Abbey stared at her math teacher, not bothering to copy the equations on the board into her book. The students around her smiled vacantly, obediently absorbing the useless information they were being taught. Abbey couldn't help but feel creeped out by the autopilot behavior of her class-mates. After eight years it still set her teeth on edge.
The bell rang for lunch and she bolted for the door, making a bee line for the only tree in the school. All other students sat at the tables provided in the concrete courtyard, but Abbey constantly felt the need to be as close to nature as she could. The tree was significant of freedom, BL/ind couldn't control the way it grew, or the chaotic patterns in it's bark. It was beautiful because it wasn't perfect.
The heat of the Californian sun beat down on the white city, making the atmosphere glare down on the teenage girl. Abbey hated the way that the walls of the school all blended together, all colour and texture stripped away until everything was uniform. Kinda like the faces of everyone in the city; smiling, dumb, dull. Even the food that she chewed on and forcefully swallowed was missing something, a flavour that only occurred in food made with love.
Abbey contemplated Anton. She couldn't help the grin that tweaked her mouth and the red that flushed her cheeks. The night before last was magical in every way. She loved the way Anton made her feel; sane and secure. He didn't judge her like everyone else in her life did. He didn't cringe when she voiced her opinions, or condemn her music. He laughed when she made a joke and told her that her smile was radiant, not small, fake and twisted like the others.
Abbey wondered what it was like living in his city. He said that the people there didn't have to take the pills, which confused her. Why did they have freedom of thought and emotion while everyone in Battery City had to conform? And he was an art student, studying at university. In her world the only tertiary education you could take were business or engineering degrees. There was no such thing as creative careers. The people who left school early became shop owners and those who graduated worked mostly for the government. Or they became a drac... 'I wonder what dracs do? Anton never told me.' Abbey pondered.
The last two lessons in the afternoon dragged by. When the final bell rang Abbey happily packed her bag and headed home. The short trip on the subway that used to be a catalyst for depression only wore away at her nerves slightly now. Every time she would pass an extermination poster, or watch the BCPD reprimand someone for not smiling she found the strength to ignore the hatred flaring in her. The voice that used to taunt her was only a very vague buzz in her head, easy to subdue.
It was simple to turn a blind eye to the bad in the world now that she had someone to take her mind off it. The happiness that came with seeing Anton lingered in her system like some kind of drug. However Abbey knew that in a few days her mood would begin to swing and her temper would break. All she could do then is hope that Anton would come back soon, bringing with him colour and life.
Abbey hopped up the steps to the front door, went inside and made her way up to her room. Her parents wouldn't be home for an age, and she was glad. Her mother had be pestering her about her moods, constantly trying to figure out what was making her daughter lucid all of a sudden.
Abbey sunk onto her bed and looked around her room. After the night she met Anton her parents had been completely ok with her styling her own room. Although they didn't know the full details of their daughters breakdown, when she came back home; wrists shredded and in bad need of a doctor, they both decided that Deborah had gone too far in taking over Abbey's room. The nurse that stitched her up in the local hospital had tried to figure out why Abbey had resorted to self harm when her medication should have prevented it. Although the lady had enquired after the teenagers health often, her parents insisted she was taking the pills. Which she was. It's not like they were lying.
And so her room was back to the dark, poster plastered place that it had been before. Her mother had even given her back the photos of all her friends, which she hadn't thrown out yet. These Abbey indignantly hid in a folder beneath her mattress, incase Deborah changed her mind and tried to get rid of them while she was at school.
She spent the afternoon dancing around her room, stereo turned up to an earsplitting volume. She missed the days that she did dance class and acting lessons. Abbey had played tinker bell in quite a large production when she was young, and although she resented being given the part of a rather ditzy fairy, she had been commended on her acting. In fact there were quite a few musicals that she had been a part of, and many people had told her that it could be a career path for her. A dream that was sadly taken away.
Anton swerved around a corner into a deserted street and dimmed his lights. The BCPD was hot on his trail, chasing him across the city since he arrived late that afternoon. They had pulled him over for a quick car inspection near the CBD, now enforced because of the threat of zonerunner spies in the streets. It was his own rotten luck that one of them had a pile of extermination posters in the front of their car, his face cheekily grinning away on every one of them. The police force may be stupid, but even they noticed the striking similarities between the teenage in the red convertible and the wanted rebel. It was probably his hair that gave him away.
Renegade backed into an old warehouse and tried to slow his heavy breathing. His heart was hammering hard and he couldn't help the giggle that bubbled in his throat. This game of cat and mouse had been fun. He hadn't been chased like this for months. He wasn't concerned about being caught. A drac was a bit of a hazard to a rebel, but the BCPD were only slight nuisance. They were so doped up on BLi pills that they couldn't bring themselves to drive faster than the speed limit. He could loose them easily, especially in the maze of what used to be L.A.
He watched as they drive by his hiding place, a smug expression spreading across his face.
"Idiots." Hugh chuckled and slipped his car back out into the streets, heading in the opposite direction. He checked the time before accelerating towards the quiet, up-market neighborhood where Abbey's house resided.
"Okay boys, time's up." Korse shooed the dracs out of his prisoners room.
Roulette lay on the floor, bloodied and unresponsive. The slight rise and fall of her shoulders was the only indication that she was still alive. Her glassy eyes stared at the Scarecrows feet without registering. After seven hours of "company" Rabid had barely a spark left in her. There were, however, still five fingers on each of her hands. Something that she would agonize over later; giving away precious rebel information was treason to her cause.
Korse nudged her limp body with his toe, reminding himself to reprimand his dracs next time he saw them. They were allowed to have their fun, but Roulette was no use to him dead. She could only be disposed of after she gave him the knowledge that he wanted. He was a patient man, but even so, his patience after eight years of chasing the Killjoys was wearing thin. And then there was this business of the spies....
"Korse!" A drac burst into the room.
The Scarecrow glared at the boy, annoyed at his impudent entrance. "Stuart this better be important. I don't have any patience for audacity."
The boy paled, mask clutched to his chest. "Urrr.. Um the rebel... I mean the BCPD... He got away..."
"Spit it out!" Korse growled.
The drac nodded and paused. gathering his thoughts before reporting the news. "The BCPD found and intruder in Battery City, a rebel by the name of Renegade. He was driving a red convertible near the city centre when he was recognized by a squad."
Korse felt a flash of excitement. He knew the kid to be a close follower of the crew leader Maverick. "Where is he?" He grabbed Stuarts shoulders and shook the terrified boy.
The drac shook his head slightly. "They lost him sir."
"THEY WHAT!?" Korse shouted, a vein popping up on his temple.
Stuart stuttered an explanation, cringing away from the furious Scarecrow. Korse only cursed the incompetent BCPD and ran out of the room, intent on finding the zonerunner himself. Stuart fell back against the door, relieved that the furious man hadn't take out his anger on him. He steadied his shaking hands and noticed the body of the rebel prisoner on the floor.
He knelt beside her twitching body and gently rolled her over. Beneath the brown, pink streaked fringe were a pair of traumatized eyes, bruised around the edges. Stuart felt sick. He had only become a drac to please his parents, who both worked for the government. Although he took the pills they gave him, he couldn't help but feel remorse at the way prisoners here were handled. He was ok with taking them out in the zones, but the cold blooded treatment of rebels that occurred within BL/ind HQ tested the effectiveness of the drug in his system. He was only on level 2 pills, and they weren't strong enough to dull the distress that was evoked by scenes like this.
Stuart wiped away a trickle of blood at the corner of Russian Roulette's mouth and closed her teary eyes. From the rattle in her chest he wasn't sure how long she would last. In some ways, death would be a blessing. The boy hated the thought of a young woman spending long, brutal years in confinement like so many other zonerunners before her. He gulped back the guilt that nagged at his conscience as he left the room, locking the door behind him.
Renegade pulled up next to Abbey's house just as she was getting ready for bed. She jumped at the sharp tap on her bedroom window, not expecting to hear it so soon. Abbey paused before letting loose a huge grin and flinging the window open wide.
There, leaning against his car, was Anton. She called out to him happily and switched her stereo off.
"Come on Abbey!" he jogged up beneath her window and held out his arms.
She looked down at the drop a little nervously. "Where are we going?"
He smiled a little shyly. "You said you wanted to get away. Well then let's go. Grab a bag, pack some clothes."
Abbey gasped, excitement and fear coursing through her. She looked back at her room, at the photo of her parents on her wall. Every bit of common sense was telling her that she'd be an idiot to go, but her heart was rejoicing in the prospect of freedom.
"If you want to stay, I'll even wait all night for you." His voice called up to her.
Abbey looked at the bands that decorated her wall, at the striped bed covered in pillows and soft toys, at the stereo system that circled her room. In some ways she was looking at the small, out-of-place space that had kept her sane these past eight years. The space that was now too small.
"You said we could run away, any time I wanted." she whispered back, a small, cheeky smile playing across her lips.
Hugh looked up at her dark, empty window, nerves twisting through him. He didn't know what he would do if she said no, but he desperately wanted to show her the world, what she was missing. After ten minutes of silence her face appeared. She smiled at him, and he could see the love in her eyes.
"I'm terrified of what I'll be if I stay here Anton!" she threw a duffel bag out of the window, full of clothes, photos and her beloved ipod. "I don't want to be constantly trying to find my way alone." She leapt out of her window, recklessly ignoring the danger. Renegade laughed and caught her. Abbey threw her arms around Hugh and kissed him deeply. He twisted his hand in her hair, soaking up the sunshine that was Abbey. "It's not running away Anton," she breathed heavily, forehead pressed against his. "It cant be, because my home is with you."
Roulette gagged on the scream that wanted to erupt from her throat. She muffled her mouth with her bruised, broken hands and wept. She couldn't remember much of what had happened the past few days, but what did come back to made her stomach flip sickeningly. She retched, bringing up nothing. They hadn't given her food or water for the two days that she had been in confinement, and although hunger could be ignored, the thirst pawing at her throat was agonizing.
Rabid curled into a ball, trying to hide herself from the white walls. She couldn't keep the mask up and for a solid hour she sobbed. She hated herself passionately. The sacred information she had given Korse about her fellow zonerunners could be their death sentence. She had tried to sidestep giving the Scarecrow anything useful, but the knife that he dragged gently, slowly over her fingers had broken whatever resolve she had. She had told Korse about the fuel tanker she had been hiding in zone 9, the warehouse in zone 4 stocked with food. She had refrained from mentioning Harley, but she had dropped some vital information about Cobalt Blues and Electric Tango. She just prayed that they were smart enough to hide their crews now that she had been taken in.
And then there was Renegade. She couldn't help the cry that slipped from her lips when she thought about the young, carefree man who had befriended her when she had been dating Maverick. Although Renegade was her age, he didn't have any of Harlequin Diamond's brains, or Roulette's ruthlessness. If Maverick hadn't picked him up when he was a kid, he'd have been drac bait years ago. And now he was in the city and Korse knew it. She hated the thought of the Scarecrow touching her friend. Renegade was like the Killjoys; the epitome of what it was to be a zonerunner. While Roulette, Jettison, Maverick and the others were preoccupied ruling the zones, they were content with just being free. All they cared about was living happily and doing their best to take back the innocent from the government.
Russian Roulette made a promise there and then, that should she ever escape, she would do everything she could to unite every zonerunner in America and obliterate BL/ind. "No more petty fighting," she whispered to the empty room, "we're going to take these fuckers down."
Party watched the sun go down from the roof of the Diner. The giant, glowing orb retracted its burning tentacles from the surface of the earth, leaving only a slight glow on the edges of the toxic gasses that spread across the land. As the methane sky went pink and the sun finally dipped below the horizon California was washed over by a dry, deathly cold. Gerard shivered and pulled his jacket closer around his body.
The sky was clear that night, and he was happy to see the odd star poke out from behind the polluted atmosphere. They shone like little beacons of hope in an otherwise infected world. Party liked to think that when he died, another star would take it's place in the velvet sky and inspire other people to do good. Above all things, Gerard wanted to think that his life hadn't been wasted.
His thoughts turned once again to his band-mate in Battery City. Gerard wondered if his close friend was also looking up at the same stars wherever he was. Did Bob know of the noose that was slowly tightening around his neck? Was he even still alive?
Party Poison wished desperately that he could go to the city, find his friend and bring him back to the safety of the zones. However it was impossible. The spies upon reaching the city would have organized amongst themselves their locations. Gerard couldn't just barge in there and search randomly through BL/ind HQ, he's be caught in a mere matter of minutes. And then Korse would be alerted to the presence of the spies, if he hadn't been already that is.
Party screwed the but of his cigarette against the roof in frustration and jumped down onto the ground below. His ankles groaned at the impact, but he reveled in the physical pain overpowering his mental anguish even for a second.
Hugh pulled into a enclosed alleyway in an uninhabited part of the city. Decade old posters were strewn across the grimy streets and every building in the vicinity was boarded up. Signs declared that this as an area under reconstruction, however reconstruction it seemed hadn't begun. Abbey felt a sense of euphoria at the sight of blue, brown, green and red buildings. There wasn't a single speck of polished white.
She jumped out the side of the car and breathed in the nostalgic scent of dirty city streets. There was even a poster advertising coca-cola. Abbey's mouth watered slightly. She hadn't had a can of soda since the takeover. She missed the sickeningly sweet bubbles that fizzed up her nose and made her tongue wriggle.
Anton cut the engine and threw a tarp over the convertible, not caring that it wasn't fully covered. 'No one will be looking for us around here.' he thought absently. He watched Abbey flit down the street in between the dead lamp posts, trapping old newspapers between her toes to read. She danced across the dusty filth that swirled upwards in the slight breeze, arms tangled in her hair. She looked like a ghost, glowing faintly orange from the far away city lights. Her lime eyes flashed in her dark face and Renegade shivered with desire.
He watched her rediscover the beauty of the imperfect urban landscape until the sky was completely dark, with only the faint stars to illuminate the scene before him. Hugh shook his head to break the peaceful trance that had fallen over him and beckoned Abbey back to him. She whirled back to his side and slipped her cool hand into his warm one.
"Come with me." He whispered and pulled her towards a run down, yellow bricked structure. Abbey skimmed over the pavement beside him, heart full of happiness. She looked up at the tall building he was guiding her to and squinted, trying to read the sign in the dim light. When her narrowed eyes finally identified the words they widened and she laughed for joy, running ahead of Anton. The dance studio had hosted some of her earliest memories, she was surprised that she hadn't recognized the now familiar street that they stood on.
"Anton this is amazing!" she cried, delightedly reaching out to gently stroke the dark wooded door. "How did you know that this was the place?"
Hugh reached around her with his arms and hugged her against his body. "I did some research. Turns out you were quite the dancer." he murmured in her ear.
She protested against his praise and kissed away his replies. Hugh clutched her cold body to his, trying to warm every inch of her cool, pale skin. He kissed her back with more force until he could feel her shy back out of innocence. He chuckled against her hair.
"Come inside?" Anton whispered.
Abbey observed the entrance, blocked by planks of wood nailed across the door. "How?"
He let her go a little reluctantly and walked her over to a window. The glass had been broken away from a large section, making a gap just big enough to squeeze through. He held one hand to steady her, and indicated that she hop through. Abbey nervously placed one foot through the low window and slipped her body through after it, carefully avoiding the sharp, cutting edges of broken glass. She pulled her other leg inside and wobbled into the darkness to regain her balance.
'If my memory is correct, there's a door somewhere to my left that opens out into the main theatre.' she thought and reached out blindly for a door knob.
"I think this might help." There was a soft click and a flickering light illuminated the room. Abbey laughed at her foolishness and placed a hand on the door handle barley a foot from her fingers. She twisted it and stepped into the deep dark of the theatre. There was a panel of switches on the wall next to her, which she fiddled with until she found the appropriate lights.
Anton stepped up behind her and looked out into the sea of plush, degrading red chairs. The stage was swathed by layers of moth-eaten curtains, dripping cobwebs and dust. The woodwork in the building was engraved with elegant vines and fruits, twisting around the furniture from another era.
'Hey Anton," Abbey whispered to him, stepping out into the valley between pews. She turned back to look at him, cheeky grin tugging at her lips, "catch me if you can!" she dashed away up the aisle.
Hugh laughed and sprinted after her, not thinking about the light that he left on in the front room that now pooled out into the street.
Korse stormed into the BCPD HQ and roared at the nearest officer to get him the sheriff of the city. Within three minutes the pudgy, lip trembling man was standing before the furious Scarecrow.
"You. Let. Him. GO!?" Korse shouted.
The mans chin wobbled. He nodded, shook his head and then nodded again.
"How could you let him get away!?" Spit flecked the policeman's face.
"Uhh ududud I, we d-didn't mean to, sir. He was fast." The sheriff's drug drenched brain was trying not to let his body show any emotion, but the terror that Korse inspired in those he was angry with was hard to suppress.
Korse pinched the bridge of his nose, a strangely human action. "You people are nothing but a bunch of fat, overpaid, brain-dead, pathetic slobs. A complete waste of space and BLi resources."
"I don't see why I shouldn't shoot the lot of you."
"None of you have the sense to use your initiative."
"Yessir...... Uh, sir?"
The sheriff stuttered over the unfamiliar word. "What's initiative?"
Abbey tried not to giggle as she felt Anton pat the thick curtain in front of her. They had been chasing each other around the huge auditorium for nearly an hour, and Abbey was beginning to feel the energy drain. Anton was far fitter than her, and she had spend most of the time calling out at him from the rafters, secret cupboards or hiding beneath the trap doors. She remembered playing similar games as a child with her friends after drama lessons. There wasn't a corner of this place that she didn't know, so naturally she had the upper hand.
"You cant hide from me forever!" Anton called out, unaware that the girl he chased was sitting on the floor directly in front of him. She pressed her fingers to her lips, trying not to giggle. Anton cursed quietly to himself, "Fucking theatre, don't even know where I am. Why did I get myself into a game of cat and mouse with a hide-and-seek expert?"
Abbey burst from the curtain, tapped him cheekily on the nose and darted away through a cloud of dust before he could even blink.
Hugh sneezed and tripped after her. He ran right into a maze of curtains and was perplexed by the stillness of the fabric; not even a whisper of movement to indicate where Abbey had gone.
He heard a giggle echo across the stage and tried to pinpoint it's direction between the muffling curtains. Hugh ran a hand through his ruffled hair and laughed at the blatant teasing he was receiving.
'Time for a little stalking myself' he thought and ducked beneath the broad body of a grand piano. With his face pressed against the floor Hugh could see beneath the edges of the curtains in every direction. He pondered the need for so many hangings on just one stage as he waited for Abbey to walk by.
Korse led a squadron of dracs through the dark city in search of the intruding zonerunner. He had ordered every member of the BCPD to retreat, lest they screw up again. Korse had a hunch that Renegade was hiding somewhere in the city still, perhaps in a quiet suburb.
"Spread out. Find the rebel." He ordered his faithful dracs. "Bring him to me alive. If he's a spy I need to press him for answers." He revved the engine of his black muscle car. His dracs follwed suit, kicking their motorbikes to life. "Any drac who mortally injures the zonerunner will pay for it with more than just their lives."
The dracs gulped slightly, comprehending the seriousness of their leaders threat. Korse gave the signal and they peeled off, each searching their designated streets.
Curfew for the public was 10pm, so any movement was immediately investigated.
The search party scoured the northern end of the city until midnight. Korse's patient was beginning to fray when he got a radio call from one of his dracs.
"Sir, the gate to the eastern edge of the old city has been broken into. There are tyre tracks in the dirt."
The Scarecrow grinned triumphantly. "Surround the area, block off any escape routes. Radio The Head, I'm going in. And I wont be coming out empty handed."
Abbey tip toed through the dressing room, slipping between ancient costumes hanging off the racks. She was baffled by the sudden silence that had enveloped the auditorium. She listened hard, but couldn't pick up any quiet cursing or thumping of feet. Her large eyes strained, trying to see into the shadows that lurked between the drapes onstage. But there was no tell-tale rainbow flash of inky hair or gleam of Anton's grin.
She hummed to herself and slunk out onto the polished wooden floorboards, ducking between the curtains softly, trying to not unsettle the fabric. She tried to restrain her desire to call out to him, incase he was closer than she anticipated. However the tense hush that had filled the atmosphere sent shivers across her skin and raised the hair on her neck.
She took another step, then another, trying not to raise the dust filming the floor.
Her heart beat a little louder in her chest.
Abbey sidled out from one curtain and into the shadow of the next.
The silence hung thick in the air.
Suddenly a curtain enveloped her, holding her struggling body tight. She shrieked and fell backwards, taking the curtain with her. It was ripped from the rail above and a heavy weight fell on top of her, holding her against the ground. Abbey sobbed, trying to disentangle herself from the suffocatingly thick fabric, terrified by the hands that reached for her through the material. One grasped at her ankle and she screamed.
"Abbey?" A familiar voice reached her through the curtain. "It's okay, it's only me."
Anton let go of her ankle and dug through the pile of curtain to find her. When he pulled back the final layer he was concerned by the distressed face that he had uncovered.
"Hey hey, I'm sorry honey." He reached up and held her whitened face. She trembled at his touch and let out a lungful of air.
"I thought... I didn't think..." she crawled onto his lap, "I don't know who I thought you were. I just got a fright."
Anton laughed at this. "I guess my stalking skills are better than you thought. He smoothed her hair and pressed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Abbey returned the laugh and blushed. "Yeah, you got me good,"
Anton continued to pressed feather-light kisses down her face, across her cheek and into the corner of her mouth. She smiled and pushed her lips firmly against his. He moaned a little and nipped at her bottom lip with his teeth. He could feel her quiver slightly.
"Anton..?" she mumbled shyly.
"Mhmmm?" He continued to press kisses across her jaw and down her neck, deep into the hollow of her throat.
"I'm not half as scared a minute ago as I am now!" she blurted out and hid her face in her hands.
Hugh pulled back from her neck and tugged her hands away, making her look at him.
"What are you scared of Abbey?" his tone was serious, but soft.
She bit her lip and tried to avoid his searching eyes. "Of you."
Hugh frowned. "I would never, ever hurt you on purpose Abbey." he cupped her cheek and rubbed his thumb across her reddened skin.
Her luminous eyes met his. "It's not that. You're too good, you've been the only thing keeping me sane these past few months. If you left me... I just don't know what I'd do."
Anton shook his head vigorously. "I won't ever, ever, so long as I live, leave you. Until you order me away I'll be by your side. I love you so fucking much, I just cant express it to you well enough."
Abbey's eyes shone with tears of joy and she pressed her face against his palm.
"I'd take a bullet for you Abbey." He whispered and kissed her hard, pushing her back down into the sea of curtains.
Abbey gasped at his declaration and kissed him back with equal passion, trying to soak up the heat that he radiated. His warm body pressed against hers, fitting the contours of her figure perfectly. She could hear his breathing become ragged and feel his desire welling up.
He paused, noticing her hesitation. "Abbey, if you don't want to-"
"No no," she pressed two fingers against his lips. "I'm ok, I want to."
"But you haven't ever-" He was terrified of pressuring her.
"Anton," she murmured, "I want you to be the first. I love you, and I trust you."
Hugh beamed at her and pressed his mouth against hers delightedly. She chuckled into his lips and felt his exhilaration spread through her, infectious. And although she had no idea what she was doing, and it hurt, she was still content with the knowledge that she had made Anton so happy.
After it was through, he held her against his bare body and stroked her head until she fell asleep, satisfied by the love that was mutually shared so strongly between them.
Korse stalked through the grimy, deserted streets, following the tyre tracks in the silt on the road. He had bought with him a small group of elite dracs, who trailed behind him, nervously aiming at every shadow. They walked on, following the trail until the stars faded and the sky began to turn violet and pink. When the sun shone it's first scorching rays tentatively over the tallest buildings Korse found the half-covered convertible. He held his hand up, motioning for the dracs to halt.
There, at the other end of the street a faint light shone out into the dim, dank street. The Scarecrow grinned. They had found Renegade.
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