On A Rooftop

Another short installment in my little dystopian world. Same characters, same storyline, different moment in time.

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Chapter 1

On A Rooftop

I’m hoping he knows where he’s going, because I certainly don’t and I’m relying on him. It’s kind of like the honor system, but the stakes are much higher. If he lies, I’m dead or I go back with the others, which are practically the same thing. But if he tells the truth, I’m free. Well, on principle. I’d still have to get out of the compound, and then watch myself once I’m out.

Calum’s fast. No faster than I’d have expected, since he’s perfect like all the rest of them, but still fast. I struggle to keep up as he whips around corner after corner, slipping through door after door, in our attempt to beat anyone, everyone, out before they reach the guard’s unconscious body. I finger my pocked in reassurance—yes, the key is still there.

I feel only a momentary twinge of guilt for those I had to leave behind. It’s everyone for themselves now.

He tears around a corner and reaches for a doorknob only to be greeted by a blaring alarm. It and its accompanying flashing red lights make me jump. “Shït,” he hisses, shuffling his feet. Calum’s obviously having an internal crisis. Help me and repay his debt, or leave me to die and survive himself. I give him a slight nudge with the barrel of the gun. His eyes flick to me and I see his shoulders tense. In one decisive movement, Calum flings the door open and bounds through the opening.

The hallway we enter is dimly lit and I get a slight hint of foreboding fear. “Where does this go?” I pant, my legs pumping and my arms bent and churning in my attempt to keep up.

He raises an eyebrow me and makes a sudden left turn. I trip over myself and follow. “Where do you think?” he replies, and I notice that the corridor’s a dead end. We come to an abrupt halt and Calum opens another door. “It goes up and out.”

Up and out.

A staircase.

Calum didn’t hesitate at all in going up. But I stay back, staring up at my way out. If freedom is what I want, then why am I still standing here? My heart races and my stomach twists and I’m suddenly thinking of the few people in the rooms beside me, screaming to be let out, and how I left them. I didn’t even open the doors for them. The keys in my pocket feel a few pounds heavier.

“Jesus,” Calum shouts down. “You coming or what?”

His voice shakes me free of my trepidations. “Yeah.” I slide in the doorway and shut it after me. The stairwell is dark, obtrusively so. It smells of dust and neglect and I get the feeling that people don’t generally leave the compound very often. We will be the exception to the rule.

We climb for what seems like hours but is only minutes. The only sounds are the dull thuds of his shoes on the concrete, the slaps of my bare feet, and the distant scream of the claxon. It doesn’t take long for the scream of the claxon to involve actual screams, human, whether innocent or not we cannot know. Calum doesn’t seem to notice them and so I pretend not to, even though the faint shrieks are getting to me.

That could have been me.

I can feel the sweat beading on my forehead, on my neck, on my palms. We have to be getting close. The pads of my feet are feeling bruised from the relentless pounding but I stay right on Calum’s heels.

It’s then that I hear the shouts below us.

“Calum,” I say, reflexively. Fearfully.

“Don’t stop,” Calum chokes out. “Whatever you do, don’t stop.” It occurs to me that Calum is risking a lot to be free of his debt to me.

So I don’t. I’m assuming that these perfect soldiers below us will live up to their potential and be faster than us so all we’ve got to do is beat them to the top. Calum will save us. Calum can get us out of here. At least, I think he can. I don’t know if he’s as sure of him as I am. I didn’t think I could ever run this fast but as Calum speeds up, my adrenalin does its job and powers my body for me. I’m all instinct now; flight has won over fight.

A cry below us. We’ve been spotted. Calum grunts. “We’re almost there, dammit, we’re almost there…”

We take another sharp turn and there’s a door, oh, God, there’s a door. Calum practically stiff-arms the thing and we burst out into the open air. I inhale greedily, having not expected to ever breathe this stuff again. I throw the door shut behind me in the hope it’ll buy us a few extra seconds.

We’re on a rooftop and from this position I can see across the entire compound. And it’s burning. The setting sun has stained the sky a gradient orange-red, smoke billowing up from a few different buildings. Screams echo across the way, bouncing around between the buildings and layering until it reaches a bone-chilling crescendo.

So some of us got out after all. Despite the situation, a slight smile curves across my mouth. Some of us are free.

It takes me a moment to realize Calum is looking around wildly. “Now what?” I demand. “Where next?”

Calum clutches his hair in his fists. “I don’t know, I can’t think, not this fast, and…” I watch as his eyes travel a little ways and then lock on a piece of the concrete barrier between the rooftop and the drop, some sixty yards away. “There, right there, we’ll have to jump and then fall a couple floors but I think we can make that.” He starts to sprint across the roof.

Anything. I’ll do practically anything right now. I just want us to make it out alive. So I follow him without any questions.

A banging behind us grabs my attention. I sneak a quick look behind me and I can’t help but scream for Calum because they’re here. The soldiers are there, and there’s three of them, and they’re huge.

I pull out my stolen gun and I point it behind me as I run, firing blindly. I don’t expect to hit anything, I just want to distract them. Maybe. Calum’s nearly to the edge but he still turns to look at me, to see why I yelled his name.

I hear the loud pop of a rifle three times and then the whole world blurs as something catches me, catches me hard, and I bend. The gun falls from my fingers and skitters across the ground, too far away for me to reach. The world blurs.

Someone shouts, I think my name, and I believe it’s Calum. My breath comes in short, drowning gasps and I can’t get any more air than that and I don’t know why. I reach for the gun, I want to hold it, to shoot it, to protect Calum and I. My fingertips work against the concrete but I come up with nothing. My back arches against the ground and I realize I’ve fallen.

Calum shouts my name again but I can barely hear him over the screaming and the gunfire. I struggle along the rooftop, I have to get to the gun—but someone’s standing there, it’s Calum, and he’s got the gun.

He dives away, presumably as so he doesn’t get shot, and lands on the ground. I have to get up, I have to help him, but my body doesn’t move. All I can do is squirm a bit.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Three shots fired and then it’s quiet except for the rending shrieks ringing all around me. Is he dead? Is Calum dead? If he’s dead then I could never forgive myself. All he was trying to do was get even and if he’s dead…

No, he’s there. He's alive. Calum kneels beside me and I realize that he should have had the gun the whole time. To hell with not trusting the guy, he’s a better shot than I’ll ever be. In fact, he’s a perfect shot. Of course. I take a second to consider that—why would his father decide to code him to be able to do this?—but only a second as I’ve got more important things to worry about.

“Jesus, Kate, stop screaming, please…” That was me? I was screaming? I try to stop, I choke it back. It was beginning to irritate me, too, so I understand. “Where’d it hit you? Where?” Something’s wet, I notice distantly. I’m getting all kinds of wet and I open my mouth to tell him but all I can get out are shaking gasps and whimpers.

He rips open the buttons of my shirt and peels it away to reveal my chest. I can’t even feel embarrassed because all of a sudden I hurt. Bad. The kind of hurt that’s hard to explain, but it’s there and it’s hot and it’s very real. I grit my teeth against it and this horrible, animal whine erupts from my chest.

Calum must have found what he was looking for—and the thought that I’ve been shot flickers across my mind—because he sits back on his heels, dumbstruck, and swears. “Why did I ever agree to help her?” he hisses, probably thinking that I’m past the point of hearing anything because this wet stuff can’t be water, it has to be my blood, and holy hell there’s a lot of it. “I could’ve lived with owing her,” Calum tells himself, but I think he knows he couldn’t, because he leans forward and presses his hands against me in an attempt to staunch the blood.

He tears off my button-up and ties it around my chest. It’s a weak attempt but it’s all we’ve got. My vision goes spotty. I don’t think I have much time conscious left.

I guess somebody must have heard me screaming because people are shooting at us again. Not from the doorway, but from other roofs. Calum’s swearing still and I have no choice but to stare up at him as he’s trying to decide what to do with me, quick, and I see that he’s covered in my blood, silhouetted by the slowly darkening sky.

He looks afraid.

“C’mon, you,” he whispers. “I only have to get you out of here. Then we’re even, okay? Then we’re done. You’ll have nothing to do with me and I’ll have nothing to do with you.” Calum, despite his rough words, slides his arms gently under me and lifts me up. “We’re going to jump. Hold your breath, okay, because there’s a p—”

Shots are fired in front of us. They’ve found us again.

Calum makes an executive decision and snatches up the gun with one hand, jamming it in his waistband. And then he turns and runs.

We close in on the edge. Bullets whizz past us—so much for perfect shots, huh—and Calum cries out as one comes a little to near his head, cutting a track through his hair, which is only a little in need of a trim. He’s startled. His foot catches on something and I fly from his arms. I expect to hit the ground but I don’t, I keep dropping, and the vertigo takes hold. I’m screaming, and screaming, and screaming, partially in pain and partially in the fear of death.

The last thing I remember is the painful slap of the water he’d tried to warn me about and then sinking, unable to swim to the surface.

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