At day, the world is governed and safe. But at night, it has a new name: Lawless.
| Jake was a smart guy.
It wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter. On the Old World, you either got smart quick or you died quick. Natural selection at its best. But you didn’t get smart in the nerdy, “civilized” way either, that was useless down here; it could even get you killed. There were a lot of things you needed to know instead, like where you could find the nearest safe house before nightfall, or how to tell whether a geyser was going to spew lava or the valuable dietrite, used commonly as currency. The Old World wasn’t a nice place, and it certainly didn’t hold your hand for you.
Hence, Jake was a smart guy.
He panted hard, sprinting as fast as he could without tripping on the jagged rocks as the sun slowly set behind him. His worn out, rubber shoes groaned in protest as they hit the ground in a steady beat. In his hands he held a tarnished metal canister that he hung on to as if his life depended on it. Which it did. Everything in the Old World was a matter of life or death.
Two minutes, he thought. I can make it. I think.
Abandoning all sense of safety, he pumped his legs into an even faster dash, jumping directly over a fallen concrete pillar instead of going around it like he usually did. Small pinpricks of pain shot up his leg, and Jake knew he had worn out yet another pair of shoes.
This better be worth it. That was my last pair.
Two minutes and twenty-three seconds later, he skidded to a halt in front of a low lying, inconspicuous building, surrounded by mud and gravel, looking all for the world like one of the millions of abandoned structures lying throughout the Old World. But after having lived here for almost all his life, Jake knew the surrounding areas like the back of his hand. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he stumbled up to the rusting door and knocked on it twice, then once, then three times.
After an entire minute had passed with no sign of the door opening, Jake looked over his should anxiously. The sun’s rays were diminishing at a steady rate, and soon the signal for night would be rung. Jake HAD to be inside before that. Frustrated, he repeated the signal code, this time banging on the door with his fist. Almost immediately, a small hatch on the door opened with a creak and a grizzly old man, sporting a dirty beard and a wide smile, came into view.
“No need to be so impatient, Jake, I was on the bottom floor. And after all, you were already late, so why shouldn’t I take my time?”
Jake glowered at him. “You don’t have to lecture me Erin; I know that speech by heart now. Just let me in. The bell is going to ring anytime now.”
Erin chuckled. “Well if you know already…no need to waste my breath, precious as it is.” He closed the hatch, and Jake tapped his foot impatiently as he listened to the bolt-locks being pried open one by one. The instant he heard the sixth one opening, he barged through, knocking into an indignant Erin at the same time.
“Oi!” he wheezed. “I’m not as young as you, you know. If you insist on doing that, some day I’m going to dr-“
“Here’s the package.” Jake interrupted. He pushed the metal canister into the other man’s hands. “Undamaged, as promised. Erin, listen. The Providence were out in numbers today, roaming, in broad day light. I was lucky just to get here in time.”
For a little bit Erin just stared at him. Then he croaked, “That isn’t good.”
Frustrated at his unsatisfying reply, Jake wheeled around and paced the room. “You’re damn right it isn’t good!” he retorted angrily. “I ran into a bunch of their goons while I was getting back here. Barely managed to lose them in the gas fields. Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t got here before night!”
“You have got to tell me things like this before you send me on such a dangerous mission, Erin. I’m not always going to be so lucky, and I’ve got to at least be prepared. They’re already getting smarter about hunting down the runners; they’ve caught three of us already! Next time you better tell me about stuff like this, or at least drop in some sort of extra danger fee!”
But Erin seemed oblivious to Jake’s outbursts. He muttered to himself, and Jake had to strain to hear him. “The Providence, here, in daylight? I wonder…must check later…what else could make them so bold?”
Finally he looked up at Jake. “This is bad news for everyone. If the rumors are true, it’s not safe to go out there until the Providence…finish up. You’ll have to stay here for the time being.”
“What?” Jake said angrily. “You mean you know what they’re out there for? And you didn’t tell me?” he paused. “What are they trying to do?”
Erin grimaced. “I’m…I’m not sure. What’s important is that we stay out of their way while they’re out there. You know as well as I do that they almost never show themselves in the day, so whatever business they have has got to be important. Don’t get in any trouble, ok Jake?”
Somewhere in the far distance, a deep bell began to ring. Jake knew that, everywhere in the Old World, the people of Icaria would be climbing aboard their gravity wells, flying back up to their grand city above the clouds. When the bell stopped ringing, the Old World would be left dark, empty of authority. It was the Transition, the Time of Turning, and the sound of that bell was the most vital thing you could ever hear on the cold, black, dirt.
When the ringing faded away after the twelfth chime, Erin got up from the chair he had been sitting on and yawned. “You know where your room is. We’ll talk more about this in the morning, alright? Good night, now.”
Jake nodded his head, then stumbled as a wave of fatigue passed over him. The wild chase not a quarter of an hour ago had left him more drained than he had realized. “Good night.”
Less than a minute later, he was passed out on a torn and flea-ridden mattress, his worn-out shoes still on his feet.
Going to sleep was easy. For Jake, the hard part was staying asleep.
It was barely two hours into his slumber when his eyes opened again. Jake groaned, turned on his side, but he couldn’t go back to sleep again. He never had been able to. Giving up, he swung his feet out of the bed and sat on the side.
“Screw Erin. If anybody can walk around here at night, it’s me.”
He took the secret exit that nobody but he and Erin knew about, an old sewage pipe which Erin was convinced was going to collapse. But it hadn’t yet, and Jake was light for his age, so through the passage he went.
Once he opened the hatch and climbed out to see the night sky, he immediately lost all regret at his risky decision. Night was really something in the Old World, despite all its dangers. The stars shimmered brilliantly in the sky, the air was cool and refreshing, and the monolith glass spheres that made up the nation of Icaria shone as bright with a million lights. This was the only time that Jake could really think clearly, that he could let his mind wander without a distraction or task to draw him away. He breathed in deeply, savoring the cold air untainted by the smell of machinery or the sweat of men. Yes, the night was dangerous, but he knew that the sewage hatch opened into a hidden clearing never stumbled upon by the Providence. He was safe here. Jake stretched himself out on the dirt and yawned.
He stayed like that for several hours, allowing his mind to wander in a light daze while the rest of his body relaxed. Why were the Providence out today? he wondered. What could be so important to them?
Just a little bit before daybreak, a small but distinct sound brought him alert – the soft buzzing of a shocker coming to life. Immediately he rolled to his feet and listened for any other sounds. How could there be a shocker here?
For a moment there was only the tense beat of his heart, but then he heard a new noise: the sound of boots on the dirt. Heavy boots. And more than one pair. It had to be the Providence.
No way could the Providence get their hands on glass technology. he thought.
I have to check it out.
The remains of his wool and rubber shoes served as an excellent muffler for his footsteps as he slowly made his way towards the sounds he had heard. Hiding behind a crumpled marble pillar, he gently looked around it, only to snap his head back. The Providence was right there. Two men, both big, strong, and mean looking. Classic Providence grunts. He could probably take them, no problem, but Erin’s words reverberated through his head. Don’t get in any trouble, ok Jake?
Then he saw the third person.
A girl, maybe two years under his age, hiding behind a tiny pile of concrete rubble. Jake cautiously peeked around the pillar to get a better look. She wore the loose and practical clothes of a runner on the Old World, holding what looked vaguely like the standard metal canister, the same one that he had. But her skin was remarkably tan, and there was something strange about her crouched stance, something loose and reckless, as if she wasn’t used to being in danger. She obviously didn’t know how hide, for sure. He saw one of the Providence goons angle his head towards her pitiful hiding place, and the two slowly started walking in that direction. The girl wouldn’t stand a chance. Jake took in a breath and stepped out behind the two Providence men, preparing in the shadows of the rubble to strike at them.
But before he could do anything, the girl suddenly jumped up and brandished what she had been hiding in her other hand: the shocker. “Get back, or I’ll fry you!” she yelled, in a distinct, sharp sounding accent. Jake froze in his tracks.
She’s a glass! Impossible!
Jake hesitated, grinding his teeth. Did he really want to save a glass? But another look at the girl told him otherwise. Glass or not, she was a human and she was going to die if he didn’t do anything. The Providence had recently been hunting down anyone who looked like a runner without mercy, and the shocker she carried couldn’t shock both of the men.
With practiced ease, Jake walked up behind the closer goon punched him directly in the head. As he fell down, unconscious, the second man spun around and swung a right winger at him. Jumping back, he dodged blows from the enraged grunt, backing up as he did. But as he tried putting his left foot back for leverage, the other man kicked out, bringing his right leg out from under him. Jake hit the ground hard back first, and stars crept into his vision. Through the haze of his vision, he say the other man catch up to him, a cruel smile on his face. His first thought was: I’ve never seen a Providence grunt kick before. Then: I think I’m going to die.
The smile on the goon’s face froze in place as he too fell over, toppling onto Jake, unconscious. The smell of acrid burning filled the air. Standing over him was the girl he had been trying to save, a wild look in her eye and the shocker in her hand, dark, depleted of energy.
Jake coughed, shook his head to clear his vision, and pushed the heavy body on top of him away as he laboriously got to his feet. He eyed the girl carefully.
“For the record,” he said. “I didn’t need any help there.”
“Sure you didn’t” she replied sarcastically. “And for the record, I didn’t need you help me either.”
“Of course.” he said, matching her cynical tone perfectly.
An awkward silence came afterwards, and the girl looked away uneasily. Jake decided to be bold. “What’s a glass doing down here?”
She snapped her head up. “I’m not a glass. I’m a runner, like you.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
She averted her gaze again. “I- I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You stand like you’ve never been in danger before. Your skin is tanned like only a glass’s skin would be. And your accent is a dead giveaway. Why are you down here?”
She changed the topic. “Why did you help me?”
Jake looked at the unconscious Providence grunts on the floor. “Any enemy of the Providence is a friend of mine.” he said simply. “Besides, you looked like a fellow runner at first glance.”
She followed Jake’s gaze. “Well, I saved your life as well, so don’t think you I owe you.”
“I told you, I would have been fine.”
She rolled her eyes.
A half-smile cracked open on Jake’s face – the first smile of the night – but it soon faded as he complemented what he had done. He glanced at the horizon, which was lightening steadily as daybreak approached.
“Are you the reason the Providence were out roaming recently?”
She nodded, looking ashamed.
Jake sighed. “Then the best thing for you is to get away as soon as possible. Daybreak will be here soon, and this land will be governed again. That’ll be your time to escape. My advice is that the moment you hear the bell chime for the twelfth time, you run along to your glass friends. The Old World is no place for someone like you.”
The girl looked up in protest. “There’s something I have to do here first though!”
Jake’s tone turned harsher. “And there’s a reason you have to go, too! Every second you spend down here means another chance for the Providence to kill yet another runner they mistake for you. I myself was chased by them only today! Do you want that kind of blood on your hands?”
Her only response was to stare at the ground. Far away from either of them, the bells signaling the end of night and the beginning of day began to chime.
“All right.” The girl finally replied. “I’ll leave…but I won’t be gone.”
Jake didn’t bother to try and understand, being satisfied as long as he knew the Providence would stop appearing in daylight. He turned around, conscious of the fact that he had to get back to the shelter before Erin woke up. “Good bye.” He turned around and started to run.
“What?” the girl said in surprise. “What’s your name, at least?”
Jake didn’t stop running. He had no desire to get familiar with a glass.