyes flicking up again to engage voice command, he politely requested, "breakfast options?"

    The table in front of him quickly filled with holographic representations of the various breakfast options that would most closely meet with the dietary goals that his dietitian had outlined for him at their last meeting. He had been remarkably strict in his diet this week, finding himself taking little pleasure in the food he would have normally enjoyed. He was too distracted. Hoping to shake himself out of his reverie somewhat, he flicked through the options, before finally settling on pancakes with a rich, nutritional syrup that would quickly cut through the sugar content of the meal. The stove clicked on, and the door to the fridge opened. The meal would be ready within 10 minutes, and the ARCH would alert him when it was done. In the meantime, he stood, moving over to the door to the balcony, which slid open accomodatingly.

    And that was that. The morning ritual was complete. He could now do whatever he pleased. B was a place of uncomparable luxury, the rightful domain of the Gifted, who existed within this city to serve the High Power in ways that the non-gifted could never truly understand. It was probably a good thing that there was no obligation to directly articulate what it was that the Gifted residents of B offered to this city, because none of the residents would have been able to offer a satisfactory answer. They did not work, not even in the most perfunctory of senses, like the elite in their managerial or guidance jobs. They certainly never actually saw the High Power, except on festival days. They simply lived their lives in luxury, with no demands placed upon them, other than the expectation that they would one day marry and bring new life into this world. There certainly didn't seem to be much "serving" done.

    If any of the residents were required to identify one method in which they served, they would all point to the Blessed, the select among the Gifted who were called away to enter directly into the service of the High Power. It was a clockwork occurrence, once every two weeks except for special occasions, when more might be called, but it rare enough that the call was considered a remarkable boon. A sign of favor upon the Blessed and his or her associated. All proclaimed to love it. Most probably even meant it. None refused the call. None were ever seen again.

    Perhaps that was the reason why no one knew what the call actually meant. All they knew was that it meant getting close to the High Power, and serving him. Many people called it "becoming one" with him, because it sounded impressive. They didn't know it was more true than they could possibly expect.

    After all, Josh knew. He wasn't supposed to know, but he knew anyways.

    That knowledge was slowly ruining his life.

  1. KSSS!!

    The coffee maker hissed in what sounded only like anguish, gradually filling a thermos beneath its spout with the hot, caffeinated beverage that constituted one of the few legal drugs on the market: coffee. It was recommended in the diet a couple of times a week. Davis only slightly abused his guilty pleasure. While it was recommended one have no more than three or four servings per week, he found this number slightly unsatisfactory and indulged in just over twelve. On the weekdays, Mr. Davis had one in the morning and one in the middle of the day at work, but only one to start each Saturday and Sunday. Like clockwork, he could see his CeNtRL score waver here and there, but his diet was hardly the issue. Apart from the black, liquid gold filling his morning cup, he partook of only the most high-performance mix of healthy foods.

    No, the thing that jeopardized his "beloved" citizen score were his evening runs. Or at least, that's how the ARCH system read the activity. He was getting unconventional exercise on a near daily basis. What the system failed to notice, however, was that he was getting paid to do it and, best of all, if he were caught doing it... Well, the CeNtRL score would be the last of his worries, wouldn't they? He crossed one leg over his knee, still not dressed beyond a pair of gym shorts and tank top for the morning. Living and working in Sector L certainly wasn't the worst. It was the most mediocre, bland life somebody could ask for in The City. He was well-accommodated; perhaps not living in luxury, but certainly still comfortable. Anybody else would be perfectly content in this ring.

    Ryan sipped his mug rolled his eyes, looking at the day's headlines. 'Cancer Mutation Cured Before Development' it read. Same shit, different day. A disease mutates and a cure is found seemingly at the same time. If it wasn't that, they'd developed a more efficient way to grow their crops in the city gardens, or a way to save power in the automatons that kept the city clean, or on particularly boring days it would be the latest trend to hit the fashion world. Honestly, he wondered if any of it was even real at this point... How many times could they cure or build the same freakin' thing before they got tired of it? Even the brainiacs didn't live an interesting life.

    No, he was sure that he led one of the few real lives of the city. Ryan was a Courier - and not just any mailman. He was one of the best - definitely undisputed in Sector L, potentially the entire City. Of course, it wasn't legal. After all, sending and receiving messages without letting the government read them or check them first couldn't possibly be a fair request. He loved his part-time job; not to mention, he met some of the most interesting people in the City. Sadly, before he could go where he wanted, Ryan was permitted only to go where he dreaded: work. To a desk, all day, where he would do very little more than move a paper from one side of his desk to the other... Or, if he was lucky, he would press some keys and fill in something on a screen in front of him.

    Morning routine finished - quick pick-me-up workout and a cool shower to start the day off as best he could before he buttoned his shirt and straightened his tie, trying not to let the sheer dread show on his face. Time moved so slowly throughout the day, it was like he could feel the wrinkles of age creeping along his skin. It started at the corners of his eyes, his lips, his cheeks... He checked a mirror each time he passed one just to be sure he wasn't truly aging so quickly. Luckily, it was only imagination. Clocking out was the second most satisfying time of day. He clicked into his ARCH, scheduled an afternoon 'run' for some time away, and proceeded to his real job. The one he loved.

    Tatiana wasn't an unreasonable woman by any means. However, she ran a tight ship - you had to in her position. She held the metaphorical keys to Sector L's entire means of underground communication. It showed on her face, which aged about ten years beyond her real forty-one. What were once eyes of sapphire now seemed grey and dull, her fingers drummed restlessly upon any surface, and if you saw her sitting, god help you to not watch her knee bounce incessantly.

    "Now, Mach, you know this client is highly confidential. You gotta get this through the precise channels - run it up the guard the right way. You know who to give it to?"

    "Of course, ma'am," replied one of the more seasoned runners on the team.

    Nobody here used their real name - Mach wasn't bad, he always ran for the Underground - seemed they had a message for the police every so often. Didn't know which cop exactly, they were told to deliver to a different one each time, but apparently there was somebody in there getting them all at the center. It wasn't the Couriers' job to ask - just to deliver. Ryan smacked the side of his shoe and took his foot off the bench. Nice and tight; a strong knot, what every runner needed. He turned to his locker and shut his work clothes inside, brushing himself off. He stepped in front of a mirror - he wore a set of fabrics colored like the buildings and roads of the City, hard to spot unless you were watching for him or he was moving quickly. They fit fairly snug, as they had to. This had a tendency to work up a sweat, after all. A communicator also rested in his ear; the ARCH system would have been great to use, but it was hardly secure from prying officials. The line used for the small comms that the runners carried, in case they fell into trouble, was an older, forgotten type. It provided just enough cover that it wasn't easily tracked nor tapped. The only downside was that it was a bit more difficult to use.

    "Fleet, yer up. Got a big one for ya," Tatiana called, tapping a document on her desk. "You're gonna have to take it all the way to Sector B - think you can do it?" She asked, quirking a brow. "Dunno who's sending it, or what it says, but it's a nice, hefty payment to get the message out. Goes to a young Gifted kid... Never sent anybody into that District before. At least not from here, but they told me to get my best Courier on it, and that's you. If any one of my guys can get into B, I figure you're the one to put on it. Game?"

    Davis stood opposite her and the desk placing his hands on the edge as she gave him the job. He bit the inside of his cheek hesitantly, "In B? That's a god damned suicide mission, they'll have my number down, my ARCH tracked, and my CeNtRL score decimated before I even get through G. Look, I've run laterally around this circle a hundred times... Hell, I've moved in a ring before too, but you're talking a big, big leap here... Not to mention getting paid for a job like that at once? That's gonna throw up so many red flags in the financial system. Even if I made it back..."

    She grinned, like she knew he would have a solid argument. "That's why you're leaving your ARCH behind. We'll make sure it gets back to your apartment... We've got somebody to... fill in for you. Some hotshot IDless from the outer ring, claims he's some kind of Copy-Cat or something. Our client provided him specially for this. He'll be using your ARCH and doing your job while you're gone."

    The Courier crossed his arms, trying not to let the shock show, "Alright, suppose this guy's the real deal... I still can't just leave my ARCH behind - how the hell am I supposed to do anything? I'll get lost, not to mention you almost have to have one to get anywhere nowadays."

    Tatiana nodded, "Fair point. I've got an offer for ya... We'll swap. You take that one out and give it to us for your... 'relief,' and we'll get you one that operates like any ARCH, but with a new, shiny ID tagged to it and a fake ID."

    He furrowed his brow, "I'm listening..."

    "Alright, it's not too special, so you can only use it as a visual ID. It's not a keycard, but the system will recognize the name and the number it's registered to. We put your picture on it, but you're still gonna have to be careful. Only use it for the most basic of security, otherwise... well, if you can go around it, then go around it."

    He sighed... Well, shit. "Sector B it is... What's the name and where's the package?"

    The woman handed over a small tube which easily slid into a slot in a backpack specially designed for such canisters. The tube was mere hard plastic, but its contents were to be protected, no matter how insignificant they seemed, so they took the necessary measures. The woman lifted a picture of a young man who barely looked twenty, "His name's Carell - Gifted. His name's written on the back of the picture, in case you forget it. Shouldn't be too hard to find him - I hear he spends a lot of time at home or at a buddy's house.. Address is written on the back," She instructed.

    'Fleet' nodded, "I'll see you when I get back," He said, giving her a half-hearted salute as he turned to leave. His stomach didn't feel quite so nonchalant, however... If something went wrong with that shifty little back-alley ID they were going to have him walking with... well, he was done for. If he could get back into G, he might be able to call in a favour. He had a friend on that side, but crossing so deep was dangerous as it was, not to mention it would mean he would on the other end of the debt - if somebody could get him into B, he'd owe them big time.
    #2 BKenScout, Feb 15, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016

  2. Josh went out because it was expected. CeNtRL normally didn't care about what people did during their free time, as long as there was no overindulgence in one particular activity. Unfortunately, staying locked up in the house, even if Josh kept his activities varied and eventful, was one of the few things that was monitored. He didn't know what person had decided it was necessary for an individual's mental health for them to go outside and socialize, or at least get out of the same space for a little while, but every few days a message would pop up on his ARCH when he attempted to launch a game, or work on one of the myriad of little digital projects he had started.

    Aren't you getting tired of being inside?

    The answer was always the same. No. No he wasn't. Josh was tired of people, of everything they represented, and everything they forced him to do. They forced him to pretend that he was happy, pretend he was fulfilled, pretend that he was pleased, fucking pleased, that Carrel had become one of the Blessed. The smiles made him sick to the stomach, even as he felt himself lurch every time someone brought his name up, every time he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of some tall man with curly blonde hair.

    Of course, CeNtRL didn't really care what effect going outside had on him. It didn't care that having to smile when all he wanted to do was scream was sometimes so painful that he just wanted it all to end. No, all CeNtRL knew was some perfect algorithm, that had been refined over decades for the sake of the perfect, imaginary, average person. That didn't change the fact that Josh needed a high score. He was already watched carefully, due to the fact that his personality had swung so drastically after Carell was Chosen. If his score was anything less than flawless those curious looks would quickly transform into questions, and if he didn't answer those questions to everyone's satisfaction, and he didn't know if it was possible for him to offer some appeasement that would satisfy distrusting minds, then those questions would go from unoffical prompts from other citizens to official questions from a psychiatrist. And if he answered those questions wrong...

    No, he needed to maintain a high score. There was no other option. And that meant, whenever that message popped up, he had to take it very seriously, however innocuously worded it might be.

    That's why, shortly after he had taken an hour to sit in his small space on his porch and stare out over the gleaming buildings of B District towards the tall white towers of the home of the High Power, doing his best to think as little as possible, he grabbed a light grey jacket from his closet and headed out into the main district, his feet leading him nowhere in particular.

    He went to a different place, by a different route, every time he went out. It kept people from being able to predict where the would be going, or when, and therefore made it much more difficult for them to track him down, or try and drag him along to some evening of entertainment he had no desire to participate in. He walked slowly but purposefully, just the same as everyone around him.

    No one was ever hurried in B. Here there was time for leisure, and nothing was ever particularly urgent. the ARCH helped make sure that everyone left for everything they needed or wanted to do on time, and what was there to be in a rush about? The city was beautiful, every building carefully cleaned, the little glimpses of the insides of buildings containing rich furniture and delicate draperies. The path wound slowly through the city, moving from greenway to greenway, while the maglev rushed by overhead. Even the people were neatly dressed, hair trimmed or gelled, with not a lock out of place, clothes clean and soft, clinging artfully to a woman's hips, or emphasizing a man's broad shoulders. They'd linger together in small groups, exchanging meaningless pleasantries or small tidbits of gossip about this man or that girl, or, if they were really lucky, a new child who had been brought in from one of the other districts when his or her parents had realized they had been fortunate enough to give birth to a gifted, and that their child would be able to lead a far better life than they ever would.

    They'd smile or nod if Josh ever accidentally met their eyes, perfectly willing to greet him with an abstract sort of camaraderie that everyone in B seemed to feel for everyone else, simply because everyone within these walls had gifted blood running through their veins. Josh knew, if he wanted to, he could wander over to any of these groups, even if they contained people he had never once spoken to in his entire life, and they would offer him slightly bemused smiles before gladly folding him into their conversation.

    Of course, Josh had no inclination to do any such thing. Instead, he would offer a smile in return, as politely vague as theirs, his step neither slowing nor faltering, before his eyes would move away and he would do his best not to look as though he was hurrying, but was simply purposeful, with a destination held firmly in mind.

    On this particular walk, Josh was unfortunate enough to find himself unexpectedly face to face with a familiar person, and someone he had no particular desire to encounter. Anna was a short, pretty, black-haired girl, with wide, doe-eyes and pouty lips. She had been one of a gaggle of girls who had always trailed, giggling, after Carell, batting her eyes to try and attract his attention. Anna was one of the only girls Carell had ever dated, although the relationship had quickly faded when it became clear there was simply no spark between them. She'd still never left him alone, though, and Josh had never particularly liked her.

    Anna's eyes went wide with surprise when she spotted him, before a smile crossed her lips. "Josh!" she cried, happily. "It's been so long since we've talked. Come, chat."

    Josh resisted the command, even as his mind desperately scrambled for words. A fake smile plastered its way across his face. "Anna. Good to see you. Sorry, I haven't exactly been around."

    "I hear you've been moping. Jealous Carell got chosen instead of you."

    "Nah," Josh replied, waving away the accusation, for that was indeed what it was, airily. "Nothing like that. Besides, I'm nowhere near special enough for such an honor." The words twisted in his gut, sitting like a ball of lead.

    Anna seemed satisfied with this answer. "So, Jo..."

    "I'm sorry, Anna," Josh cut in. "I'd love to chat, and I can probably spare a couple minutes, but I promised John I'd meet him soon, and I don't want to leave him waiting for me."

    "John?" Anna repeated, brow wrinkling. "Who's that?"

    Absolutely no one. But it was such a common name that Anna would never be able to guess that. "Just a friend."

    The girl smiled, lips curving prettily. "Good for you! I never saw you hang out with anyone other than Carell, so I'm glad you are finally reaching out a bit."

    Josh's gut twisted again. "Yeah. I still miss him, though."

    "Me too. But I won't keep you here. Have a good time!" Anna waved, before jogging off down the street to catch up with the group of girls she had left behind to speak to him. Josh slumped slightly in relief when she left, before veering off the path.

    In the end, he found himself right on the border with Sector G. He took corners randomly, not even recognizing that he was chasing a blonde head that appeared in his mind's eye whenever he reached an intersection. He came to a halt at the spot where B dropped away suddenly, transitioning abruptly into the middle class neighborhood. It had gotten late, and the sun was starting to fall away beyond the horizon. This was one of the few times of the day when the light would catch on the dome, and it was actually possible to see the outline of the bubble that surrounded the City. Once he had thought the sight remarkably beautiful. He and Carell would come out and watch the sun set at least once a week, sometimes more. They'd talk about inane nothings, relishing in the view that they alone could see, and admiring the majesty of this city the High Power had built for their protection.

    Now the sight of the walls just served to make him feel trapped.
    #3 Peregrine, Mar 5, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2016

  3. Ryan drummed on the table in the small room of his contact in Sector G as he looked over the map. He furrowed his brow, staring but still trying to find the right route. It took him a couple of days to get through the right stations and between patrols to get into G. More than he would have liked - it was like they found out about the last time he got through. Or somebody else started using his route; that had a way of happening in his business. You find your own way through things and it doesn't take long for that route to spread like wildfire. This was why he was the best, though; he could see the patrol patterns, the perfect opportunities to get through them, the perfect path to run to avoid being seen or get away the fastest.

    "Look, you just wanted the map, right, Fleet? We're square? I'm so dead if they find out that I stole that..." The squirrely man sputtered. He was a pretty lucky bloke - not the brightest or the strongest, but he landed a fairly good job in construction and was assigned to Sector G, which meant he got to live a better life than Davis without having to work as hard. Looked like a fairer trade, but the runner wouldn't complain. After all, he got to do things like this, things that other people wouldn't dream of. He'd get to see other areas of The City and, now, Sector B itself. The crown jewel of The High Power - his beloved little Gifted folks living in luxury. It was tempting enough that he almost didn't want to go back, but he'd never be able to fit in.

    The runner rolled his eyes... Was Ferris really shaking? Trying to get out of this debt so easily? "Look, Ferris. I'm not one to hold things over other people's heads, but I saved your boy after your stupid ass almost got him taken away. I exhausted one contact's credit to me, you owe me as much as you can possibly do. This is of critical importance and you seem to only care about yourself."

    "You're going through a wall, crossing a barrier, that nobody should ever cross! When I said anything you need, I meant like... food, or a one night stay in my house while you conducted your disgusting 'Courier Business' in my sector!"

    "Shut your trap," Ryan snapped, his lip curling in contempt. "God, you're such a wimp. You know you could've wound up in the Outer Ring just as easily as this one, don't get all high on your horse just because your coffee doesn't taste like sludge and your breakfast has more flavor than a plate made of paper," He said venomously. When he had work to do, the courier didn't like to waste time and especially hated other people wasting it. "Now shut up and show me how I can get into these tunnels, I'll worry about who's watching as long as you get me a secluded spot and access to it. Then, I'll be out of your hair forever. You'll never see me again. Even if I get caught, I'm no rat. So if you can keep quiet, so can I."

    Ferris nodded quickly, "Y-yeah, okay, fine... I-I think your best bet is h-here... It's a bit of an older tunnel, b-but it doesn't get checked often and it's in my own area, so other workers wouldn't need to go near it unless it was slated for inspection. And I never fail an inspection, so they won't even be spot-checking me there."

    Ryan nodded and clapped the man's shoulder, "See? Thanks, now just make sure I can get it up and you'll be free forever. I hope your boy grows up a bit smarter than me," He said with a grin.

    Ferris nodded, daring not to mutter his genuine agreement. "It'll be accessible by tonight, wait until the lights go out and you can get to the ground level, then through the tunnels."

    A soft ping sounded in Davis' ear and he rolled up the map, handing it back over. It had registered to the ARCH and he'd be able to access it in the tunnels. When he got to the access point, there wasn't a soul in sight and it was unlatched. Ferris had waited, telling his family he wanted to put in extra time tonight so he'd be free later in the week and as soon as Davis was under the lid, he locked the tunnels back down.

    The courier's shoe met cement ground and he heard the rushing water, but it was black as night in here. He reached for his chest and clicked a button. His flashlight came to life in an instant, illuminating the tunnel and he took to a brisk jog down the log corridors, keeping his eye on the map in the corner of his vision to display the map of the tunnels. Every now and then, he'd spot a bright red light for another door; sometimes he would pass these doors, and other times he'd use them and ascend or descend a level in the tunnels. He found the space between sectors, secured by a tightly latched door. He looked it over and pulled his bag off of his back, "Looks like a pretty simple lock... Should've seen if Ferris had a way through it, but I guess we're doing this the old fashioned way."

    He opened the backpack and pulled out a small tool with all kinds of attachments. He opened the nearby wall terminal, which had a constantly lit screen prompting for a password. He pulled his flashlight from his chest and shined it more closely on the terminal. Perfect, screws holding the box together, he could get in through the side.

    And hour later, he was staring at a pair of frayed cords and an opened airlock door. Thank god, the fucking thing was way more complicated inside than he'd expected. It was nothing like the one between L and G's sector doors. He reconnected the unpowered wires... It took thirty seconds to refasten the side of the terminal and another ten to get his bag and make it over the threshold. Four seconds after that, the doors shut behind him. He'd have to do it again to get back through, but on this side. He only had a single second to look down the brightly lit maintenance hallway that he entered - the tunnel was modern and beautiful. It was also one hundred percent automated to keep itself in tune. Unbeknownst to Davis, it was run by a couple of technopaths who were once just Gifted children on the surface, but now ruled a domain under The City.

    Thankfully, his hat was already on and mostly covering his face from the cameras, because in that instant, the sound of alarms ringing filled the entire tunnel and the entire underbelly of Sector B. Nobody above would hear it, but he certainly didn't expect to pick up so quickly. Nobody had ever done it, right? So why would they expect him?

    He didn't have time to think about it. As soon as the first ring sounded, he bolted down the hall and through a closing door, not pausing to swing right. He had no idea where he was going. But he needed the first ladder he could find.

    "Intruder, halt!" A loudspeaker filled his ears from down the hallway, ringing loudly. He didn't listen to it, "We'll be forced to kill you where you stand!" It warned. They were going to kill him anyway - dumbass thought htey could bargain with him? No, just don't answer it. A door shut in his face and he pivoted on his heel only inches from it before moving for another. He had to be unpredictable... Left, right, straight... No, left again, Left twice. Run a square...

    Finally, dear god, there it was... He saw a ladder that wasn't tucked behind a door, it led up to an old grate. It wasn't even an access lid, it was a really old-fashioned grate. Oh dear god, thank you, he mentally praised, leaping as he approached to get up it as quickly as possible. Two rungs at a time, he could hear the sound of whirring bots as they came down the hall. It didn't take long for him to realize that their security for detection was amazing, but for actually dealing with the person who didn't stop? Yeah, no, they were not prepared for that. As he pushed up the grate and laughed to himself on their lack of stopping power, he climbed out of the tunnel and repalaced the grating, brushing his hands off.

    "Stupid robots can't stop me!" He said triumphantly. Just in that moment, he heard at least ten guns around him click with loaded ammunition and point at him. He looked around under the brim of his cap, losing his cocky grin instantly.

    "FREEZE!" One of them shouted.

    Were they really trying to surround him right now? Clearly no plan to actually kill him, because they'd kill each other just as easily. They all wore some kind of chest armour, but otherwise not much. He was unarmed after all, right?

    "Okay, okay, god... I just wanted to see Sector B... Take me away," He said, offering his wrists, his eyes downcast. One of the guards furrowed her brow and sneered, thankful he wasn't as stupid as he'd seemed a moment ago. Just as she pulled handcuffs from her belt and put away her gun, he snatched her wrist, stepped around her and pulling her arm tightly up to between her shoulder blades. He pulled the gun out of her holster.

    "WHAT'RE YOU WAITING FOR?!" She shouted as her men froze and she felt the cold metal of her own pistol against her temple. "SHOOT HIM!"

    None of them really knew what to do... They weren't initially ordered to shoot, and now he had a gun to their superior too.

    "Nobody move," He said, intentionally raising the pitch of his voice to disguise it haphazardly. They, at most, could see his chin. Otherwise, his entire body was covered and his features hidden. "I'll kill her," He said as he began to back out of the group. "I'm here for business, not pleasure, so stay out of my way..." This was some shit, he realized as his stomach flipped over. Ryan had never taken a life... Never thought of it. He was sure that he couldn't do it now either. He'd had some bad situations, but this took the cake. His hand was shaking as he continued to back away. There were still nine weapons pointed at him as an unsure task force decided what to do.

    "I can feel the barrel shaking," the officer-hostage muttered, "You're not going to do shit with that gun you just took. Why don't you just let me go before you hurt yourself?"

    He grit his teeth, "Shut up... Just shut up, nobody but you and your men know I'm here, and god forbade you made it public. You don't know what I look like, and I could accidentally pull this trigger at any minute, so just... Shut your fucking mouth," He ordered, pressing the gun more tightly to her head. Finally, once he was far enough away from the group, who was just waiting for him to release their leader to open fire, he stepped back and kicked the woman in the back, sending her forward and to the ground. As gunfire filled the ground level of the tallest sector in The City, he dove for a side alley, gun still in hand. He hit the ground on his side, but rolled over himself and climbed to his feet. His legs already burned and his throat was dry... But he had to keep going. A few shaky steps made it difficult before adrenaline and muscle memory took over for his getaway. He just started... running.

    Just like the tunnels, he had to turn as often as possible, but he knew they'd have backup as soon as they could. He put as much distance between himself and his hunters as he could before he hit a wall. He looked around... How the hell did anybody get up from here? He started a jog parallel to the building as he looked for some kind of elevator or entrance... But at these hours, he couldn't get anywhere. He knew supposedly where he should start looking for this guy, but it was far too early to even go there. He'd need at least a day or two to lay low before he could start asking around and show his face.

    Finally, he found a stairwell along the side of what must have been a residential building. He had to climb atop a dumpster and really work for a jump to grab the hanging ladder. His arms screamed in protest as he pulled himself over the edge of the ladder and sat on the fire escape, his back to the wall, panting heavily. Sirens didn't fill the streets - nobody wanted to make the citizens aware of the situation. Firstly because a group of Gifted who felt threatened only meant chaos. Secondly, because if they made it known that somebody got into the district, it would be hell on Earth for the police. He shook his head before climbing to his feet - he had to get up higher before he could rest. He'd have to register his fake ID at a hostel. The sectors were large, and B was incredibly so - hostels and hotels weren't uncommon. Some people had to travel between and these were great alternatives to just sleeping at a workplace bunk. They were also good for those times that people wanted to get out of the house or have alone time with a significant other (or take a few points off of their CeNtRL score for a bit of fun). It took a couple of hours, but he finally found one. He pulled a long, folded coat from his backpack and put it over his shoulders to cover his clothing and carried his pack in his left hand. Approaching the desk, he retrieved the ID and smiled at the concierge. Time for the performance of a lifetime...

    He laid in the bed of the hotel in just underwear and shorts - he didn't pack much in the way of clothes, but he'd need to get something else tomorrow. That coat was only slightly less conspicuous that his running gear. It would be a temporary outfit, but it would work well enough until he could get the hell out. No doubt, getting out was going to be Hell. But first thing was first... He grinned - on the client's dime? This room was so worth it. One of the nicest beds he'd ever stayed in. The only Ungifted in this District at any time were employees, who never left their post or asked the Gifted any questions, or incredibly highly ranking officials who needed to conduct trade or supply restocking for the Higher Power's precious children. Tomorrow, he'd take on his new temporary identity until he found this Carell kid and then he'd get the hell out ASAP.

  4. “Joshy!”

    He’d always hated that name. His first instinct was to simply continue lounging in the lawn chair, enjoying the feel of sunlight on his face, and hope that if he didn’t respond Melinda might miss him, and would go away. Of course, she wouldn’t have called out if she had yet to see him, and Josh was fairly sure that Melinda had never left someone she wanted to talk to alone for longer than five seconds. So, instead of just lying there, Josh lifted himself up from his lounging position, pulling himself up just high enough that he could peer over the top of the chair’s back.

    Melinda had entered into the courtyard through one of the narrow passages between the surrounding buildings. As soon as she spotted him looking she waved wildly, the motion sending her blonde hair flapping all around her head. She had, once again, spent several hours this morning pinning her hair into another absurd style. This time it looked like she had put a feather duster on top of her head, as she’d bound all her hair up to the top of her head, before allowing it to cascade outwards in a wild frizz. Josh stifled a groan.

    “Mel,” he said, as the bright eyed young woman came to stand at the foot of his chair. “Your hair...”

    “Isn’t it glorious?” Melinda asked, pointedly pushing Josh’s legs off the side of the chair so she could sit on the edge. “Tanya Day gave a tutorial for it yesterday evening, and I just had to try it out. Of course, her’s came out much better, but I think I still did it some justice.”

    Another figure rounded around the back of the chair, coming to sit down next to Mel. Josh pulled his legs up. It was starting to get very crowded on this chair. “I don’t think glorious is the word he was going to use,” Remy, Mel’s boyfriend of the week, said, poking at a strand of hair that seemed statically attracted to his face.

    Mel waved away his comment with an airy hand. “So, Josh,” she began. Josh had to stifle another groan. Melinda was the self appointed gossip of B district, and made it her personal mission to know what was going on in everyone’s lives all the time. That meant, if you didn’t post anything online for a day or two about every little thing you were doing, she would track you down, and wouldn’t leave you alone until you gave her something interesting.

    Josh rarely had anything interesting to offer Melinda anymore. Once he had always been able to feed her little tidbits about Carell, little pieces of information his best friend had given him specifically for the purpose of keeping Melinda and her ilk satisfied. Of course, that wasn’t an option anymore. Now, he just did his best to stay quiet and live simply, avoiding standing out or doing anything that might draw attention to himself. Of course, that meant he had become Melinda’s new pet project. He wished he could simply tell her to leave him alone, but that would simply make matters worse.

    However, this time what followed her statement was not what he expected. Not in the least.

    “Did you hear?” she asked, an impish gleam in her eye.

    Josh, expecting some intrusive question into his personal life, blinked in confusion. “Hear what?” he finally asked.

    Mel grinned. “Someone’s been wandering all over B, asking about Carell.”

    Josh felt his stomach do a flip-flop. It had been seven months since Carell had been called to enter into service of the High Power. Josh still had nightmares about it every night, but he had thought that was it. It was something that simply remained in his dreams. He had never dared to think it might follow him into the waking world. “Asking...” Josh gaped “Asking what about him?”

    “Asking where he is!” Melinda seemed completely thrilled with this piece of news, and the reaction it had earned from Josh. “Trying to find him. Some black man dressed in last year’s fashion. Got a picture of him and everything!”

    Josh leaned back into the chair, trying to look casual, even as his thoughts were spinning. Who would be asking after Carell? Why? Everyone in the entire district had heard when he had gotten called away. There had been a massive party the night before he was to depart, and, even if not everyone had gone, everyone had known it was happening. That night, after the party Carell had come to him and...

    Josh cut off the memories, and focused his eyes back on Mel. He laughed, hoping it didn’t sound forced. “Someone’s behind the times,” was all he said.

    “I know! Who could it be, do you think? I can’t imagine any of the officials in C would care, but they are the only ones who are allowed in here. Surely...” Mel’s voice lowered, dropping into a practiced stage whisper. She had probably delivered this exact line ten times before today, to various people, and at least twenty times to herself in the mirror. “Surely it isn’t someone from one of the [i[lower[/i] districts?”

    Josh shrugged. “If it is, one of the officers will find him soon enough, and he’ll get sent back where he belongs. It’s not our problem.”

    “What?!” Mel gaped at him, and the expression was mirrored by her boy-toy. Obviously this casual reaction was not what they had been expecting. Internally, Josh winced. His goal with that statement had been to bore them, and get Mel to move on so that he could think about this without her eyes locked onto his face, looking for any trace of a reaction. Now, though, he was suddenly afraid that she was going to stay even longer because of that, trying to convince him of how dangerous the situation was. Of course, it was too late to change it now. He simply had to go with it.

    “What?” he continued with a slight shrug. “It isn’t like he’ll pose any danger. The chances of us even seeing him are miniscule at best. As soon as word reaches the officers, and I’m sure it already has, he’ll be out of here. No need to blow it out of proportion.” Go away, go away, Josh intoned inside his head, praying he might be able to somehow psychically manipulate the girl. He had to... He had to figure out what he was going to do. Who would be asking about Carell. Why? The questions ran in a loop in his head. Who? Why? If he wanted to find out, he was going to have to find this mystery man before the officers did.

    “Who told you this, anyways?” Josh continued. “Are you sure it isn’t just some wild rumor? I mean, how could someone even get into the district?”

    “Oh, I’m sure!” Mel glared. “Jacob was approached himself. He told Kayla, who told me.”

    “Jacob?” Now Josh was finally able to let out the snort he’d been repressing for so long. “Jacob is your source? After you dumped him three weeks ago? What makes you so sure he isn’t just making this up to get your attention?”

    “He wouldn’t!” Mel protested, but she didn’t sound particularly convinced. “Besides,” she continued, gaining a bit more resolve. “Tammy said she saw him, too.”

    “After you’d already brought this mysterious figure up? You know how much she loves a good story.” As Mel began to mull that over, Josh shrugged. “I know, that’s not what you want to hear. Go on, find someone else who’ll be a lot more appreciative of the mystery.” He offered a polite smile, even as he quietly prayed that she would take him up on the offer.

    Some of his desire to have her leave must have crept into his voice or face, because Mel suddenly cast him a suspicious look. He stared at her innocently for a moment, before Mel finally shrugged. “I get it,” she said airily. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.” Josh winced inside again. He’d end up paying for this later, somehow. Mel might know when she wasn’t wanted, but she certainly never acted upon that knowledge.

    It didn’t matter. Right now, it was more important that he was simply left alone. The questions echoed through his head again. Who? Why? His thoughts turned back to Carell as Mel got up and pranced away, his heart heavy. Carell haunted his nights. Now it seemed he wanted access to Josh’s days as well.

    He stood a minute or two after Mel left, once he was certain that he was alone again. He started walking without purpose, wondering how he was going to find this man. it wasn’t until he entered the shadow of the buildings that a different thought occurred to him, and a shiver of fear ran up his spine. Who was it that could be asking about Carell, and for what purpose. Surely... surely no one knew.

    Could they?

  5. People in Sector B were so... strange. After a few hours of asking around, Davis was about at the end of his rope with these snobby kids. He met a girl with hair that was absolutely ridiculous - it was so faddish that it made him sick. Had he been anything like them when he was growing up? Even in his home Sector, it was hardly ever so... wild. They seemed to dress okay, apart from a few of the kids walking in large groups, likely the "popular" crowd. Some of them wore outrageous colors and attire that was loud enough to cause a headache. And the way they talked... Oh god, they shouted from only inches away, some of them; these were the High Power's "elite children?" How disturbing.

    Davis found himself in a simple jacket with a different ball cap and a pair of dark jeans. He didn't seem out of place style-wise, but that was because he was a bit older and adults didn't seem to dress or do their hair quite so childishly. He looked at the wild-haired girl... he'd already forgotten her name. She was eyeballing him like he was the strange one.

    "This isn't funny," She said, rolling her eyes, "Go find a better hobby you bum." Her friends laughed raucously with laughter at the confused courier as they walked away. He looked at the picture... This kid seemed normal enough, but he'd gotten a lot more responses about a jest in poor-taste than he had any information on where to find this Carell kid. He was trying his best not to ask his questions more than two or three times in one area before silently slipping away and finding another. Making a larger impression than he already had was dangerous and the longer he was here, the more likely they were to catch an out-of-place non-Gifted who broke into the sector for likely the first time in recorded history. Maybe that was why they hadn't caught him yet. Their experience as police officers was obviously quite... poor. Probably amazing cadets at the academy, but extremely sheltered from crime and manhunting here. Or, they were waiting for the right moment and he was screwed from the start. Whatever it was, if this mission didn't kill him, he was done being a courier. He loved this job... past tense. This was officially, he decided, his last run.

    Minutes turned into hours... blocks turned to miles... He'd probably asked far too many people about this Carell figure now to have not started a rumour, but at least none of them were tracking him and he hadn't run into the same person more than once. He stepped between a pair of buildings... It was so strange walking around on the ground floor of a Sector... But Sector B didn't have a very large population relative to the other congested districts... It was a little refreshing, but also more dangerous. Of course it had many levels, but still didn't compare to the industrious nature of the Third Ring, in which his Sector was located. Ryan pressed his back to a building and slid to the ground on his ass, pinching the bridge of his nose and letting out a sigh.

    "What the fuck is wrong with this place...?" He breathed near-silently, looking down the uncrowded, narrow street. There were only a couple of people, but spotted a young guy, probably still in school, looking around. He had fairly thick dark brown hair... it had some style to it, but certainly more conservative than a majority of the kids in this place. Davis sighed, give it another go... He thought, brushing himself off and pulling out the picture as he approached.

    "Hey, uh... kid," He said, trying to sound casual without knowing his name. "This is gonna sound real stupid, but I haven't been into this area of the Sector in a real long time... I'm looking for a friend's kid, asked me to give him something, do you know this guy?" He asked, showing the picture, "His name's Carell. I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something, it's just, kind of important... I've been looking all day."
    #6 BKenScout, May 23, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016

  6. Josh had intended to move as soon as Mel left the courtyard. He hadn't known where he was going to go, or what he was even going to do, but every nerve in his body had told him he had to do something. But when the sound of her chatter had finally faded from the nearby passages, Josh had instead found himself frozen, trapped between a desperate need to do something, anything, and a heart-stopping fear of what would happen if he actually dared to move. If he dared to do anything more than lie here and quietly, secretly, mourn.

    Despite what he had told Mel, Josh did believe that her rumor was true. It was just impossible enough to be true. Somewhere, somehow, there was someone in B District who was asking after Carell. The very thought of it made his heart flutter, but he wasn't sure whether it was in excitement or fear. It had to be fear. There was no reason for him to be excited at Carell's name. Carell was gone. He wasn't coming back. But maybe...

    Josh vigorously shook his head. No. There was no way he was wrong. There was no good reason that someone would be asking about Carell. There was nothing Josh would gain from chasing down this rumor. But still the very thought of it seemed to constrict his chest, as though his heart was trying to push its way right out of his chest.

    Josh didn't make a decision. The fear didn't fade. He was no more certain when he finally stood from that lawn chair and began to walk than he was when Mel had turned away from him in a prissy huff and pranced away, Remy trailing along behind her. He wasn't even consciously aware of having made the decision to move. But, perhaps, somewhere inside of him, the decision had already been made. Or, perhaps more accurately, there had never been a decision to make. As soon as Carell's name had been mentioned, there had only ever been a single course of action.

    Josh also had no plans for how he was going to find the mysterious questioner. Even if he wandered without rest for days, there was a good chance he would never coincidentally run into exactly the person he was looking for. It was simply too large, contained too many people. But instinct guided him all the same.

    Having been raised in B, Josh didn't know much about covert activity. But the instinct of acting covertly had, perhaps, grown in him over the past seven months. He found himself unconsciously wandering the lower sections, the places where true sunlight began to fade due to the depth of the city, and the sunstrips created bright pockets of light that faded into pools of deep shadow in the narrow spaces between buildings. He moved behind and around the commercial buildings, where more packs of teenage and young adult gifted would haul bags out of clothing stores and the electronics department, using their credit allowance to buy the latest trends in fashion and entertainment. No one noticed Josh. Maybe he had gotten better at sneaking, or maybe his grey clothes caused him to blend right into the walls of the buildings, but people's eyes seemed to just skate right over him. Only a young girl, clinging tightly to her mother's hand as they walked towards one of the maglev buildings, seemed to notice him. She stared at him, wide eyed, for a moment, before taking her other hand out from behind her back to wave hesitantly in his direction. Her mother pulled her into the building before Josh had a chance to respond. He sighed instead before moving on, wondering what exactly he thought he was doing.

    Whatever he was doing, it ended up working. Of course, Josh didn't realize that it had worked until a man appeared right behind him. Having grown used to trying to avoid the gazes of the nearby people, he flinched violently when the voice suddenly spoke up behind him, before whirling around, trying and failing to keep a guilty expression from crossing his face. Of course, any thought of concern about being asked what exactly he was doing moving from shadowy alley to shadowy alley vanished as the man continued speaking.

    Carrel's name hit him like a blow to the chest, and Josh couldn't help but take a half-step back. Even though he had been expecting it, even though it was, in the end, exactly what Mel's rumors had said, Josh still hadn't fully believed it. A part of him had thought it was some joke. A joke in poor taste, but nothing more. It was the kind of thing Mel would have done, to get him to do something foolish and get a real rumor to throw about on the mill.

    Quickly regathering his lost composure, Josh turned to look more fully at the man who was asking after Carell. It wasn't surprising that Mel, or the various other people who had been brought into the rumor, hadn't been able to describe the man outside of his skin color. Most of his face was shadowed by the brim of a large cap, which plunged his face into indistinct blurriness when combined with the natural darkness of his skin. He was just casual enough to be nondescript, and, other than the color of his skin, was eminently forgettable. This had to be the person Mel had described.

    “Looking all day?” Josh repeated, nearly blushing at the unwelcome squeak that marred his words. He swallowed, trying to force his tongue to move. “No, you aren't interrupting anything, I...” he nearly gagged on his own words as his heart began to climb up his throat. He was what? He was looking for him? There was no way Josh could say that. Not only would it sound ridiculously suspicious, but it would raise lots of questions Josh didn't want asked. Questions about why this was so important to him that he'd go seek out some shady man he knew nothing about.

    “Where are you...” Josh bit off his words again, this time a little more intentionally. If this man really was from outside district B or C, as Josh had suggested so casually to Mel only an hour or so ago, what would he do if Josh asked that question. “Who sent you to find him?” There. That was a safer question.

    If Josh had thought he was nervous before that point, he was soon about to learn how drastically wrong he was. Only a few moments after Josh asked his question, and long before the man in front of him would have had a chance to respond with more than a word or three, there was a sudden sound at the head of the alley, and a group of officers rounded the corner, peering down at them. Every single one of them hand their hands resting alarmingly close to the tasers at their waists, and when they caught sight of the two men in the shadows they suddenly huddled together, before dispersing, one waiting at the mouth of the alley, the others circling around to either side.

    For several moments, Josh forgot how to breathe. He had been wrong. It had been so wrong for him to come here. What had he been thinking, chasing after rumors of Carell. He should have known better. He should have known it would just be a trap. Yet, like the obsessed idiot he was, he'd walked right into it, and now he was going to pay with everything he had for his mistake. It wasn't until he saw the panicked expression on the face of the man in front of him, so bold and obvious that even the brim of the hat couldn't properly conceal it, that Josh began to consider the possibility that he was jumping to conclusions.

    For a moment his thoughts spun wildly. Was this a trap? Wasn't it? How far did they expect him to think this through? Could the man in front of him be another trap? A plant, designed to earn his trust and figure out just how much he knew? But what would have made them even begin to suspect? He had been careful since the very first moment he had realized the truth. He was sure he had never given anything away. They couldn't know. This couldn't be a trick. Could it?

    The man seemed only moments away from bolting, trying to escape the police officer who had started walking down the alley in this direction, and Josh suddenly realized that if he didn't do something now, he would miss out forever. There was no more time to think, it was simply a matter of figuring out which mattered more: protecting himself, or understanding the truth about what had happened to Carell.

    Was that even a question?

    “If you don't want to get caught out of district, you are going to have to keep yourself calm, and trust in the beneficence of a complete stranger.” The words tumbled out of his mouth in a hissing line, and Josh was amazed that he was able to speak clearly when he thought his heart must have set up permanent residence in his throat. “If you can't do that, get away from me before I get caught up in your mess. If you can...” What? What exactly did he think he was going to do? He'd figure that out in a moment.

    Josh waved casually to the approaching guard, and with a sudden burst of relief realized he recognized the man. Melvin worked security at the school Josh and Carell had attended. Josh gulped, suddenly understanding the severity of the situation if they were drawing in everyone with even the smallest form of law enforcement for this manhunt. If he messed this up, everything would be ruined. Maybe everything was already ruined.


  7. Ryan quirked an eyebrow as the boy flinched. Was he really that quiet on approach? Taking a better look at the kid, Davis decided he couldn’t have even finished high school yet. He had bright eyes and unsurprisingly perfect features. Was there a single flawed person in this Sector or did they all just look perfect all the time? He looked like he’d just been caught doing something horribly wrong. Luckily for the guy, Davis was so unconcerned with it that he was in no danger of being arrested for whatever it was today. Two guilty consciences meet on the low levels of the Gifted Sector – either one of them could be in serious trouble if they didn’t play their cards right.

    The boy sputtered through a flurry of half-questions and confused statements, but Ryan just gave him the minute he needed to collect his thoughts, pocketing the picture and crossing his arms. This was the first one who didn’t think he was making some kind of a joke. “Look, kid, I don’t have all day, you gonna tell me something useful?” He asked, trying to keep his short patience in check. The hair on the back of Ryan’s neck started to prickle. This guy was way too nervous, but he didn’t seem so confused as he did shocked at this point.

    The courier was beginning to doubt the nature of this job. His mind had been pushing the thought of his return to Sector L away since he had arrived, but now he was seriously wondering what the hell he’d been thrown into. The sound of boots on the ground was distinct – even before the appearance of several officers who did not hesitate to begin an encirclement. Davis sneered and tightened his gloved fists, testing their comfort. What the hell was he thinking? He couldn’t get into a fight with these guys – there’s no way he’d ever make it home. He started to back away – whoever this kid was, he couldn’t possibly be worth it. He’d start looking again in another place and come back here if nothing turned up.

    Just as he was getting ready to take off down the alley and try to escape, the courier heard the voice of the young Gifted and furrowed his brow. What had happened in the last forty-five seconds that suddenly this kid had grown a pair of testicles and learned to speak?

    He nodded, speaking under his breath, “Show me what you’ve got…” He said, curious as to what this kid could possibly do to help him out – or if he should even trust him. “You don’t have to worry about getting away – that’s kinda my thing,” he pointed out, deciding he’d give this guy all of about two minutes to save his ass, maximum, before taking off. Ryan relaxed his posture and cleared his throat into his sleeve, but maintained the alert, ready-to-run mindset.

    He blinked – was this kid just… approaching a guard? Oh great, what a magnificent freaking plan. ‘Uh… excuse me, Mr. Guard-sir… this strange man in a hat just asked me if I knew a guy who hasn’t been made contact in months and he’s really weird…’ Davis sighed – did he always make people into such cartoon characters when he imagined how they behaved? Or was it just simply because the Sector-B resident looked far too boyish to be called a ‘man’ yet?

    Davis cocked his head slightly to peek behind him, checking for an approaching guard. There was one, but he stopped when he saw the kid talking to one of his buddies. That was going to be his way out… If he could get his hands on the taser, he could at least buy himself a minute or two to get a headstart on his runaway. He kept his focus on the space behind him, but waited for the young guy’s move – whatever he was doing, it might at least buy them some time. Plus, a distraction was always helpful.

  8. "Hi, Melvin." He sounded almost cheerful, which was surprising. Josh didn't know what he had been expecting, of course, but it hadn't been happy. Serious would have made sense. Maybe he would have been unable to speak due to the crushing weight of panic that seemed to be smothering his chest. But, no, he sounded cheerful. Maybe he was better at this whole deception thing than he thought.

    "Josh." Melvin seemed surprised to recognize him. It made sense. This wasn't the kind of place that Josh would hang out. Even after Carell was chosen, Josh had always loved the open sky. It was common knowledge that the two of them would find the highest point in B District, and just sit there and watch the sky. Normally he would have done everything in his power to avoid dark alleys in the underlevels. "What are you doing out here?."

    There was no good answer to that question. Josh felt his mind running in circles like a little gerbil in a wheel, desperately trying to run to a satisfactory answer while being unable to make any progress at all. That was suspicious, wasn't it? Why couldn't he come up with something? Hadn't he just been thinking a moment ago about how he was good at deception? So much for that theory.

    Luckily, he was saved a moment later when Melvin continued speaking without waiting for Josh's answer. Apparently it had been a rhetorical question. Or, at the very least, it wasn't what he really wanted to know. "Who's that, anyways?" Melvin gestured casually towards the man half hidden behind Josh, even while continuing to watch Josh out of the corner of his eye. "I don't think I've see him around before."

    "Him? Oh, that's John." The name rolled casually off his lips. It had become his fallback response. "I'm going to see John." "I've been hanging out with John." "John's waiting for me." He had used this fictitious John so many times to escape from other people, to somewhat nullify their suspicion or concern or pity or whatever it was they felt when they looked at him, that the lie had become familiar. Easy. Who would have ever guessed he'd end up using it in a situation like this? "He's new to the district. Arrived about a week ago, so it probably isn't that surprising you haven't seen him."

    "A week ago?" Melvin offered a smile to 'John'. Even Josh could tell it wasn't particularly sincere. "Must have been quite the change for you." His gaze quickly drifted back to Josh. Josh stared at him, desperately trying to smother his uncertainty. He'd always done his best to be a good kid, never make a mess of anything, or get himself in trouble. And Melvin had always liked Carell. Everyone had liked Carell. Was that enough for Melvin to believe him? Or was this situation just too suspicious? Had he made a mistake?

    It didn't seem like it. Some of the hardness had faded from Melvin's eyes, and his voice had lightened a notch. "What's his gift?" Melvin asked, sounding honestly curious.

    Josh's mind froze again. Gift. Gift? Of course, he had to have a gift to be here. It should have been easy to pick a random gift from the myriad of options Josh knew, and the countless others he had made up. But, in that moment, his mind went blank. He said the first thing he could think of. The only thing he could think of. "Air manipulation."

    If there had been any trace of suspicion on Melvin's face, it was now utterly buried under concern. Concern for Josh. After all, he'd said the exact thing he wasn't supposed to. The thing, if he had been thinking clearly, he would have known never to say. "Josh..." Melvin's voice was soft, as though he was speaking to a wounded animal, or perhaps a small child. "I know you miss Carell but you can't... It's not good to..."

    "No, it's not like that." Melvin didn't believe him. Of course he didn't believe him. Josh wouldn't have believed himself either. How could he have been so stupid, to give Carell's gift to 'John'? "I mean, it may have started like that, but it isn't now. John's a good guy. He's a bit quieter, not particularly interested in hanging out with people, but I think that's... What I'm trying to say is he's not.. Not..." Not a replacement. Why did he feel so guilty? Josh didn't even know this guy. But to the figment called 'John' he had created, the friend who he had accidentally made a substitute for Carell, even if he hadn't meant to, he felt guilty to that imaginary individual. Because, if that person was real, Josh would have been using him. What kind of person did that?

    One good thing did come of Josh's slip-up, even if he had yet to notice it. Concerned about Josh, Melvin seemed to have completely forgotten he was supposed to be on the look out for someone who had snuck into B District. In that moment, he was nothing but a school security guard, consoling a former student. "I get it," he said, voice still frustratingly gentle. Melvin's hand came up and rested on Josh's shoulder, warm and firm. "It's okay. I'm glad you've made another friend." He offered Josh a small smile, before turning to face 'John'. "Don't mind us. You've made yourself a very good friend here. A very loyal friend." He patted Josh's shoulder again, before lifting his hand, signaling to the two other officers who were coming down the alley from the other direction. They stopped, glanced at each other, but turned away a moment later. "Take care of him."

    With those parting words Melvin turned away, walking to rejoin the other two officers. They started speaking as soon as they were out of earshot, and Josh watched them, still trying to look nothing more than innocent, wondering if they would be willing to take Melvin's word for it that neither of them were the person that the officers were looking for. It seemed they did, for a moment later they rounded the corner. Then they were gone, and silence flooded the alley once more

    In that instant, Josh's knees gave out. He slumped backwards, landing heavily on the ground, before burying his head in his hands. He couldn't even think. Between the fear of discovery, the stress of the lies, and the memories of Carell that were filling his brain, he could barely even function, let alone remain on his feet. When he finally spoke, his voice was muffled. "You'd better get out of here," he finally said, obviously speaking to 'John' even if he wasn't looking at him. "Carell's long gone, and he's not coming back. So I'm afraid you are just going to have to return whatever you are supposed to give him to the person who gave it to you."
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  9. Ryan's heart picked up its pace and his palms began to sweat. He couldn't take it if they tried to take him away right now - he'd sooner through this kid straight into one of those pigs than try to explain to the court what a non-Gifted person was doing in this district. The courier raised his hand in a very subtle waving gesture as he was introduced with a moniker only slightly more common than his real one. But as the cop drew closer and began to ease up on his tension, Davis found himself in absolute shock at this kid's ability to control a situation. In any other Sector, Davis would have been running or dead meat by now - the cops elsewhere were borderline robotic - unsympathetic monsters who would sooner shoot or cuff than give a warning. But here they were - the most well-guarded Sector in the entire City and these guys were just taking this kid's word for it. That was the definition of impressive.

    The courier nodded at 'Melvin's' parting words, giving his voice a fake-crack to hide it, "Oh, yes sir... Thank you, sir," He said, clearing his throat to keep the lie alive. Silence and tension filled the air as they turned a corner and he looked back at Josh, eyes wide, "Holy fuck, kid... That was good, I'll give you that. You should get yourself a nifty little underground job with a poker face like that; they're more fun than those dopey ones everybody else gets anyway. I know it's better than mine," He stated with a shrug, taking a knee as Josh muttered something about his futile search.

    "Long gone..? I'm all for maintaining anonymity, but I'm going to be honest... I'm fairly certain the only people who would be so worried as to reach out like this - and spend so much money to do so - could only be his family. I'm supposed to just go back to tell them he's not here?" He asked with a bit of agitation, "What? Did he die? Did he try or successfully find a way out of The City? Did he just get some really cool job and wipe himself off The Grid?" The runner leaned forward, resting an arm on his knee, "Firstly, I worked too hard to get here for that to be the answer... Secondly, I have to find another route back or wait a good long time before I'm able to return because the way I came is... a little bit extremely compromised... and lastly, like I said, these people paid a lot of money - I'm not going to waste a trip. Besides all of that, who can say they've been to Sector B without a Gift? Who can say they actually saw this place without being one of you? Only me, as far as I know, so no... I'm not going anywhere until I get something more solid - or some kind of proof - or until I find another way out. With that, I would really appreciate your help."

    Ryan felt his stomach sink. Honestly, he didn't want to ask this kid for help at all. If he hadn't made such a rookie mistake below the sector, he'd have a nice, easy way out of here. God forbade it was that easy, though. Maybe he could find a maintenance route around one of the gates? If he had a single person on the police force over here, they could get him through a checkpoint with a bit of planning... But no, he was all alone here. Not a contact to be found or a face that was even recognizable save for the one person standing in front him.

    Relying on the kindness of a stranger was more than a gamble. At least with gambling, your odds were based on real luck. Here, it was based on trust and faith in both directions. A single, hasty move could get either of them in massive trouble - or most likely dead. He desperately wanted to feel like he could put all of his money on this one move, but... This Sector, being this close to "A," felt... unsettling. Maybe the residents here didn't feel it because they lived in it, but to a nobody from Sector L, this was borderline creepy and unnatural.

    #10 BKenScout, Jul 21, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2016
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