“Run, and don’t stop.”
Those words shuddered past my father’s lips just moments ago as he bled out on the floor of my bedroom.
So I’m running. Adrenalin pulses through my arms like hot pain, and my boots strike the pavement loudly in the dark. The street is deserted, and they’re not following me yet. They will. Govies don’t let anything escape.
The moon is a heavy and round pearl overhead, glowing like the eyes of the men that will hunt me. They’re not human, but they look it. Artificial intelligence has gotten fancy. We call them robos.
They carry guns, but I carry something they want. A key I shouldn’t have. It weighs like lead in my pocket and is sticky with my father’s death.
Men steal for money and kill for riches. The fortune this key unlocks is greater than any man will ever know. My father died for it, and he’s not the first. If they catch me, I won’t be the last. It’s lighter than a king coin, but heavier than bricks, and I run with it. I know where I’m going.
My mother hates my motorcycle, but I love it. Partly because it’s all matte black and chrome and sexy, but mostly because it flies. Imported. Semi-illegal, well totally illegal with the mods. But not enough to get a congressman’s daughter in trouble. It’s the only plus to having Govies as parents.
I never want to be like them, a modern day mafia with robots as wingmen and deals dirtier than the underground city after dark. The underground has it right. Nothing is clean here, not even the kills my parents order to cover up their messes.
I wait on an overpass. I know he’ll be here any second. Ryker’s a strong runner. I warned him that they would come for his family tonight. I saw it on Dad’s cell. But I heard the shots, and I pray to hear his footfalls.
I wait for him, and watch the streets below me.
The pavement glitters under my feet, the embedded glass glinting under the streetlights.
The familiar rise of the overpass leading to my destination looms ahead, but I’ve got a mile to go. Five minutes, and Kida will get me out of this mess. That damn motorcycle. I’d be jealous if she hadn’t been born for the speed of it.
Men may kill for riches, but women kill for looks, and Kida’s lucky she isn’t dead yet. I may be her best friend, but I can also appreciate long red hair and redder lips. She’s a knockout, but she doesn’t see it. That girl is something else. Even if she weren’t beautiful, she’d be beautiful. She is fire and speed and adrenalin. But she only has eyes for that bike and escape. My eyes are all hers.
If her youth could be bottled, nobody would care about chasing me. You would think that they’d have made an Elixir of Life by now, and bottled it by the gallon. But no. The Govies just chase after the idea of eternity, spurred by dollar signs and greed. They don’t know the idea is reality, and reality is the warm press of a metal through the cotton of my pocket.
I can’t stop running, but I know they’ll need a show for us to make it out alive.
I slow my pace, and pray she can see me.
I watch the robos make a ring around him; pressing in like their strategy is programmed to kill him and ask questions later. If they push him any farther, he’ll be in the river.
Ryker, what the hell are you doing?
One man stands out in front of the dark shape that is Ryker. He is not robo, but I don’t think he’s got a beating heart either. My Dad. He raises an automatic rifle, and I kick my bike into gear. It growls like I wish I could, and we tear over the streets
I part a black and gunmetal sea of robos to reach my father’s side. Even their AI registers the familiarity of my bike. I don’t look at Ryker. I know my voice will betray my fear for him. We are lambs surrounded by wolves.
“Kida!” My name sounds like a curse in my father’s mouth. “Get out of here!”
“I thought you wanted me to take an interest in the family business?” I make my eyelashes flutter.
“This is hardly the—“
But before he can finish ordering me away, Ryker pulls something out of his pocket. Everyone’s attention is caught by the glint of brass.
The robos flinch. The clicks of one hundred metal necks straining to see their target make my skin crawl. They start forward but my father stops them with a gesture. I realize it’s not Ryker they’re targeting. It’s that key. They go where it goes.
The lust in his voice is palpable. “Hand it over, and you can go.”
“Like my father did?” I look at him for the first time. His voice is hard, the words edged sharp with hatred, but his brown eyes are not. They’re full of despair, and a muscle in his jaw jumps. He’s a mass of tension in the night, and all he sees is revenge. All I see is him. I’ll get him out of this if it means my life.
“It doesn’t have to be that way. Just give us the key.”
My father has forgotten me, but Ryker hasn’t. His eyes flick to me for the barest moment, and over the bike.
Ready when you are, I wish I could say. I give a tiny nod. The breeze from the wharf gusts over us, warm and fishy.
One hundred sets of robo eyes are trained on the piece of metal in my hand. Not on me. I wave it experimentally. Their laser eyes follow it.
“I’ll give it to you,” I tell the man who barked at Kida.
“Smart boy,” he says. He reaches for me, but I turn away, and throw the brass key into the abyss of the churning river.
One hundred robos follow, and the river is lit with their short-circuits.
I hear the click of an automatic rifle, but Kida is there, pulling me onto the bike behind her. Shots pepper around us as we take off, and I hug her waist as she presses a button under her handlebars.
My stomach lodges in my spine as we leap off the ground and into the night sky.
“What the f—“
Kida yells back at me, “I’ve been waiting forever to press that damn button! I told you it could fly.”
“You did,” I say. “You did it. You saved me. From your dad.” I hug her tighter. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” she says. “Kiss me.”
So I do, leaning around to press my lips to hers for a moment that feels like eternity. She smiles into it, as if she’d been waiting for it as long as I have.
“I’m sorry,” she says, so low I can barely hear her over the wind.
I know what she means even though she doesn’t say it. I just bury my face in her hair. We are silent for a long time, until she laughs. “I can’t believe you threw that. What was it anyway?”
“I didn’t throw it,” I say. I pull a long cord from under my jacket, reaching around her so she can see it. The ancient filigree key glistens in the moonlight, defiant and carrying the weight of the stars. “Well, not the right one anyway.”
She just shakes her head as her bike hurls us into the night.
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Photograph © Copyright, Rebecca Lowry 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.